Monday, December 22, 2014

Physics and Christianity Revisited

Last year around this time, I posted a thing.  That thing was a blog post entitled "Reconciling Physics with Christianity."  I posted it somewhat ignorantly and have done some exploration, both biblical and otherwise, of the big ideas addressed in that blog post.  This year, I'm going to give you all the re-evaluated version of that post exploring three specific ideas: the Big Bang Theory, the Theory of Evolution, and the concept of free will.  As a scientist and a Christian, these are ideas on which I have decided I need to take an educated stance.  That position is my own; it is ever-evolving, and I welcome alternative perspectives, whether in agreement or opposition, so do not hesitate to comment if you, the reader, have something you would like to share on any of these topics. 

The Big Bang Theory is the idea that the entire universe began as an infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity which, at some point, began to expand rapidly.  During this expansion, particles collided, things happened, and, long story short, the universe as we know it was born.  The process that I have just crudely described is believed to have taken place over the course of roughly fourteen-and-a-half billion years.
Cool, we're all on the same page.
Last semester, I took a class called "Modern Physics."  It was basically an introduction to Quantum and Relativity.  In this class, I was exposed to the foundation upon which the Big Bang Theory was built.  I learned about the microwave background and about the history of our universe from a physicist's perspective.  I learned that there is a lot of evidence, both mathematical and empirical, for the Big Bang Theory.  I learned that there are many good reasons for the theory's popularity and lifespan.  The predictive calculations performed using this model for universal expansion have proven to be almost undeniably accurate.  If our universe expanded from a singularity, then it probably happened in this way.
All of that being said, I still can't subscribe to the theory.  The most outstanding detail, in my opinion, that the Big Bang Theory fails to shed light on is the very beginning of time.  Scientists have not been able to determine just what initiated the "Big Bang."  There are theories, but they are not provable, and any theory that cannot be experimentally proven falls under faith, not science.  Which brings me to what I believe.  I can't fathom an explanation for either eternal existence or spontaneous formation (also known as creation) without a prime mover.  In this way, and in many others, the Big Bang Theory points to intelligent design.
But I said the evidence of the Big Bang was "almost undeniably accurate"!  How could something so convincing be incorrect?  Honestly, it's a great model.  As I said, if our universe expanded from a singularity, the Big Bang Theory would likely be the one to correctly describe this expansion.  However, the acceptance of God as the creator of the universe throws a monkey wrench into the equation.  For God as I know him to be real, the Bible must be true.  Why?  Because God is omniscient and omnipotent; He says that the Bible is true, and He cannot be wrong.  For the Bible to be true, the universe cannot be fourteen-and-a-half billion years old because it reads that God created the earth as it is in seven days (I know many of you will disagree, so I will likely end up exploring the foundation for this belief in more detail in the near future).  If the earth is not fifteen billion years old, the Big Bang Theory breaks down from a mathematical perspective and cannot be true.  However, it is possible for the evidence of the Big Bang to exist without the occurrence of rapid universal expansion because God created the earth (and everything else) with apparent age.  Trees were not created as seeds nor were humans created as babies.  In the same way, our universe wasn't created a newborn; it was created with an apparent age of fourteen-and-a-half billion years which can be accurately modeled with an idea such as the Big Bang Theory.
In brief summary, the Big Bang Theory in conjunction with my Christian convictions leads me to the conclusion that God created the universe with apparent age in such a fashion that it matches a predictive model which obeys the physical laws He set in place.

Evolution is supported by a metric crap-ton of evidence as well.  I haven't done too much looking into it, though, to be completely honest, and I'll tell you why.  I have already come to the conclusion that God exists.  I could write a book describing all of the factors that have led me to this end, but I won't bother you with its pages now.  Instead, I will simply explain why, as a Bible-believing Christian, I cannot subscribe to the Theory of Evolution.  To reiterate, I'm taking the existence of God for granted and going from there.
There are two fundamental aspects of Genesis which make the Theory of Evolution impossible from a Christian perspective.  First, Genesis explicitly claims that God created the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the land.  If the Bible is accurate, then these creatures cannot have evolved from a single-celled organism; simply put: God says they didn't.  Second, Genesis claims the existence of a soul in humans.  The book does not mention God giving any other living creature a soul.  Man could not have evolved from any other species if God as I know him exists because there would be no defined line between beast and man.  This gradient between animals and humans, who were uniquely created in the image of God, makes the appointment of a soul impossible to make non-arbitrarily.
Simply, if the book of Genesis is true, then the Theory of Evolution cannot be accurate.

Free will.  I guess my stance on free will depends on how you define it.  God has many qualities-- among the first that come to mind are omnipotent and omniscient.  We could never surprise a God who is both of these things.  Lots of people get their panties all up in a bundle when they hear this and start protesting that "a loving God would give us a choice."  But what is a choice?  As far as any of us have the ability to see, our choices are our own.  God's inescapable will for each of us should not detract from the freedom of our choices from a human perspective.  I refer to this paradox as "the perfect illusion."  If God truly is in control, then our choices cannot be our own; however, if we are puppets, we don't feel the strings.  
Think about it, though.  I know the puppet illustration isn't agreeable, but if God's purpose on earth was really left in the hands of such broken people as we are, would we truly have the promise of victory?  How could we, who struggle with all multitudes of sins every day, hope to accomplish the work our God without his guiding hand?  I know this question lends itself to the response that "God's hand does guide us, but it doesn't force us," but consider the implications of that statement.  How many times, when you were faced with temptation, have you given in, despite the conviction that you felt even as it was happening?  We are totally depraved; we will always sin.  God's grace, however, is perfect, and it is sufficient in our weakness.  If God did not intervene on our behalf, we could never fulfill his will on earth.  
This conversation naturally leads to the question of the elect.  God's chosen people are often referred to throughout the Bible.  It's indicated with complete clarity that the elect were chosen before the beginning of time.  This doesn't sit well with people for all of the same reasons that the absence of free will doesn't.  The most common argument against the idea of the elect is that it contradicts God's loving nature.  I would argue, however, that it enhances it.  If the gift of salvation was awarded based on anything that we have done, everyone who has ever walked the earth aside from God's son would go to hell.  It is God's overwhelming love and grace and mercy that pardon's his elect.  Furthermore, if we can agree on God's omniscience, then we can't disagree on the existence of God's chosen people.  My cousin, Jeff, is quick to point out that the only reason his worship can be genuine is because God chose him, a sinner who doesn't deserve salvation, to be one of his adopted children.  If it was our choice or our merit that earned us our place in God's kingdom, then we could no longer earnestly sing about his mercy.
In short, God exists outside of time; there is nothing that surprises Him.  He is omniscient, omnipotent, and all-loving at the same time.  That being said, we are given the perfect illusion of free will, which, though it makes the hard times seem harder, it also makes the victory seem sweeter.

So that's what I've come to so far.  The Big Bang is an excellent model.  Evolution disagrees with the Bible on a fundamental level.  Free will is the perfect illusion.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Christian Vernacular

          "I hope God imparts wisdom to your soul and adorns you with his blessings in this time of tribulation."

          It's weird to listen to the way Christians talk.  It's as though we feel the need to put on this facade whenever we're in religious circles.  You hear a lot about the way people act happy or "good" and about the way they lift their hands during worship, but I'm not going to talk about those things.  I'm going to talk about the words we use.  

          I find that it happens most often when we pray or when we give advice.  How often have you bowed your head and closed your eyes, then felt like you were listening to another language?  I'm not talking about tongues-- that's another topic.  I'm talking about the words that people might use once every couple of months in everyday conversation that they manage to squeeze into every sentence of their prayers.  I'm talking about storm analogies and generic, out-of-context references to scripture.  We weave together all of these things into a tapestry that, when it's done, looks nothing like we do.  If you're getting defensive: don't.  It's nothing that I'm not guilty of, and it's not an idea that's specific to Christianity-- we try and fit in everywhere we go (for some reason).  However, I feel like it's particularly noticeable in religious spheres, so that's what I'm going to spend most of my words exploring.

          So that's the Christian Vernacular.  The words and generic turns of phrase that Christians use around their "brothers and sisters in Christ."  But let's talk about why anyone should care.  It's a free country, right?  Talk how you want to (talk) when you want to (talk that way)!  Sure, sure.  But I have some concerns.  The Christian Vernacular is indicative of training that has happened over the course of our lives; it shows that much of our speech in these circles is habitual.  This is... largely unavoidable, right?  Religion is a very routine thing for many people.  It shouldn't be.  But it is.  And when you let your religion become something that happens at church on Sundays, you come face to face with the real danger at work here.  The real danger is not habit of speech; it's habit of thought.  Water that is stagnant becomes polluted and gross.  An athlete who doesn't improve can't compete.  A Christian who limits himself to a weekly routine suffers a similar fate.  If you aren't getting better, you're getting worse, and it's important to avoid habit of thought if we truly want to improve as students of the Bible and as followers of Christ.  

          "My thought isn't habitual, Calvin.  Who are YOU to tell ME that just because I talk differently at church than I do at home, I'm becoming a routine Christian?"  No one, of course.  But that's not the only issue with the Christian Vernacular.  Think of the non-believer who comes to church on Sunday and gets little to nothing out of the sermon because it's so littered with our oddities that they can hardly follow along?  Think of the friend to whom you're trying to reach out who can't understand the ideas your trying to convey because your phraseology in relation to Christian topics has always been tainted by the Christian Vernacular that your friend doesn't speak?  It's difficult to break from the way you do anything you've been trained your whole life to do.  People don't bother to try and listen in or follow along when Jeff and I talk about Yu-Gi-Oh or Super Smash because it sounds like a foreign language to them-- we've been told this on multiple occasions.  We're commanded to spread the gospel; how will we do that when even those with ears to hear trip over our exclusive language?  Now, to be fair, I'm being a little ridiculous.  People aren't stupid; they know what you're trying to say.  However, there are important subtleties that can be lost in translation, and I think that's worth noting.

          My main concern, though, is sincerity.  Maybe not even sincerity, but at LEAST the appearance of sincerity.  It is important both to be genuine and to appear genuine in religious spheres.  However, I think that in an attempt to sound genuine, we sacrifice our sincerity, if that makes any sense.  I'll try to explain.  People roll up to church and want to sound like they've been they've been there before, so they use all of these classic "I can do all things" and "for God so loved the world" deals when they talk with their friends.  Then, it comes time to pray, and they want to sound like they're good at praying (whatever that means), so they use all these fancy-pants words that they hear other people say when their eyes are closed.  There's clearly a disconnect between the heart and the mouth there, right?  And I know what you're thinking "I don't do that."  But, in truth, we all do.  It may not be conscious, but we do it, and I think that we would be better off if we didn't.
          I think it would behoove Christians to try to marry their speech in and out of the church building.  It's a good exercise to, when you're praying alone in your room, make an effort to say what you're thinking and what you want to communicate to God rather than what you've been trained to say to him.  I often find myself using the same structure day after day when I'm praying, and I've found that, when I do this, I'm usually distracted or thinking about other things.  This is a habit I'm trying to break.  The next step is to make the same changes when you're talking to your Christian friends.  It's all about intentionality-- something I've been working on lately.  I don't want to tell anyone what to do, but if you feel like this is something you're struggling with, as I have been, then these are just some ideas to get you started on making some changes for the better.

That's a lot to chew on, but here is the tl;dr version:
-Christians talk funny; I call this the Christian Vernacular.
-Habits of speech often reflect habits of thought, and these are dangerous.
-People don't want to listen to a bunch of stuff they don't really understand.
-Sincerity matters.

          I want to leave you guys with a challenge that I was faced with last week at InterVarsity, adapted slightly.  What is one positive change that you could make in your life?  What is keeping you from making that change?  If you ask yourself this every day and make a genuine effort to be intentional about making those changes, imagine the person you could become.