The Unexpected Perspective
The Implications of Darwin and the Big Bang for Christians ... and Everyone Else

Perspectives

Accommodation theory is the idea that God, in all of His greatness, is extremely difficult for humans to comprehend. If He is to be understood and worshipped, then His creation needs to be described in a way that is understandable to ordinary people.

ACCOMMODATION THEORY

An obvious question to ask is, if Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct, why isn't it in the Bible?  Surely, God wouldn't deceive believers by saying the world was created one way and then doing it in a different way!   

I think Christians can rest assured that God wasn't being deceptive.  The way He could have created the world using the method described by Darwin, but describe it in the Bible in the way it is, is because of what is called "Accommodation Theory."

Accommodation theory is the idea that God, in all of His greatness, is extremely difficult for humans to comprehend.  If He is to be understood and worshipped, then His creation needs to be described in a way that is understandable to ordinary people.  Let me now show you why this makes sense, both from the perspective of the Reformed Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church.  Let's start with the Reformed Church.

The Reformation was based upon three great doctrinal concepts: 1) sola fides (salvation by faith alone); 2) scriptura sola (the supremacy of the Bible); and 3) the priesthood of all believers.  The Reformers believed that people were saved by faith alone, not by performing any type of "works".  Further, the source of all authority was the Bible itself.  Up until that time, the Roman Catholic Church maintained that Church traditions had equal authority with what the Bible said.  Finally, the Reformers believed that all believers comprised a priesthood, meaning that individuals could have a direct relationship with God.  It wasn't necessary to have that relationship "mediated" by a priest.

One of the logical conclusions of this was the need to have the Bible translated into common languages so ordinary people could either read the Bible directly, or if they were illiterate, to have someone read it to them, but solely for the purpose of letting the individual person draw his or her own conclusions.  No trained priest was necessary.  Needless to say, the Roman Catholic Church wasn't amused.

Assume for a moment that the Reformers were right, and that God did intend for ordinary people to be able to interact directly with the Bible and draw their own conclusions.  This is a bedrock concept in the Reformed Church.  Well if that's the case, the Bible certainly cannot be a scientific textbook.  Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection could never have been described therein.  It would have been akin to taking a textbook on surgery, written in Chinese, then translating it into English, or whatever is the native language of the reader.  Even when translated, the text would have made no sense to the reader.  But if the Bible couldn't be comprehended by the ordinary reader, God's purpose would not have been met.  As such, if God intended for ordinary people to read the Bible and understand His message, it could never have been designed to opine on matters of science.

Now let's consider the same issue, but from a Roman Catholic perspective.  Let's assume that ordinary people were never intended by God to read the Bible and understand its mystery – that God always did intend for trained priests to serve as "intercesors", interpreting the message in ways that ordinary people could understand.  Being firmly in the Reformed tradition, I don't personally subscribe to the idea, but let's assume for a minute that I am wrong.  Well, if God intended for the Bible to serve as a science textbook, his trained interpreters – the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church – got the message wrong for 1500 years!  After all, the trained experts were the ones who read about the Battle of Aijalon in Joshua 10 and were convinced that both the Sun stood still that day AND the Sun revolves around the Earth.  They were so convinced of it that they put Galileo under house arrest of 9 years because he begged to differ.

My conclusion, therefore, is that accommodation theory makes good sense.  Not only that, but Christian theologians, even as far back as Augustine, said we shouldn't treat the Bible as a scientific textbook.  John Calvin said the same.  Dennis Lamoroux, a Biblical scholars, noted that:


The structure and origin of the universe presented in the
Bible do not align with the scientific facts. Yet this fact
does not weaken our belief that Scripture is the Word
of God. It only indicates that the Holy Spirit graciously
descended to the level of the inspired authors and used
the science of their day as an incidental vessel to reveal
inerrant messages of faith.


So if accommodation theory is a good explanation of why Darwin and the Big Bang theory aren't described in the Bible, what then can we say about what IS in the Bible?  We can rest assured, what is described is an "accommodated version" that, while it is true, is a simplified to our level of understanding.  We'll discuss that in our next post.

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We all benefit from new technology. What we sometimes don't consider is the unintended consequences of it. Seven important things to keep in mind, no matter how fantastic the technology.

            Almost every day we learn about new scientific discoveries and technological innovations.  In fact, there are so many, it's hard to keep track of them.  While very few of us make a regular habit of tracking new science and technology, some people specialize in that.  It's a very good thing!

            One group that does this is the Reilly Center at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.  Besides staying on top of new developments, the people at Reilly focus attention on the ethical and moral implications of new technology.  Where most of us focus on the "wow factor" of new technology, the Reilly people make a point to dig into the unintended consequences of all those shiny new objects.  In fact, they put out an annual list of the top 10 ethical dilemmas in science and technology.

 

            Here's what's on the 2018 list: 

 

#1: Helix — A digital app store designed to help you read your genome.

 

#2: The Robot Priest — BlessU-2 and Pepper are the first robot priest and monk, respectively. 

 

#3: Emotion-Sensing Facial Recognition — Optimizing retail experiences by assessing your reactions.

 

#4: Ransomware — Holding data hostage until you pay up, whether you're an individual or a large corporation. 

 

Hopefully, you haven't been a victim.  If you have, you've got plenty of company!

 

#5: The Textalyzer — A new tool in the battle against texting and driving that tells police if you were on your phone before an accident.

 

#6: Social Credit Systems — China will debut theirs in 2020, but do we already live in a world where online reputation is king? 

 

The Chinese system will rate people in four areas: a) shopping habits; b) credit rating; c) online behavior; and d) friend connections. 

 

#7: Google Clips — This little camera will watch you all day and capture your most picturesque moments. 

 

#8: Sentencing Software — There are already Americans being sentenced with the help of a mysterious algorithm.

 

#9: The Rise of Robot Friendship — Can we create a chat bot out of our loved ones' old texts and social media posts? 

 

#10: The Citizen App — Live crime reporting may lead to vigilante justice. 

            The list makes for interesting reading, but like the people at the Reilly Center, it should also point out the downside of shiny new technology.  Let me share seven important things to keep in mind.

#1: Every technological "good" seems to have unintended consequences

            When you see new technology, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?  For most people it's one of two things: a) Wow, I could do a lot of amazing things with this!; or b) what would I ever do with this?  Even if your reaction is the latter, that often changes as the technology is put into practice.  You've probably heard that when the original Xerox photocopy machine came out, it wasn't expected to be successful because no one really appreciated what it could do at the time.  Likewise, "experts" at the time said the total market for computers would be about 100 or so machines!  Guess they got that one wrong!

            However, the last thing you're likely to consider about the new technology is its unintended consequences.  Sometimes those are positive, as in the long term success of the Xerox photocopier and the computer.  Too often, however, the unintended consequences of the new technology are negative.  That's what the Reilly Center people do.  What most of us fail to consider is that all these new gadgets and software seem to have unintended negative consequences.

            Consider #10 on this year's list.  It's an app that ordinary citizens can use to do live reporting of crime.  Users can film crime scenes in progress and help speed up the response of the police.  Your first thought probably is, that's likely to be very helpful to the police.  After all, citizen-generated video has brought cases of police brutality out of the shadows. 

           True, but the New York Police Department is concerned that apps such as this will lead to "vigilante justice".  When crimes occur, who do you want to respond?  Is it the police, or a vigilante mob?

#2: There are way more issues than you ever imagined

           Now you think, the "citizen app" is just one piece of technology, maybe it's just an "outlier"?  Unfortunately, most everything seems to have unintended consequences.  It's just a question of when those unintended things become apparent.

          Computer networking technology, as well as the emergence of "apps" that can easily be downloaded onto your mobile phone, has been hugely beneficial to nearly everyone.  However, those very technologies have permitted the emergence of "ransomware", where instead of kidnapping you, criminals "kidnap" your computer and/or phone and demand a ransom, often to be paid using Bitcoin or other alternative "currency" that's hard to trace.  Did you see that one coming?

#3: You probably won't anticipate the harm until it happens

            As with the case of the "citizen app", or the software technology that makes "ransomeware" possible, you probably won't think about the negative, unintended consequences until after a situation arises.  That's not surprising.  After all, most of us have way better things on which to spend our time than focus on the unintended consequences of new technology.  The good news is, somebody does spend time on this sort of thing.  So what the people at places such as the Reilly Center are doing is largely unheralded, but very important.

#4: Expect the unexpected, and the unintended

            What this points out is the need to "expect the unexpected".  When we first encounter the shiny new object - the new phone that will do all kinds of amazing things - we should approach it with an attitude of caution and skepticism, or at least with the expectation that there are very likely going to be unintended consequences, so be cautious.

            But how often do we do that?  Unfortunately, not very often.  Not only that, but when you visit that sleek Apple retail store, do you see warning signs posted to maintain vigilance when using Apple's computers, phones, and software?  Of course not!  And we shouldn't expect Apple, or other vendors, to put up prominent warnings.

#5: Maintain a level of healthy skepticism

            Instead of prominently displayed warning signs, an important thing is to approach new technology with a good dose of skepticism.  I'm not saying you should be a latter day Luddite – the people in 19th century England who smashed the new machines they feared would take aware their jobs.  Instead, approach each new gadget/software device with the attitude that while it could potentially be very beneficial, it will most likely have unintended consequences.

            Before you adopt the new technology, you need to focus at least a little bit of attention on those unintended consequences.  If you are the parent of children who aren't yet adults, you need to be paying attention to the technology the kids have.

            But like most everyone else, you don't have a lot of time, so what can you do?  My suggestion is simply to get in the mindset of expecting unintended consequences.  The most basic one is, if I adopt the new device/gadget/software, it's going to take at least some of my time.  What am I prepared to give up?  Alternatively, you ask, if I wanted to create mischief, how might I misuse the new technology? 

#6: You can only focus your attention on a few issues, so pick carefully

            Of course, unless you're one of those unusual persons who want to make a career of studying the unintended consequences of technology – and maybe go to work for an organization such as the Reilly Center at Notre Dame – you don't have much time to devote to this sort of thing.  What do you do?

#7: Find a trusted source to provide guidance, and maybe some wisdom

            Very likely, you can only pay attention to one or two issues at a time, so pick those very carefully.  Absent that, find a good place to turn when you have questions about a new technology.  Lot's of people rely on third party experts such as Snopes to help ferret out questionable news stories.  What is your "reliable source" to help identify the unintended consequences of technology? 

            Or, if like me, you belong to a Christian church, or some other faith community, look for guidance and wisdom there.  As an example, just because the Christian Bible says absolutely nothing about the modern technology at your fingertips, it offers profound wisdom when dealing subjects such as this.

            In the meantime, get in the habit of expecting the unexpected, and not being surprised when people come to realize that there are unintended consequences to pretty much every new technology. 

            No need to be a Luddite.  Just maintain a healthy skepticism … and find a group such as the Reilly Center, or the experts in a faith community, to help you stay on top of the ethical issues and unintended consequences associated with technology.

           

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Should Christians "draw a line in the sand"? If so, where should it be?

The world has many philosophies, religions, ideologies, and other systems of thought, each with adherents who have strong beliefs.  What distinguishes one from another?  At the end of the day, each "ism" or "ity" has a certain set of fundamental beliefs and assumptions that underlie the belief structure.  If you take one or more of these away, the "ism" tends either to fall apart, or at least become less distinguishable from others.  Nothing surprising about that.   So it should come as no surprise that anyone who embraces a particular belief structure wants to "draw a line in the sand" when it comes to the veracity of those fundamental beliefs and assumptions.

            Christianity is certainly no exception to this.  So you may ask, what are the fundamental beliefs of Christianity of the "draw a line in the sand" variety?   What makes Christianity different from any other religion, philosophy or belief structure?  When asked that question, many Christians, especially the more evangelical ones, say, "the Bible is the revealed word of God and is completely true."  Not necessarily a bad answer, except that non-Christians also believe certain things about the Bible are true.  For example, Jews believe the entirety of the Old Testament is correct.  Muslims also strongly believe many parts of the Bible, including parts of the New Testament, are true.  For example, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, found in the New Testament, is also an important story in the Muslim Koran.

            Of course, with the possible exception of Messianic Jews, neither Muslims nor Jews think of themselves as Christian.  Thus, there must be parts of the Bible that most Jews, all Muslims, and adherents of other religions (or no religion at all) don't accept.  It would be at least some of these sections that make Christianity unique.  These, I maintain, are the "line in the sand" doctrines for Christians.  So what are they?

            If you listen to what many Christian churches, particularly more evangelical ones, have been saying lately, you wouldn't be far wrong if you arrived at the following as the "line in the sand" issues:

  • God created humans in a special way, different from all other creatures and species, in a manner that is inconsistent with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection;
  • Homosexuality is one of the worst kinds of sins, and is to be abhorred.

These are very strongly and sincerely held beliefs for many, maybe even most, Christians, but are these the real "line in the sand" issues for Christians to defend?  I think not.  Let me explain why.

            Consider, first, the idea of a "special creation" of mankind.  Well, some other religions believe the same thing.  Historically, even Deists believe this.  Deists generally believe that God created the heavens and the earth, but acts like the watchmaker who has created an incredible masterpiece that runs on its own, and is content to sit back and watch it operate.  Christians, especially evangelical ones, strongly reject the Deist narrative, believing that God is active in the world to this day.   So the notion of "special creation of humanity by God" is not unique to Christianity because adherents of other religions many times believe the same.

            Same with beliefs about homosexuality.  Many other religions reject it, most notably, Muslims.  Many evangelical Christians might be surprised to learn that Muslims have very similar views about homosexuality, viewing it as a sinful choice that individuals make. 

            If that's the case, then even though many Christians have very srong beliefs about these issues, neither of these can be "line in the sand" doctrines that distinguish Christianity from other religions.  Instead, I believe it has something to do with Jesus. Let's consider what it is.

            It isn't that Jesus was an historical figure.  People of all beliefs tend to agree with that.  Moreover, people of pretty much all faiths, and atheists or non-theists with no faith at all, believe Jesus was not only a good person, He was a model for others to follow.  Muslims and Jews don't disagree about this.  Atheists are the same.  Without a doubt, if pressed on the matter, the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins would say he admires Jesus. 

            What all of these non-Christians, however, don't say about Jesus is a belief that He was sent by God the Father to Earth.  Instead, non-Christians generally think of Jesus as a profound, even prophetic, person with many very admirable qualities, but not someone who is the Son of God. 

            Christians, on the other hand, accept what Jesus said in the Bible especially in the Book of John, namely that He is the Son of God who was sent by God the Father with a very specific purpose.  What, then, are those things that provide a unique viewpoint for Christians about Jesus?

One can make an argument that it comes down to two things:

  • Original sin
  • The inability of mankind to overcome sin.

Original sin is the idea that the very first humans sinned against God, and the sinful nature of those original humans has been somehow transmitted to every subsequent human.  It is a stain affects every human.

Both Jews and Muslims accept the idea that the original humans sinned against God, but their views are somewhat different.  Jews believe that humans do sin, but they do so by choice, not so much that it is an innate part of their natures.  Muslims tend to believe that after the original humans sinned, God immediately forgave them but also admonished them to avoid sin in the future.  According to the Koran, one can avoid sin by remaining in a state of submission to God, practicing the Five Pillars of Islam (i.e., faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and at least one pilgrimage to Mecca).  Other religions believe in the idea of sin, but no other ones that I know of believe in the twin ideas that mankind is inherently sinful and that humans cannot somehow either overcome or avoid sin on their own.

Which brings us back to the "why" for Jesus.  Christians believe that Jesus came to Earth, simultaneously fully human and fully God, with the purpose of dying as an atonement for the sin of mankind, then rising from the dead.  Beyond that, the risen Christ serves as the way to overcome sin.  It isn't done through any particular actions taken by the person, simply through faith that Jesus Christ is the route to salvation. 

The "why" of Jesus set forth above is something that Christians of all sorts can agree.  Of course, there are other important things, but I would argue that these are the most basic, most distinctive doctrines of Christianity.  If you take these away, you no longer have Christianity.  My argument then is that if Christians want to "draw a line in the sand" – and at certain times, we should – this is the place to do it.  Conversely, drawing the "line in the sand" on "special creation" and homosexuality really doesn't make sense because those are not essential doctrines of Christianity.

Why do I say those are not essential doctrines of Christianity?  "Special creation" is not an essential doctrine because one can easily construct a narrative that includes original sin and the imperfectability of mankind but leave out "special creation".  How?  Creation through the process of evolution by natural selection, started and controlled by God, provides an excellent explanation of creation.  Moreover, it fits both what the Bible says and modern scientific data.  The key act of God was not how He created humankind, it was His response to the emergence of sin in the original humans.  Christians believe that God's response to original sin and human imperfectability was to send Jesus.

The belief that homosexuality is both a choice, and is a sin, is also not an essential doctrine.  As noted above, it is not a unique Christian doctrine.  One can believe in the doctrine as a devout Muslim, for example, so it can't possibly be a core Christian concept.  Please understand, I am not saying anything about the acceptability or wrongness of homosexuality, merely that it is not a core Christian doctrine.

Given these arguments, what am I trying to say?  Simply that if Christians want to be real defenders of the faith, we should focus attention on the things that make Christianity unique.  Those, I believe, are also the things that serve to make Christianity compelling.  If we're going to draw a line in the sand, let's draw it at the right place.

How, then, should Christians go about this task?  Of course, by placing reliance upon the Bible.  However, what happens when Christians encounter people who honestly and sincerely believe Christians are mis-interpreting the Bible, or who even believe the Bible is rubbish?    Is there something beyond the Bible that could back up these "line in the sand" arguments Christians make about Jesus?

I believe the answer is "yes".  Ironically, it's the least likely place many Christians would ever go: Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Briefly, Darwin provides Christians the following:

  1. An excellent way to explain the source of original sin, and why humans possess it, in contrast to other species; and how it is transmitted from one generation to the next;
  2. A way to explain why humans cannot by themselves avoid or overcome their sinful natures.

Thus, if Christians really want to "draw a line in the sand" that distinguishes what we believe, the very best way to do that is to consider (or re-consider) what we think about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Thank you for reading!

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While I'm absolutely convinced that Christians can trust the Bible, I am much less convinced that Christians, even well meaning ones, always understand what it is saying. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of science. Moreover, it's true because of a funny thing that happened almost two thousand years ago.

CAN WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

Before going much further, an extremely important question needs to be answered: where does the Bible fit in this discussion? If I don't provide the right answer, many Christians may stop reading another paragraph, irrespective of what they think about this subject.

I don't have a problem with that, and I agree that the matter needs to be settled.  Without a doubt, I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  Period.  End of case.  Christians can rely upon without the least hesitation.

While I'm absolutely convinced that Christians can trust the Bible, I am much less convinced that Christians, even well meaning ones, always understand what it is saying.  This is particularly true when it comes to matters of science.  My point is also relevant because of a funny thing that happened almost two thousand years ago.

For those of you who are also very committed Christians, if I asked you, can you trust what the Bible says, you'd answer strongly in the affirmative.  At the same time, if I asked you, does the Earth, the planet on which we all reside, rotate around the Sun, you'd also agree.  The funny thing is, for nearly 1500 years, Christians were absolutely convinced that the Bible said the Sun rotated around our Earth!

The idea that the Sun rotates around the Earth actually predates the Bible.  A Greek scholar/mathematician named Claudius Ptolemy developed the theory in Alexandria, Egypt about 150 AD. Church scholars looked at the Bible and were convinced that the Bible said the same thing. Huh?

In fact, not one but numerous Bible verses were cited in support of this idea.  In particular, the Battle of Gibeon, recounted in the 10th chapter of the Book of Joshua was cited as evidence.  The city of Gibeon entered into a treaty with the Israelites. Alarmed at this, a coalition of five Amorite kings formed to oppose the Gibeonites.  The Gibeonites pleaded for aid from Joshua and the Israelites.  Joshua marched his army from all night from Gilgal, then surprised the Amorite coalition in the morning.  The Amorites were defeated, then fled, with the Israelite army in pursuit.  While escaping, the Amorites were victimized by a hailstorm.  More died from the hailstones than from the battle.  

Joshua felt he needed a little more time, so he pleaded with God to stop the Sun, making it possible to prolong the battle so the Amorites could be finished off.  Translations of the Bible suggest that God "stopped" the Sun, thus giving Joshua and the Israelites more time to finish off the Amorites.  As recounted in verse 14, "there has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man.  Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel."

The conclusion was that God had in fact stopped the Sun in its tracks, thus prolonging the day.  This and other verses were cited as evidence that Ptolemy was right – the Earth was the center of the universe, and the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth.

The belief persisted until Galileo Galilei demonstrated in the early 17th century that the Earth and the other planets definitely revolved around the Sun.  The Roman Catholic Church wasn't amused.  In fact, Galileo spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest because he would not recant his theory of heliocentrism – that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun.

So what REALLY happened on the day of the Battle of Aijalon recounted in Joshua 10?  Two possibilities: 1) the language was figurative, and the Sun didn't literally stop that day (for a realistic explanation of what really happened that day, look at http://www.accuracyingenesis.com/joshua.html for a thorough, Biblically AND scientifically based explanation); or 2) God somehow really did stop the Sun that day.  But even if the latter occurred – and that is a VERY BIG IF - it doesn't lead to the conclusion that we live in a world where the Earth is the center of the Universe and the Sun rotates around the Earth. 

It's been demonstrated conclusively that Galileo was right. So I like to ask my fellow Christians, when it was determined that Galileo was right, how much of the Bible was re-written?  I, of course, get puzzled looks when I ask that, but it's a serious question, for if the Bible is the revealed Word of God, and Christians for 1500 years said the Bible indicated the Earth was the center of the Universe, but it turned out not to be the case, who or what was wrong?  The obvious answer is, the Bible wasn't wrong, it's just that Christians for 1500 years didn't seem to understand what it was saying, at least with respect to this matter of science.

What conclusions can one draw from this?  The most basic conclusion is that while the Bible is clearly the inspired Word of God, it isn't, and never has been, a science text book.     In the next post, we'll explore this idea further by introducing a concept called accommodation theory. 
 

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Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to enlist the help of the other side. Consider how that happened in Georgia.

            So imagine you're a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club.  If you fit the profile of the typical member, you're liberal, well-educated, and especially concerned about the environment.  After all, the goal of the Sierra Club is to protect the environment against any and all hazards.  The latest one, of course, is climate change.

            You need allies to move your agenda forward.  Have you considered the Tea Party? 

            The Tea Party?  Besides being very conservative and pro-Republican, the typical Tea Party member appears to be a climate change skeptic.  Are you crazy?

            Maybe?  Maybe not?  At least some members of the Sierra Club apparently think not, as the Sierra Club has teamed up with the Tea Party in Georgia to help push the adoption of solar energy.  As a result, Georgia has gone from having virtually no solar in 2013 now to being number eight of all the states in solar adoption.

            Sometimes politics makes for strange bedfellows!

            It's pretty obvious why the Sierra Club wants solar in Georgia, so why would it become a priority for the Tea Party?  So far as I know, the Tea Party has not had a "Paul on the Road to Damascus" conversion about climate change.

            The answer: a dislike of excessive nuclear power costs, as well as a dislike of monopolies.  Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party activist in Georgia, has summed it up well: "It's all about message.  Free market, competition, choice, expanding the energy portfolio and energy mix.  I don't want excessive regulation."  She's not alone.

            The recent evidence in Georgia suggests that Tea Party advocates like solar because it's very cost competitive, and also because members don't like being forced to pay for gigantic cost overruns on an as-yet-unfinished nuclear power plant.

            Others who are trying to overcome skepticism about climate change ought to take notice.  Many who fear climate change have been preaching a message of doom and gloom.  It hasn't moved the typical climate change skeptic one inch.  If anything, the louder that advocates of action to stop climate change yell, the more the typical climate change skeptic digs his or her heels in.

            Absolutely no one should be surprised by this.  After all, when was the last time you changed your mind because someone told you a bunch of facts; then, when you expressed skepticism, that person called you ignorant and stupid? 

            The answer: precisely never!  No one changes their mind because someone spouts facts and figures. 

            But minds can be changed.  One way to do is to follow three steps.

            Step 1: acknowledge that it's understandable why the person feels the way they do.

            Step 2: reframe the problem in a way that addresses the skeptic's concerns.

            Step 3: show the skeptic how the "reframing" can benefit them.

            This approach can work well, but it is rarely used.

            But it appears the Sierra Club in Georgia has done that in enlisting the help of the Tea Party.  Let's look how they did this.

            First, they didn't say that the Tea Party was ignorant on the issue.  Instead, they sought their assistance.

            Second, they didn't try to get help by reciting the usual "climate change doomsday scenarios".  Instead, they reframed this as an issue of free markets, competition, choice, and reduction of excessive regulations.  By making these types of arguments, they got the attention of the Tea Party.

            Third, they're getting it done without relying on the usual "requirements" to encourage alternative energy, namely tax credits, net metering, or legislative action. 

This should be exciting news for those of us who want to promote alternative energy.

            So what lesson does the Georgia case provide for the rest of us?  Let me suggest five:

#1: Reframe the climate change issue

            Those of us who are very concerned about climate change keep assuming that we'll persuade skeptics by painting doomsday scenarios.  Folks, it isn't working!  In fact, the "doomsday" strategy reminds me of Albert Einstein's definition of stupidity, even insanity: keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Stop talking about polar bears and sea level rise.  Instead, reframe climate change into issues that conservatives care about. 

#2: Build arguments that will appeal to conservatives

            The people in Georgia have reframed it as a matter of lower costs, elimination of monopolies, and less regulation.

            Guess what?  It's working!  So instead of painting those doomsday scenarios, focus instead on how addressing climate change actually helps do things about which conservatives care.  In the Georgia case, it's a desire for lower costs and regulation, as well as a desire to limit monopolies.

            In Georgia's case, lots of people – including lots of conservatives – are really mad that consumers have seen their utility bills go up considerably, all to pay for a behind schedule nuclear plant.  Want to get the attention of a conservative?  Bring up stuff like that!

#3: Make allies with the people you least likely expect to be interested

            Once you find something like this, start considering unusual allies.  Why not create a coalition between the Sierra Club and the Tea Party?  Now those are very strange bedfellows, but they apparently decided to come together in Georgia on alternative energy.  It's not the first time something like this has happened, and it won't be the last.

            Supporters of alternative energy, such as the Sierra Club, appealed to the desire of the Tea Party, reframing the climate change issue as a pocketbook one, as well as one focused on reduced regulation.

            Having done this, they turned attention to a key player in every state – the commission that regulates electric utilities.

#4: Focus attention on your state's utility regulators

            Even though pretty much everyone has taken high school civics, we don't know a great deal about how our Federal government works.  We know even less about our state governments in general, and still less about our state public utility commissions – the agencies that regulate electric power, cable TV, and our phones.  We all really should pay more attention, but we all know there are lots of things to which we should give attention. 

            The reason a state public utility commission is so important is that it has a lot of influence on what electric utilities do.  In Georgia's case, the public utility commission has gotten Georgia Power – the state's major electric utility – to start making lots of investments in solar.  That's the reason Georgia has moved up so much.

            In blue states such as California, getting people on the public utility commission who are sympathetic to alternative energy is fairly straightforward.  But Georgia is a deep red, conservative state, the kind you'd think would be hostile to alternative energy.

            However, if you can get the attention of the Tea Party, and get them on your side, you're likely to have more success influencing your public utility commission in places such as Georgia. 

#5: Focus on alternative energy as a "pocket book" issue

            In Georgia, that has meant reframing climate change in the ways described above – appealing to the pocket books of voters, as well as to those who want less regulation.  Given that alternative energy is now highly cost competitive – certainly more cost competitive than coal, and now even natural gas – consumers of all sorts ought to be very sympathetic – even if they love Donald Trump.  Remember, voters may love Donald Trump a lot, but they love having money in their own pockets even more!

            The experience of Georgia should be very encouraging to all of us who are very concerned about climate change.  If we will only stop preaching about "doomsday scenarios" and start reframing the issue in ways that will persuade climate change skeptics to join us.

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Legendary investor Warren Buffett sees the promise of alternative energy

            If any doubts remained about the competitive viability of solar and wind as commercial sources of energy, Warren Buffett, the legendary investor from Omaha, has put them to rest.  Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has made major investments in electric utility power generation.  Recently, his company announced an integrated plan to build 2.7 gigawatts of wind and 1.8 gigawatts of solar.

            That certainly gives a nod of approval to these two industries, but that wasn't the truly important announcement.  Instead, Buffett said he wants his Mid America energy company to be 100% renewable by 2020 – two years from now!  The company will build no new gas, coal, or nuclear plants!  Of course, that doesn't mean that Buffett will get his companies to eliminate all carbon based energy sources by 2020, but it's an encouraging move nevertheless.

            Making such an announcement is what one might expect from truly visionary or "leading edge" investors – people such as Elon Musk of Tesla.  Warren Buffett has been incredibly successful as an investor – a true legend – but he's built his success on very traditional types of investments.  He's consistently avoided leading edge technologies.  As an example, though he became a very good friend of Bill Gates many years ago, Buffett still consistently avoided investing in information technology, claiming that he really didn't understand technology.  More recently, he's made some investments in technology companies, but long after they were known to be on the leading edge.

            That suggests two things to me.  First, it indicates that alternative energy technologies such as wind and power truly have become mainstream.  Buffett obviously sees that they are better investments than traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas.  The Sage of Omaha is known to have Democratic leanings, but he also is well known to leave his political opinions and proclivities at the front door of Berkshire Hathaway.  When he goes to work, he's "all business".

            Second, it suggests that he sees wind and power as far better long term investments, even without the subsidies that have been common.  Many people have claimed that wind and solar are only viable because of government subsidies.  Take those subsidies and credits away and the investments become uneconomic.  Well, that was true for a long time, but it isn't true any more. 

            Buffett and his investment partner, Charlie Munger, are clearly shrewd enough to know that tax credits and subsidies can disappear with the snap of the fingers.  I find it hard to believe they would ever make an investment that depended upon the presence, or continuation, of subsidies.  Whatever subsidies and credits remain are likely to be removed, sooner or later, but the bet is that solar and wind will stay highly competitive even without such subsidies.

            If anyone really thinks that Buffett is unconventional in his investment, he also recently announced something that should disabuse anyone of the notion that he's more like Elon Musk than not.  Buffett announced that he supports the electric utility industry's opposition to "net metering".

            Where "net metering" is permitted, customers who generate their own power, typically via a rooftop solar system, will periodically produce more power than they consume during the day.  That extra power can be moved back onto the electric grid for use by others.  In effect, the customer's electric meter spins backward for a time, reducing the customer's electric bill.  The permissibility of net metering, as well as pricing of it, depends upon local rules and regulations.

            Electric utilities as a whole hate net metering.  The reason is because they perceive it will reduce their overall revenue but not reduce their costs.  After all, the utility still has to maintain the electric grid, and all of the costs associated with that.  Moreover, the utilities will lose revenue by this.  As an example, California permits net metering, and it's estimated that public schools and agencies alone in California will save $ 2.5 billion in electricity charges over the next 30 years because of net metering.  Private customers will save a lot more.

            Are Buffett and the electric utility industry right in opposing "net metering"?  In my mind, absolutely not!  Opposing "net metering" is just the latest version of monopolistic thinking by electric utilities.  Instead, net metering should be permitted, and the overall marketplace should decide the price of electricity.  I think Buffett and Munger, once they look closely, will change their minds about net metering.  Let me explain.

            It's pretty clear why electric utilities hate net metering.  After all, they want to preserve the typical monopoly they've traditionally had.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever taken an economics course knows, monopolies lead to monopolistic pricing and monopolistic service – meaning a lack of good service.  Frankly, a little competition should benefit all parties.

            Electric utilities say that if net metering is permitted, it will create too much uncertainty, and too many disincentives, for the utility to make the necessary investment. Not only that, they say that net metering places an unfair burden on those who don't generate their own solar power. I say, that's hogwash.  It's merely an excuse to create, or maintain, an unjustifiable monopoly.

            At the same time, the utilities that oppose net metering do have a point.  If the power generated by the rooftop solar system and sold back to the utility is simply "netted" against the customer's electric bill, then the customer has effectively sold back power at a retail price.  The retail price of power includes the cost of all of the transmission grid. 

            A more fair way to do this is to permit the rooftop solar system to sell power back to the utility but only at a wholesale price.  That price might be the same as what the utility could buy solar power from another utility or from a power wholesaler.  That wholesale price would definitely be lower than the retail price.  As an example, the wholesale price might be 2.5 cents/Kwh and the retail price might be 8.0 cents/Kwh.  Thus, the rooftop solar customer would pay the following for electricity: a) nothing for the power generated during the day and used by the customer; b) the retail price of 8.0 cents for power purchased at night from the utility; and c) the utility would credit the customer 2.5 cents/Kwh for the power that the rooftop solar system sold back to the utility.

            Using this approach should overcome the utility's objection to having to pay a retail price for power purchased from the rooftop solar system.  Now the utility may still object, saying that it makes things too complicated.  Again, I think that argument is hogwash.  Electric meters, and utility accounting systems, are sufficiently robust that one can easily make these calculations.

            The other big objection utilities have had about net metering is perceived instability it will create in the electric grid.  That used to be a problem, but recent evidence suggests the technical problems have been overcome.

            How should the wholesale price of electricity be determined?  Various data are published regularly.  The utility commission that governs rates for the electric utility can monitor this.  It will probably vary over time, but it's easily trackable.

            The opposition to net metering by electric utilities is short-sighted.  In fact, I think Warren Buffett will change his mind and embrace net metering in the future, especially if states embrace my proposal of having rooftop solar customers sell power back at wholesale rates.  The reason has to do with peak loading.

           Managing peak loads is the real problem that utilities have.  Historically, electric utilities have had to maintain standby capacity.  The standby capacity in northern climates tends to get used in the wintertime in the evenings.  In hotter climates, it tends to get used during the summertime.  Maintaining those standby units is usually very expensive.  In fact, it may be so expensive that the idea of getting excess energy generated by rooftop solar is appealing.  To the extent the utility can purchase excess power at wholesale rates from rooftop solar, it will reduce the need to maintain expensive standby peak load capacity.  Old, expensive standby plants can be shuttered.

            It makes more economic sense to get rid of as much standby capacity as possible and rely more on power generated by customers, especially if the utility can buy that power at wholesale prices.  But in a peculiar way, utilities have been dis-incentivized from doing that.  Instead, they have traditionally been rewarded for being more asset intensive rather than less asset intensive.  That's because they're provided a rate of return on the asset base.  The larger the asset base, other things being equal, the higher the price they can charge consumers.

            What public utility commissions should do instead is reward the utilities for seeking out less expensive sources of power.  There are a number of ways they can do that.  One way is to measure what I'll call the "capital efficiency of power generation".   A simple measure of this is to take the total capital investment of the utility and divide by the number of kilowatt hours produced in a given time period.  That will provide a simple metric: invested capital per kilowatt hour of power generated.  The lower that number, the more capital efficient is the company. 

            If electric rates were set with such capital efficiency in mind, electric utilities would be more likely to try to reduce their capital expenditures in order to produce a given amount of power.  Under traditional utility ratemaking, those companies have absolutely no incentive to be more capital efficient. 

            Imagine, however, if the public utility rate makers took capital efficiency into consideration when setting rates?  It would likely mean that the utilities would have less incentive to buy more assets.  The utilities might be less likely to want to own the solar assets and more likely even want to encourage purchasing power from third parties.  This would likely include rooftop solar.  Capital efficiency should also benefit shareholders.   If anything, they should be pleased if the utility can generate a given amount of kilowatts using less capital.  Utilities can in fact do this, and be more efficient at the same time, if they purchase power from the most efficient sources.  Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are just the guys to understand such economics.

            Industrial scale solar plants are certainly likely to be more efficient than rooftop systems owned by individual consumers.  Not only that, but it is likely that the consumer will pay less for industrial scale solar power than power generated by rooftop solar.  However, if governments give electric utilities a monopoly in solar and wind power generation, it will discourage investment by others.  The utilities will win but consumers will lose. 

             Let the marketplace decide which makes better sense.  Faceless bureaucrats aren't going to make better economic decisions, and electric utilities are interested in doing things that provide their owners better results, often at the expense of the public.  At the same time, utilities should not be forced to buy power from small generators at retail rates.  Everyone can win using the approach I've outlined.

             So the interest of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger certainly validates the premise that alternative energy is a smart business decision.  Just so long as the Sage of Omaha and his behind the scenes business partner in Los Angeles aren't "mentally captured" in old-fashioned thinking by the employees in their electric utility subsidiaries.

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The Big Bang Theory seems to suggest that the world emerged out of nothing at a particular moment in time about 13.8 billion years ago, and Darwin seems to suggest that the world emerged without purpose.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACCEPTING AND EMBRACING IDEAS

As discussed in the last post, at a minimum, the world view of a religious person, Christian or non-Christian, seems to be at odds with what Charles Darwin and the Big Bang Theory are saying.   This is because the religious believe that God, or a god-like agent, pre-existed the world, then directed the emergence of the world.  The Big Bang Theory seems to suggest that the world emerged out of nothing at a particular moment in time, and Darwin seems to suggest that the world emerged without purpose.

Since Darwin's theory was first elucidated about 150 years ago, religious people, both Christian and non-Christian, have sought ways to reconcile the different ideas.  You'll recall in an earlier blog post, I pointed out two theories – directed evolution and planned evolution – that reconcile Darwin, the Big Bang and Christianity.  A number of Christian groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and various mainline Protestant denominations, have reconciled the ideas.

Reconciliation, however, is not the same thing as a wholehearted embrace: atheists have wholeheartedly embraced Darwin and the Big Bang.  Is there a difference?  I think there is, and let me describe it by analogy.  Recall when you were a child that at least one of your parents, most likely your mother, told you to eat your vegetables because they're good for you.  You probably didn't care for them, but you knew you needed to eat them.  For me, it was Brussels Sprouts.  Today, I'm a man in late middle age (though I imagine that my adult children would say that I've definitely reached senior citizenship!), and my tastes in food are considerably broader than when I was a child … but I still HATE Brussels Sprouts!  Conversely, I absolutely love carrots and watermelon, two other fruits and vegetables.    You likely have your own version of Brussels Sprouts, carrots, and watermelon.

Darwin and the Big Bang to the atheist are like my carrots and watermelon – the atheist absolutely loves these theories, whether he or she knows anything about them.  Conversely, for the average Christian who has reconciled these theories with the Bible, it's still somewhat like my Brussels Sprouts: my "good reason" for eating them was to avoid the wrath of my mother.  But in my own mind, no one, not even my wonderful wife, even to this day, has given me a really good reason I should love them.  

But imagine a different scenario – a variation of the carrots and watermelon one I described above.  Imagine that Christians wanted to embrace Charles Darwin and the Big Bang Theory just as much, if not more than, atheists?  What would be the benefit of that?  Well, let me suggest a bunch of benefits:
  

 #1: Younger Christians might stop leaving the church as much as they do now, if only because one of the reasons for leaving has been mooted;    

#2: Rather than spending time arguing about "origins", Christians could use the that "bandwidth" to offer constructive comments about other matters of science, particularly scientific matters with an ethical dimension.  Hint: there are LOTS of them!   

 #3: Christians could regain the respect of non-Christians on matters of science.  The latter probably still won't adopt Christianity, but at least some important attitudes could change.

There could be real benefits to this, but it could only happen if Christians could be, in their own minds, given reasons to want to embrace Darwin and the Big Bang.  

You'll recall how I said that entrepreneurs often reframe old problems by asking new questions?  Well, that's precisely what I'm doing here.  Most everyone has some sort of entrenched position on this issue, and no one is budging.  In a case like that, the only way to make any real progress is to re-frame the problem.  Thus, for me, the starting point for addressing the BIG ISSUE – the relationship of Christians to science and technology – actually starts with coming up with a solution to the Darwin/Big Bang issue … and the only way to make real progress on that is to re-frame the entire problem by asking the following question: what would have to happen for Christians to want to "bear hug" embrace Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection , as well as Georges LeMaitre's Big Bang Theory?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: the two theories would have to show something that somehow reinforced something else that Christians already believed.  After all, that's really the reason atheists embrace the theory – because the two theories, when taken together, appear to reinforce the idea that the world just emerged out of nothing and evolved without purpose - key parts of the world view of the typical atheist.

So the real question becomes: is there a way to think about Darwin and the Big Bang Theory that provide evidence that reinforces what the Christian Bible has been saying all along, that reinforces fundamental Christian doctrines?  If the answer is yes, then Christians ought to want to "bear hug" embrace Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, not because an atheist said to, but because the Christian Bible, and therefore God, says to do so.

Your initial reaction may be, preposterous!  I invite you to continue along with me, for I am going to take you on a journey to a place you probably thought was preposterous, but which I firmly believe is real. 
 

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The people who are most skeptical about climate change may well be the ones most willing to invest in alternative energy

            A fairly significant percentage of people in the USA are skeptical about climate change.  What is even more distressing, however, is that the more that climate change "believers" try to get skeptics to change their minds, the more likely the skeptics are to dig in their heels.

            The current strategy isn't working, so let's stop and try something else.  The "something else" I have in mind is to reframe the issue into a financial one: "taking carbon out of the air could be one of the next great investment opportunities."  If we re-frame the climate change problem into an investment opportunity, I think we'll get where we want to go.  There's already a bunch of evidence to show that this approach works.

            The good news is that both solar and wind farms are turning out to be excellent investments.   In fact, they could become the next great "fixed income" investment, an excellent complement to traditional fixed income investments, and an excellent overall addition to a typical investment portfolio.

            Who traditionally buys such investments?  Quite often, it's people with higher incomes and greater net worth, the very people who tend to be Republican – and Republicans tend to be the people who are most skeptical about global warming.

            I think these more well to do "climate skeptics" will love what I'll call "solar farm fixed income investments".  That's because they have the potential to provide a better return than traditional bonds for a comparable level of risk.  The same is true for wind farms, but let's focus on solar for now.

           What's the problem with good old fashioned bonds?  There are two key problems: 1) interest rates have been very low, so it's been hard to generate reasonable yield without taking on too much risk; and 2) interest rates are expected to rise over the next few years, which means that anyone already holding a particular bond will see the price of the bond decrease commensurately.

            The other thing that could make this particularly attractive is the high price of the stock market.   That's because there's been a bull market for more than eight years.  The Case-Shiller Index for the S&P 500 now stands at 32.34.  It's historical mean is 16.85 and the historical median is 16.15, suggesting that stocks are very pricey, maybe even way overpriced.  Now the record high for Case-Shiller is about 44, so there's still a way to go to get there, but it's still definitely on the very high end.  The obvious alternative is for investors to put money in fixed income investments, but traditional fixed income investments such as corporate, municipal, and Treasury bills and bonds are not especially attractive now.

          So is any of this actually happening?  A recent transaction involving Southern Power and Global Atlantic Financial is instructive.  Southern Power is a subsidiary of Southern Companies, a large electric utility in the US Southeast.  It is what is referred to as a wholesale energy provider.  Southern Power sold a 33% interest in a portfolio of 26 operating solar projects for $ 1.75 billion to Global Atlantic Financial.  Global Atlantic was founded by financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs in 2004 but spun off in 2013.  Global Atlantic provides life insurance and retirement financial products.

            So why would a company such as Global Atlantic want to buy an interest in a bunch of solar farms?  The answer is because the solar farms will provide steady, predictable cash flow to the owner for its customers.  That steady cash flow will help to fund life insurance policies and various retirement plan policies.  For companies like Global Atlantic, it will likely be an excellent alternative to the traditional investment of choice for such companies – bonds.

            Investments such as the one Global Atlantic is making could provide an excellent form of diversification to its portfolio.  That's because the portfolio of 26 solar projects will provide steady, predictable cash flow to Global Atlantic.  It's also pretty likely that the cash flow will be better than alternative investments Global Atlantic might make.  The company isn't going to ditch its other investments, just make such solar investments a part of its overall portfolio.

            The yield that Global Atlantic will likely receive on the solar investment will likely be a good deal better than on a bond.  What, then, makes the company think the cash flows will be steady and predictable?  It's because each of the solar projects in the portfolio likely has a power purchase agreement with a utility. 

            A power purchase agreement typically is a long term agreement entered into by a power provider – in this case, a solar farm – and an electric utility that will sell power to its customers.  The key to such agreements is the terms of sale.  A well-crafted power purchase plan can be very beneficial to both the electric to utility and the provider. 

            The new economics of solar create the potential for a real "win/win".  The average an electric utility can sell power for in the USA is about 12 cents/KWH.  It can generate power from a coal fired plant for about 7 cents/KWH, but solar plants are now generating as low as 2.5 cents/KWH.  Given these economics, the utility and solar generator might enter into a power purchase agreement at 5 cents/KWH.  The utility wins because it can just buy power from the generator at a price of 2 cents/KWH less than what it can either produce it on its own or buy it from another provider.  The solar generator can win because it can make power for 2.5 cents and sell it for 5 cents.

            The other benefit for the electric utility is that it can get help to cover the cost of constructing plants.  Traditionally, electric utilities have built and run their own plants.  They do that by raising capital in the form stock and bonds.  Increasingly, though, utilities buy their power from companies in the business of providing wholesale power.  That's because in many cases the wholesale provider can generate at a lower cost, and it also means that the electric utility doesn't need to make an expensive investment in a new plant.

            So what will Southern do with the $ 1.75 billion check it received from Global Atlantic?  It may distribute some in the form of dividends to the parent company's shareholders, but more likely it will use the money to invest in more solar projects.

            Expect to see more cases like the Southern Power/Global Atlantic one in the future. 

            As an alternative to a company like Global Atlantic, a new type of investor in solar power could be what's called a master limited partnership (MLP).

            MLP's have been around a long time.  The key advantage of MLP's is that the earnings are taxed like a partnership so investors avoid double taxation.  A MLP gets this benefit if it pays out at least 90% of its earnings and if it is in the business of either exploration, production, or transport of energy or real estate.   Historically, the energy generated has been oil or natural gas.  However, solar power is energy, so an MLP should certainly be able to invest in a solar facility.  It could gain the same types of benefits of ownership as a company like Global Atlantic.

            A variation on the MLP is an exchange traded fund (ETF) that is based upon MLP's.  These securities can be more attractive to the investor than the underlying MLP's themselves.  An example of this is the Alerian MLP ETF.

            So just who invests in master limited partnerships?  Generally speaking, people with high incomes, just like the customers of a company like Global Atlantic.  Now there is no reason a lower income person couldn't make an investment in a MLP, especially if it is an ETF, it just doesn't tend to happen. 

            Given the comparative unattractiveness of traditional fixed income investments, MLP's could be a good choice.  The benefits of real estate investment trusts and oil and gas MLP's are well know, so what would make solar energy really attractive?

            For the utility, the key risk is the possibility that the cost of getting power from a source other than the solar plant goes down.  That's pretty unlikely.  For the MLP, the key risk is the possibility that production costs will go up significantly.  Again, that should be fairly unlikely.

            Thus, MLP's and companies like Southern Power could provide a great source of financing for solar power generation.  That will likely be for building additional power capacity, but I think it should also make it feasible for the electric utility to consider abandoning an existing coal plant.  Now if it does that, the utility will probably take a one-time hit to earnings as it writes off the undepreciated plant.  Companies, however, do that sort of thing all the time.  It generally doesn't create a long term problem.  Investors tend to understand, especially if it means that the cost structure will get better for the company.  Conversely, the electric utility will probably score points with the public when it announces the replacement of a coal-fired plant with a solar plant.

            You may ask, why would someone who doesn't believe in climate change willingly invest in a solar plant?  It would be for the same reasons the person makes any investment: to make money or save money.  It's become increasingly clear that alternative energy is a money-making proposition.  What makes it increasingly attractive is the desire for many investors to obtain yield and the comparative unattractiveness of the stock market and other fixed income investments.

            Which again demonstrates that those of us who are most concerned about climate change should spend less time talking about it and more time focused on pointing out the attractiveness of investing in the business of removing carbon from the atmosphere.  Instead of trying to convince climate change skeptics that "climate change is killing the planet", the message should instead be, "you can make a lot of money taking carbon out of the air".  For well to do the climate change skeptics, this latter message is already getting their attention in a way the "scary future" message probably never will.

 

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You'll recall in an earlier post I noted that while atheist scientists have absolutely no problem embracing Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, only about half of the US population accepts it, and only about a quarter of evangelical Christians do.

WORLD VIEWS CONT'D

You'll recall in an earlier post I noted that while atheist scientists have absolutely no problem embracing Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, only about half of the US population accepts it, and only about a quarter of evangelical Christians do.  These same scientists are astounded at these numbers, but it has been suggested that the only ones who should be surprised are the atheists themselves.  Why is that so?

The answer relates to "world views", more particularly, the difference in the world view of atheists as compared to Christians. It really should be no surprise that an atheist would love Charles Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, even if the atheist knows absolutely nothing about science.  This is because Darwin and the Big Bang actually provide a "creation story for atheists."  

Imagine it's 1700 and you're a freethinking skeptic, a "closet" atheist.  You probably wouldn't have announced that publicly, but let's say the word got out, at least to some of your close friends.  One of the things they would have said to you is, how do you explain the world?  Where did it come from?  What possible explanation is there other than that God, or some god-like force, created it?   Of course, in 1700 the skeptic wouldn't have had a very good answer.  Most likely, he or she would have automatically been skeptical of the skepticism.  Moreover, everyone else likely would have ridiculed the skeptic, if for no other reason than that he or she didn't have any good explanation for where the world came from, except via a creator God.

So imagine, then, what "gifts" Charles Darwin, the author of the theory of evolution by natural selection, and Father Georges LeMaitre, the Belgian priest who formulated the Big Bang Theory, have brought to your garden variety atheist?  Suddenly, the atheist has a plausible scientific explanation for how the world began and how life emerged!  Of course the atheist will embrace these ideas, even if he or she knows absolutely nothing about science.  The atheist doesn't need to know any science, merely that someone has developed a plausible explanation for how the world might have emerged without resort to god-like power.

After all, at the core of the atheist's world view is the idea that there is no God, and there never has been a God.  What we see is all the result of natural processes unrelated to a god-like agent.

What does the average religious think about this?  Well, the starting point is the religious person's worldview.  Irrespective of the details, that person's world view likely includes the following key elements:

  • God pre-existed the world
  • God created the world
  • The world does have a purpose, one created by God.

Notice how I said "religious person".  This religious person might be Christian, or he might be an adherent of any number of other religions, but the key element is that the person believes there is a transcendent God.  The person might be Christian, but for this purpose, it really doesn't matter.  At a minimum, the person will be skeptical of Darwin and the Big Bang Theory.  Now the person may decide he or she can reconcile religious beliefs with this scientific explanation, but it will require some work.  

Now let's take this a step further and add in a few additional details, especially those found in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis.  A practicing Christian already believes that he or she can rely upon the testimony of the Bible, including Genesis. Genesis, however, seems to imply several additional key things:

  • God directed the creation of the universe over a seven day period
  • The first humans were created within the seven day window.

So now the Christian must reconcile not only the idea of a pre-existent God who directed the creation of the universe, he must deal with a clearly laid out scheme of creation that supposedly lasted seven days.  Thus, the average religious person, much less the average Christian, must do a fair amount of "reconciling", something the atheist doesn't have to do.  

If you've ever taken a psychology course, or merely read some popular psychology articles, you're probably familiar with a concept called "cognitive dissonance."  That's a fancy term for the idea that it's extremely difficult to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time.  When confronted with two seemingly contradictory ideas, the average person decides that one idea may be okay, but the other idea definitely must be discarded.  Everybody does this.  Therefore, confronted with the "cognitive dissonance" of alternative #1, the world sprang forth out of nothing and life seemingly evolved to what we have today, and alternative #2, God pre-existed the world and directed its creation to what we have today – is there any surprise about what different people embrace?

  • The atheist embraces Darwin and the Big Bang
  • The religious person is at least skeptical of Darwin and the Big Bang narratives.

Thus, it should be not the least bit surprising that atheists love Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, and the religiously inclined, Christian or otherwise, are at least skeptical.

So from the outset, before one gives the first thought to science, it's likely that atheists will be highly receptive to Darwin and the Big Bang, but Christians and other religious people will have to overcome skepticism … and it actually doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the actual science, but lots to do with world view.  In our next post, let's explore this further.
 

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California has imposed a new solar energy mandate that, in an unexpected way, even climate change deniers could love.

            Movies in the 1910's and '20s.         

            Freeways and sushi in the 60's.

            Yoga in the 70's.

            Bottled water in the 80's.

            Smoking bans in the 90's.      

            Even martinis.

            Keep yours eyes fixed on California.  Crazy new trends always seem to start there, then soon appear elsewhere in the USA.

            You've probably heard that before, and there definitely is some truth to it.  Unquestionably, lots of trends begin in the Golden State.

            It may be about to happen again, this time with home construction.  Now it isn't that you're going to start seeing some crazy new home designs.  Of course you might, but that's not the next big thing to come out of California.  Instead, it's the idea of having all new homes built to generate solar power.

            You read that correctly.  California's Energy Commission has adopted a new set of rules requiring all new low rise new residential construction to include solar. 

            Depending upon your political persuasion, you might view that as absolutely wonderful … or absolutely terrible!  I want to suggest that even if you're a die-hard conservative who hates more government regulation, this is one you should absolutely love!  Let me explain why.

            Unquestionably, solar power has been getting cheaper and cheaper.  You've probably heard of Moore's Law, which says that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every 18 months.  First posited by Gordon Moore in the mid-1960's, Moore's Law continues to work to this day, a half century later, and all of us benefit in one way or another from the increase in computer horsepower.  The Iphone or Android phone in your purse or pocket wouldn't exist without Moore's Law.

            Which brings me to Swanson's Law.  Never heard of it?  Well, Swanson's Law says that since the 1970's, every time the volume of solar panels put into production doubles, the price drops 20%.  The cost of solar power has dropped by two thirds just in the past decade thanks to Swanson's Law.

            With that, more and more people are retrofitting their homes with solar installations.  Nevertheless, even though the price of solar keeps going down, solar systems remain fairly expensive to install and take a fairly long time to pay for themselves.

            California's new law will likely change all of that.  The reason has to do with what makes solar installation so expensive.  It really isn't the cost of the solar panels.  Instead, it's what is referred to as the "soft costs".  Those are things like design, permitting, and installation.  Anyone who has ever done a home remodeling job knows how expensive it can be.  Experts at the US Department of Energy estimate that in typical retro-fit installations of solar panels in a home, two thirds of the total is soft costs.

            If the solar panels and control system are installed when the home is built, much of that cost goes away.  Oh yes, the solar panels probably will cost the same, but the soft costs will be dramatically lower.

            California's Energy Commission estimates that the cost of solar power in a home where the system is included in original construction will be only 2.5 cents/kilowatt hour.  Here's how they came up with that estimate:

  • The typical residential system will produce 3,015 watts and will generate 133,630 kilowatt hours over 30 years (i.e., 4,785 KWH/year with a 0.5% annual degradation due to system aging)
  • As part of new construction, the solar system will cost $ 3,381
  • The cost/KWH over the lifetime of the system will be 2.5 cents.

That 2.5 cents/KWH may not be meaningful until you consider what the average homeowner pays for electricity.  Idaho has the lowest average cost/KWH and it is 8.0 cents.  The second highest is New York at 18.1 cents.  Hawaii is the true outlier with an average KWH of 33.2 cents!

          So even if you live in the state with the lowest average cost of electricity – Idaho – you stand to save a lot of money if your solar system is an original part of your home.

            California is on the higher end, as you might expect, with an average KWH cost of 15.2 cents.  It's estimated that the extra cost of the solar system - $ 3,381 on the cost of the new home – will increase a typical 30 year mortgage payment by $ 17/month.  That's offset by an estimated $ 80/month in electricity expense, clearly a bargain.

            Which leads me back to why everyone – even diehard conservatives – ought to love what California is proposing.  No need to discuss why liberals and progressives should love this.  After all, built in solar means that much less greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere.

            So why should a diehard conservative love this, especially one who doesn't even believe in global warming?

            They should love it because it creates another good way to help people save money and make money.  The new homeowner clearly can save money, so let's turn to how this mandate could be a moneymaking proposition.

            Banks should like it because it increases the size of the average mortgage, but it provides a built in means to more than pay the extra cost.  Going back to the California example, the average homeowner will pay an extra $ 17/month on the mortgage but save $ 80/month in electricity.

            What about the electric utility that supplies power?  At first glance, one would expect electric power providers to hate this.  They'll be selling less power and making less money.  Well, they'll be selling less power, but I think they actually could end up making more money.  That's because the utilities could develop new sources of revenue and also reduce their own costs.

            They could reduce their costs by buying up excess power generated by these new home installations.  The utility could offer to pay the homeowner 2.5 cents/KWH for excess power generated.  The typical cost to generate power by an electric utility around the country is substantially higher than 2.5 cents/KWH.  Thus, every KWH purchased by the utility would reduce its own costs.  That's especially true in the case of peak load demand.

            The second way the utility could benefit would be to install and rent batteries to the homeowner.  The homeowner will probably generate excess power during the day but needs power in the evening and nighttime.  Thus, some type of battery storage will be required.  The utility could purchase such batteries, install and maintain them.  They could charge the homeowner monthly rent on it.   It could easily become a profit center for the utility.

            The third possibility is for the utility to pay the cost of home solar system and rent it to the homeowner.  That would get the system into the utility's installed asset base and permit to earn a rate of return on it.  This is much the same as cable TV equipment installed in the user's home that is rented to the user.  It's estimated that the new California requirement will create additional solar capacity at $ 1.12 cents/watt of generation.  That's pretty close to the cost of building large scale solar plants.  It might even be less in certain states where the cost of construction is lower.  After all, everything in California is expensive!   So instead of building X watts of new capacity, the utility might opt to pay for the cost of new systems for the homeowner.  The utility should be able to work out pricing that cover the cost of the new system for the homeowner as well as provide a good economic return to the utility.  This approach likely won't cover all growth in electric demand, but it could have a significant impact.

            The utility will still be installing and maintaining large power production plants, but it creates the possibility of the utility thinking of its residential customers collectively as another power plant.  In this case, it would be a power plant that produces power at very low costs.  Not only that, it would be a power source that requires little or no capital investment by the utility.

            The economics of solar system installation at time of home construction appear pretty compelling.  That's true not only in California but in the entire rest of the country.  During 2017 there were 614,000 new homes sold in the USA.  If every new home included a built in solar system, pretty much everyone would benefit.  Which brings us back to Swanson's Law.  All those additional solar system sales would make the price of solar continue to decrease

            Is California's move a panacea?  Of course not!  But it presages the future.  More importantly, as I've shown above, it's something that everyone could come to embrace.  Even if you think global warming is a hoax, you'll likely pay attention if it means you can save money or make money.

            So the people who first brought you movies, martinis, and freeways may now be bringing you a way both to reduce greenhouse gases and make money.

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Carl Treleaven is an entrepreneur, author, strong supporter of various non-profits, and committed Christian. He is CEO of Westlake Ventures, Inc., a company with diversified investments in printing and software.

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