Subject: Re: questions
From: Sean Ho <seanho@cs.unc.edu>
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 19:06:56 -0400 (EDT)
Hi , *excellent* questions!!  It's so cool to hear you asking these
questions and thinking about these things, and the assurance we have by 
faith is that God really does have the answers to all these questions, even 
if we don't fully understand it right now.

This is also exactly the sort of thing we want Sunday School to focus on, 
so for instance if you want to continue discussing this over homework 
session tomorrow 2nd session, I'd be overjoyed.

OK warning, this is gonna be long!  ready...

 
1. When Abraham had all those wives/concubines, was it considered a sin?  
And since it is today, who established the morals/ethics that made it a
sin?  Was it just us people and how we changed in interpreting what the 
bible said?
 

Yep, sure was a sin, and it sure got him into a heap o' trouble, too!  Who 
establishes what is sin, and what is not; what is good and what is evil?  
It's gotta be our Creator, who designed us and knows how our relationships 
should work.  In particular, He defined what marriage is, with Adam and 
Eve -- one man and one woman for life.  This also defines what "adultery" 
is -- any sexual relations outside of marriage.  This was a spec that God 
defined for us right from the start, so Abraham should have known better, 
even though he didn't have the Ten Commandments yet.  But Abraham got 
influenced by the prevailing trend of that time, which was to have many 
wives and concubines (mistresses); people thought that having more wives 
meant they were richer and more prosperous.

Big mistake, though!  Look at what happened with Hagar, Abraham's 
concubine -- this is taken from chapters 15, 16, and 21 in Genesis.  In 
ch15, God promises Abram (this was before God changed his name to Abraham) 
that he will have a son, and through this son he will have as many 
descendants as the stars in the sky.  Pretty cool promise, right?  But in 
ch16, we see Abram gets a bit impatient; we estimate it's been about ten 
years since God's promise, and no son yet, so Abram takes matters into his 
own hands, conceiving a son Ishmael through Hagar.  But that's not the way 
God intended; as we see in ch21, Abraham's wife Sarah finally does conceive 
and give birth to the promised son Isaac, but only after about 25 years 
after the promise.

So what was the result of Abraham having a concubine, and trying to get a 
son through her instead of waiting for God's promise?  Ishmael vs. Isaac, 
from which is directly derived the whole Arab-Israeli conflict we have had 
for thousands of years, right up to yesterday 
( http://cnn.com/2002/WORLD/meast/04/12/bomb.reax/ ).  Yep, Abraham made 
a *big* mistake, but God still worked out His perfect plan, even using 
imperfect people.  Another good example is David -- he made a *huge* 
mistake with Bathsheba (who became his third or fourth wife).  It was 
definitely a big sin, and had big consequences, but God still worked out 
His perfect plan.

2. If you believe in God and haven't read the entire bible, does reading 
the entire thing change your perspective?  What if you read it all and
still believe in God, how does reading the bible make a difference?

From my own experience -- YES!!  Reading through the entire Bible makes
huge difference in how you view God, and especially in how you view other 
_people's_ ideas about God.  People can tell you all sortsa stuff about 
God, but don't just take their word for it -- ya gotta take *God's* Word 
for it!  Hey, don't just blindly accept whatever we teach you in Sunday 
School -- go to the Bible and see what *it* says!  Reading the Bible gives 
you firm ground to stand on, so that when people throw weird ideas at you, 
you can easily identify and deflect them, by comparing with the Bible.

Now, reading through the *entire* Bible is tough, no question!  But it is 
so cool to see how the whole Bible threads together -- how the whole Old 
Testament anticipates and predicts Jesus' coming, how the New Testament 
proclaims Jesus' death and resurrection, how God is still the same God 
today as He was thousands of years ago.  And without reading the Bible, how 
ya gonna know *how* to follow Jesus?  So you've accepted Him into your 
heart -- great! now what?  You've prolly heard my "car" analogy many times, 
so I'll only mention a part of it here:  just like with a car, you need to 
read the owner's manual to know how to get the most out of the car and not 
screw it up, our lives and relationships are the same -- we need to read 
the handbook from our Manufacturer telling us how to run our lives.  That's 
why it's so important to spend time *every day* reading a bit of the Bible 
and praying to God, so our hearts are centered around Jesus daily, and we 
have wisdom to make right decisions in our daily life.

 
3. All of science's evolution theories say that we descended from
apes/gorillas...H.erectus, I think.  But how can that be true?  And 
since it's not (since God made us) why is there evidence that we did 
come from them?  Why is there evidence of the earth being created by
debris of a leftover supernova or something and why is there evidence
that it's existed for 4.6 billion years?
 
5. If it's been established that you believe in God and that he
created us, can you still look at science/evolution objectively and 
still accept it as true?  It's so contradictory. 

*HUGE* topic!  huge huge uge hug... er, yeah.
These two questions are really the same, so I'm gonna hit both of them at 
the same time.  But I can't fully answer them in a short space; they're 
*huge* topics -- huge, huge, huge... ok, you get the idea.  :)  We could 
spend some time on this in Sunday School sometime if you'd like.

Two approaches to this question: (1) from science, and (2) from the Bible.  
I'll start from the perspective of science; the gist of it is that honest 
study of the creation should point us to the Creator, but most scientists 
today are not honest; they're only people, and have their own biases.

(1) OK, within science: I'm gonna start with some general words about 
science, proof, and the forensic method vs the scientific method; then I'm 
gonna briefly touch on the evolutionary topics you brought up in your 
question #3.  I can feel your eyes glazing over as I speak -- don't worry, 
you can understand it! :)

General words: First question: What is _science_?

These are misconceptions that most people have about science -- many people 
confuse *scientists' opinions* with *scientific facts*.  There's a big 
difference!  big big big... ok.

The point is, *scientific facts* are observables, things that we can all 
observe today, right now.  Like, the moon is a scientific fact, 'cause we 
can all see it, and we've even sent probes and astronauts up to touch it.  
But how old is the moon?  That's a matter of opinion -- some people think 
millions, billions of years, some think only thousands of years.  What is 
the truth?  We *don't know*, because the creation of the moon is not an 
observable; we have no eyewitnesses.  When scientists publish reports in 
journals or the newspaper or magazines, they most often only have opinions, 
not facts.  Scientists are people, too, and they make mistakes, and they 
have biases that cause them to interpret results the way they expect to.  
The bottom line is that many scientists, going back to the Enlightenment, 
and even earlier, do not want to be accountable to a Creator, so they start 
with the _a priori_ assumption that there is no Creator.  Evolution is 
essentially what you get when you start out saying, "okay, I believe God 
doesn't exist.  Now, how did this world come about?".   Evolution is not a 
scientific fact; it's a belief system that takes faith to believe in.  And, 
in the words of a very smart friend of mine in Melbourne, Australia: "it 
takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in the 
Bible".

So we come to the scientific method vs the forensic method:  The scientific 
method is what we use on modern-day observables, to show scientific facts.  
It involves:
  1. a hypothesis -- an opinion on how the world works
  2. an experiment -- a test to see if the hypothesis fits or not
  3. repetition of the experiments
To follow the scientific method, we do scads of experiments, modifying our hypothesis as needed to fit the results, and hopefully we come closer to the truth. A *theory* is defined as a hypothesis that has been tested "bunches and bunches" of times. A *law* is defined as a theory for which, up to today, no one has found a single counterexample. So for instance, the "law of gravity" has been tested bunches of times, without any counterexamples. If tomorrow someone were to let go of a ball and saw it fly upwards, with no other explanation, that "law" of gravity would go back to being a hypothesis or theory, and we'd have to do more experiments. Ya with me? OK so far, right? Now, the big question... drum roll please.... can the origin of the universe (whether creation or evolution) be proven by the scientific method? oooo tough one, eh? The answer is, no! In fact, no idea about *history* can be proved by the scientific method! Why? Well, the scientific method requires repeating the experiment bunches of times -- and we can't very well ask God to "recreate" the universe for us to watch! Nor can we observe evolution from the start of life all the way up to humans, because according to the evolutionists, it would take several hundred million years, which is just a wee bit more than my lifetime. To really evaluate history by the scientific method requires going back in time, to observe history again. Despite recent cheezy movies to the contrary, no can do time travel. OK, so what do we do? The best we can do to test if the Bible makes more sense or evolution makes more sense, is to use the _forensic method_. This is used all the time today in the courts -- say someone's been shot, and we want to know whodunit. The _forensics_ guy looks at the evidence left behind -- the body, the gun, the shell casings -- and makes an *educated guess* as to what happened. It's no proof, and there's no way we can go back in time to repeat the shooting, but it's an educated guess based on the currently available evidence. *That's* how we look at origins -- we look at the currently available evidence in the world today, and see whether it's more consistent with the predictions from the Bible's creation model, or whether it's more consistent with the predictions from the evolutionary model. Note, *no proof*!! Nobody can *prove* creation or evolution, or indeed anything about history; we can only look at evidence, and make an educated guess. [ an aside: I would argue that we can't prove *anything* at all, except for math; operating in this world requires faith. I can't, in fact, prove that you exist; but that's a topic for another time... :) ] OK, that was the general stuff on science, now to some specifics from your questions:
  1. origin of man (apes, or special creation?)
  2. origin of the earth (supernovae, or *poof* by God?)
  3. age of the earth (4.6 billion years, or a few thousand?)
Before we dive in, I'm gonna make a quick definition: I'll use the word "evolution" to refer to the whole particles-to-people sequence, the evolutionary model for the origin and development of life from the first spark of life to humans today. (1) origin of man: two points: (a) similarity, (b) Homo erectus fossils. (a) similarity: One of first things evolutionists point to is the remarkable similarity between apes and people -- we both have two hands, two feet, five fingers and toes per limb, DNA, immune systems, etc. It's true -- on the outside, we *are* similar. But both evolution and creation have explanations for this -- evolution says we're similar because we have common ancestors; creation says we're similar because we have a common Creator. Just like you can identify a Monet painting by the style, without knowing who drew it, we would expect that all of God's creation would have the "fingerprint of God", some similarities. So _similarity_ doesn't help us to distinguish between creation and evolution; it can support either one. (b) But the Bible *does* claim that we are made special, different from the apes. Genesis 1 (and also elsewhere) uses the phrase, "each according to its kind" a whole lotta times -- it means God created life in kinds, with boundaries between the kinds. So there's a human kind, and maybe an ape kind, and there's a boundary between the two. Evolution says there's no such boundary. The H. erectus series is really cool, because it shows the great lengths evolutionists have to go to to try to show there was an ape- man. At the bottom end of the series there's Ramapithecus and Australopithecus, small creatures that to all appearances are extinct apes (usually orang-utans). At the top end there's Neanderthalensis, which to all appearances is modern man, except he was a bit bigger/stronger, lived in caves, and had arthritis. Nowadays evolutionists don't even classify Neanderthal as a human predecessor, because he's so advanced. In the middle, we've got essentially: Peking Man, Java Man, Piltdown Man, and Nebraska Man. When we've got time I can go over these real quick; the bottom line is there's no *real* evidence for H.erectus as a transitional form between apes and man. In most cases, they just find fragments of a skull, or a leg bone, or a few teeth, and they construct an ape-man out of their own imagination. Look in your textbooks, and try to figure out how much is actual fossil, and how much is "model", or "artist's rendition", or "clay cast". (2) Origin of the earth (3) Age of the earth Oookay, I'm running out of time here, so I'll combine these into one. Real quickly, the supernova/solar disk/planetoid aggregation theory (it's not even technically a theory, just an idea) of planet formation is *purely* based on computer simulation. We've never observed a planet forming out of a solar disk into a full planet, so we don't really know. In fact, how the heavy metals could aggregate into balls is still a big problem for astrophysicists; they still don't really know. The 4.6billion years? Take how long evolutionists figure life needs to evolve, add some fudge factor, make it a round number. How do evolutionists get dates for life evolving (e.g. Cambrian era, Triassic era, etc)? Two main methods -- index fossils, radiometric dating. Reliability? Absolutely negligible at the scales they're talking about (millions of years). Details? Ask me -- running out of time here. :) Bottom line is -- from science, we truly have no idea how old the earth is. Really -- *no* idea. Could well be billions, could well be thousands (we have historical records to about 5,000 years from the Chinese). OK, as you can tell, from the scientific perspective, we could go on forever. From the Biblical perspective, it's really quite simple -- God said it, He was there and I wasn't, so I take Him at His Word. A straightforward reading of Genesis 1 suggests God created the whole world as-is, with fully formed plants and animals and stars and people, in just six days of approximately 24 hours each. Many Christians today see the disagreement between the Bible and their textbooks, and try to compromise -- "oh, well, those six days weren't _really_ 24-hour days, maybe they were figurative!" "oh, maybe there were gaps between the days, yeah, that's it!" "hey, the Bible's not meant to be a science textbook; it's just an allegory, don't take God so literally!". The bottom line here is: if we truly believe the Bible is God's Word, we have to take it at face value, and not try to fit it to match scientists' opinions. Scientists are people, they change their minds; God is not a man, that He should change His mind. But the truth can always stand up to testing; God doesn't want a blind faith without using our minds. "Gold fears no fire".
 
4. When other people believe in other Gods or religions, how do those 
religions start?  What are they based on?  Are any of them similar to
what we believe?  If they think their religion is the "true" one and
believe ours isn't, and vice versa, how can you prove which one is 
really right?

Pascal said that in every man's heart is a God-shaped vacuum.  Everyone is 
searching for Someone greater then they, searching for our Creator.  In the 
very beginning, everyone knew who God was, but sin came in when people 
rejected God and tried to go their own way.  False religions come in when 
people reject their true Creator who has loved them from the beginning, and 
try to make up some other idea as to where they came from.  We can't 
*prove* to anyone what is the truth; we can't *prove* that the God of the 
Bible is really our Creator.  But we can provide *evidence*.  One evidence 
is the world around us; as I said at the top, real honest study of the 
creation will point us to the real Creator.  But another evidence is God's 
work in your life.  God is a God of love -- it's reflected in His creation, 
it's reflected in His children.  When those around you see God's 
supernatural love in your life, that is yet more evidence to show them that 
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

 
That's all I have right now.  If you could answer any of them (or even 
try) I'd be really thankful =) And if I think of any more, I'll ask...

See you Sunday,

Told ya it was gonna be long!  Great questions, though; bring more!  In 
writing is good; it lets us plan our time more appropriately so as to give 
the questions the time they deserve.
Take care!

in Christ,
Sean

-- Sean Ho seanho @ cs.unc.edu Dept. of Computer Science, CB #3175 http://www.cs.unc.edu/~seanho/ University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3175