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.

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.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 1:1–3

Genesis 1:1–3
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.  3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
(NET Bible)

God Begins Everything

The Bible begins by asserting a fact: to answer those who wonder why anything is here at all, the author of Genesis says God created everything. Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham quotes another scholar in saying, “’The first subject of Genesis and the Bible is God.’”[1]

Of course, many scientists abhor the idea that Genesis 1:1 presents a definite beginning brought about by God. The agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow has written:

When a scientist writes about God, his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers. . . . However, I am fascinated by the implications in some of the scientific developments of recent years [i.e. the Big Bang]. The essence of these developments is that the Universe had, in some sense, a beginning — that it began at a certain moment in time, and under circumstances that seem to make it impossible — not just now, but ever — to find out what force or forces brought the world into being at that moment. Was it, as the Bible says, “Thine all powerful hand that creates the world out of formless matter”? No scientist can answer that question; we can never tell whether the Prime Mover willed the world into being or the creative agent was one of the forces of physics; for the astronomical evidence proves that the Universe was created 15 billion years ago in a fiery explosion, and in the searing heat of that first moment, all the evidence needed for a scientific study of the cause of the great explosion was melted down and destroyed.[2]

Many scientists earnestly wish scientists like Jastrow would not say such things. His remarks reveal that scientists rely on faith just as Christians do; only the object of faith differs. The event Jastrow describes is the “Big Bang,” the prevailing theory of how the universe began. Some scientists have strongly resisted the Big Bang model of origins because a definite beginning for the universe takes the discussion too far toward the words of Genesis.[3]

But let us turn from the committed skepticism of some scientists to gain a better understanding of the biblical text. The word for “God” in Gen. 1:1, Hebrew elohim, is the most common word for deity and can be used for any god. The author of Genesis intentionally used elohim to let it be known that the creator of the whole universe is the God he describes, not merely some local deity. In part, Genesis counters other religious views of creation common in the ancient east.

Wenham explains: “It is important to appreciate the fact that Hebrew elohim is not simply synonymous with English ‘God.’ Thanks to secularism, God has become for many people little more than an abstract philosophical concept. But the biblical view avoids such abstractions.”[4] While contemporary society tends to marginalize God, the Bible shows that he is central to all that happens.

In saying “the heavens and the earth,” the author of Genesis uses a figure of speech (merism) that means “the universe.” We use the same type of idiom today when we say we refashioned something from top to bottom.

The Hebrew verb b?r?’, (Gen. 1:1) means “God creates,”[5] which makes clear the lexical fact that God is the only subject of this verb in the Old Testament. (Verbs normally take more than one kind of subject.) Ross offers a significant word study of b?r?’, and concludes:

The word b?r?’ is used exclusively for the activity of God in which he fashions something anew. The word can be used for creating something out of nothing, but that idea must come from the context and not from the inherent meaning of this word.[6]

Genesis 1:1 tells us the world did not just happen by chance. At a stroke, Genesis 1:1 sweeps aside atheism, cynicism, pantheism, humanism and naturalism. In their place we have God!

Many scholars have debated the complex details of Gen. 1:1–2, which is not surprising. Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke presents the most convincing conclusion, held by many, when he says:

The evidence, therefore, seems convincing that verse 1 should be construed as a broad, general declaration of the fact that God created the cosmos, and that the rest of the chapter explicates [expands] this statement. . . . It is concluded, therefore, that the structure of the account of the creation of the cosmos is as follows:

I. Introductory summary statement, 1:1.

II. Situation prior to the creation, 1:2.

III. Narrative of creation, 1:3–31.[7]

The Unformed Earth

The NET Bible Notes describe the state of the earth before the creative activity of God (Gen. 1:2): “What we now know as ‘the earth’ was actually an unfilled mass covered by water and darkness.”[8] In such a world there was nothing to distinguish any point from any other point; it was an empty, lifeless wasteland. Only later would God add an abundance of life to the oceans (Gen. 1:20) — but not yet.

Concerning Genesis 1:2, which he headlines as the “Negative State of Earth before Creation,” Waltke says: “The starting point of the story may be somewhat surprising. There is no word of God creating the planet earth or darkness or the watery chaos. The narrator begins the story with the planet already present, although undifferentiated and unformed.”[9]

In addition to being featureless and empty, the primeval earth was shrouded in “darkness,” waiting for God’s light-bearing word (Gen. 1:3). Most of us live in cities filled with ambient light, even at night. But this darkness (Hebrew, roughly k?shek) was pitch black; when it occurred during the plague of darkness in Pharaoh’s Egypt, the Egyptians had to grope for anything they sought (Exod. 10:21). Their eyes were useless! Ross says, “Darkness throughout the Bible represents evil and death — it is not conducive to life.”[10]

In this featureless gloom over the primeval world, the Spirit of God “was moving” over the surface of the water just as surely as darkness covered the surface of the deep. The Spirit moved in readiness (Gen. 1:2) to breathe life into the creation in a similar way to the Lord God subsequently breathing into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Nothing comes about in either case apart from the creative activity of God! The key activity in Gen. 1:2 is the “moving” of the Spirit of God; apart from the Spirit’s presence, the earth would have remained lifeless and shrouded in darkness.

The “God said” formula occurs ten times in chapter one (verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29), and in every case immediate change results. In Gen. 1:3, the author even uses short forms of the verbs to make the sentence as powerfully brief as possible. The Net Bible Notes say these verbs “form a profound wordplay [yehi ’or vayehi ’or; “let there be light and there was light”] to express both the calling into existence and the complete fulfillment of the divine word.”[11]

Wenham points out: “Throughout Scripture the word of God is characteristically both creative and effective. . . . But in this creation narrative these qualities are even more apparent.”[12]

In relation to “light,” Wenham says, “Light is often used metaphorically for life, salvation, the commandments, and the presence of God (Ps. 56:14; Isa. 9:1; Prov. 6:23; Exod. 10:23). It is the antithesis, literally and metaphorically, of k?shek ‘darkness.’”[13] For those who are wondering what the source of light might be, Waltke says, “Since the sun is only later introduced as the immediate cause of light, the chronology of the text emphasizes that God is the ultimate source of light.”[14] In Gen. 1:4, “God saw how beautiful the light was” (Hamilton’s translation).[15]

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

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 14, quoting O. Procksch.

[2] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Second Edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000) 9–10.

[3] Hugh Ross, “Big Bang Model Refined by Fire,” Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 363, 369.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.

[5] HALOT, bara’, God creates, q.v.

[6] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 728.

[7] Bruce K. Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part III,” Bibliotheca Sacra vol. 132, num. 527 (July-September, 1975) 227–228.

[8] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:2.

[9] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 59. Hamilton reaches the same conclusion (Genesis, 117); so does Ross (Creation & Blessing, 104–107).

[10] Ross, Creation & Blessing, 106.

[11] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:3.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[13] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[14] Waltke, Genesis, 61.

[15] 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) 118.


Books: Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin (Part 2)

In my first post on Lesslie Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence, I described Newbigin’s analysis of how skepticism captured the American mind and came to dominate in 2011. But, as the book title demonstrates, Newbigin is also trying to show how to have “proper confidence” even in the face of such pressure to trust nothing.

The heart of the book is chapter 3, which presents the ideas of Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) about “personal knowledge.” Polanyi, a Hungarian, was a kind of universal genius who made contributions to many fields including physical chemistry and the theory of knowledge. Polanyi rejected the idea of scientific objectivity because he believed that “all knowing of reality involves the personal commitment of the knower as a whole person.”[1]

As a research scientist, Polanyi had asked himself how scientific discoveries are made, and he concluded — as described by Newbigin — the following factors were involved:

1. “Learning is a skill which, like any other skill, cannot be acquired by the unaided mental processes of the student. It is acquired by working with and under the direction of those who are already skilled.”[2] [This sounds very much like attaining Christian maturity. BA]

2. “Scientists work by ‘indwelling’ this tradition. The assumptions, the assured findings of the past, and the methods of science become part of their own equipment on which they rely….Likewise when we have come to use a language freely, we indwell the language….By indwelling it we are able to make contact with the world around us.”[3] By indwelling the tradition and using the language of the field of knowledge, the scientist trusts the ‘fiduciary framework’ he has received and uses it to make further advances in knowledge. [The more biblical knowledge and outlook we absorb, the better we can follow the Holy Spirit into deeper understanding. BA]

3. “Recognition of a problem is an awareness, an intuition that there is something — a pattern or a harmony waiting to be found — hidden in the apparent haphazardness of empirical reality. This cannot be more than an intuition. And it may prove to have been an illusion….At every point along this course, there is need of personal judgment in deciding whether a pattern is significant or merely random.”[4] All of this relies so heavily on personal judgment and imagination that it is absurd to pretend it is all objective.

4. “In the work of the scientist, the focal point of attention has around it a vast area of what Polanyi calls ‘tacit knowledge.’ There is a vast amount which we know, which in fact guides our thinking, but which we do not explicitly formulate.”[5] [All we have previously learned about God contributes to what we are trying to learn. BA]

5. “That science will eventually enable us to understand everything in the visible world through the discovery of mass and energy laws governing the behavior of the smallest particles of matter, and that science will therefore enable us to eventually predict and control all events is an illusion….So also, to come to a well-known example, the laws of mechanics set limits on what any machine can do, but they do not explain the purpose for which the machine was constructed….We have to be informed either by the designer of the machine or by someone who is accustomed to using it for its proper purpose….For an explanation of the purpose of the machine we depend upon a personal communication accepted in faith.”[6] [This has wonderful applicability to man. Only the creator can tell us why man was created and what he should do to accomplish his purpose. We have to accept that information by faith, because we have no other way to learn it. BA]

6. “Although all claims to know involve a personal commitment, the scientist makes them ‘with universal intent.’ He claims that they are true not just for himself but for everyone….Knowing always involves the personal commitments of the knowers, for which they are prepared to risk their careers as scientists.”[7] [Christians learn by testing their ideas against those of other believers as well as through obedience to Christ in their behavior. BA]

Concluding Thoughts

“It follows (and this is Polanyi’s point) that there can be no knowing without personal commitment. We must believe in order to know. Polanyi emphasizes the fact that knowing is a form of activity. Like all activity it involves the interaction of a person with a word beyond him or her. It is an activity which (as we have seen) involves the whole person in a passionate commitment to make contact with reality.”[8]

I accept Polanyi’s view of personal knowledge. It is the most convincing I have ever read, and it conforms to what I both knew and saw in the laboratory while earning my master’s degree in engineering. The public has little grasp of the degree to which faith is part of the fabric of science, just as Polanyi says. This has been reported many times before.

The fact that we cannot achieve certainty — even certainty about God — through reasoning alone should not trouble us as Christians. God’s revelation in the Bible regularly calls on us to commit ourselves to Christ, his commands and his statements about the future with our faith. Committing to Christ and his Word — without being able to prove certainty — is what faith is all about. We believe in order to know, and the more we believe what our Lord has said, the more we will learn. The Bible makes plain that those who passionately seek God will surely find him.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 39.

[2] Ibid., p. 40.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 41.

[5] Ibid., pp. 41–42.

[6] Ibid., pp. 42–43.

[7] Ibid., p. 43.

[8] Ibid., p. 50.


Stephen Hawking Denies Heaven

On May 15th, The Guardian newspaper had an exclusive interview with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University. Hawking grandly announced — without surprising anyone who knows his views — that heaven was a “fairy story” for people afraid of death.

Why did The Guardian even report such trivia? In asking a question about heaven, the paper might just as well have asked Madonna or even a sleeping baby, whose knowledge of the matter is certainly the equal of Hawking’s. Just because someone sits in the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics does not mean they have a view of heaven out the office window — or the laboratory window for that matter.

I’m glad to say that Lord Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, countered some of Hawking’s earlier nonsense by saying: “There is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science.”

Hawking is undeniably intelligent, and his story of endurance in the face of crippling disease (ALS) is amazing. But his fame largely rests on scientific publications about black holes, quantum gravity and cosmology — all things that are highly technical and probably beyond experimental verification. After all, Hawking is among that large group of such scientists who only learned in the last ten years that all off their science to this point has been based on just four percent of the material that makes up the universe. They have no idea what “dark energy” and “dark matter” might be, and those things are reported to make up 96 percent of everything. Who knew? Not Stephen Hawking.

On a rare trip to New York City some years ago, I was riding the subway when I saw a poster on the inner wall. The top line said, “‘God is dead.’ — Nietzsche.” This had a single stroke drawn through it. The line that replaced it said, “‘Nietzsche is dead.’ — God.”

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.