Dueling Birthdays

May 17, 2008

Well, the May family birthday madness has come and gone, ending with Grandmother Shirley’s birthday yesterday. The May birthdays are May 8 (Carol and James), May 13 (Katie), May 15 (Me), and May 16 (Grandmother). I didn’t miss anybody did I? In honor of the birthday madness, and in order to not be outdone by James, I’ve composed my own little birthday ditty. I figure I might as well engage in some brotherly competition and bask in the glory of being better at my bluegrass instrument than James is at his…because it probably won’t last very long. This also provided a good excuse to use the new digital recorder I bought a few weeks ago. Click on the link below to download the song.

Dueling Birthdays

or for a smaller compressed file (the above is 28 megs) try this link:

Dueling Birthdays (mp3)

-Matt, the elder brother


A Response to “A Creation Story”

May 16, 2008

It was surprising to see how much controversy Matt’s relatively non-controversial and mainly descriptive post stirred up. Originally I wasn’t planning on making a response, since there is little to be discussed at this point. Since he has put his cards on the table, however, by disclosing the view that he currently favors, I figured that I should do the same. Here is my story.

I guess that most of my life I have been a young-earth creationist, given that this is the predominant view held by those in the community I grew up in. Almost all the way through junior high and high school, I really saw the debate as between young-earth creationism and naturalistic evolution, and given only these two options, it is not very hard for a Christian to choose. Obviously God is involved in our lives in a personal and intimate way, which entirely contradicts any concept of naturalism, which could be reworded as “a-supernaturalism,” or simply atheism.

I have not had nearly the exposure to science or the scientific community that Matt has had. In fact, I have only taken one science class at the U of A. Part of this false dichotomoy that arose in my mind between young-earth creationism and naturalistic evolution arose from the fact that I never understood what was meant by the Big Bang until Matt explained it to me sometime near the end of high school or the beginning of college. I thought that it was merely an attempt at an atheistic explanation of the universe’s existence. I didn’t realize there were intermediary options, and I had never even considered that such an incredible occurrence may only be able to be caused (or may be best explained) by the existence of an all-powerful deity. Anyway, I remember Matt telling me that there was a lot of scientific evidence (particularly in astrophysics, his field) that points toward an older universe, and in particular, a Big Bang.

Having a lot of faith in Matt’s level-headedness, my endorsement of young-earth creationism began to fade a little, although I still favored it as a likely possibility. Over the past few years since that conversation, I have learned a lot (philosophy, theology, i.e. my college education, etc). Slowly I have become more comfortable with an old-earth creation scenario. I wrote a physics paper earlier this semester on the Big Bang, which was really interesting, because I actually learned a lot of the reasons why physicists think the universe was created by a singularity (the Big Bang), and the evidence is compelling. This naturally brings up the question: “If God didn’t create the universe by the Big Bang, then why did he make it look like he did?” Basically, this pushes me into skepticism of young-earth creationism, favoring old-earth creationism, although I really remain an agnostic on the issue. Another change in my academic development that helps me lean towards this view is a more open-minded and critical interpretation of Genesis, instead of blindly accepting the “Sunday School” interpretation. Although I don’t have a firm view on how it should be interpreted, I think that there is evidence both for and against a literal six days, but I will begin to address that in my first post in this series. I really don’t think about this issue that much, because I think that it gets too much attention (and negative attention at that) in the Church today, and it drags believers away from more important issues. Throughout my entire journey to this point, I have always held the stance that “however God created the universe, he created it,” and I think that the most important part of the Genesis account it obvious: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I have always been much more interested in the characters and themes of the creation/fall story, and not so much in the details, but perhaps this is simply my fascination with theology and the abstract in general. I have always preferred the question: “What does this tell us about God and his relationship to man?” to “What does this tell us about science/the world?”

-James, the younger brother

Guess Who is Thirty Minus Two Today?

May 15, 2008

Matt, this is just a little somethin’ somethin’ I whipped up to wish you a Happy Birthday. By the way…28 sounds really old, but don’t worry. You still have plenty of youth left in you.

By the way, I’ve been having a lot of fun on my banjo, if you can’t tell.
–Best Birthday Wishes

-James the younger brother

A Distraction: “An Evangelical Manifesto”

May 14, 2008

Since we just finished a series on Religion and Politics, I thought this was relevant.  I haven’t had time to read it in full, but it’s been creating a lot of stir.  You can read the manifesto here.  I found out about it at the following blog, which seems to have a lot of interesting material. Al Mohler has also written a fairly extensive analysis on his blog.  Maybe we’ll get around to some of our own discussion of it in the future.

-Matt, the elder brother

A Call for Scientific Evidence for Young Earth Creationism

May 14, 2008

In our current series on science and religion I am planning an upcoming post discussing some of the young earth creationist scientific arguments for an young earth. Rather than just picking a couple by random, I am hoping to involve the readers and solicit some. I won’t be responding to these for some time (probably at least 1 month), but this will give you time to find your choice of arguments. I also cannot claim to be a expert in all areas of science, so I may have some prejudice towards things astronomical (or possibly geological). Please submit detailed arguments as opposed to vague remembrances of something you heard once. The ideal submission would include a link to a detailed online scientific article. Finally, I will respond to some percentage of these, but what that percentage is will depend on how many responses I get.

Addendum:  Given the incoming comments, a clarification is in order.  In my attempt to be evenhanded, apparently I came across as endorsing a young earth view.  This is not the case.  For a disclosure of my views on the subject see my recent post A Creation Story.

-Matt, the elder brother

My Cup Runneth Over (Part I)

May 12, 2008

I’m long overdue for a personal update, so here goes:

A little more than a year and a half ago I began an interesting journey. It started one day when I was sitting in a talk during a Galaxy Formation conference. The talk was about a computer modeling technique that we refer to as semi-analytic modeling. I suddenly found myself struck by the question of whether a similar technique could be applied to simulate the process of cave formation (as most of you know, I am hopelessly obsessed with caves). It was in this moment that I realized that it might actually be possible to apply my physics and computer skill set to the study of caves. Later that day I found myself scouring the available online literature to see what sorts of simulations people had used to study caves. For the next few months I spent much of my free time reading books and articles on cave formation, and was pleased to discover that several of the top people in the field were actually physicists. The obsession grew in my mind as I began to wonder whether I had possibly found a way to match my interest in math and physics with my passion for caves. The reasons I hadn’t pursued this in the past are complex and various (I almost majored in geology as an undergrad), but now it began to seem like a viable option. The only question was, “Was it possible for me to make this kind of career transition after finishing up a PhD in astrophysics?”

In late winter of last year I contacted Van Brahana (a geology professor at the U of A who had taught my undergrad course on karst [cave] hydrogeology), to get his opinion of my idea. His response was encouraging, though he wasn’t exactly sure of the best way to accomplish the transition. In the meantime I also signed up for a conference on “Future Directions in Karst” that was being held in San Antonio right after my planned caving expedition to Rio Iglesia in Mexico.

Luckily, Brahana was also attending the conference and he introduced me to a number of other geologists, including Carol Wicks who gave me some great advice about making this kind of transition. She herself had started out in chemical engineering before making a transition to studying karst. Additionally, I met a researcher from Slovenia, Franci Gabrovšek, who is one of the top researchers using computer simulations to study speleogenesis and was also a PhD physicist and caver. After attending the conference I was feeling a lot more positive about trying to make the jump to studying karst.

About a month later I had another great opportunity when I made a month-long trip to Europe. This trip started with a week-long astrophysics conference in Chamonix and then I spent a couple of weeks in Germany working with collaborators there and giving talks. At the end of that time I had a couple of extra days for vacation. Originally I had planned to spend them near Munich, but I realized that Slovenia (the cradle of cave science and type location of karst) was only a day’s train ride away. Furthermore, tickets from Munich to Ljubljana were on sale.

The night before I left I decided to go for it and see if I could meet up with Franci. I sent him an email saying that I would be in Postojna, which is where I thought he lived and is the location of the karst research institute. If nothing else I knew I could see the tourist caves near there so the trip wouldn’t be wasted. I rode the train through Austria (past the castle from The Sound of Music) and into Slovenia, arriving in Postojna early that evening. I settled into a hostel and set out to check out the tourist cave in town, Postojna Cave. On the tour I met a couple from Carlsbad, NM who actually knew one of the early leaders of the Lechuguilla exploration, though that is a different story. After the tour I walked back to the center of town and went into a restaurant for dinner. A few minutes after I sat down, lo and behold Franci walked into the restaurant to get a drink of water for his son. I was dumbfounded. After getting the water Franci walked back out and I sat in bewilderment. Several seconds later I realized I should get up and chase him down. I ran out into the courtyard outside and yelled his name. He turned around and also for a moment looked fairly bewildered. He had not yet gotten my email because he had been out of town. We agreed to meet up later that evening after he had eaten and gotten his kids in bed. It turned out that his apartment was right next door to my hostel.For the next day I got a personal tour around the classic karst, and I had plenty of opportunity to barrage Franci with questions about transitioning from astrophysics to karst. He seemed to think that it wouldn’t be too difficult. I came away from this amazing trip feeling fairly certain of what I wanted to do. I was beginning to feel the hand of divine providence pushing me forward, but little did I know what was in store. To be continued…

-Matt, the elder brother

A Creation Story

May 10, 2008

Let no man or woman, out of conceit or laziness,

think or believe that anyone can search too far or be

too well informed in the Book of God’s Words or the Book

of God’s Works: religion or science. Instead, let everyone

endlessly improve their understanding of both.

-Sir Francis Bacon (1605)

This post begins our new series on religion and science. Since things are so hectic for me right now, and many of the posts in this series are likely to require some thought and research, the posts may come slowly and sporadically. There is a lot of potential ground we can cover, but I think that our central focus will be on trying to understand the relationship between science and Genesis. This is an issue that I have personally spent a lot of time thinking about. In this first post, I hope to accomplish two things: 1) tell the story of my personal journey with this issue, and 2) provide a survey of the various Christian views on the subject. The latter happens fairly naturally with the first since at one point or another I have subscribed to all of the various views that I would consider to be validly Christian.

For me the journey began in the 7th grade, the one year that I attended Shiloh Christian school. My life science class was taught by “Mr. Mac,” who was a young earth creationist. While most of the course covered typical biology curricula we had a special unit on creation/evolution. At the end of this unit we all had to write a short paper supporting one view or the other. Thus began my stint as a young earth creationist. I became pretty fired up about the topic and convinced my parents to order a bunch of videos from the Institute for Creation Research. The young earth creationist view hinges on a specific interpretation of the Old Testament where the creation story in Genesis is seen as taking place over 7 days and the genealogy of the Old Testament is used to calculate the total age of creation. Typically our current landscape is seen as having formed during the flood described in Genesis.

The next significant point in my journey was when I attended Probe Ministries’ Mind Games conference. This was an excellent, intense, week-long stint of apologetics presentations and discussion. Probe (perhaps for political reasons) kept an agnostic view about the young/old earth debate. They presented both views and discussed a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each. During this conference I more or less adopted their open “agnostic” view, though at heart I was still a young-earther.

College marked the next important stage. While in college I took the time to read up on some of the old earth creationist material, specifically astronomer Hugh Ross (books of his worth reading include Creator and the Cosmos and The Genesis Question). Also, I learned quite a bit about cosmology and our current picture of the history of the Universe. Two things became obvious to me: 1) there were respectable Christians who believed in an old earth, and 2) the young earth view really was not an equally valid scientific view. I found myself faced with the following conundrum. Everything within science pointed toward an old Universe and an old earth. In fact, as we look out into space we are looking back in time (because it takes a while for light to travel from distant stars) we can see events occurring billions of years ago. The Christian who believes that the Universe is only ~10,000 years old is really forced into believing that all of these apparent events, and all of the evidence for age, are merely an elaborate make-believe story that God has implanted within reality. To me this is theologically unsatisfactory. It makes God into a deceiver. Thus it was the theological implications of the scientific evidence that led me to abandon young earth creationism.

At that point in time, the view I found most attractive was that of the
old earth creationists. Essentially, this camp hangs on to a literal interpretation of Genesis while trying to understand how it matches what science tells us about our origins. Typically this is done by saying that each day in Genesis is an long period of time in the real Universe. In fact the ancient Hebrew word for day is the same as the word for a long period of time. The old earth creationist claims scientific accuracy for Genesis. In fact, Hugh Ross’s own journey is interesting. As an agnostic astronomer, he set out to read all of the world’s religious texts in order to justifiably be able to reject them. He saved the Bible for last. Upon reading the Genesis account he was amazed by how well it matched the current scientific picture. This in fact ultimately led to his conversion. Perhaps the best exposé on the old earth view is the above-mentioned The Genesis Question. Members of this camp were many of the initiators of the Intelligent Design movement.

The final defensible Christian view on origins is that of evolutionary creationism (also called theistic evolution). The advocates of this view are many, particularly within the community of Christian scientists and intellectuals. This is the camp that I currently most closely identify with. There is an excellent (if dry) lecture on the creation evolution debate by a proponent of this view (Denis Lamoureux) available here. He also has a nice summary handout that includes a useful chart that explains the views of various camps. Watching this lecture will take a good chunk of time (1 hour 20 min), but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the issue as it is a great overview and helps to put the whole debate within its historical and theological context. The central difference between evolutionary creationism and the other Christian views is in its approach toward interpreting Genesis. This view claims that Genesis was never intended to be read as a scientific account, but rather as a theological treatise on God’s relation to man and the rest of creation, and man’s relation to man and the rest of creation. In any case, it seems difficult to argue that this isn’t the the most important purpose of Genesis. The view also accepts an evolutionary origin for man (which has a great deal of scientific evidence). This view is attractive to me for several reasons. First, I don’t see any convincing theological or spiritual reasons why we need to treat Genesis as a scientific treatise. This view is epistemologically quite a bit more solid, as it does not rely on shifting, falsifiable scientific theories in order to prop up one’s faith. Secondly, the view allows us to accept the current scientific picture without removing any the important theological pillars of our faith.

In general, since science is always changing, I think it is dangerous to connect too much of your faith with a particular scientific view of the world. Some change in scientific theory should not result in a crisis of faith. Examples of problems with this abound in the church’s history. Remember that Galileo was excommunicated for saying the the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. I personally have felt the effects of this within my own journey. My faith bears the scars inflicted as the result of misplaced confidence in particular scientific views on our origin. Instead of tying our faith to a particular scientific theory, and incorporating an adversarial view toward advances in science, we should think of science as another way to learn about God’s creation. In order to do this we must understand what parts of the Bible are intended to be taken scientifically and historically and what parts are not.

I don’t consider this post to be a sufficient argument for any one view, but rather it gives you an idea of the lay of the land, and provides you with a disclosure about my views on the subject. Over the course of this series James and I will delve into the nitty-gritty. We’ll delve into the scripture interpretation. We’ll delve into the science. We’ll delve into the theology. I hope that the result will be to help the reader grow in both faith and knowledge about God’s creation.

-Matt, the elder brother