Sir Nicholas Gimcrack

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In 1757 Ben Franklin was in England where he rented rooms from Mrs. Margaret Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson, a widow, had a young daughter, Mary, who was intelligent and inquisitive. She immediately took to Franklin who became a father figure for the young girl and they enjoyed many science experiments together. When Franklin returned to America, they continued corresponding. In one letter he wrote to Mary he was encouraging her to continue her studies, but not at the sacrifice of character. Knowledge has it merits, but without a destination it serves no purpose. He wrote,

Dear Polly,
There is, however, a prudent Moderation to be used in Studies of this kind. The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge of Practice and essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension. For there is no Rank in Natural Knowledge of equal Dignity and Importance with that of being a good Parent, a good Child, a good Husband, or Wife, a good Neighbor or Friend, a good Subject or Citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian. Nicholas Gimcrack, therefore, who neglected the Care of his Family, to pursue Butterflies, was a just Object of Ridicule, and we must give him up as fair Game to the Satyrist. 1

I had not heard of this Sir Nicholas Gimcrack before so I looked him up. After a little research I came across an example that delivers a great word picture as to what kind of person this Gimcrack was. In the below dialogue, picture this Nicholas Gimcrack lying on his stomach on a table. In his mouth is a long piece of string which he is holding in his teeth. The other end of the string several feet away, is tied around the belly of a frog in a bowl of water, on the floor. The frog is swimming, or attempting to swim away, from Gimcrack. Gimcrack is watching and mimicking the movements of the frog with his arms and legs flailing off the table. The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to swim, from a swimming master, the frog. In walk two naive admirers of Sir Gimcrack who ask him about his method of learning how to swim.

Longvil: Have you ever tried in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: No, sir, but I swim most exquisitely on land.
Bruce: Do you intend to practice in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: Never, sir. I hate the water. I never come upon the water, sir.
Longvil: Then there will be no use of swimming.
Sir Nicholas: I content myself with the speculative part of swimming; I care not for the practice. I seldom bring anything to use; ‘tis not my way. Knowledge is my ultimate end.

So as everyone considers what they are thankful for today, be thankful for the example of Sir Nicholas.  What do you do with what you know?

 

Sources:
1. Bennett, William J. Our Sacred Honor. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.

Counting Hairs

Reading Time: 6 minutes

You’re impressed with the fact that He knows the number of hairs on our heads? It seems hard to imagine that God would really know the number of hairs on our heads, especially when you think about the number of people in the rapidly growing population of our world. At the moment I am typing these words the population of our world is seven billion, one hundred and ninety four million, four hundred and twenty five thousand. The average person has from one hundred thousand, to one hundred and fifty thousand hairs on their head. That is a lot of hairs to keep track of.

If I was a god, I would not bother to keep track of how many hairs were on the heads my creations, but is God really keeping track? Would he tally them off as we might keep track of the days of the week, penny’s in a jar, or wood stacked for the winter?

hairs2

I wonder of much of who God is we can truly grasp? I don’t think we can even comprehend a small part of his character or ability. I would venture a guess that he does not keep track of anything. He would just know. No calculations involved. No pause for thought. No moments of reflection. As humans there are some things we just know without having to consider it. For example, ‘The whole is greater than the part.’ or ‘All bachelors are unmarried men.’ We don’t need to calculate those statements, we just know they are true by deductive reasoning.

Knock on your table. Seems pretty solid, but it is actually mostly empty space. Well, as empty as you might consider the circle of a spinning twin bladed propeller. The electrons that spin near the speed of light are quite a ways from nucleus of the atom, but as they spin around the nucleus they form a sort of barrier, much like a propeller you dare not stick your hand in. To give you an idea of how much empty space I am talking about imagine the nucleus of an atom enlarged to the size of a basketball. The electrons would be whirling around at the speed of light roughly a mile away forming an impenetrable sphere around the nucleus.

So atoms that make up everything around us are extremely small, but really are mostly an empty expanse from the core, (nucleus) to the electrons creating the sphere. To give you an idea how small atoms are, ten million atoms in a row are less than a tenth of an inch long. Now, it can be hard for us to imagine ten million of something, so to put it in perspective, ten million inches in a row is approximately 158 miles long. If we were to view the earth from a distance of ten million miles it would look just a bit larger than a period on this page.

These facts can be fun to read about, but it is really miraculous how it all works together in creation to form existence as we know it.

Mario Livio wrote a book titled, Is God A Mathematician? In his book he gives us examples of how math can express the simple beauty of creation. Picture again a sphere that is about a mile in diameter, much like the basketball, (nucleus) and the electrons (sphere) spinning around the basketball a mile away. As the sphere is inflated the surface area of the sphere grows in exact proportion to the square of its radius. radiusjpgIf you don’t remember what a radius is, it is half the diameter, or the distance of the basketball to the sphere. So when the distance of the radius is doubled, (2x) the surface area of the sphere is increases by 4x. If the distance of the radius increases by 3x, then the surface area of the sphere increases by 9x. Finally, if the radius increases by 4x then the surface area increases by 16x.

If you like that, the you will find Newtons law of gravitational force even more interesting. The gravitational pull of the sun weakens in exact proportion to the inverse square of the distance. So for example at twice the distance from the sun the gravitational force is 4x weaker. At three times the distance the gravitational force is 9x weaker and at four times the distance, it is 16x weaker.

How many of you have been electrically shocked by someone walking on carpet? The positive and negative charges are so finely tuned that you don’t feel any electric force pulling you to the ground. If we removed all the negative charges on earth you would instantly be crushed with just the small charge you acquire walking across a rug. If we removed all the positive charges on earth you would be shot into space instantly, no worries about lack of oxygen in space because the massive amount of G’s as you were flung into space, would kill you instantly. Science tells us that the universe’s positive and negative forces pulling and pushing are so finely balanced that gravity is the ruling force, but it is the weakest of all the four known forces in the universe.1

The four known forces in the universe are gravity, electromagnetic, strong force, weak force. Gravity and the electromagnetic forces you are probably familiar with. The strong force is the force that binds neutrons and protons together in the core of atoms, which you remember are very small. The range on the strong force is extremely short. Kenneth Ford in his book The Quantum World explains how gravity and the strong force compare with each other. “Another consequence of gravity’s weakness is that it plays no known role in the subatomic world. Acting between the proton and the electron in a hydrogen atom, the electric force out-pulls the gravitational force by a factor that can truly be called humongous. [1039].” Remember ten million atoms end to end are less than a tenth of an inch. “How big is 1039? That many atoms, stacked end to end would stretch to the edge of the universe and back a thousand times.” 2 Something we can’t even comprehend, and it boggles the mind.

Just the few thoughts above relate to what is called the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle suggests the universe was actually designed or ‘fine tuned’ for life, specifically life here on earth. Doug Powell in his Christian Apologetics Guide says, “There are many ways the design argument has been used to argue for the existence of God. Proponents have pointed to order, information, purpose, complexity, simplicity, sense, and even beauty as evidence of design in the universe.”3 Imagine taking a shower with the hot and cold knob set just right. No complaints and everything is just perfect. Now turn one of the knobs just a bit left or right and suddenly you have plenty to complain about. Now imagine a thousand knobs and all relate to the fine tuning of the universe. If one of them is off by just a tenth of an inch, (or ten million atoms lined up) then the recipe for our current universe is no longer hospitable for life.

A few more knobs would include:
-Ratio of electrons to proton mass.
-Ratio of protons to electrons.
-Expansion rate of the universe.
-Electromagnetic force constant.
-Gravitational force constant.
-Strong force constant.
-Range of the strong force.

The above, incomplete list applies to our whole universe, but we cal also look at the parameters for our solar system. In fact Hugh Ross, co-founder of Reasons to Believe has come up with a list of 66 parameters that deal with just our sun-planet-moon solar system. Each one of those parameters would represent a dial and if any of them were off just by just a fraction, life would not be possible.

When you reflect on all the possible requirements, and all the laws that govern our universe, interacting with each dial setting, counting hair seem like child’s play.
Isaac Newton was a physicist and mathematician who was one of the most brilliant scientists that ever lived. “This genius, who by a historical coincidence was born in exactly the same year in which Galileo died, formulated the fundamental laws of mechanics, deciphered the laws describing the planetary motions, erected the theoretical basis for the phenomena of light and color, and founded the study of differential and integral calculus… [His] work bridged the gap between the heavens and the Earth, fused the fields of astronomy and physics, and put the entire cosmos under one mathematical umbrella.”4

Isaac Newton wrote of himself, “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Sources:
1. Ford, Kenneth W. The Quantum World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. Print
2. Ibid.
3. Powell, Doug. Guide To Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006. Print.
4. Livio, Mario. Is God A Mathematician? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print

Prove it

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A skeptic might say, “Prove that God exists.” or, “Science has proven God does not exist.” Many of us have heard that demand or statement and may have been at a loss on how to respond. The truth is we can’t prove God exists any more than an atheist can prove He does not exist. How can anyone prove, one way or another, the existence of a non-material being?

In today’s culture, the word proof or proven has taken on a meaning that goes beyond its definition. Open any dictionary and you will see proof defined as a proposition, assumption, or an argument used to validate. When science looks at empirical evidence to see if something is true, it is often just measuring the number of trials in terms of success vs. the number of trials that were unsuccessful. When you hear the term ‘a proven track record’, it simply means someone or something has had a significant number of repeated events that help us determine or expect a certain outcome. Not an absolute outcome, but simply a likely outcome.

Every day I drive to work, I plan on it taking me an hour to drive from home to school. After years of making the same drive, I have little doubt about the length of time it will take. I have had some mishaps after hitting a few deer, a couple flat tires, running out of gas once, (yes I admit it), and unexpected snow falls, but apart from those rare occurrences, the drive is about 60 minutes long. We could not function in our world without spotting patterns and creating expectations we can plan by. William James, a psychologist in the 1800’s, called these patterns we naturally search for “a working hypotheses”. 1 I have had plenty of evidence, or proof’s, that my drive is about an hour long.

We form a working hypotheses for every routine in our lives. Every routine we participate in allows us to formulate an expected outcome. Frustration comes when the unexpected interrupts our routine. Most of us have experienced walking out to our car to drive to work, and for some unexpected reason, it will not start. Suddenly, we are in uncharted territory and are unsure of what to do next. It is our nature to seek patterns which allow us to figure out our world. When our patterns are disrupted, we have to reevaluate our proof’s.

When talking about predictions and proofs, Alister McGrath says, “Here we see the classical outline of the scientific attempt to make sense of our observations of the world. Things don’t just happen. They fit into a pattern, a bigger picture, an overall scheme of things. What theory makes most sense of what we experience and observe in the world?” 2

When someone says, “Prove to me…” often their standard of proof is often too high, even beyond what science would require. Most things can’t be proven to the extent skeptics want. Let me explain by asking a question. Can science prove that elves do not exist? No, it is not possible. Science can only claim that the observations which have been made have not come across any elves. Making the claim that elves do not exist would require omniscience, (all knowledge). Without omniscience science can only claim elves have not been found in the areas searched. Yes, of course we can come to reasonable conclusions about the existence of elves, dwarf’s, and orks, but no one can prove they don’t exist unless they have searched under every rock, in every cave, in every trunk of every car, on top of every mountain, in every closet, trash can, etc. You get the idea.

We might hear someone was proven guilty in a court of law. That kind of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond ‘any’ doubt. A few years ago, I was a juror, who along with my peers found a man guilty of inappropriate behavior. He flatly denied it, but the proof, (arguments and evidence), were beyond a reasonable doubt. When someone asks you to prove God exists, they are frequently asking for a proof that goes beyond what we require even in a court of law. They want something that is beyond any doubt and that is far and away above what science requires.

Proven

 

What does science prove in the same way that a skeptic or atheist requires of you to prove God exists? Nothing. Science works in inductive reasoning, not deductive reasoning. Science looks at hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of examples and they come to conclusions. That is inductive reasoning.

On the flip side, deductive reasoning starts with a general statement or hypothesis, and then examines the possibilities. Inductive reasoning starts with thousands of examples and then makes general or broad generalizations from those observations. 3 To know something for certain, or without any doubt, is called an ‘apodictic certainty’, and you must use the deductive method.

Someone who asks for proof of the immaterial realm, (God), often requires proof that is impossible to live up to. For one, they are asking for material or tangible evidence of God who by definition is immaterial. To put it bluntly, they are demanding tangible evidence for something that is intangible. For example, someone might ask for direct visual evidence of something that is invisible. Obviously, that is not possible. And how can they claim that science has proven God does not exist, when science can’t even prove elves don’t exist. Science can conclude that elves don’t exist, after considering the thousands of trials where elves were not found, but science can’t prove elves don’t exist.

Science is limited by its inductive reasoning. You can only test something so many times, but if we use the deductive method there are things someone can claim do not exist, and we know it to be true. For instance, I can say there are no married bachelors. I know this, not because I have searched every inch of this earth, or because I am omniscient, but because of deductive reasoning. I could also say there are not any square circles, and because of deductive reasoning, and the law of non-contradiction, I know this to be true. Don’t ever let someone tell you that science is the only way we can test things to be true. Science is actually quite limited because of its empirical methods.

There is one famous argument for the existence of God based on inductive reasoning that I would like to share. Dinesh D’Souza mentions this in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity. “Aquinas argues that every effect requires a cause, and that nothing in the world is the cause of its own existence. Whenever you encounter A, it has to be caused by some other B. But then B has to be accounted for, so let us say it was caused by C. This tracing of causes, Aquinas says, cannot continue indefinitely, because if it did, then nothing would have come into existence. Therefore, there must be an original cause responsible for the chain of causation in the first place. To this first cause we give the name of God.” 4

Ray Comfort uses reasoning when he asks the man on the street who built the building. Obviously a builder. Who built the bridge? Obviously an engineer. Who painted the painting? Obviously a painter. Who made the laws of physics? Obviously a lawmaker. Who created creation? Obviously a creator. We know this to be true not by scientific inductive reasoning and empirical methods, but by simple deductive reasoning.

Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
– Unknown

I would say religion has rules and objectives, but is not a game.

 

Sources:
1. Lowe, Victor. “The Journal of Philosophy.” jstor.org. Journal Storage.org. 1941. Web. Nov. 11, 2013.
2. McGrath, Alister E. Surprised by Meaning. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, Print.
3. Staff, LiveScience. “Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning.” livescience.com. Live Science. July 10, 2012. Web. Nov. 11, 2013.
4. D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. Print.

God’s Not Dead

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The News Boys have a popular song titled God’s Not Dead, in response to the German Philosopher Nietzsche who proclaimed “God is dead.” Time magazine asked the question in 1966, “Is God Dead?” The article was written by John Elson, who passed away in 2009 and now has an answer to that question. This article and cover gave Time magazine its best sales in 20 years, and prompted a response that resulted in 3500 letters to the editor.

Is God Dead

Supposedly, over 300 interviews were conducted for this article, and Time had over 30 correspondents work on it. Mr. Elson wrote in his article, “Secularization, science, urbanization — all have made it comparatively easy for the modern man to ask where God is, and hard for the man of faith to give a convincing answer, even to himself.” 1

Now, nearly 50 years later, books such as The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Freedom Evolves, The God Argument, Why I Am Not a Christian, The Blind Watchmaker, and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, can be found on book shelves all over America. Not only found, but many are best sellers on Amazon, and their authors enjoy hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

On a recent podcast from Ravi Zacharias, he asked the following questions of atheists:

How does something come from nothing?
How does life come from non-life?
How does a non-moral beginning through an immoral process end up with moral reasoning? 2

Atheists don’t have answers for these questions. Even Richard Dawkins has admitted he does not have an answer as to how you can get life from non-life. Some of you may remember the experiment that took place in 1953 by Stanley Miller. This now discredited experiment, which supposedly created life from non-life in the lab, has inundated our high school text books for 50 years. In 2007, Miller, like Elson, has passed away and now has an answer to how you get life from non-life.

One of my favorite quotes is from Francis Crick, who is the co-finder of the human DNA strand. “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” 3 His obvious predisposition toward evolution speaks for a large contingent in the scientific community. They are unwilling to pursue truth no matter the cost. Even conceding the slightest possibility that life could have emerged from something that can’t be tested empirically is out of the question.

Francis Crick also said, “To produce a really good biological theory one must try to see through the clutter produced by evolution to the basic mechanisms lying beneath them, realizing that they are likely to be overlaid by other, secondary mechanisms. What seems to physicists to be a hopelessly complicated process may have been what nature found simplest, because nature could only build on what was already there.” 4 This quote really gets to the heart of the matter. My question to him and others is, if nature could only build upon what was already there, then where did we get what was built upon?

He suggests that we started with some kind of structure and mechanism. Where did this structure and mechanism come from? He said himself it must have already been there. Who put it there? Have you ever considered where our universe came from? Why do we have a laws of gravity, laws of motion, and laws of thermodynamics? If you have laws, then there must be a law giver. These laws do not exist necessarily any more than our universe exists necessarily.

Some have suggested that earth has been ‘seeded’ from space aliens in the past and that is how life began on earth. In my opinion, these kinds of speculations require more imagination than some of the movies Hollywood has produced in recent years. Even if it were true that earth was seeded from aliens millions or billions of years ago, it just pushes back the question of who created the aliens? It is just another form of the common response some may ask when Christians say God created the universe. A skeptic may ask if God created the universe, then who created God. You may then ask who created the God that created God and on we go endlessly pushing back the question.

Darrel Falk, in his book, Coming To Peace With Science, used an analogy that may speak to some. If we could go back in time and observe Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa, we could empirically prove why the paints are certain colors, why the paint sticks to the canvas and explain the chemistry involved. We could examine the brush strokes of the painter, the composition of the brushes, their dimensions and how they react to the paints and canvas. We could consider the temperature and humidity of the room and analyze how it would effect the paints, canvas, and drying time. 5 We spend untold billions of dollars every year investigation why things work the way they do when the real miracle is that we ‘can’ investigate how things work.

God created time when he created the universe. Along with time, he created these laws that we just take for granted. These laws not only aid us to explore his masterpiece, but allow us to get a glimpse of just how powerful he is. Gravity, for example, is a law we understand. We can even use calculations of expected outcomes to find other planets that we can’t see, but know they are there because of their gravitational effect on nearby planets within a solar system.

Physicists can only speculate on gravitons, (tiny massless particles that emanate gravitational fields), and how they tug on every piece of matter in the universe, but can’t find them. 6 Hard to imagine something that not only surrounds us, but is within us, and we have to answer to it every day of our lives when we stumble, drop a cup of coffee, or jump out of airplanes. Interesting. Surrounds us, within us, and we have to answer to it. Sounds suspiciously like God to me.

I am looking forward to this movie, God Is Not Dead, which is to be released in the Spring of 2014.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90PWFEeRApA
I have read several reviews that were grumbling about the atheists being put in a poor light. If this is true in the movie, it is not the spin I would have put on it, but after years of the ‘Christians’ being the Bible thumpers, intolerant, homophobe, prude, self righteous, bigoted, and abusive characters, I will not lose any sleep over it.

Maybe a few of us can go together, and while we are sitting there enjoying the movie in comfortable seats, we can not only appreciate the movie, but the miracle that our bag of popcorn is not floating away, spreading popcorn all over the theater along with sodas, candy, and patrons who can’t believe in a God that surrounds us, lives within us, and we answer to. Just like gravity.

Sources:

1. Grimes, William. “John T. Elson, Editor Who Asked ‘Is God Dead?”. New York Times. Nytimes.com, 17 September 2009. Web. 30 October 2013.
2. Zacharias, Ravi. East and West Part 1 of 2. Let My People Think, 2013. MP3.
3. Crick, Francis. Science Quotes by Francis Crick. Today in Science. Todayinsci.com, 1999. Web. 2 November 2013.
4. Ibid.
5. Falk, Darrel R. Coming To Peace With Science. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004. Print.
6. Mosher, Dave. Greatest Mysteries: What Causes Gravity? Live Science. Livescience.com, 2007. Web. 2 November 2013.

Pin It on Pinterest