Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

Savior Siblings and Septic Sons


“Unto Us, a Savior Is Born in France,” such is the triumphant tone of the science headlines from across the pond in France, where the latest “savior sibling” has arrived.  He is a healthy baby boy, weighing in at just over 8 lbs.  The first “savior sibling” was born in the U.S. back in 2000.  His name is Adam Nash.  Blood from his umbilical cord was used to save his sister’s life and caused no physical harm to him.

Nevertheless, the concept of a “savior sibling” is troubling in at least 3 significant ways: (1) It devalues all human life by making one human being the instrument by which another human being prospers. Just as slavery devalued all human life by acting as though some people were not “really persons,” so, too, savior siblings have the same effect of saying that one person’s life is valued only insofar as it serves someone else, someone prior, someone superior.  (2) It leads to a kind of enslavement.  Consider, for example, the movie My Sister’s Keeper.  In that film, the savior sibling was expected to donate a kidney for her dying sister because this is what a savior sibling does.  Such scenarios are not potentialities; they are necessities of this way of thinking about human beings.  (3) It makes gods out of scientists—and that is never a good thing.  Through IVF, scientists screen and discard many embryos, getting down to the genetically perfect match for the ailing sibling.  Already, human entities have been discarded, and this new savior child has been designed for the purpose of serving as a farm-like feeding trough of anatomical parts for parents to use in saving their favored child.

Anytime any form of human life becomes “less than human” or “not worthy of life” (as the Nazis would say), then door is opened to killing for a “higher” cause, thus fulfilling Romans 3: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery.”  The concept of savior siblings is built upon the notion that someone has a right to design and utilize the birth of a human being for the purpose of enhancing the life of another human being.  This is wrong because it devalues one human being in the face of another, defying the reality that each one of us (male and female) is created in the image of God.

We have become a people who are comfortable with such concepts as savior siblings because we, already, believe that mothers (even teen mothers) have the right to decide whether their children should live or die.  If a mother has the right to determine whether her baby lives or dies, then why would she not have the right to determine whether the baby donates cord blood or even a kidney?  The logic is inescapable.

Because of abortion, we have become quite dull in discerning the value of a human life.  Consequently, we find that some women are comfortable with having abortions, while others are ok with flushing their babies down the toilet (or at least trying to).  How do we get to a place in which a woman thinks it is all right to flush her son into a cesspool to die?  By devaluing human life in the womb.  If she could have killed the baby while it was in the womb, then why should she not be able to kill the baby once it comes out?  Again, the logic is sadly unavoidable.

I don’t think we should be bit surprised that parents with the help of doctors and scientists are designing babies to serve the needs of their unhealthy offspring. Parents want healthy children.  And science wants something new–anything new.  Upholding the value of human life has never been the strength of a godless science.  The 19th Century seeded the scientific psyche with the eugenics that was quickly employed in Nazi Germany (more slowly in the U.S. through Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood).  The 20th Century saw the Tuskegee experiments, the perverted Kinsey “science” of sexuality, and the celebration of “Dr. Death.” These examples make clear that Science alone cannot uphold the value of human life because science is, primarily, nothing more than a method of inquiry designed to increase knowledge.  Science is a quest for knowledge; it needs to have philosophy to determine the boundaries of where its inquiries might take place.  With a Judeo-Christian philosophy as its guide, science is able to progress in a positive direction which heals.  Without such a philosophy, science doesn’t care if it kills.

We cannot trust science alone to advance humanity.  The task is too great.  Humanity is a subject to be defined by philosophy and theology.  We must be awakened from our darkened stupor concerning science and its limits or we will see further horrors in the days to come.  It really is bad enough that we have savior siblings and cesspool sons. These are not oddities. These are explainable phenomenon based on our devaluing of human life in the womb.  As long as we are comfortable embracing abortion, we will see more sickening displays of our disregard for humanity.

Is Young Earth Essential Theology?


According to the claim of this BP article, Dr. Mohler has taken a dogmatic stand concerning the necessity of holding to a young earth view of creation.  Personally, I think that claim overstates the case which Dr. Mohler is making for the young earth.  His aim is much higher than the age of the earth.  He is, in fact, upholding the necessity of biblical authority in matters of science.  His concern is that if we begin merely with doctrinaire “science,” we will end without the doctrines of the gospel.  As the article points out, this vacating of doctrine is exactly what Dr. Mohler says is happening with BioLogos.

The age of the earth question actually arose from geology and not, specifically, from Darwinian evolution.  However, Darwinian evolution quickly picked up on the old age of the earth being posited by geologists. Evolutionists needed such long periods of time to explain how lower life forms (or non-living forms) could evolve into higher life forms.  So, the 19th Century saw a happy marriage between geologists and evolutionists (both operating on a naturalistic model of science).   According to this article, it wasn’t just the geologists and evolutionists who adopted the old earth theory.  Spurgeon, Hodge, and other influential (and otherwise evangelical) Christian leaders accepted an old age view of the earth based on what the scientists were saying.

What Dr. Mohler said in his response is that there are 3 ways to approach the age of the earth issue other than the way it is approached by evolutionists: (1) That creation occurred with the appearance of age, which is exactly what happened with Adam and Eve.

(2) That creation in its fallen state manifests the appearance of age; this would be like my dad’s friend, Cecil.  My father had not seen him in more than a couple of decades.  When he saw his friend Cecil again, my dad exclaimed, “Dang, Cecil, your face looks like it’s worn out 3 bodies!”  That was my father’s way of saying that Cecil looked much older than his age.  Something like this might be at work in creation.

(3) That the earth is actually much younger than evolutionists claim.

Dr. Mohler is, in fact, arguing for (3) because, as he says, it makes the most sense when reading through the biblical material.  On the plain reading of Scripture, most people would agree that this is what the text is saying (whether they trusted the text to be accurate or not).  Though this is the position for which Dr. Mohler argues, he is clear to say,

“The age of the earth is not the central question, though it is an unavoidable and important question.”

The reason he asserts that it is important and unavoidable is because of the references in the New Testament to an historical Adam.  In Romans 5, Adam is portrayed in a role of federal headship with regard to sin.  Sin entered through Adam.  We are all descended from Adam and Eve.  This descent seems to demand an historical Adam and Eve as progenitors, and an historical Adam as the head of the human race.  It isn’t impossible for Adam and Eve to have existed a very long time ago, but they certainly must have existed.  Evolutionists (to get from pond water to people) needed a really long time to pass before human beings appeared in order to make their theory of origin work. (For a view contrary to the young earth view, see here, where they offer 3 choices of their own).

Today, there are Christians arguing for a return to a catastrophic flood theory based both on the geological record and the fossil record (for a very interesting example, see here).

I personally have no trouble standing with Dr. Mohler on this and saying that I read the Bible as a 6 day, young earth creation.  But I don’t think we should–even for a second–lose sight of what is at stake: Truth.  The question is whether the Bible must be interpreted in light of Science.

Given the history of unreliability and immorality present in science, I’m not convinced that I need to abandon the Bible just yet.  Scientists still seem to revere Kinsey.  Scientists were responsible for the Tuskegee Experiments.  And scientists have been known to be wrong:  See here, here, here, or here.  Oh, and we can’t forget this recent “scientific” fiasco.

The Soil of Eugenics


Eugenics–the thought that we can improve the human race through genetic engineering–has been around since the 19th Century; it started by taking God out of the picture (naturalism).  It quickly joined hands with Darwinian evolution and the modern penchant for progress.  It came to full flower in Germany, of course; yet, it has been in the U.S. since the 19th Century and is still being promoted by liberals today (Planned Parenthood, for instance).

Thanks to Angela at http://bondedtogether.wordpress.com/, who pointed out yet another instance of eugenic thinking at the elite level of U.S. academics.  This time, Obama’s science czar (what’s with all these czars? we’ve got more czars than Russia ever had… )–anyway, Obama’s science czar argued for forced abortions and sterilizations to depopulate our pristine planet.  Of course, he and his co-authors now disavow their positions, but read this article for the full story.

Philosophy and Science


I have linked a blog post here which is fascinating on a number of levels.  It concerns philosophy and, granted, has some difficult, abstract concepts imbedded in it.  However, on a more substantial level, the blog post exposes a growing recognition that Christian theism provides a strong framework for science.  Science has become secularized and believes itself to be freed from God.  However, good men like Alvin Plantinga are working to show that science has taken the wrong turn in turning away from God.  Specifically, Plantinga argues (in this post) that Christian theism is not incompatible with science (or with evolution) but that naturalism actually is incompatible with science (and with evolution).

This blog post is a record of a debate between Daniel Dennett and Alvin Plantinga.  Apparently, Plantinga was the serious thinker in the debate.  Notice that the guy blogging the debate insists on remaining anonymous because his career would be threatened if other secularist scholars figured out that he had admitted publicly that Plantinga rocked the debate.  So much for “free” thinking in our universities!   Read it for yourself.

Hah! I Told You So


One of the things I have tried to keep folks informed about is the terrible new ethic on our horizon; it is more pronounced in Europe than it is here, but even in America the green ethic is alive and well.  Not only is it terribly oppressive–outlawing such innocuous behaviors as drinking Dasani from a bottle–but now we find evidence, once again, that the Green ethic is not just oppressive; it is laughable.  I have been warning you against hitching your ethical wagon to a green ethic that is supposed to undo the supposed effects of global warming; now, comes this article which asks how long will the next ice age last.  In short, the article predicts that we are entering into another ice age.  This time, the ice age may be permanent.  I suppose we should all do our part now to engage in behaviors that will speed up global warming.  Go help Ford and buy that SUV you’ve really been wanting.  Maybe you should get a Hummer.