Mars Curiosity: The Martians are coming — well, not quite

Several news outlets, including National Public Radio (NPR), are saying that the Mars Curiosity vehicle being monitored by NASA on the Martian surface has made a big discovery in its analysis of Martian soil, but scientists are cautiously waiting for further verification of their measurements. The NPR report suggests that in early December the announcement will be made that they have discovered evidence that Mars once contained living things.

This announcement, if it comes, will create a huge media splash. Some will claim that UFOs are now arguably more credible. Others will say that such a discovery shows that life is not so rare in the cosmos as had been thought, and they will suggest that the discovery undercuts the biblical account of creation, including God’s primary role. Such a conclusion is not logical, but you should get ready to hear it.

Many Christians are already afraid of science, ignore science, or deny many of its claims without good reason for doing so. Just for the record, I fully accept the creation of the universe and human life by God using whatever means he alone chose. Neither the universe nor human life developed apart from God’s ruling hand. Having said that, I also accept scientific conclusions about the age of the earth (just over 4.5 billion years) and global warming accelerated by human activity. [Those Christians who think global warming is a political agenda created by American political liberals (e.g., Al Gore) should explain why every national academy of science on earth, including our own, affirms global warming and our part in it.]

If Mars once hosted living things — or even if it still does — that does not alter the fact that all life exits by the creative act of God. Such a finding changes nothing about God’s role in dictating the terms for creation of the universe. So, why will some very smart people use this upcoming news to bash Christians and undercut God?

They will do so partly because the unbelieving world always opposes God (John 1:9-10). Let me be clear: if they attack us over the cross of Christ, over our teaching about Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins, so be it. Such attacks would show that we are doing exactly what Jesus put us here to do, proclaim the gospel.

But, they will also attack because many Christians have behaved in such a foolish way as to make our shared faith a target. First, they have constructed an alternate, fact-free reality. In this fact-free reality, America was always a Christian country, its founders were fully orthodox Christians, and God intended our nation to be a theocracy. Second, we have allowed certain people to claim to be leaders of evangelical faith, allowed those leaders to lead us into becoming a political agency rather than a gospel-teaching church, and followed those leaders into the expression of hatred and contempt for those who oppose us. This is not what Jesus put us here to do! Worse, it creates stronger enemies who oppose the gospel.

So, if NASA announces the discovery of ancient life on Mars, get an understanding of what has been discovered. Don’t retreat into the anti-science bunker. Don’t be intimidated by those who make exaggerated claims about how the discovery disproves God’s role in creation. Above all, keep proclaiming Christ, loving others and studying what God has revealed in his Word and in the cosmos.

Copyright © by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Almost “Alone in the Void”

Adam Frank, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Rochester, has done us a favor. His op-ed in the New York Times forces us to face the music about our future prospects of mastering interstellar travel. His conclusion is that “There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time.” As a man who grew up with an astronomy book in one hand, a science fiction book in the other and a telescope of my own making in the garage, I find that a very hard pill to swallow!

Yet, as a physics major with a graduate degree in engineering, I understand the scientific principles that lead to Frank’s pessimistic assessment. He speaks of our love for “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” but he says, “The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago.”

Frank calls on us to think about it:

No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No relief from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.

In light of our shared history, what would you estimate to be the chances of our learning to get along? Not so good!

Ah, but we are not alone, in spite of Dr. Frank’s realistic estimates. God created our cosmos and ever lives as its master. He pierces the vast, lonely void in the person of Jesus Christ to offer us salvation from ourselves, our sin, and our cosmic isolation. He offers us a purpose, a destiny, and, yes, he even offers us the only viable opportunity we will ever have to see what he has made.

I suggest you put down the astronomy book and the science fiction book and pick up the Holy Bible, which contains God’s offer of a relationship that will span the ages and the awesome distances that chill our human hopes. Trust in Jesus Christ, who alone can fill your spiritual void and show you the wonders of all he has made.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

God and the so-called “God particle” (the Higgs boson)

On July 4, 2012, particle physicists announced the confirmation of the Higgs boson, an elusive particle they had been expecting to find for over fifty years. Their excitement is based on the importance of this discovery in (1) confirming the Standard Model that physicists rely on the predict particle interactions, and (2) providing a mechanism for particles to have mass and experience gravity. We need not understand the details of the physics, but the attribution to a particle of credit that belongs to God alone is another matter.

The Higgs boson is named after physicist Peter Higgs, who was the foremost among six physicists who predicted its existence. In 2006, Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman proved that even brilliant men can be tasteless when he wrote a book titled The God Particle about the search for the Higgs boson. Physicists avoid the nickname the God particle, but the media loves it and it will spread.

The human arrogance of using the term the God particle is enormous. The Higgs boson, if now better identified, is nothing more than part of what God created long ago. Just as he brought light into existence with a word (Gen. 1:3), God can create Higgs bosons or send them into oblivion with a word. One day he will banish heaven and earth (Rev. 20:11) and judge the wicked dead. The so-called “God particle” is not doing anything except what God created it to do!

Physicists exercised their faith in the Higgs boson for fifty years. Now they know it exists and does what they expected. They have no reason to criticize us who put our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that will also be vindicated one day. In the final analysis, it is not the Higgs boson that holds the universe together by creating gravity. Instead, Jesus is the one who created the universe, sustains it and holds it together, just as Paul explains to us in Colossians 1:15–17:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

However, while we watch for Jesus’ return, we might as well learn a little about how he has set the universe to function. The following link does a great job of teaching about the Higgs boson and the search for it: “The Higgs Boson Explained.”

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:18–19 Faith accepts reality but trusts God

Abraham’s faith was based on a very simple idea: God will do as he has said even if I cannot understand how. This explains, for example, how we may believe in heaven with full assurance even though we have never seen it.

Will we live on the basis of what God has said or restrict ourselves to what our eyes can see?

(ESV) Romans 4:18-19  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

Sometimes I imagine Paul in an ironic humor thinking about all those who would later try to untangle one of his phrases that his associate Peter said were “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). We have one of those phrases in Romans 4:18 where the sequence “against hope, on the basis of hope”[1] occurs. Oh my!

When confronted with such a paradoxical combination, Bible translators have their work cut out for them. However, in this case we have definite help from the immediate context. Grant Osborne points out, “The most amazing fact of all is that Abraham accepted his physical situation without weakening in his faith (verse 19), another way of expressing the same idea as in verse 18: ‘against hope, he hoped.’”[2] That is all the guidance needed to unravel the puzzling phrase in 4:18.

Of course, the phrase “against hope” looks at the fact that Abraham was “about a hundred years old” (4:19) as well as “the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (4:19). The counter-phrase “in hope” informs us that in spite of the seeming impossibility, Abraham had a solid expectation of descendants “as he had been told” (4:18).

(ESV) Romans 4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

C.E.B. Cranfield, when read carefully, does an excellent job explaining Paul’s take on the faith of Abraham: “Because of his unweakened faith, Abraham considered steadily, without attempting to deceive himself, his unpromising circumstances, but, as verse 20 goes on to indicate, did not allow what he saw to make him doubt God’s promise.”[3] Abraham did not close his eyes or fool himself.

Since Christian faith is sometimes portrayed in cartoon-style as a leap-into-the-dark, Douglas Moo says, “Abraham’s faith is not described as a ‘leap into the dark,’ a completely baseless, almost irrational ‘decision’ . . . but as a ‘leap’ from the evidence of his senses into the security of God’s word and promise.”[4]

Science and faith are not enemies

Life is odd sometimes. The religion which named itself “Christian Science” is neither Christian nor scientific; one of its key beliefs is that disease is an illusion. But that type of denial is not what Christian faith, as taught in the Bible, is about.

There should be no final conflict between science and Christian faith because both should look unflinchingly at reality. But science cannot put God in the test tube any more than Christianity can solve the equations of quantum mechanics. Christians should be as clear-eyed as the most meticulous scientist, and, indeed, Christianity has produced some of the greatest scientists.

Science can only deal with issues that can be tested by the scientific method. It cannot tell you whether Caesar was stabbed in 44 B.C. or whether Jesus Christ will return to rule the world. Science cannot tell you whether murder offends God or what God will do about it. Faith is the only appropriate way to deal with what God has said and done.

1. What has God promised you that you cannot prove in a court of law or a lab?

2. Do you ever feel uncomfortable, as a person living in the twenty-first century, about responding to God with faith? Why or why not?

Christian faith views the world as a system in which God has decisively intervened. He created the world, sent his Son to save it, and will replace it with a new creation in due course. Faith knows these things because God has revealed them, not because we can see it!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 282.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 118.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 247.

[4] Moo, Romans, 282-283.

Science: Global warming — amount of warming confirmed

Few issues have aroused the feelings of political conservatives and their evangelical allies as much as the claim that global warming is a fact. A newly published study has settled several key issues about this claim that had formerly made it seem questionable.

The New York Times has reported, “A team at the University of California Berkeley that set out to test the temperature data underlying the consensus on global warming has concluded that the mainstream estimate of the rise in the earth’s surface temperature since 1950 is indeed accurate.” The brief newspaper story may be found here. The study found that the earth’s land masses are 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1950s.

Three major groups had previously published claims supporting human-caused global warming based on a much smaller data set, but climate skeptics had raised several possible sources of error. Among those raising questions were some members of the Berkeley Earth study. The Berkeley study also shows that those possible error sources do not account for the temperature change previously found. The Berkeley study has particular weight in that it includes five times more temperature readings than the previous studies. All of the data and reports are available online.

Professor Richard A. Muller, Berkeley Earth’s founder and scientific director, stated:

Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.[1]

The Berkeley Earth team includes physicists, climatologists and statisticians from California, Oregon and Georgia. One member of the group, Saul Perlmutter, was recently awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (for his work in cosmology).

A surprising twist on the story is that the research leading to these findings was partially funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles Koch is a billionaire who is most well-known for his support of libertarian causes as well as the Tea Party. Koch also has extensive holdings in fossil fuels.

One real test of these new findings may be whether evangelical Christians accept them as valid. Some Christians have demonstrated a clear disdain for any scientific finding that does not fit their own ideas. This global warming issue is not like the alleged biological evolution of human beings, a far more complicated theory with many unresolved questions. The Berkeley study involves measuring temperatures and assessing whether they are higher or lower on a global basis. If science cannot carry out this task, then we have to wonder whether iPods fell from heaven rather than being designed by engineers.

No conclusion was reached by the Berkeley Earth team about a second inflammatory idea  — human causation of the observed global warming. That awaits further study of ocean temperatures.

As a final treat, watch the video showing the warming of the earth from 1800 to the present at this link. Actually, it is a bit depressing. It starts with a real cold spell in the period 1800–1820 and ends with consistent warming over the last three decades.

Climate change has already made an appearance in the competing Republican campaigns for president. All the candidates firmly doubt there is any problem and several openly allege data manipulation by scientists.  No change in their views should be anticipated based on the Berkeley Earth study because they know what their primary voters believe.

Try to keep in mind that propaganda and data are two different things. This study contains data. God has made all of us stewards of the earth and all that is in it (Gen. 1:27–28), and we will be held responsible for what humans do on this planet. God isn’t running for office.

 

[1] “Cooling the Warming Debate,” by Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, 20 October 2011, page 1.

 

Denny Burk on Pregnancy Reduction

Wow! It is appalling to read about new forms of evil. Denny Burk has posted about one on his blog.  I did not know about this variant of abortion, even though I subscribe to the New York Times. Must have been too busy to read it all that day.

I keep on living due to technological development (a cardiac defibrillator), but not all technical developments are a good thing. This one is not!

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 1:27

Genesis 1:27
God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
(NET Bible)

Don’t Underestimate Gender Differences!

The aging professor of marriage and family life paused as he looked out at the rows of fresh, young faces. It was the first day of his college class, and he knew they would be trying to figure out what would be on the first quiz. His face took on a wry smile when he said, “I’m going to tell you the secret of this whole course. Are you ready?” A hundred ballpoint pens poised over paper and waited for his next words. [Once upon a time we had no laptops!]

He spoke with measured slowness, savoring every word: “Boys . . .  and . . . girls . . . are different.”

When the chorus of groans subsided, the old professor said, “I’m not kidding. You don’t believe me now, but you will.” When all was said and done, the old man was right. We had been clueless. Thank God for the difference! Where did this difference between men and women begin? What are the spiritual implications of the difference? What does God say about the difference?

The first poetic language in the Bible is about God creating humankind in his image. In time we will look more carefully into the physical details of how man was created (Genesis 2). In this verse, however, the stress continues to fall on God’s image permeating all of humanity, both male and female. Consider the following Word Study.

Word Study: “humankind” or “man”

The Hebrew noun ’adam, translated “humankind” by NET in Gen. 1:27, means: 1) “collectively mankind, people,” and 2) “individual man.”[1] In a limited number of cases, the Hebrew word has been rendered as the name of the first man, Adam; this suggests that Adam has a certain priority in setting the pattern of human experience (see Romans 5).

Clearly, the NET Bible views  Gen. 1:27 as an instance of the collective usage. Another clear example of the collective usage occurs in Genesis 5:2. The term “humankind” means “human beings collectively,”[2] and it arose in the seventeenth century as a synonym for “mankind.” The translators of the NET Bible have said, “In all cases the goal for the NET Bible was to be as accurate as possible with regard to gender-related language, faithfully reproducing the original text in clear contemporary English.”[3]

Back to Genesis 1:27

The complete message of our verse has not always been popular in the church. When pagan philosophy, specifically a form of dualism, invaded the church in its earliest centuries, many things were placed in categories according to their perceived value. For example, this erroneous view taught that the spirit was good, but the body was bad; it taught that thought was good, but emotions were bad; and it taught that male was good, but female was bad. Obviously, that last idea runs squarely against the revelation that God created male and female in his own image. To illustrate one value of this concept, Eve did not fall into sin (Genesis 3) because she was inherently evil but because she was deceived and made a choice contrary to what God had said.

Hamilton explains the significance of “male and female” by saying: “Sexuality is not an accident of nature, nor is it simply a biological phenomenon. Instead it is a gift of God. While sexual identity and sexual function are foreign to God’s person, they are nevertheless a part of his will for his image bearers.”[4]

God went to considerable lengths to maintain gender clarity as part of the created order. As part of the theme of deterioration due to sin, discussed in the Introduction to this study, sexual confusion gradually emerges in the account of Genesis. In Genesis 6 we find unsanctioned sexual activity as part of the wickedness running wild in the pre-flood world. After the flood, the evil of sexual perversion again manifests itself in the aggressive homosexuality and fornication in ancient Sodom on the eve of its destruction (Genesis 19).

In the next post on Genesis, we will encounter the sanction of sexual activity between male and female as part of the design God gave to his creation. Meanwhile, the reader may reflect on whether our contemporary society lies closer to the sexual purity of God’s created order or the perversion of it in ancient Sodom.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) ’adam, mankind, man, q.v.

[2] “humankind.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 27 Aug. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humankind>.

[3] “Introduction to the First Edition,” NET Bible (Plano: Biblical Studies Press, 2005) 18.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 138–139.