1541) Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead?

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Ian Hutchinsin  (1951- )

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By Ian Hutchinson, posted at http://www.veritas.org ( The Veritas Forum; a great website for articles like this), March 25, 2016

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     I’m a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, and I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  So do dozens of my colleagues.  How can this be?

     Hypothesis one:  We’re not talking about a literal resurrection.  Perhaps it is just an inspiring myth that served to justify the propagation of Jesus’ exalted ethical teachings.  A literal resurrection contradicts the known laws of nature.  Maybe scientists can celebrate the idea of Jesus’s spirit living on, while his body remained in the grave.

     But the first disciples attested to a physical resurrection.  How could an untruth logically support high moral character?  How could it have sustained the apostles through the extremes of persecution they experienced founding Christianity?  And is celebrating a myth consistent with scientific integrity?

     Hypothesis two:  We really believe in the bodily resurrection of the first century Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth.  My Christian colleagues at MIT – and millions of other scientists worldwide – somehow think that a literal miracle like the resurrection of Jesus is possible.  And we are following a long tradition.  The founders of the scientific revolution and many of the greatest scientists of the intervening centuries were serious Christian believers.  For Robert Boyle (of the ideal gas law, co-founder in 1660 of the Royal Society) the resurrection was a fact.  For James Clerk Maxwell (whose Maxwell equations of 1862 govern electromagnetism) a deep philosophical analysis undergirded his belief in the resurrection.  And for William Phillips (Nobel prize-winner in 1997 for methods to trap atoms with laser light) the resurrection is not discredited by science.

     To explain how a scientist can be a Christian is actually quite simple.  Science cannot and does not disprove the resurrection.  Natural science describes the normal reproducible working of the world of nature.  Indeed, the key meaning of “nature”, as Boyle emphasized, is “the normal course of events.”  Miracles like the resurrection are inherently abnormal.  It does not take modern science to tell us that humans don’t rise from the dead.  People knew that perfectly well in the first century; just as they knew that the blind from birth don’t as adults regain their sight, or water doesn’t instantly turn into wine.

     Maybe science has made the world seem more comprehensible – although in some respects it seems more wonderful and mysterious.  Maybe superstition was more widespread in the first century than it is today – although the dreams of today’s sports fans and the widespread interest in the astrology pages sometimes make me wonder.  Maybe people were more open then to the possibility of miracles than we are today.  Still, the fact that the resurrection was impossible in the normal course of events was as obvious in the first century as it is for us.  Indeed that is why it was seen as a great demonstration of God’s power.

     To be sure, while science can’t logically rule miracles in or out of consideration, it can be a helpful tool for investigating contemporary miraculous claims.  It may be able to reveal self-deception, trickery, or misperception.  If someone has been seen levitating on a supposed flying carpet in their living room, then the discovery of powerful electromagnets in their basement might well render such claims implausible.  But if science fails to find defeating evidence then it is unable to say one way or the other whether some reported inexplicable event happened, or to prove that it is miraculous.  Science functions by reproducible experiments and observations.  Miracles are, by definition, abnormal and non-reproducible, so they cannot be proved by science’s methods.

     Today’s widespread materialist view that events contrary to the laws of science just can’t happen is a metaphysical doctrine, not a scientific fact.  What’s more, the doctrine that the laws of nature are “inviolable” is not necessary for science to function.  Science offers natural explanations of natural events.  It has no power or need to assert that only natural events happen.

     So if science is not able to adjudicate whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not, are we completely unable to assess the plausibility of the claim?  No.  Contrary to increasingly popular opinion, science is not our only means for accessing truth.  In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we must consider the historical evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as for almost any event of ancient history.  The extraordinary character of the event, and its significance, provide a unique context, and ancient history is necessarily hard to establish.  But a bare presumption that science has shown the resurrection to be impossible is an intellectual cop-out.  Science shows no such thing.

     Hypothesis 3:  I was brainwashed as a child.  If you’ve read this far and you are still wondering how an MIT professor could seriously believe in the resurrection, you might guess I was brainwashed to believe it as a child.  But no, I did not grow up in a home where I was taught to believe in the resurrection.  I came to faith in Jesus when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was baptized in the chapel of Kings College on my 20th birthday.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are as compelling to me now as then.

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II Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Job 14:14a  —  If a man die, shall he live again?

I John 5:11  —   This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

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Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being.  We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that in all the cares and duties of life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1524) Irreconcilable Differences? (part two of two)

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     On the other hand, those in the scientific world also do their share of interpreting the facts, they often disagree, and, they often-times make claims that go far beyond any facts they have discovered.

     Much of this depends, of course, on our starting point.  How did everything get here in the first place?  Well, I start with the opening verse of the Bible:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  With that fact firmly in mind, I don’t care what the scientists discover about how old the earth is, where the dinosaurs fit in, or how life developed.  In whatever way that all worked out over time, it all got here in the first place because God created everything out of nothing, and has either directed or set in motion everything that has gone on since.  Bill Bryson tells a fascinating story of what has been discovered about that whole process, and I don’t feel the need to argue with him on every page.  But it seems incredible to me that he does not, in 478 pages, even mention the possibility of a Creator.

     Now of course, many scientists do believe in God, and I am certainly not opposed to science.  What I object to is the impression that is so often given that science deals only in facts, and religion deals only in blind faith.  Not true!  Several years ago, the popular science television series “Cosmos” began with Carl Sagan (1934-1996) saying the complete opposite of Genesis.  He spoke of “the cosmos” as, “all that is or ever was or ever will be.”  That was a deliberate, unnecessary, and unscientific put-down of religious faith.  But how did Carl Sagan know that?  How did he determine, scientifically, that nowhere in or beyond this vast universe is there a greater power?  There is no way anyone can know that.  That was a statement of 100% pure blind faith, masquerading as science.  And that is not only how that program began, that is also how the whole scientific method begins; not with a fact, but with a HUGE statement of faith.  There are only two possibilities; either the universe got here all by itself, or, someone put it here; and there is no way to test or prove either belief.  The Bible begins with a statement of faith, and so does the entire scientific method.  Don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise.  It might be hard to believe that God made everything out of nothing.  But it takes a lot more faith to believe that NOTHING turned itself into EVERYTHING.  Science itself will tell you that is not how it works.  No observable, empirical, scientific experiment has ever been devised in any laboratory anywhere that has been able to create something out of nothing, nor has that ever been observed in all the universe.

     Now, it must be said that in order for the scientists to do much of their work, and for scientific method to work at all, it does have to be done without reference to God.  For example, if I am sick and go to the doctor, I don’t want him to read me Bible verses about how suffering produces character, how God afflicts us for our own good, and how we should turn to God in our time of tribulation.  I know all that, I believe in all that, that might even be the main reason why I am sick, and if it is God’s will that I not ever get better, there are promises in the Bible to give me hope and spiritual strength to face such a time.  But there are always two levels to these things, and I expect my doctor to deal with the physical, scientific level, and with what he can see– be it germs, broken bones, or a tumor.  That’s the only way the scientific method can work.  But this method has its limits, and we must not let anyone give us the impression that science can tell us more than it can ever know.

     Bill Bryson’s book, like most scientific books today, makes no reference to God or any sort of creator.  Bryson did use the word miracle twice to describe the miracle of how we are even here– how our planet earth is perfectly suited for life, how life itself began in all its complexity, and how life has developed into ever more complex forms right on up to the miracle of human intelligence.  Byrson also admits that science is not getting any closer to understanding the origins of matter and energy, the universe, or life.  He says, in fact, that the more we learn, the more we find out how complex everything is, and the farther away we get from thinking we will ever get it all figured out.

     For example, the chance of even one DNA molecule coming together on its own is impossibly small.  Bryson says that.  In fact he goes to great lengths to describe the odds against that happening.  And what are the odds?  When all factors are considered, the odds are not one in a million, or one in a billion, or even one in a trillion.  The odds against life coming together by itself, says Bryson, are one in ten to the 270th power.  In case you don’t remember from math class what that is, that is one with 270 zeros behind it.  A trillion has only 12 zeros, and that is an almost incomprehensible number.  Ten to the 270th power, says Bryson himself, is a number perhaps great than the number of atoms in the entire universe!  And yet, he is still able to say cheerfully, “Well, we are here, so it must have happened somehow.”  That’s not good enough for me, and it is not good enough for an increasing number of scientists who are saying there must be an intelligent designer of some sort behind the creation of the universe and life.

     C.S. Lewis was not a scientist, but for many years, he was an atheist.  After becoming a Christian he said, “I felt in my bones that this universe cannot explain itself.”  The natural laws we see and observe prohibit the belief that all this could come from nothing, and science has no tools to investigate beyond the observable, natural world

     Steven Hawking is still an atheist, or at least an agnostic (one who says we can’t know if there is a God).  For decades Hawking has been considered the Einstein of today.  Yet, in a rare moment of candor, when for once he was not ridiculing religious belief, he said:  “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of nothing are enormous.  I think there are clear religious implications whenever you start to discuss the origins of the universe.  There must be religious overtones.  But I think most scientists prefer to shy away from the religious side of it.”

     As Christians, we must not claim to know more than we know.  But we also must not be intimidated by those who are claim to know more than they know, and many scientists do not shy away from that.  We are on solid ground with the first verse of the Bible:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

     No scientist has ever come up with anything nearly as believable as Genesis 1:1 to explain how we got here.

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Hebrews 11:3  —  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Romans 1:20  —  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1-2  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

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Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.  

–Psalm 8:1

1069) It Looks Like We’re All Alone

Astronomers have long searched the sky for evidence that we’re not alone.  But new research is suggesting we may be one of a kind, says John Stonestreet in his March 11, 2016 blog at:

 www.breakpoint.org

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     There’s an old joke about Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Watson.

     “Let’s go camping,” Holmes says to Watson one day.  “Jolly good!” replies Watson.  So the two pack up their gear, head into the woods, set up their tent and by nightfall, are sound asleep.  Hours later, Watson is awakened by a nudge from Holmes.

     “Watson!” says the detective, “Look up! What do you see?”  “I see the sky, full of stars,” says Watson, a little annoyed.  “And what do you deduce from that?” asks Holmes.  Watson thinks for a moment, and replies, “Well, given the thousands of stars, it’s improbable that ours is the only planet capable of sustaining life.  Therefore, other beings like ourselves are likely out there somewhere, looking back at us.  Is that what it means?”

     “No, you nincompoop,” replies Holmes. “It means someone has stolen our tent!”

     Well, Watson may have missed an obvious clue, but scientists have long shared his conclusion about the stars.  According to the famous Drake equation, a probabilistic argument designed by SETI pioneer, Frank Drake (in 1961), there could be as many as 100 million thriving, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy— many of them more advanced than our own.

     Astronomer Carl Sagan helped popularize this idea in his 1980 miniseries, “Cosmos.”  “With 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone,” Sagan reasoned, “could ours be the only one with an inhabited planet?  How much more likely it is that the galaxy is throbbing and humming with advanced societies!”

     But decades later, scientists no longer share Sagan’s confidence.  As one astrophysicist argues in a forthcoming paper, the old estimates vastly inflated the number of potential alien civilizations.  Eric Zackrisson at Sweden’s Uppsala University suggests that modern research points not to a galaxy “throbbing and humming” with life, but to one in which Earth-like planets are exceedingly rare.

     It turns out that Drake’s equation failed to take into account factors that we now know to be essential to life.  For example, scientists once believed that planets orbiting a certain distance from their host stars in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” were prime real estate for creatures like us.

     But not anymore.  It turns out that the size and chemical composition of the host stars matter just as much as planetary orbits.  And according to Zackrisson, most planets in the universe likely orbit stars that bear little resemblance to our sun.  These stars are either much bigger, much smaller, or just made of the wrong stuff.

     And in light of the fruitless fifty-year search for extraterrestrial radio signals, predictions of a sky buzzing with activity are sounding less like science and more like science fiction.  Increasingly, it looks as if we are alone in the universe.

     And just how alone?  Zackrisson estimates that given all the factors that make Earth what it is, our planet may be one in 700 quintillion to host intelligent life.  That’s one out of seven followed by twenty zeros, or the estimated number of planets in the entire universe.

     Nathaniel Scharping at Discover Magazine writes with a straight face that Earth appears to have been dealt “a fairly lucky hand.”  He makes up for this understatement later, concluding that, “from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist.”

     And yet, here we are!

     Intelligent Design theorists have long pointed out how improbably unique our little blue planet is.  And findings like this only deepen the problem for materialists.  Because if thinking creatures emerged here and nowhere else, it makes us look less like accidents and more like— dare I say it— miracles.

     Of course, for those who believe in the God Who, as Isaiah wrote, “spreads [the heavens] like a tent,” it’s no surprise.  In fact you might say it’s “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

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Psalm 104:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul.  Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.  The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.

Isaiah 40:10a…12…21-22…25-26  —  See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm…  Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?  Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?…  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in…  “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

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Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens…

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor…

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!