Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Elemental, my dear apologist

Speaking of nature - in Psalm 19 - the Bible says "there is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard..." Is nature "telling the glory of God" on a molecular level? Jesus recalled the vivid image of speaking stones in Habakkuk 2.11, when he said the "stones would cry out" in praise of God, if man kept silent (Luke 19.41). To give the elements of the universe their God-given voice, I publish the following from Ted Naumann:

The Periodic Table

500 billion galaxies, each containing 100s of millions of solar systems is believed to have come from a minuscule "singularity". Did this singularity have an inherent periodic table within its mass?

Some believers in the "big bang" would say yes. If true, it would follow that each and every one of 107 potential atoms were already contained within that singularity. The quarks within the atomic nuclei would provide the attributes which would later determine what each potential atom will become.

Other big bang adherents may say that it is absurd to attribute any form of organized matter within the extremely dense mass of the singularity. Atomic structures would have to be formed during or after the big bang.

Either way, the existence of a periodic table poses some interesting conclusions.

  1. All atoms are capable of combining with one another in order to form molecules which greatly exceed the usefulness of the individual atoms. For example, aluminum when combined with magnesium (which weighs only half as much) changes from a toothpaste tube material into an alloy useful for the wings of a large jetliner.

  1. This ability of atoms to combine into useful molecules is hard to understand because their individual electrons are so active. Electrons revolve around their proton at more than 100 million billion times per second. It's tough enough to see how they avoid colliding with one another when circling their own nucleus, let alone when forced into combining with another atom (with its own electrons) to make a molecule. When several different atoms are combined into a molecule, the electrons of each atom often cross paths with electrons of other atoms and do it without colliding.

  1. The hydrogen atom is unique. It is the most abundant element in the universe, yet a free hydrogen atom is almost never found on earth. It's the lightest of all elements (with only one electron), and it has combined naturally with oxygen (which has 8 electrons) to make H2O the most abundant molecule in the world, (covering 3/4 of the earth's surface) and one that is essential to all of life. The human body consists of 60% water. This third phenomenon brings us back to the periodic table. We are forced to ask one ultimate question, the answer to which will form a world view. But first, let's take a closer look at the periodic table.

The 107 natural elements are grouped by their characteristics into categories. Metals are an important category. They not only provide the material for most structures, but some like iron, have useful functions in the human body.

Iron (Fe) is the fourth most abundant element on earth. Significant quantities also have been found in meteorites. It is the main ingredient in steel and several hundred thousand tons of it are required to make one large naval vessel or cruise ship. Although a large number of them have gone to the bottom of the sea over the years; there is no danger of an iron shortage. It is obvious that iron ought to have been one of the most abundant elements in the periodic table.

Gases comprise another important category in the periodic table. The most important gas is oxygen (O) and it happens to be the most abundant element on earth. We have said that hydrogen gas is almost never found naturally on earth outside of the water molecule, yet there are twice as many hydrogen atoms than oxygen atoms in water. Oxygen makes up about half of everything on our planet and comprises 2/3 of the human body. Although It is continuously being consumed by people and animals, it is marvelously restored into the air by plants.

One of the atoms in the metal category is relatively rare and somehow there is little use for it anyway except for jewelry and dental work and, oh yes, money. The value of gold is almost entirely arbitrary since ceramics have become the material of choice for dental work. Our society could get along very well without it.

Aluminum is an extremely useful metallic atom. It doesn't corrode like iron and therefore is useful for weather sheathing, window frames and beer cans. When combined with magnesium, it becomes stronger than any other molecule of similar weight. Cars made of it become more fuel efficient, and airplanes of that alloy can carry heavier loads. As the most conductive of all metals, it has numerous electrical uses. Fortuitously the aluminum atom is the most abundant of all metallic elements and the third most abundant element of any kind. Over a million tons of it are produced in the United States every year and more is recycled.

Oil, coal and natural gas, those complex hydrocarbon compounds, have become essential for the survival of industrial nations. Highway pavements, massive amounts of fuels, scores of synthetics, all require it. Oil is abundant, but retrieving it is often limited by wars, environmentalists and the high cost of drilling. Large quantities are found in places where you would least expect it - under vast deserts, the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Slope of Alaska. It is plentiful all over the USA, South and Central America, etc. Yes, oil is abundant, but then it has to be.

The source of oil is a major speculation into which this article will not engage. We simply included it as another example of a type of matter which was made in great abundance apparently by dame fortune.

There aren't enough rubber trees in the world to supply the need for auto, plane and truck tires, flexible tubing, etc. But by polymerization of organic compounds, tires are being made from sugar cane and other sugar sources. There are more than 2 million carbon (organic) compounds useful for nylon, polyester, plastics, synthetic rubber, etc. in an almost unlimited supply because they are all made from renewable resources.

Silicon is the world's second most abundant atom. While it appears to be mere sand, it is enormously versatile and useful. It can be made into almost anything: building blocks, cement, semi-conductors, solar batteries, all kinds of glass, micro-electronics, photosensitive plates, and a new ceramic with mechanical strength ranging from 15,000 to 35,000 pounds per square inch and which is being used in the nose cones of spacecraft.

We said in paragraph 4 that the periodic table poses some interesting conclusions. Please note that the underlined conclusions in this article are made tongue-in-cheek. Thoughtful people will realize that the individual elements in the periodic table were made by a super intelligent being and that they were made in just the right quantities to enable an industrialized society to flourish.

Ted Naumann


In Heaven we will be given the benefit of hindsight - to say nothing of more advanced intelligence than we now have on earth. Perhaps we will have to wait until we talk about it in Heaven to know for sure, but that does not stop Ted Naumann from giving us a fascinating twist on the "anthropic principle".

Does he know something the rest of us don't know?

I thank him for this extraordinary insight. I have not heard the periodic table of elements referred to in any other apologetic. Have any of you out there see this before?

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Re-habilitating King James’ English

It’s nearly four hundred years old, not always easy to understand, yet more influential than any English translation of the Bible in history – and it is making an unexpected comeback in our lifetime. I’m talking about the “King James Bible” or, as it is called in Britain: “The Authorised Version”.

If you were following its usage over the past twenty-five years (the entire length of my career as a pastor), you would have said that King James’ English was on its way out. The LCMS’s 1982 hymnal systematically removed it, the synodical catechism switched to the “New International Version” as did the synod’s self-study Bible. “Thees and thous” were removed from all prayers and pastors were told that “Elizabethan English” was “no longer American language” (My Country ‘tis of Thee?).

Apart from Shakespeare and a few hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, that were excused from up-dating, “King James English could not talk to the un-churched world”. (I thought the un-churched lacked salvation – not language skills).

For pastors it was a time of crisis – not only was the version of the Bible that we memorized not to be memorized in the future, we could not see an end to the updating of it. One contemporary version followed another in an endless stream, each claiming to be the English standard for the future. Meanwhile we were being made to feel more and more embarrassed by any use of “archaic” and “outmoded” language among us. Yet what was truly embarrassing was the bowdlerizing of classic hymns in a misguided frenzy to update.

Finally (and still in my life-time!) the question of English for today seems to be “panning out”. Among the various indications that I detect of this happening are new recordings and steady sales of the King James Bible and the publication of the Lutheran Service Book with the original English within one of its Divine Services and many classic hymns.

Like the Church of England, which is doing the same thing in the 21st century, the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod has decided to expect Church members to be “bi-lingual” – able to appreciate both the English of King James and contemporary English into the indefinite future. A collective sigh of relief may be heard from English – speaking believers the world over. Finally we have realized that it is “OK” to read the Bible and worship in old English!

Using the old English and understanding it do not always go hand in hand, unfortunately. But this presents the church with an exciting challenge for teaching.

For example, since 1982 users of “Lutheran Worship” have been singing “Holy God, We Praise Your Name”. Now in the LSB they will be going back to the original wording: “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”

This means we have to teach people that “thy”, “thee” and “thou” are pronouns that express a precious intimacy not found in modern English pronouns. They are not some “spiritual” form, but rather a “familiar” form, common in European languages, where one uses different pronouns for different people depending on how close you are to them in friendship. Like the German “du”, “thou” means “you – my familiar friend”.

Dr. Paul Grime, executive director of the Synod’s Commission on Worship, says the commission, in preparing LSB, strove to distinguish between archaic and obsolete language. “While we updated words that were hard to understand or which have dropped out of usage,” he says, “we kept others that made sense or which never needed to be changed in the first place.” Thanks be to Thee, O Lord!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Losing at the religion game

You know, when you are with a group of people - all set to play a danger game - it is not easy to opt out. It is difficult to cope with how you will feel unless, before you opt out of the game, you are really prepared – prepared with what you will say – with a reason you will give for not playing along. And it will be difficult for you unless you are prepared for the ridicule you may get from that group. It is not easy, particularly for young people, when something like that happens.

I wonder how prepared we are for the word that we proclaim to be denounced as folly by those who are perishing. How prepared are we for the rejection of our religious position by those who are prepared to dismiss us as foolish or worse for holding to the historic Christian Gospel and faith?

St. Paul certainly seemed to have prepared himself mentally and in every way for the inevitable negative reception that his religious views would receive by some, if not many of the very people whom he was trying to reach with the saving message about Jesus Christ.

But you might say, I don’t need to concern myself about that for either or both of two reasons: You may say, “people won’t be showing disrespect for my religious beliefs because people just don’t do that nowadays” or you may say, “I won’t get any flack for my religious beliefs because, as a matter of principle, I never discuss them (outside of the church)”.

Well, the first of those statements is na├»ve and the second is unacceptable – so there – your opinions have been denounced and by your own pastor to boot!

But seriously, as your pastor, I cannot overlook unrealistic or unacceptable opinions on the subject of speaking about Christ, any more than the apostles themselves could. Would I be a loving pastor if I stood idly by while people played “Russian roulette” with human souls?

But you say, “Things are different today”. In our permissive age, the rules of the game have changed. Now people won’t condemn your opinions on religion or anything else. People today will all politely nod in approval and positively affirm whatever position you have as being valid for you”.

Perhaps that is the fashion today, but it only holds true to a point. As soon as you state an opinion that you hold to be true, not just yourself, but for everyone, then you have violated the rules of the game and will soon find that the polite affirmations you expected are replaced by condemnation.

Yes, what has happened is that religion has been reduced from a serious life and death matter to a kind of listening game. I listen to you, you listen to me, but nobody really hears anything.

And, according to the rules of this listening game, you are not allowed to believe in error as well as truth. You are allowed to only speak of what is true for you – how you personally feel etc. nothing beyond that.

As soon as you state that you also believe in error or that some people are wrong, then you are out of the game and the very people who were, at first, willing to listen to you, now will not hesitate to cover their ears because the game is over and, since you have forfeited the game, they no longer have to play along and listen.

People were doing this in Jesus’ day. They were listening but not hearing. And they were treating religion like a game in which they called the shots and they made the rules. To them Jesus said, 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
16 "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 "'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'

Don’t be surprised when those who claimed to be so tolerant, suddenly show the limits of their toleration. Paradoxically, they will demonstrate that can tolerate everything but intolerance condemning you as intolerant for believing in the existence of error as well as truth.

Yes, the rules have changed. The new rule is this: People will affirm your religious opinions – as long as you abide by the further rule that you won’t assert that your beliefs actually apply to anyone but yourself. You may speak for yourself, but that’s it. Don’t claim to have access to absolute or universal truth. If you do claim to have the objective truth, then what was politely received from you initially will be denounced as foolish, if not psychopathological.

This is the new “wisdom of the wise” in today’s age of disposable world-views and “drive-by religion”. Yet, however attractive they may seem on the surface, the new rules of religious debate make it even less likely that people who listen to what you have to say about your religious faith will believe it to be true for them, as well as for you, and even less likely to share with you a saving faith in Christ.

For that reason – for the sake of the eternal destiny of human souls - the “wisdom of the wise” , that foolishly reduces religion to a mere game, must be destroyed or at least replaced by the wisdom of God. This is why the apostle Paul tells us,
19 … it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 for since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom; it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For this reason, you and I must, just as the church herself must preach and unchanging message in the midst of a changing world. Only a changeless Christ can truly serve a changing world. We must proclaim the word of God, Incarnate, the Wisdom from on high, the truth unchanged, unchanging, the light of our dark sky.

Only this lantern to our footsteps shines on from age to age.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Blind and Backward Science in High Definition

Determined not to pay for television programs as long as there are free ones that can be tuned in with “rabbit ears”, my family recently discovered that there are TV signals that we have never been able to receive until we acquired a high-definition TV.

Among the “new” programs now available to us are nature shows on PBS. In viewing these programs, it didn’t take long to discover that they are permeated with the views of those scientists who insist on ruling out certain scientific facts that seem to point to intelligent design and a Designer.

Blind to how they jeopardize their own claims to be scientific, these biased programs trot out the same old obsolete, incomplete data, and Darwinist mythology, but presented with more impressive computer-generated graphics and animation.

In one documentary, the presenter sat at his computer designing make-believe alien life as it might exist on other planets, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the designer of the life forms that actually do live on our own planet. What a sad abuse of human creativity! In another TV nature show, the only time “religion” was mentioned was when the church of Galileo’s time was criticized for hindering his scientific work.

The Christian Church has “grown up” a lot since Galileo’s time, and our witness should reflect that fact. Thanks to recent scientific discoveries (that the current proprietors of certain television stations won’t show their viewers), Christians can refer people today to many convincing proofs that the universe has been designed – even if that design has been marred by sin and evil since it was originally created.

So, please, as you and I witness, let’s bear these thoughts in mind:

Christians DO NOT accept the argument that “science” has shown life to be nothing more than the result of matter attracted to matter, with energy added to it. We should know that real science has discovered genetics essential to life, based on code that is full of precise information, pointing to intelligent design. Life = matter + energy + information.

Most people accept the reality of this last discovery. So while we are witnessing, we can ask people to consider the question: where did that information came from? Ask too if it is possible that the designer -- who gave such detailed information to proteins that they could form every cell in our bodies -- couldn’t also give information to you and me, describing Himself and how He loves us and has a plan for our lives.

Christians DO NOT accept the argument that the process of “natural selection” explains all animal life. That process may explain some features in an organism, but not the organism itself. Darwin admitted that his theory would break down if an irreducibly complex creature could be found. Since his time, scientists have acknowledged that all creatures are irreducibly complex at many levels. By definition they would not exist at all unless they were fully functional as they are.

Christians CAN be bold in stating that some who claim to be experts in scientific knowledge are not correct about their scientific conclusions. Many times scientists themselves have been misled, especially in institutions of higher education, and have been kept from the truth by those who promote a “god-free” universe.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Golf course or Battlefield - where are you?

As fans of the award winning television series “House” will be aware, Dr. House, the main character, is a curmudgeonly, blunt, tactless but highly intelligent person and that is part of his appeal - and he always saves the day.

Yet viewers of a recent episode in the current series, built around the issues of rape, abortion and death will see that House is shown to be uncharacteristically at a loss to save the day, unless viewers reckon his “counseling” a frightened rape victim to have an abortion against her conscience was wise.

Singularly unprepared to deal with evil and sin both House and the rape victim (who initially believes in God) talk it out until he confesses that he was also abused in his life and that she should agree with him that all life is meaningless and there is no God (unless he is “unspeakably cruel” ).

People today don’t like to think about sin and evil as though we can delete them just by removing those words from our vocabulary or labeling them as “unenlightened”. We would like to deny they exist. But living in denial of these things only causes more problems than it solves. Sin and evil have to be factored in to the equation or else life does not make sense, or even worse, God (even if you believe in Him) does not make sense.

To illustrate this, let’s say you are on a battlefield, yet you imagine that it is some kind of golf course! You are denying and you are blind to the truth that there is a war going on and you choose instead to see the field before you as provided by a country club. So you go out in your colorful golfing clothes with your bag of clubs and perhaps an electric cart. Just as you are ready to hit your first shot, an incoming mortar shell blasts a big hole right next to you. But still you live in denial and you think this is just how they make those sand traps.

Meanwhile, as you see soldiers running across the field, shouting commands, crying out in pain, guns blazing, you merely curse the inept country club management for allowing such disruptive players on the course.

So you go back to setting up your ball and, just as you take your backswing, you yourself are hit with a bullet. Now you cannot deny that there is a war going on - but it is too late. You are a casualty. Sadly, your last conscious thought will probably be a bitter complaint against whoever made and runs this horrible golf course. What an “unspeakably cruel” golf course manager he must be!

In this way evil and sin destroy people – precisely what the enemy and accuser of humanity wants to happen. For, as God’s word warns us, our enemy, the devil has done this (Matthew 13.24-40). He is roaming around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5.8). As one hymn puts it, “The World Is Very Evil”.

Instead of being ignorant of the facts or even denying the facts, Christians are to be aware of the battlefield we are in as it really is. Ever since sin entered the world through human disobedience, evil has been waging war against us just as the devil, a fallen angel who sinned, has been waging a war against God, invisible to our eyes though that warfare may be.

The world may deny that sin exists, but we Christians should know better than that, lest we be like that foolish man on the battlefield who thought it was a golf course or Dr. House and his unfortunate client, for whom abortion will only add a further burden to her already ravaged life.

Far better to know the full picture as God reveals it. He tells us that sin and evil exist and He warns us of their power in this fallen world. At the same time, by sending his Son Jesus Christ to “take the bullet for us” when He was crucified and died for our sins, God shows us how He loves us and has provided a way by which sin may be faced and forgiven through trust in Christ as Savior.

People would not have to live in denial if they knew that sin, death and the devil had been convincingly conquered by One Who died and rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, from whence He came, offering us a share in His victory and everlasting life as well, in an eternity free from evil.