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Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith

Month

April 2016

Was The Origin Of Life On Earth Dumb Luck?

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.  (Gen 1:11)

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  (Gen 1:20)

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Gen 1:24)

The views of theism versus naturalism with regards to the origin of life couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.  On one hand, you have creation of life by a divine intelligence. On the other hand you have a random combination of inanimate materials, in an unguided process, evolving into complex animate organisms also know as “dumb luckDavid Berlinski.”

For the moment, no one knows precisely how short strands of polynucleotides—the stuff that makes up our DNA and RNA molecules—would stick together to form longer chains eventually allowing an RNA molecule to form that could self-replicate so life would begin. No one has conducted an experiment leading to a self-replicating ribozyme. But the minimum length or “sequence” that is needed for a contemporary ribozyme to undertake what the distinguished geochemist Gustaf Arrhenius calls “demonstrated ligase activity” is known. It is roughly 100 nucleotides.

Whereupon, just as one might expect, things blow up very quickly. As Arrhenius notes, there are 4100, or roughly 1060 nucleotide sequences that are 100 nucleotides in length. This is an unfathomably large number. It exceeds the number of atoms in the universe, as well as the age of the universe in seconds. If the odds in favor of self-replication are 1 in 1060, no betting man would take them, no matter how attractive the payoff, and neither presumably would nature.1

Following that description, American philosopher and author David Berlinski notes that Arrhenius seeks to escape his own dilemma by proposing that such long self-replicating sequences may not have been as rare in the primeval earth as they are today. He then answers:

Why should self-replicating RNA molecules have been common 3.6 billion years ago when they are impossible to discern under laboratory conditions today? No one, for that matter, has ever seen a ribozyme capable of any form of catalytic action that is not very specific in its sequence and thus unlike even closely related sequences. No one has ever seen a ribozyme able to undertake chemical action without a suite of enzymes in attendance. No one has ever seen anything like it.

The odds, then, are daunting; and when considered realistically, they are even worse than this already alarming account might suggest. The discovery of a single molecule with the power to initiate replication would hardly be sufficient to establish replication. What template would it replicate against? We need, in other words, at least two, causing the odds of their joint discovery to increase from 1 in 1060 to 1 in 10120. Those two sequences would have been needed in roughly the same place. And at the same time. And organized in such a way as to favor base pairing. And somehow held in place. And buffered against competing reactions. And productive enough so that their duplicates would not at once vanish in the soundless sea.

In contemplating the discovery by chance of two RNA sequences a mere forty nucleotides in length, Joyce and Orgel concluded that the requisite “library” would require 1048 possible sequences. Given the weight of RNA, they observed gloomily, the relevant sample space would exceed the mass of the Earth. And this is the same Leslie Orgel, it will be remembered, who observed that “it was almost certain that there once was an RNA world.” 2

This section of Berlinski’s article deals with just one step of a multi-step process that would fashion the first life. Other pieces include the advancement from self-replicating RNA to a fully working cell producing the appropriate amino acids and nucleic acids to function as well as assembling the right nucleic acids to construct the polynucleotides to begin with. And we haven’t even factored in the problem of chirality.  However, looking at Berlinski’s numbers alone, it seems clear that a reasonable person would not assume life came about by dumb luck.

References

1. Berlinski, David. “On the Origin of Life.” The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. By Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski. Wilmington: ISI, 2011. 286. Print.
2. Berlinski, 2011. 286-287.
Image courtesy Toni Lozano [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Founders Of The United States Were Not Christians. Huh?

Founding FathersDespite many attempts at revising the history of this great country, efforts have fallen short.  One need not be a scholar (or an effective researcher for that matter) to see that the lives, spoken words, and writings of the Founders are replete with all manner of belief in a higher power.  Indeed, whether they called themselves Congregationalists, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Catholic, the Founders of this great land were certainly influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Echoes of a Supreme Creator and the Natural Law

Indeed, the Declaration of Independence  leaves no doubt to the world-view of its authors:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

After listing a “history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.” The authors and signers conclude:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliance, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

One may argue that Deism as well as all of the great monotheisms refer to a Creator but a Supreme Judge rules out Deism or the belief that God has created the universe but remains apart from it and permits his creation to administer itself through natural laws.  Judaism and Islam are also ruled out because of their doctrine.

Religious Affiliations of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

CONNECTICUT: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott – All Congregationalists

DELAWARE: Ceasar Rodney, George Read – Both Episcopalian, Thomas McKean – Presbyterian

GEORGIA: Button Gwinnett – Episcopalian/Congregationalist, Lyman Hall – Congregationalist, George Walton – Episcopalian

MARYLAND: Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone, William Paca – All Episcopalian, Charles Carroll – Catholic

MASSACHUSETTS: John Hancock, Samuel Adams – Both Congregationalists, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine – Both Congregationalist/Unitarian

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple – Both Congregationalists,  Matthew Thornton – Presbyterian

NEW JERSEY: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, John Hart, Abraham Clark – All Presbyterian, Francis Hopkinson – Episcopalian

NEW YORK: William Floyd, Philip Livingston – Both Presbyterian,  Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris – Both Episcopalian

NORTH CAROLINA: William Hooper, John Penn – Both Episcopalian, Joseph Hewes – Quaker/Episcopalian,

PENNSYLVANIA: Robert Morris, George Ross, John Morton – Episcopalian, Benjamin Rush, George Taylor,  James Smith – All Presbyterian , James Wilson – Episcopalian/Presbyterian, George Clymer – Quaker/Episcopalian, Benjamin Franklin – Deist,

RHODE ISLAND: Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins – Both Episcopalian, William Ellery – Congregationalist

SOUTH CAROLINA: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Authur Middleton – All Episcopalian

VIRGINIA: , Francis Lightfoot Lee, George Wythe, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Carter Braxton, Richard Henry Lee – All Episcopalian, Thomas Jefferson – Deist [2]

Other Founders

George WashingtonGeorge Washington, who needs no introduction, certainly was a religious man. The letter below was written by George Washington’s adopted daughter (also his step-granddaughter) Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis. It was written in 1833 in response to author Jared Sparks [who compiled a set of Washington’s Writings] request for info on Washington’s religious beliefs for a book he was writing that was published under the title “The Life of Washington”.

Mrs. Parke Custis Lewis writes, “I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, “that they may be seen of men.” He communed with his God in secret.

Samuel Adams, one of the leaders of the movement that became the American Revolution, and one of the architects of the principles of American republicanism  writes, “The right to freedom is the gift of God Almighty….The rights of the Colonists as Christians may be best understood by reading, and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian Church: which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.” [3]

James Madison, instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights, accepted Christian tenets generally and formed his outlook on life within a Christian world view. [4]

Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution and one of America’s most preeminent founding fathers, was author of 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers, which powerfully made the case for ratifying the Constitution. Shortly after the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Hamilton stated: “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”

Finally, the attitude and beliefs of the Founders of this nation is eloquently declared by John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

God bless America…

[1] The 5000 Year Leap, Cleon Skousen, National Center for Constitutional Studies, June 1981, pg. 39

[2] http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html

[3] http://www.samuel-adams-heritage.com/quotes/popular.html, More Quotes

[4] Ralph Louis Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (University of Virginia Press, 1990) p. 47

DNA Points To An Intelligence

“DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” – Bill Gates [1]

DNA
DNA double helix

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA was first identified in the late 1860s by Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher. Decades later, Phoebus Levene and Erwin Chargaff revealed additional details about the DNA molecule, including its primary chemical components and the ways in which they joined with one another. In 1953. James Watson and Francis Crick reached their groundbreaking conclusion that the DNA molecule exists in the form of a three-dimensional double helix. In 1958, Crick had an insight which he called “The Sequence Hypothesis,”[2] and it was the idea that along the spine of the DNA molecule there were four chemicals that functioned just like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in a machine code. The DNA molecule is literally encoding information into alphabetic or digital form.

Whether I’m reading a text message on my phone, reading a book, or trying to decipher the scribbles of my three year old daughter’s white board, we know that information only comes from an intelligence. So, the significance in the discovery that DNA codes information in a digital form points decisively back to a prior intelligence.

Stephen Meyer argues in his book Signature in the Cell, “Intelligence is the only known cause of complex functionally integrated information-processing systems” (italics original). [3] If the specific information contained in DNA is the program that guides the proceess of cellular formation and biological structures, “intelligent design stands as the best — most causually adequate — explanation for this feature of the cell, just as it stands as the best explanation for the origin of the information present in DNA itself.” [4]

Not a blind and unguided process as evolutionists ask us to believe, but a mind, omnipotent, and personal; the Creator and Sustainer.

[1] Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, Viking Penguin, 1995
[2] Crick, F. H. (1958). “On protein synthesis”. Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology 12: 138–163
[3] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York; HarperOne, 2009), 346.
[4] S. Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 346

Were The Disciples Mistaken About The Death Of Jesus?

The bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is the crowning proof of the truth of Christianity. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.”

CrucifixionThere are many claims in the New Testament related to this central event but not all are accepted by New Testament scholars.  Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Mike Licona, in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, compiled a list of facts that were strongly supported (using the criteria of textual critics) and facts that were granted by virtually all scholars (from skeptics to conservative Christians.) [1]

One such fact was that Jesus died on the cross and was buried. Some skeptics, however,  assert that Jesus’ disciples were simply mistaken. Some will argue that Jesus survived his scourging and crucifixion and only appeared to be dead.

Is This Reasonable?

Is it reasonable to believe that those who removed Jesus from the cross, transported Him to His grave, and prepared Him for burial, did not know if he were alive or dead? [2]

There are other problems with this theory:

  1. The Gospels record the fact that a guard stabbed Jesus and both blood and water poured from His body. [3] Pericardial effusion or pleural effusion is often caused by circulatory shock prior to death.
  2. The Romans were experts at crucifixion.   Crucifixion was often performed to terrorize and dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating particularly heinous crimes. Victims were left on display after death as warnings to others who might attempt dissent. Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), gruesome, humiliating, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal.[4]
  3. Even when victims were taken down and given medical attention, they often died. Josephus recounts: “I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. [5] Jesus, once taken down form the cross, was prepared for burial and interred.  There is no record of His receiving medical attention. Even this, apparently, was no guarantee of survival.

For these and many other reasons it seems not only unreasonable but improbable that the disciples were mistaken about the death of Jesus.

[1] G. Habermas and M. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jeus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 47.

[2] John 19:40-42, NIV

[3] John 19:34

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion

[5] The Life Of Flavius Josephus, 75

Has Christianity Had A Negative Influence On The World?

CrusadesEvil actions of erring Christians (sometimes its leaders) have lead many to believe that Christianity’s influence has had a negative influence on the world.  Recent citations of the Crusades as well as the Spanish Inquisition, the silencing of Galileo, the forced conversion of the Incan Empire, and the Salem Witch Trials have certainly been pock marks in the history of Christianity but these acts were inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The positive impact that Christianity has had on the world is immeasurable.  In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, early Christians, motivated by the gospel, elevated the sanctity of human life. In the 4th century, while Greeks and Romans had no such institutions, Christians first introduced hospices and finally hospitals to the world because, “…I was sick and you took care of Me…” (Matt 25:36.)  Innumerable hospitals all around the world still reflect this Christian origin such as St Andrew’s Hospital – UK, San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital – Italy, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – US.Cross

Along side the spreading of the gospel, other positive influences on the world include: (1) Countries where Christianity has had the greatest presence were the first to abolish slavery [1][2][3][4][5][6], (2) Universities grew out of the Church’s medieval monasteries. (3) Christian theology encouraged scientist to explore the laws of God’s natural world. (4) Christianity inspired music, art, literature, theater, social institutions, and education. (5) The annual celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth continues to have an inestimable financial impact on the entire world as most industries do a majority of their annual business around the Christmas and holiday season. [7]

[1] 1102: Trade in slaves and serfdom condemned by the church in London: Council of London (1102).

[2] 1215: Magna Carta signed. Clause 30, commonly known as Habeas Corpus, would form the basis of a law against slavery in English common law.

[3] ~1220: The Sachsenspiegel, the most influential German code of law from the Middle Ages, condemns slavery as a violation of God’s likeness to man

[4] 1435: In Sicut Dudum, Pope Eugene IV banned enslavement of Christians in the Canary Islands on pain of excommunication.[14] However the non-Christian indigenous Guanches could be and were enslaved during the Spanish conquest

[5] 1537: Pope Paul III forbids slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as of any other new population that would be discovered, indicating their right to freedom and property. However, only Catholic countries apply it, and state that they cannot possibly enforce what happens in the distant colonies (Sublimus Dei)

[6] 1863: In the United States, Abraham Lincoln issues the presidential order the Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves in Confederate-controlled areas to be freed. Most slaves in “border states” are freed by state action; separate law freed the slaves in Washington, D.C.

[7] Statistics and facts on the Christmas Season in the U.S. Accessed 8-16-15

Was Jesus A Myth?

Claims that Jesus of Nazareth is simply a regurgitation of the myths, such as Osiris, Dionysius, or Mithras  are really impossible to reconcile if you study the details.

Historian Paul L. Maier shows just one way the charge of myth crumbles in his book In the Fullness of Time He writes:

“Instead of claiming a mythological founder, or one who materialized from the mists of the past in an appearance datable only to the nearest century or two, Christianity boldly asserts that Jesus’ public ministry began (in association with that of John the Baptist) in

… the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas … (Luke 3:1, RSV)

This sixfold documentation involves personalities and places, all of which are well known and historical. In fact, we know even more about this collection of proper names from sources outside the New Testament. The author of 2 Peter expressed Christianity’s “historical advantage” splendidly: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths … but we had been eyewitnesses” (2 Peter 1:16). 1 (Emphasis in the original.)

References

1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991. Print.

Evidence And The Christian Faith

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

Christians often have a mistaken definition of “faith”. Christians often think of faith as an act of believing in things that have no evidential basis, because faith is often described as believing in things that cannot be seen. The Biblical view of faith is NOT believing in something in spite of the evidence or believing in something when there is no evidence to support a belief!

CourtroomIt is true that God is a Spirit and cannot be seen, but it is not true that there is no evidence to support the existence of the unseen God. Let’s examine the Biblical view of faith:

We must use our minds
God tells us to love Him with more than our heart, soul, and strength. In order to fully love God, we are to love Him with all of our mind. (Luke 10:27).

We must understand the value of evidence
God has given us a number of good evidential reasons to believe that He exists and that Jesus is who He says He is. We are not called to have blind faith, but to have a well reasoned, evidential faith (Acts 1:2-3, Acts 17:2-3, Acts 17:30-31).

We must examine our beliefs
We’re not instructed to blindly trust everything that might be taught in our world today, even if a Christian teacher is the source! We’re expected to be critical, skeptical, and thoughtful (Acts 17:10-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, 1 John 4:1)

We must be convinced of what we believe
God wants us to have reasons for our faith based on evidence that can be articulated to others who may have doubts (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12, 2 Timothy 3:14).

We are called to defend our beliefs
Once we have examined the evidence and have come to the conclusion that Christianity is true, we are called to be ready to make a strong defense for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15).

The life of a Christian must be rooted and grounded in the evidence of the Resurrection, truth of the Bible, and truth in God’s creation. We are saved by placing our trust in Jesus, and become a powerful force in our world when we commit ourselves to being defenders of what we believe. When we, as Christians, argue for the truth of the Christian Worldview, we are not sharing an opinion. God exists, or He does not. Jesus is that God, or He is not. Salvation comes through Christ alone, or it does not. As Dr. William Lane Craig says, “Christianity is not just another option in a sea of options, none commending itself as the truth about reality.”

We can be “defenders” precisely because the Christian faith is an evidential faith.

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