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

Perspectives

My argument is that Christians shouldn't just accept Darwin and the Big Bang. Instead, they should absolutely love them! There are five reasons why. Here's a brief summary of the five reasons.

THE FIVE REASONS

            I've been making the argument that not only should Christians accept Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory, they should absolutely love both theories.  In fact, they should love the two ideas even more than committed atheists.  I've identified five reasons why.  There may well be more, but here are my five reasons:

            #1: Darwin provides a realistic explanation for the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity – original sin;

            #2: It provides a way for the Garden of Eden to have realistically occurred, not simply been an allegory;

            #3: It provides a better way for Christians to do evangelism, particularly when trying to evangelize well educated people;

            #4: It provides a way to teach science in public schools that will be quite acceptable to pretty much everyone, ranging from the militantly atheistic to the most fundamentalist of Christians;

            #5: It provides a way for Christians to address important questions/challenges that have been posed by secular humanists.

I'll explore each of these in greater detail in upcoming posts, but here's a quick introduction to the argument for each.

Original Sin  - The Most Fundamental Doctrine

Original sin is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity.  Mankind's sinful nature is the reason why Jesus came to Earth and was crucified.  The crucifixion was an atonement for mankind's sin.  While it's the most fundamental doctrine, Christians today know very little about the doctrine and its significance.  Why churches speak so little about this is not clear to me.  Christians believe that the sin of Adam and Eve has somehow been transmitted to every human.  But what is the mechanism of transmission?  My argument is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provides a perfect explanation for the transmission of sin. 

The Garden of Eden

Did the Garden of Eden really occur?  Were Adam and Eve real humans?  In the past few hundred years, many, if not most, Christians have come to think of this as just an allegory.  More conservative Christians, however, hold tenaciously to the idea that the Garden was a real event.  Modern science seems to call that reality into question, but I believe there is a realistic way the Garden of Eden could have actually happened, and the reality squares with the most modern of science.

Evangelism

Evangelism is clearly important to Christians, but doing it effectively is always challenging.  Perhaps the biggest challenge today is that while the basis of most all evangelism is the Bible, many people sincerely believe that Bible is hocus pocus.  How, then, can one do effective evangelism if the intended audience views the "source" of the evangelistic claims as hocus pocus?  My belief is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory, can serve as the "bridge" between Christians and non-Christians, and the two theories can provide the starting point for a discussion about the Bible.

Teaching Science in the Public Schools

Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, benefits if good science is taught in the schools.  Increasingly, however, students are taught science poorly, or not at all, because teachers are reluctant to tackle the issue of science and religion in the classroom.  I believe that my theory will provide an excellent way to overcome this problem, one that will be acceptable to all, from militant atheists to fundamentalist Christians.

Addressing Secular Humanism

Secular humanists often pose challenging questions to Christians.  For example, the secular humanist may ask, why isn't it sufficient for one to lead a moral life?  The questions are legitimate, and good.  Unfortunately, Christians oftentimes stumble over these questions and fail to provide good responses.  I believe that the twin theories can help provide Christians with better answers when responding to secular humanists.

            In upcoming blog posts, I'll address each of these five "benefits" in greater detail.  Altogether, I believe it will make a strong case for why Christians shouldn't just accept Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, they should absolutely love the two theories.

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The long held assumption is that life first appeared on Earth. But what if life actual predates Earth, and life forms somehow were transported here after Earth's formation?

            Many people readily accept the idea that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection applies on a micro scale, meaning at the level of bacteria and viruses, and maybe even to some extent at the level of species.   While they accept these ideas, they reject the idea that Darwin can explain the evolution of life from its most basic forms up to humanity, meaning that while microevolution is real, macroevolution is not.  The argument is that supporters of macroevolution have stretched the available data and have "overplayed the hand".

            One of the key arguments that skeptics of macroevolution have used is that there simply wasn't enough time to explain the appearance of organisms as complex as bacteria and viruses.  The argument hinges on the evidence that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the amount of time between the formation of Earth and the emergence of bacteria and viruses is therefore too short.  Implicit in this is the idea that life must have developed "from scratch" here on Earth.  But what if that's a bad assumption?

            Two scientists who have called this assumption into question are Alexei Sharov, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Aging, and Richard Gordon, a Theoretical Biologist at the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida.  Sharov and Gordon use a novel way to estimate when life first appeared.  As a proxy for the complexity of life, they consider the number of base pairs in an organism.  More complex organisms have more base pairs than less complex organisms. They observe that number of base pairs of organisms has increased at an exponential rate over time, much like Moore's Law. 

           In 1965, Gordon Moore looked at the number of transistors on a computer chip and noted that it was doubling every 18 to 24 months.  "Curve fitting" just four data points (1962 – 1965), he projected that this exponential growth, referred to as Moore's Law, would continue into the future.  In the original paper his projection only went 10 years into the future – to 1975.  His ten year projection has taken on a life of its own, and for the past 50 years, his projection has proven accurate.  Sharov and Gordon use this as a model and suggest a "reverse Moore's Law".  If you look at the historical data for the number of transistors on a chip, you could project backwards to when there were only a handful of chips, all the way back to 1959, the starting point for Moore's original curve fitting graph.  For example, if one looks at number of transistors on a chip at various points from 1995 to 2015, then one could "reverse project" that there were only a few transistors on a chip back in the 1950's.  The "reverse projection" would be quite accurate.   

            Sharov and Gordon apply this line of thinking and do a similar "reverse projection" for genetic complexity (see the chart above).  They look at the time that various organisms (e.g., prokaryotes, eukaryotes, worms, fish and mammals) emerged, and plotted those dates against the genetic complexity of each type of organism.  Eukaryotes and prokaryotes are both organisms with cell membranes, but eukaryotes also have a nucleus.  Their "reverse projection" suggests that "genomic complexity of zero, meaning just one base pair of nucleotides", would have occurred approximately 9.75 +/- 2.5 billion years ago.  That's well past the date of the Big Bang (approximately 13.8 billion years ago) but also well before the formation of Earth (about 4.5 billion years ago).  Even at the outer lower bound, Sharov and Gordon say that life emerged 7.25 billion years ago, still well before our Earth formed.

            Thus, Sharov and Moore's proposal could address the objection that many have raised about the appearance of life on Earth.  One might argue that life could not realistically have arisen with 500 million years of the formation of Earth, but 5 billion years is more than realistic.

For Sharov and Gordon's theory to be realistic, two key questions need to be answered.  First, could life have begun from only one nucleotide base pair?  Second, if life began before the formation of Earth, how did early life forms survive travel through interstellar space and arrive intact on Earth?

            With respect to the first question, Sharov and Gordon present a theory based upon what they call coenzyme like molecules (CLM's).  Their model is hypothetical, but is certainly not out of the question.    The core idea is that CLM's could be a realistic precursor to the nucleotides A, C, G, and T that underlie genetics.  Sharov and Gordon hypothesize that CLM's existed in a hydrocarbon microspheres.  These hydrocarbon microspheres could have created a realistic environment for nucleotides to emerge.

            Assuming the original nucleotides emerged about 9.75 billion years plus or minus a couple billion years, somewhere in the universe, how did those nucleotides traverse interstellar space?  If that question cannot be adequately answered, whether or not the original nucleotides did emerge at the time hypothesized by Sharov and Gordon, then the idea of life emerging elsewhere in the universe and being transported to Earth is effectively moot.  Sharov and Gordon cite the research of L.H. Lambert and others that staphylococcus succinus was extracted from Dominican amber.  The spores had been dormant for 25 to 35 million years.   At the same time, Sharov and Gordon cite research by Richard Gordon and R.B. Hoover that "remnants of planets from exploded supernovae can carry billions of bacterial spores and maybe even active chemosynthetic bacteria deep beneath the surface."  In other words, bacterial spores could have been buried in interstellar material, laying dormant for possibly millions of years, then revived in another world.  Sounds somewhat far-fetched, but not necessarily unrealistic.

            If Sharov and Gordon are right, then the idea that genetic diversity follows a Moore's Law type of curve isn't far-fetched at all.  Moreover, it could overcome the perceived problem that bacteria and viruses could not have formed on Earth because of the short time period from the formation of the Earth until their appearance.

            What, then, of the idea that life emerged 9.75 billion years ago, about 5 billion years before Earth formed?  The reason this isn't necessarily a crazy is because the universe appears to have as many as 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that's 10 to the 22nd power) stars like our own.  While only a very small fraction of those stars are likely to have had planets with conditions that could have supported the emergence of life, the sheer number of possible candidates makes this a very realistic scenario.  Assume, for a moment, that there was only a one in a trillion chance that any particular star could have had a planet capable of supporting life of some sort.  Even if that is the case, there would still be approximately 1,000,000,000 (one billion) stars capable of sustaining life.  If it was a one in a quadrillion chance, then approximately one million stars have planets orbiting them that are capable of supporting life.

The Big Bang occurred about 13.8 billion years ago.  Assuming Sharov and Gordon are correct, then the first life forms appeared about 4 billion years after the Big Bang.  Four billion years should have been adequate time for life forms to have emerged.

            Assuming this is the case, were the life forms that were transferred to Earth advanced and intelligent?  The idea that Earth was seeded by intelligent life (sometimes known as "directed panspermia") is fairly well known.  Sharov and Gordon reject the idea that the Earth was seeded by intelligent life.  This is because they believe it would have taken at least 10 billion years for intelligent life to have formed.  Assuming the Big Bang really did occur 13.75 billion years ago, then even if life formed within a billion years of the Big Bang, at the time of Earth's formation (4.5 billion years ago), then life could only be about 8 billion years in age.  Sharov and Gordon contend that it would have taken at least 9 or10 billion years for intelligent life to form (refer back to the chart above), thus it would have been impossible for the Earth to have been seeded by intelligent life.

            Non-religious people should have absolutely no problem with Sharov and Gordon's theory, but can the same be said for Christians?  I really don't think it should create problems for most Christians.    

            Young earth creationists (YEC) will definitely have a problem with the theory, but anyone who is a YEC would have problems with any theory suggesting that the Earth, much less the universe, is much older than about 6,000 years.  Young earth creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.  On the other hand, old earth creationists and evolutionary creationists (the latter being, like me, those who believe that God created the world using Darwin's evolution by natural selection) should have no problem with the theory. 

            The Bible says that God created all life, but it doesn't say where or when it happened.  The assumption has always been that life was created on Earth, but it doesn't specifically make that statement.  For most of history, most everyone assumed that life was created on Earth, but no one was aware of the sheer size and age of the universe, and no one was aware of the genetic curve calculated by Sharov and Gordon, suggesting that life began about 9.75 billion years ago.

            At this point, Sharov and Gordon's analysis doesn't prove or disprove anything, but I believe it is useful because it helps reduce constraints on our thinking about how life emerged.  For the longest time, we've constrained ourselves to the assumption that life had to have begun on Earth, not somewhere else.  The available data have not always

fit this model well.  Eliminating the constraint creates the possibility of other alternatives.  At the same time, it also doesn't provide any more evidence that life spontaneously emerged, the claim of many atheists and non-theists.

            If anything, the argument made by Sharov and Gordon should be encouraging for Christians who believe that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct.  This is because it provides a way to overcome the objection that life could not have emerged on Earth according to Darwin's theory because of the relatively short time between the formation of the Earth and the emergence of life. 

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We try to persuade others to have a change of mind, but keep using tactics that we know would never persuade us to change our mind.

            "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE THIS BECAUSE ..."

When you hear or read those words, what's your immediate reaction?  I don't know about you, but for me, my guard goes up.  It's almost the reaction that Pavlov's dogs had: when the bell sounded, the dogs salivated … and when you hear or read those words, your guard goes up.

            "BECAUSE I'M YOUR PARENT …"

You almost certainly remember that line.  Probably the first time you remember hearing someone tell you why you should believe something … and it very likely was a good idea … because when you were a small child, your parents REALLY did know what was best for you.  That line of reasoning made sense until you reached the point where that was no longer a good enough reason just to believe something.  If you're adult, you probably reached that point some time ago.

            So you probably no longer have your parents telling you what you should believe, but now you have other adults doing the same!  For example:

            "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE THIS BECAUSE …

                        I HAVE THE FACTS ON MY SIDE"

                        I HAVE SCIENCE ON MY SIDE"

                        I'M SMARTER THAN YOU ARE".

            So let me ask you, as an adult, how often have you been persuaded when you hear those types of arguments?  I'll bet your guard goes up, and you're not the least bit persuaded … even if the person made some good arguments.

            So why am I making a point about something that is actually a "flash of the blindingly obvious?"  Because while we know that we're not persuaded by these arguments, we somehow tend to forget this when we're trying to persuade somebody else to adopt our views.

            Let me offer a real life example of this.  Virtually all scientists believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct.  In their minds, and mine too, it's a slam dunk.  Nevertheless, half of adults in the USA don't believe that Darwin's theory is persuasive; and two thirds to three quarters of evangelical Christians are skeptical.  The scientists just can't believe that anyone would reject such good science.  How can this be?

            It's been said that the only people who are surprised about this are the scientists themselves! 

            Why am bringing this up?  Simply because when it comes to trying to persuade people to change their minds about something, we tend to go about the entirely wrong way.  When we try to persuade people to change their minds, too much of the time we're trying to persuade by saying, "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE THIS BECAUSE …", when we all know that when people try to use those lines on us, we're not persuaded!

            So if we're trying to persuade someone, we should keep the following principle in mind: people believe things for their own reasons, not yours.  If you're going to persuade them to change their minds and adopt your idea, you have to do it in a way that fits their way of thinking, not necessarily yours.

            So how do you that?  By beginning your "task of persuasion" by asking two questions: first, why should someone want to change his or her mind?; and second, why would I ever change my mind?  Well, you already know, it won't be because someone told you to change your mind for their reasons … but will you change your mind because you think it's a good idea?

            Most likely, you have before … and you will again.  That's because you're changing your mind for your good reasons, not somebody else's good reasons.

            You'll probably also consider changing your mind about something if you think it will benefit you somehow.  I don't know about you, but if I perceive that I could benefit by changing my mind about something, I'm pretty likely to give it some serious thought. 

            So let's now go back to the thing that astounds so many scientists: that so many ordinary Americans are skeptical about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  Contrary to what many people seem to believe, the reason isn't because these people don't believe in science or scientists.  Actually, the data show that ordinary people tend to have lots of respect for science and scientists.  A wonderful example of that occurred just the other day when a total solar eclipse by millions of people across the USA.

            Instead, the following are more likely reasons for skepticism:

  • They perceive a conflict between Darwin and something else they cherish: the Bible;
  • They perceive that they're being asked to make a choice between one thing and the other, meaning that they think they're being asked to make a choice between science and religion;
  • No one has given them a reason they should want to believe in Darwin (i.e., they haven't perceived a benefit for changing their minds).

When you frame the matter in these terms, it really isn't that surprising that there is a fair amount of skepticism.  So with that in mind, how might one try to persuade the Darwinian "skeptic" to reconsider? 

            Unfortunately, it's often using the following  types of arguments.  "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN DARWIN BECAUSE THE SCIENCE IS BEYOND QUESTION!"  Well, with the above in mind, do you think that's going to be a persuasive argument?  How about, "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN DARWIN BECAUSE TO BELIEVE ANYTHING ELSE IS JUST PLAIN STUPID"!  In light of what I've just discussed, aren't these types of arguments pretty ridiculous?  Yes, you can see that.

            So how about the following argument: "YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN DARWIN BECAUSE IT ISN'T INCONSISTENT WITH THE BIBLE IS SAYING."  This is an argument that Christians who believe in Darwin try to use of Christian skeptics.  Why might this argument be less than persuasive?  Because you still haven't given the person a reason they should want to have a change in mind.

            These reasons aren't very persuasive, but there's actually another one that may be the least persuasive of all.  Many Christians who believe in Darwin and evolution by natural selection have also concluded that Adam and Eve, and the whole Garden of Eden story at the start of the Bible, didn't really happen.  It's all symbolic, and a whole range of arguments have been developed as to why that might be true.

Well, the arguments may be very well formulated, but if the goal is to persuade evangelical Christians to change minds and hearts about Darwin and evolution, this is a non-starter.  Making that kind of argument is about the same as a telling a young mother her baby is ugly, and then saying, "but let me share with you why I think you ought to believe such and such …" Having heard those words about her baby being ugly, you know perfectly well that the young mother stopped listening.  Well, evangelical Christians tend to stop listening when part of the argument is that Adam and Eve were non-historical, legendary figures.  GAME OVER!

            Thus, with all of the above in mind, if the goal is to persuade skeptical Christians to have a change of mind about Darwin, I believe the argument will have to accomplish two things:

  • Provide a way that there can still be an historical Adam and Eve (the "ugly baby" argument);
  • Provide a reason (or reasons) why the skeptical Christian should want to have a change of mind.

If those two things can't be done, the average evangelical Christian, who is already skeptical of Darwin, isn't going to have a change of mind.

            So let's consider each of these, beginning with Adam and Eve.  Is there a way that Adam and Eve could have been flesh and blood individuals and still be consistent with the available scientific data?  Yes.  Now that doesn't mean they were the original two humans from whom everyone else is descended, as a literal reading of Genesis would suggest.  The available scientific data suggest that is impossible.  However, the data suggest that the original human population was at least 5,000 individuals.  Adam and Eve could easily have been two members of that original human population; and if you assume that Adam and Eve were two members of that original human population, the key elements of the Garden of Eden story fit not only with the Biblical account but also with available scientific data.  Thus, there is a reasonable way to keep Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden as historical, and still fit the available scientific narrative about evolution by natural selection.

            I believe this needs to be starting point of any attempt to persuade skeptical Christians to embrace, otherwise it will immediately turn into "your baby is ugly", and the person to be persuaded will have stopped listening.  Necessary, but not sufficient. 

            Assuming you've overcome the "historical Adam and Eve" issue, you then arrive at the question, why might a skeptical Christian want to believe in Darwin?  Let me suggest four types of reasons:

  • Reason #1: accepting Darwin's theory will reinforce something that the Christian already believes about Christian doctrine;
  • Reason #2: accepting Darwin will help the Christian be a better evangelist;
  • Reason #3: accepting Darwin will help the Christian address concerns he or she has with how science is taught in school;
  • Reason #4: accepting Darwin will help the Christian defend his or her faith against attack by others.

There isn't adequate time or space to go into each of these types of reasons.  If you want to explore this further, consider looking at my book, The Unexpected Perspective.  The overarching point is that if your goal is to persuade someone to re-think something, you need to build persuasive arguments; but what is persuasive to you may very well not be what could be persuasive to your audience.  So before you start trying to build your next set of arguments, stop and ask the following:

  • How does my audience look at the world?;
  • How might my arguments unintentionally leave the audience thinking I just said, "your baby is ugly";
  • How could what I say actually benefit my audience, for their reasons, not mine?

            I've given a set of examples related to Christians and Darwin's theory of evolution, but the same principle applies for all kinds of other issues.  As an example, how do you persuade skeptics that climate change is real?  Everything I've said above about science and religion applies pretty much equally in the climate change debate.  I encourage you to go back and read this post, but substitute "climate change" for Darwin and evolution.  I think you'll see my point.

The good news is, in the right circumstances, most people are willing to consider different ways of thinking.  They can be persuaded … but persuasion is an art that needs practice and nurture.  The capacity to persuade others is an incredibly valuable skill in virtually all walks of life.  Valuable, yet oftentimes under-appreciated.

            At the same time, please understand, I'm not in the least suggesting that you try to persuade others by lying or making misrepresentations.  There is absolutely no room for "alternative facts" (aka lies).  Persuasion requires empathy, and empathy and lying in my mind are in parallel universes.

            If we hope to be persuasive, we need to develop our skills and practice.  We can all benefit.         

           

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Electric vehicles are coming on strong. Is the case for them compelling?

Everywhere you turn you see more and more electric powered autos and SUV's.   Names like Tesla have gone from fringe to mainstream.  Many, particularly those who fear environmental apocalypse due to global greenhouse gas emissions, believe a conversion to electric vehicles is absolutely essential.

            So just how strong, and compelling, is the case for electric vehicles (EV's)?  Recently, I received an email that concluded the case for electric vehicles was way overblown.  I concluded that the case against electric vehicles in the email was flawed, mainly due to some bad assumptions.  However, it got me thinking, maybe the email had some flaws, but that the author actually was fundamentally on the right track.  Just how strong is the case for EV's, and will they produce the desired results?   My conclusion is yes, the case for electric vehicles is quite compelling.  They could make a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but there are some important variables that need to be considered.  Let's explore the case for EV's, as well as the issues that might be problematic.

            My immediate conclusion is that the case for electric vehicles is pretty compelling.  It comes down to the cost of driving.  Let's consider the out of pocket cost of driving 100 miles in a gas powered vehicle versus an electric vehicle.  A couple of basic assumptions/data points:

  • The average gas powered vehicle can drive about 20 miles on a gallon of gas, which costs about $ 2.20 (actually, it ranges from about $ 2.00 to $ 3.00 around the USA at present).
  •  The average electric vehicle (EV) takes about 30 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of electricity to go 100 miles; and the average cost of one Kwh in the USA is about 12 cents. 

That means the cost of driving 100 miles in a gas powered car is about $ 11.00, but the same 100 miles in an EV is only $ 3.60!  The average driver in the USA is behind the wheel for about 12,000 miles in the course of the year, so the net savings of the EV per year is $ 888, at least in terms of fuel.  Of course, the cost of buying an EV is greater, but the cost of gas is pretty significant. 

            Many people are skeptical that greenhouse gases are a problem, but there's a good chance they'll still be interested in EV's because of the savings on gas, and also because reduced usage of petroleum means less dependence upon potentially unstable countries in the Middle East and Venezuela.

            These numbers are averages, and averages can be mis-leading.  For example, while the average price of electricity is only 12 cents/Kwh, in Hawaii it's 37 cents, over triple the average!  Do the economics still make sense?  Yes they do, partly because the average price of gas in Hawaii is about $ 3.00/gallon.  Thus, in Hawaii it costs about $ 11.10 to power the EV 100 miles, but the cost of gas for the same 100 miles is about $ 15.00, still substantially higher.  Hawaii is a real outlier on electric rates.  The next highest average Kwh cost is New York, at 18.8 cents, half the rate of Hawaii.  Thus, in every state, the out of pocket cost of powering the average EV is a good bit less than a gas or diesel powered vehicle. 

            This alone should help EV's to become an increasing percentage of the vehicles on the road.  That fact that battery technology continues to improve, causing the price/performance of batteries to get better, will also increase demand for EV's.  At the same time, the fact that driverless vehicles are on the horizon may spur the growth of EV's.  People will soon be buying driverless vehicles, so if you're buying a new vehicle because it is driverless, why not also benefit from EV technology?  Because of this, you're probably going to see lots more EV's.  Growth rates are pretty high.

            Which raises an important question: can the nation's electrical grid/infrastructure handle the increased load?  At least in certain parts of the country, this might be problematic.  For example, in San Francisco, the average house draws only about 2 kilowatts of electricity at peak times, but one electric vehicle plugged in at peak times will increase that load anywhere from 6.6 kilowatts to as much as 20 kilowatts, if the vehicle is getting a "fast charge". 

            The US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Lab has calculated that the US electrical grid could handle as many as 150 million electric vehicles, about 75% of all of the cars, pickups and SUV's on the road, so this shouldn't be a problem.  But could it be?  The simple answer is "yes, it could be".  The reason has to do with peak demand.  An electric utility must always be conscious of its peak demand, meaning the point in time during the day/week/month/year when the maximum demand is placed on the system.  The peak may only last for two or three minutes, but if there isn't enough capacity available during those two or three minutes, the system will crash.  The USA has had at least three major power blackouts over the past 50 years, all somehow related to this problem.  So how many EV's could the system handle and not have an impact on peak demand?

            The chart above, representing electricity demand for a New England utility, shows the problem, as well as the solution.  The peak demand occurs in the evening, between 6 and 8 pm (18:00 and 20:00 on a 24 hour clock), especially during the winter when everyone has their heating system on max.  In places like Florida, peak demand occurs in the late afternoon in the summer, when air conditioners are working overtime.  If that peak period grows, the utility has to add expensive capacity, driving up costs for everyone.  Every utility needs expensive standby capacity to handle these peaks.  In contrast, notice that electricity demand is pretty low from midnight until 6 am, as well as from 10 pm to midnight.  Not at all surprising.  Imagine two possible scenarios: 1) Scenario 1 – everyone plugs in their EV to charge from 7 pm to 11 pm; and 2) Scenario 2 – the EV's are charged from 11 pm to 6 am? 

            If there are lots of EV's, Scenario 1 is a disaster, but Scenario 2 could be a sweet dream for everyone.  If you increased electric demand to average 15 gigawatts between 11 pm and 6 am, you'd increase total demand by about 10%.  It would take absolutely no additional generating capacity because the peak demand would not be affected.  Michael Barnard, writing last year in Cleantechnica, estimated how big an impact there would be on California's grid if there were 3 million EV's by 2021, an estimated 10% of the total in the state by then.  Barnard estimated that it would take 20 Twh to charge those 3 million EV's, about 10% of the states current 200 Twh capacity.  Assuming California's load demand is similar to the New England utility cited above, that 10% could easily be found if the 3 million EV's are charged between 11 pm and 6 am.  So the obvious question is, how do you get John and Jane Doe to recharge their EV between 11 pm and 6 am instead of between 7 pm and 11 pm?  Most likely, John and Jane will arrive home at 6 pm or 7 pm, then plug the car in for the night.  Once you plug the vehicle in, the juice starts flowing, and a disastrous Scenario 1 begins to unfold.

            The good news is, there's a simple solution; the bad news is, it may not materialize.  Let's consider the issue.  The simple solution is smart metering and demand-based utility rates.  Utilities have the technology available to load level their system.  With a smart meter, John and Jane Doe can plug their vehicle in at 6 pm, then unplug it at 6 am the next morning, fully recharged.  The smart meter determines the best time to draw upon the system.  The vehicle may only require a charge for about two hours, so the meter should be able to figure out when to turn on the juice, then turn it off.  It may be the best recharge time is between 3 am and 5 am.  John and Jane Doe don't care, as they'll likely be sound asleep.  All they care about is that the EV is charged and ready to go at 6 am. 

            The utility can help ensure that by using peak demand pricing (i.e., increasing the price during the peak hours in the early evening and dramatically reducing the price during the overnight hours).  With these price differentials, the smart meter can then plan the charging schedule accordingly.  An entire grid of smart meters will control usage, system wide, and avoid the peak system demand.

            That should be the end of the story, but it unfortunately is not.  That's because many electric utilities around the country have perverse incentives to increase their peak demand.  Yes, that's right, the utility is effectively incentivized to drive up peak demand.  The reason has to do with one of the perverse side effects of public utility regulation.  Traditionally, electric utilities (and other utilities) have their rates set by state public utility commissions.  The rates are set based upon the following simplified criteria:

  • Total operating expenses of the utility (OE)
  • Total capital investment (C)
  • Allowable rate of return on the capital investment by the company and its shareholders (R)
  • Projected hours of usage  (KWH)

The hourly rate = (OE + R*C)/KWH.  This formula covers all of the operating costs of the utility, plus provides a return on capital to the investors.  Sounds fair, except that it creates a perverse outcome: the utility is incentivized to make capital investments because the bigger its capital stock, the more revenue it generates, and the greater is its profit.  Investors like that.  This is simplified, but you can see that the utility has an incentive to keep building out its capital base.  Thus, it has an incentive to push up its peak demand point, so other things being equal, the utility actually has an incentive to encourage John and Jane Doe to charge their EV in the early evening!

           This is a perverse outcome, but the good news is that there is a solution.  Change the way utilities are regulated.  Some states are beginning to do this, but incentives need to change.

            So demand for electric vehicles is likely to continue to grow, except for one other problem that's been there all along – the problem of recharging the vehicle.  EV's today have ranges of 200 to 250 miles, sometimes less.  It shouldn't be a problem because the average person drives a little under 30 miles.  Even if you forgot to "top up" your EV overnight, you should have at least 30 miles.  The National Household Travel Survey looks at typical driving habits each year.  During 2009 the survey looked at 748,000 individual car trips, a representative sample for the year.  They found that 95% of trips are less than 30 miles and 99% are less than 70 miles.  If the typical EV has a range of 200 to 250 miles, is there really a problem?  Is the tail wagging the dog?

            Unfortunately, it does seem that way.  People are putting off buying an EV because of a fear that may materialize on only 1% of their trips.  Lots of attention is being paid to setting up charging stations, as well rapid battery changing, but there isn't a quick solution in sight on this.

            Well, actually, there is.  It's one that's been there, in plain sight, for many years: rental cars.  The simple solution for those 1% of trips where one needs to drive 150 to 300+ miles is just to rent a car.  Even if you don't own an EV, or ever plan to own one, the rental car option is smart.  Here's why.  It's estimated that the "all in" cost of driving one mile is about 55 cents.  If you take a 500 mile road trip, your real "all in" cost is about $ 275.00.  You can rent a typical automobile for about $ 30/day plus the cost of gas.  Assuming a one day trip of 500 miles, the real cost of driving your auto is about $ 275.  You should be able to rent a car, as well as pay for gas and insurance, for about $ 100, substantially less than the real cost of driving your car.  My wife and I don't own an EV yet, but we regularly do this for any road trip of 500 miles.  In our case, that's a trip from the Tampa Bay area to Miami and back, all within the State of Florida.

            Now apply that idea to an electric vehicle.  When John and Jane Doe need to take a 500 mile trip, maybe once a year, leave the EV at home and rent a car.  EV manufacturers could team up with Hertz, Avis, or some of the other rental car companies and create a convenient service for EV owners.   So when the EV owner needs to take a long drive, provide a convenient way to avoid the fear of running out of juice on the trip.  Many auto dealers already have rental car operations.  Why not expand it and make it easy for customers to stop by and pick up a rental car for those 1% of trips when they have to make a longer drive?  Get the EV re-charged, washed and serviced while you're away?  Pick it up when you return?

            The case for electric vehicles is pretty compelling, in my mind, and only getting more so.  Yes, there are some challenges, such as the utility ratemaking one described above, but they can be solved.  Even if you're someone who believes global warming is a hoax, you could personally benefit by buying an EV and enjoying what it offers. 

 

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I like to think that what's presented in Genesis 1 fits in the category of "simplified, but essentially correct". So what's the evidence for this? David Wolper demonstrated the essential truth of this when he "mapped" what is recorded in Genesis 1 to the known science.

GENESIS 1

In my last post I talked about the concept of "accommodation theory", meaning that the Bible is written in a way that is correct, but simplified in such a way that is understandable by ordinary people.  A good analogy is to a "children's sermon."  In lots of churches, the message the adults will hear is simplified so that young children can understand it.  The core of the message is the same, just expressed in such a way that children can understand.

I like to think that what's presented in Genesis 1 fits in the category: an essentially correct, but simplified version.  So what's the evidence for this?  David Wolper demonstrated the essential truth of this when he "mapped" what is recorded in Genesis 1 to the known science.  His article appeared in the March 15, 2010 edition of The Huffington Post.
He noted that according to Genesis, in the beginning, God said, "Let there be light." This would certainly be consistent with the big bang theory. Between the formation of the universe, likely about 13.8 billion years ago, and the formation of our sun, about 4.5 billion years ago, light appeared in many places due to the formation of stars.
According to Wolper, the second day of Genesis 1 corresponded with the period between 4.5 billion and 3.75 billion years ago: "And God said, 'Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.' So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it." The scientific evidence suggests that at that time, water-rich asteroids and protoplanets collided with prehistoric earth, bringing water. Later, gaseous emissions from volcanoes added additional water. This occurred approximately 4.4 billion years ago.
Over the next several billion years, as the earth cooled, water vapor began to escape and condense in the earth's early atmosphere. Clouds formed, and enormous amounts of water fell on the earth. The waters were separated, water on earth and water in the atmosphere. Wolper's conclusion was that day two of the Genesis 1 story fit with our understanding of science and is in the correct order.

According to Genesis, during the third day,
God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
Wolper concluded that the third day corresponded with the period of about 3.75 to 3.5 billion years ago. Evidence indicates that about that time, the separation of land masses occurred on earth. However, what happened next during the third day appears to be in conflict with the scientific evidence. Plants, grass, and fruit-bearing trees didn't appear until after sea creatures. Though microscopic, single-cell algae (bacteria or archaea microbes) are plants and appeared at that time, they weren't the advanced forms of plant life seemingly implied in Genesis.

During the fourth day, according to Genesis, "God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night.'" The available scientific evidence indicates that the sun was created prior to this time, so why was light mentioned at this point?

Wolper noted there were a number of scientific theories that might explain this. Gerald Schroeder, a professor of nuclear physics and earth and planetary sciences at MIT, contended that the sun, moon, and the stars were already there but that the atmosphere was opaque. With the cooling of the earth and the rise of atmospheric oxygen, the atmosphere became transparent, and there was light.

Another interesting theory was presented by Alan Parker, an evolutionary biologist and research fellow at Oxford University. Parker speculated that this second reference to light on day four referred to the evolution of vision. If there was no vision, then there was in a sense no light. So the lights were turned on, so to speak, in the evolution of sight in animals. "To separate day from night" refers to the time before and after sight.
The fifth day of Genesis appears to correspond to the period ranging from 3.5 billion years ago until about 635 million years ago. According to Genesis, "And God said, 'Let the waters teem with living creatures … Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the waters in the seas." This is exactly what scientific evidence suggests happened; life began in the sea. The earliest fossils of life, called single-celled bacteria, are found in ancient rocks deposited in the oceans about 3.5 billion years ago. By 1.2 billion years ago, the first complex, multicellular life had evolved. The oldest evidence of full animal life in the oceans comes from about 635 million years ago.

Also appearing during the fifth day, according to verse 22, were birds, but this appears to be in conflict with scientific evidence. However, there is evidence that flying insects appeared at this time. As noted by Wolper, this could be an explanation.
During the sixth day, "God said, Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to their kind." Between 250 million years ago and about 6,000 years ago, that is exactly what happened.

Overall, the scientific evidence seems to agree with Genesis 1. Only with a partial aspect of the third day does there seem to be an inconsistency, but I would argue that it is minor; overall, there is broad consistency.   Thus, I believe this shows that Genesis 1 is an "accommodated" understanding of what really happened.  The description is simultaneously consistent with what really happened, but it didn't literally happen the way it was described.  So one can argue that the Bible is correct, but just as we saw we need to be careful about scientific conclusions to be drawn from a reading of Joshua 10 (The Battle of Aijalon), so we also need to be careful about any scientific conclusions we might draw from the text of Genesis 1.

In our next post, we'll explore Genesis 1 from the perspective of a noted Old Testament scholar.

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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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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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