Barry Newman's Blog

December 23, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:45 am

Here is the full series


December 5, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XX)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 12:13 am

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 and Cosmological Theory

Modern scientific cosmological theories, there isn’t one simple cohesive theory, put the age of the universe at around 13. 7 thousand million years old with our galaxy coming into existence a few hundred million years later. A date of this magnitude for the origin of the universe has been arrived at via three different independent methods. Our solar system is considered to be about 4. 6 thousand million years old.  Within a very small fraction of a second from the “beginning” of space and time, a very small excess of particles over antiparticles, of the order of one in 30 million, lead to the basically “particle” and energy ridden universe as we know it.  What are termed the four fundamental interactive forces or fields – gravitational, strong nuclear, weak nuclear and electromagnetic also came into existence well within that first second.  The galaxies and systems within the galaxies began to form later from “chance” aggregations of matter.

Attempts are being made to develop a theory known as the “Grand Unified Theory” (GUT), a theory that “unites” the last three of the four fundamental interactive forces.  So far the attempts have met with some though limited success. There have been further attempts to develop a theory known as a “Theory of Everything” (TOE), a theory that “unites” all four fundamental interactive forces. The attempts have not really met with any success.  One of the problems at the heart of TOE is how general relativity theory, which relates to the gravitational force, is to be associated with quantum mechanical theory which relates to the other three forces.  The existence of the theoretical particles, the Higgs boson and the Graviton are generally thought to be intrinsic to their being a satisfactory TOE.  The Higgs boson is considered to be responsible for the property of “mass” while the graviton is considered to be the mediator of the gravitational field associated with “mass”.  If these theories and ideas or subsequent ones have substance, what looks like exceeding complexity to most of us, certainly to me, might demonstrate simplicity in the universe.  This may be considered to have a certain appeal to those of us who are confident of God being the creator of the universe.  However a connection between simplicity in the universe and the nature of God himself does not automatically follow.

One of the issues flowing from cosmological theory that concerns some Christians is, again the long period of time that would have elapsed before the appearance of man.  Another is the role that chance seems to play in the nature and development of our universe, including the formation of galaxies and our earth in particular. Ways of responding to these sorts of issues have already been indicated above when considering the implications of biological evolutionary theory.  A more recent development, likely to give some Christians concern has been the discovery of nearby planets.  So far none of these planets is considered likely to have produced life forms or at least life forms with which we are familiar or that are highly developed.

While there is a high expectancy in some scientific circles of finding life on other planets it may be that the conditions for life to develop, given some notion of biological evolution, are so stringent that the probability of having these expectations fulfilled is remote.  Certainly, given the exceedingly great distances between stars and whatever planets there are that are associated with some of these stars, the universe is such that two-way communication between life forms on different planets is likely to be very difficult if not, in practice, impossible. 

It appears that information cannot be conveyed at any speed greater than the speed of light and two-way communication between living creatures doubles the minimum time required for the communication to occur.  Such communication would require that there be two types of sentient beings, each living on different planets at “around the same time”, having relevant “scientific” perspectives, with access to appropriate “technologies” and having an interest in bringing about such communication.  It is the low probability of such a situation occurring together with the large space between such planets that makes existence on any planet to be a relatively lonely one.  If sentient beings do exist in other parts of the universe, the Genesis account and the overall Biblical perspective would still imply that all life forms, no matter of what type or wherever found are still the creator’s handiwork.  

One of the interesting features of our universe is the set of special conditions which appear to exist without which life as we know it would not have come into being.  One of these special conditions is related to the expansion of the universe.  It appears that if it had expanded too slowly or too rapidly “developed” life forms would not have appeared. There seems to be a large number of these special conditions.  One of them relates to the energy associated with a particular excited state of a specific isotope of the carbon nucleus.  If the energy were slightly greater than what it is then the universe would consist almost entirely of only hydrogen and helium and presumably no life forms would have come into existence.  Relationships between various initial conditions might be such that the number of independent special conditions is much smaller than otherwise would be the case. 

Perhaps to avoid the notion that the universe is special, with whatever implications might be considered to follow from such speciality, the idea of a multiplicity, perhaps an infinite number, of universes has been proposed.  Arguably, because of the nature of universes, if considered to be closed systems, hard evidence for such a multiplicity of universes may never be possible to come by.  There may be an appeal for such an idea arising from some mathematical elegance but that or something similar might constitute the limit to whatever evidence could be claimed.  A multiplicity of universes or not, again, the Genesis account and the overall Biblical perspective is that all that is, is of God’s making.

From one point of view the Genesis account is quite limited when considered in the light of modern scientific understandings.  It is limited in terms of the entities to which it refers.  To some extent it reflects viewpoints belonging to an ancient world.  In terms of scientific cause and effect associations within our world it could be judged to say nothing.  With respect to what it doesn’t say, my own view is that it neither rejects nor affirms any evolutionary, cosmological or probably any other “decent” scientific theory.  Neither does it make any appeal to anything magical, anything incomprehensibly mystical or any complex world of independently existing demons or gods.  It denies the existence of such.  In its extraordinary simplicity it maintains both directly and implicitly that there is one God only and that all of creation, whatever that might amount to, and never to be confused with him in any way, has come into being by his will.  It points its finger however at mankind as being of supreme importance, with the Biblical account ultimately focussing on that one man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, whom the Father raised from the dead, thereby “creating a crack” in the universe and spelling its ultimate demise, and to whom the Father has given his own name, “Lord”.

December 1, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XIX)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 7:42 am

Let us now return to biological evolutionary theory.  S.C. Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, has expressed the view (in an address, “Darwin’s Compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation”, an ISCAST- CEN – CPX lecture delivered 21 Sept. 2009, Sydney), which he acknowledges is not a common one, that biological evolutionary processes are not thoroughly random.  If evolutionary development were allowed to start all over again and under the same conditions, in the course of time one would end up with a very similar history, with the life forms produced bearing some similarity to those that in fact were produced.  The evolutionary “pressures” would be similar.   That is, those factors responsible for evolutionary development would always hold.  Consequently, the directions which evolutionary development would take, given the same initial conditions, would be much the same, no matter when occurring.  Given these evolutionary “pressures” it perhaps should not strike us as remarkable that various and very different life forms develop similar mechanisms for living in this the world.  For example, eyes of one form or another, including a box camera like apparatus in some jelly fish have developed in a range of organisms. Wings of various types have developed in fish, reptiles, insects, birds and mammals.  That is, one could argue that even if God were “playing” with creation, any creation set up by God in our universe, would produce life forms, similar to what we observe to have been in existence, where there were suitable conditions for life forms to evolve in the first place.

That man should bear a biological relationship with other life forms should not be seen to be a diminution of the significance of mankind.   Insects might be more numerous and extraordinary in the effect they have on their environment but we are the creatures that through our mental and physical capabilities exercise considerable control over our environment for better or for worse. Though other creatures can communicate with each other and some communicate and develop relationships with mankind our mental “where with all” and our ability to create language of considerable complexity make us stand apart in our relationship with each other and with God.  Our biological heritage is what it is but if it is of an evolutionary nature, that in itself has no bearing on our relationship with God and his fulfilling his purposes through us.

Palaeontologists provide the following estimates for the appearance of various life forms: Simple cells (prokaryotes) – 3. 8 billion years ago. Complex cells (eukaryotes) – 2.0 billion years ago. Land plants – 475 million years ago. Mammals – 200 million years ago. Modern humans – 200, 000 years ago.  These dates have been supported by appeal to a large variety of dating methods including a number of different radio isotopic procedures. Without dealing with the age of modern human beings in this blog series, we humans conceptualise time in certain ways. Gold fish, with their very short memories, would have a completely different view!   What “time” means to God, if it is appropriate to even pose the matter that way, is unfathomable.   The question then of why would God take such a long time to bring human beings into existence becomes an odd one to ask and we cannot be confident that it makes much sense.  The reality is that we are here now and God has done things in our recent history with the people of Israel and through Jesus of Nazareth and what he has done has been documented.  It might seem odd to us that God should, from our point of view, bring about momentous events associated with the people of Israel and through this Jesus, only in the last few years of his great creation, but from God’s point of view, well, who knows?

One of the offshoots from biological evolutionary theory has been evolutionary proposals of a social and psychological nature, some of which impinge on matters of culture, morality and religious belief.  We have many developmental theories that relate to our world – mountain building, river formation, etc. with respect to the “natural” world – ways of conceptualising our world, and ways of thinking morally as we change from infants to young adults, etc. with respect to our “human” world.  And as we continue to work with these developmental theories we refine them and sometimes replace them. Consequently we should be wary of using aspects of biological evolutionary theory, without reflection, in attempting to explain the existence of certain cultural characteristics, religious beliefs and moral attitudes in societies.  There might be some value in such a strategy but even if we were to adopt an atheistic position, presumably we would not wish to deny the complexity of human interactions one with the other, the complexity of the way human beings interact with their environment in general and the relative autonomy that characterises much of humanity compared to that of the animal and plant world.  Furthermore, sole appeal to evolutionary processes in such matters is to confine oneself to only one type of explanation and to be blind to the possibilities of other explanations.  Besides, at this stage the evidence claimed for the validity of such evolutionary understandings is quite limited and open to dispute.

Is biological evolutionary development going on today?  If it is a good theory, one would expect that to be the case.  However, given that significant evolutionary developments, according to the theory, occur over long periods of time we would not expect to see enormous changes occurring over a short period of time. Understandably then, given the short span of time in which human beings have existed, the living world would and does appear to have been relatively stable during that time. Whether new species have developed or not, there have not been any great changes in the biological world of modern man.  The point of view that Genesis adopts is that of God who created but who now has ceased his work.  For all intents and purposes the state of the world today is as portrayed in the Genesis account.  However contrary to an evolutionary prediction that living creatures will continue to evolve and in remarkable ways, the Biblical account of the future is very different.  God will wind up his universe at an appointed time.  There will be a resurrection of all mankind from the dead.  Judgement of all will occur and God’s Son, Jesus, the man in heaven, the Saviour of some, will be acknowledged by all to be the Lord.

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