Posted 03 June 2010


       

In Celebration of Psalm Nineteen:
God's handiwork in Creation


INTRODUCTION TO THE CREATION NARRATIVE

The creation narrative is a major theme of the [silent speech] that God has embedded in the created world to declare his own glory and handiwork. Just in the past century, scientists have learned astonishing details of this narrative, but in truth, the narrative has been gradually unfolding since the beginning of history.

The silent speech is there, but whether it impels a person to glorify God depends on the person's relationship with God. The speech "goes out through all the earth". It  "rains on the just and the unjust". It resounds alike to atheists and to worshipers of God. The latter have no special hidden message: it is the same message.

It is like the appreciation of art: one person looks at a work of art and see depths of beauty and meaning, while another person looks at the same work and sees nothing. It is the same work and conveys the same physical impressions on the eye, but the eye of spiritual understanding sees it differently.

My purpose here is to unfold the creation narrative and describe it as well as I can, in order to express some part of that glory and handiwork.

God has marvelously showered his blessings on us today, because many things in the creation narrative have only recently been possible to understand. This gives the narrative particular poignancy, and perhaps urgency: what is it that God has in store for the modern world that he should bless us with such insight that until very recently would have been impossible to attain?

At many places in this narrative there are startling facts that imply God's purposeful and intelligent activity. These are what I call [sharp points]. The nature of sharp points is that they may be resisted with effort, but the cumulative effect is either to lead men to acknowledge God's glory or to take on ever more absurd and even irrational stances (as it seems to me). Personally, I try to make a study of these attempts to resist the sharp points, so there will be frequent references to the non-theistic explanations when they seem relevant. These are, after all, comments of intelligent people, and thus worthy of attention. If I make a reply, I will try (I hope) to do it in the spirit of scientific inquiry without any depredation or insult intended.

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Many things in the universe are unfathomable -- or at least are not yet understood. This has been true since the beginning. The question is, how do humans address such things? It is part of the human condition that we cannot just let such things alone. And always has been, since the earliest records of human history.


Tiger got to hunt;
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep;
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand
.
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle


There seems to be a built-in impulse to tell ourselves we understand. For those who believe in a Creator, this understanding can pull in opposite ways. On the one hand we can take the attitude that there is no need to explain: God did it, and that's it. On the other hand we can try to pass off the unexplainable as some improbable natural event, or tie it to a known or plausible natural phenomenon.

For example, consider the Biblical account of two partings of water during the Exodus (at the Red Sea and the Jordan River): to some it is a miracle, and that's it; others comfort themselves in finding a natural event that might produce such a result -- high winds backing up the Red Sea, a rock avalanche blocking the Jordan river upstream. I welcome either position but sometimes I find some of the "natural" explanations to be a bit of a stretch (such as Jesus "walking on the water" by stepping on submerged rocks, as if the disciples who spent their lives on water would miss that possibility).

Perhaps many Christians think of the creation process in the same way: no explanation needed. To a person who thinks that way, this website is not of much use -- and might in fact be annoying. But for me, it is quite satisfying to be able to make sense of many of the things that science has discovered about creation, and to try to see how these things fit in with the creation narrative.

For example:
• Why is the universe so large and empty -- is it a profligate waste of creative effort?
• Why can scientists come up with good explanations? Why is the universe scrutable to the remarkable extent that it is?
• Why is evolutionary theory such an effective explanation of life? What are its limits?
• Why is there so much built-in information about the distant past?

My explanation for some of these things is that in creation God used natural processes whenever they would suffice to achieve a sought-for result, regardless of the time required to achieve it, provided it could be done within the broad natural constraints of the life of a universe or a solar system, or the need to perform a sequence of such tasks to achieve the contemplated end of the human creation. Thus the universe is (we shall see) necessarily large and at least 10 billion years old, the earth is over 4 billion years old, the first life is over 3 billion years old, and for over 2 billion of these years all life was bacterial, that life began in water and did not emerge on land for over a billion years after the first advanced life began: all of these for good and sufficient reasons that we will explore in the following.

Of course, to describe a natural way that something could happen is not the same as asserting that it happened without the Creator's involvement. A secular naturalist would conclude this, and (justly) congratulate himself for coming up with natural mechanisms, but a Creationist might admit that God also "nudged" the natural processes to head in a particular direction. Hens may lay eggs, but cared-for, fed and sheltered hens may lay them quicker and surer.

The task of science is to determine the limits (if any) of what can be done by natural processes. In fact for me this is a sort of definition of science. A secular evolutionist may assert that all of life arose by purely natural processes. This is a possibility in my definition, but it must be demonstrated by the accepted methodology of science: it is not a going-in assumption -- of course one could elevate it to a metaphysical assumption, but from a scientific point of view that seems a bit rash, a spoiler in fact because it short-circuits a lot of legitimate science.

One feature that I see in the story as it unfolds in the creation narrative, is that there is no wasted time: things move apace, as quickly as natural processes (when they rule) allow. Thus the earth and the universe are about as young as may be; the first life appeared almost as soon as the earth cooled to the point that life could exist. The ecosystem that supports advanced life developed apace. The modern oxygen atmosphere that is essential to advanced life came about at the earliest possible moment, followed almost immediately by the first complex (oxygen-based) life. Animal life and plant life came into existence in parallel "just in time", often in a symbiotic synchronization. Land-based life came as soon as the land could support it and it was possible to survive without suffering the bad effects of cosmic rays. There is a remarkable "arrow of time" that moved inexorably upwards. Even the mass extinctions that occurred periodically in the past served a purpose to clear the way for another advance in the process.

The plan of this website is to identify the illumination of science with the Silent Speech of Psalm 19:1-4. The existence of a built-in and detailed record of the past in the geologic record, the ability through a systematic development of science to probe the unreachable universe and very beginnings of time, in short, our ability to understand the past, even to delineate the special features of the Creation that are required for life to exist -- the so-called Anthropic Principle -- is a result of God's gracious provision of the silent speech. So understanding that silent speech is the essence of science, and its message as regards God's creative activity is the subject of this website.

What sort of things do we now know about the creation narrative that were previously unknown? Here are just a few:

The universe had a definite beginning: many scientists and philosophers -- as recently as the 1950s -- assumed that the universe has always existed. Even many of the mythical creation narratives from ancient times assumed that things were made from something that was there before. Creation out of nothing seemed to be a logical impossibility.

Matter also has a definite beginning. In fact all but a few of the lightest elements were formed in stars, or in the explosive destruction of stars (supernovas). This has only been hinted at since about the 1930s, but only proved in the 1970s.


All living matter is exceedingly complex at its most basic level -- every form of life uses (essentially) the same complex "central dogma" that codes and translates genes into the most basic building matter of the cell. This has been known since the mid-1960s -- and refutes the confident proclamations made in the late 1800s by evolutionay scientists such as Ernst Haeckel.


The very existence of a life-supporting universe requires unimaginably precise fine-tuning of its fundamental physical constants. This fine-tuning was hinted at by remarks as early as the 1950s, and is exhibited in numerous instances. The excruciating precision in the fine-tuning of some critical features have been known only within the last 30 years -- and the saga continues even to the present.


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OUTLINE AND SYNOPSIS OF THE ARGUMENT
Development of the Creation Narrative


The development of the Creation Narrative in this website has the following outline.

Remarks on Psalm 19:1-4.  This introduces the theme of the Silent Speech. and includes an example of that speech in Astronomical time-keeping, which serves as a prototype. Constellations. The Ecliptic. The Zodiac. Precession of the Equinoxes. Star Catalogs. The Solar System.

Introduction: The Creation Narrative: This webpage.

Introduction: Physical and Chemical Properties Tuned for Life. An overview of the Anthropic Principle and how the most fundamental features of physics and chemistry are precisely what is required for life to occur in this (or any) universe.

I.   In the Beginning: Starting "Without Form and Void".  -- The laws of physics, chemistry, and the elements. Cosmology as a scientific discipline.
Chapter 1: Creation of the Universe. The science behind "the first three minutes". The cosmic expansion. Formation of the primordial elements. Formation of proper atoms and the beginning of visible light.
Chapter 2: Stellar formation and creation of the elements of life. The "impossible" triple collision to form the elements.


II.  Formation of the Habitat: "Form and Content" -- Formation of the Solar System, the Sun, and the early Earth.
Chapter 3: Creation of the Solar System.
Chapter 4: Summary: Creation of the Physical Setting for Life. The oceans and early atmosphere. The unique requirements for Earth to suppor life.

III. The Beginnings of Life and Preparation for Advanced Life
Chapter 5: Creation of the First Life (Bacteria). Evidence for early life. Genetic code and the central dogma of biology. The absense of "precursors to life." The role of molecular motors. Photosynthesis. Molecular motors. Extremophiles. Nitrogen fixing. Akinetes.
Chapter 6: Creation of the Ecosystem for Advanced Life. The Oxygen atmosphere. A Fit Place for Life (lecture).
Chapter 7: Creation of the Proper Cell (Eukaryotes). The "second creation of life". The cytoskeleton, mitosis, meiosis. Error correction. Eigen's paradox. Chromosomes.
Chapter 8: Remarks on Evolution.
Chapter 8a: Creation of Dry Land. Plate Techtonics.


IV. Advanced Life
Chapter 9: Creation of the Animal Phyla. Homeobox genes. Development genes.
Chapter 10: Creation of Marine Plants.
Chapter 11:Creation of Marine Animals. The Cambrian Explosion.
Chapter 12: Creation of Land Plants. Transport systems.
Chapter 13: Creation of Land Animals. Symbiosis.
Chapter 14: The Geological Ages and the Advancement of Life.

V. Human Life
Chapter 15: The Creation of Humans. Humanoids.

VI: Topical Studies
Chapter 16: Connections to the Bible's Creation Account.
Chapter 17: Sharp Points. Sharp Points for the 21st Century.
Chapter 18: Silent Speech.
Chapter 19: The Rare Universe. Alternative Universes. Abuse of Infinity.
Chapter 20: The Rare Earth.
Chapter 21: Special Topics. The Anthropic Principle. The Role of Geometry. Symmetry in Mathematics. Kinds of Evolution.
Chapter 22: Resources for Further Information.



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REFERENCES


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Posted 03 June 2010