Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Teleological Argument for God

Of all the arguments for God, this one is probably the most persuasive to many who don't want to believe in God.  Hitchens and Dawkins, both advocates of the "New Atheism," have admitted that this is the hardest argument to refute.  And it is really true, because you quickly get absolutely silly results when you believe that life appeared spontaneously.

The teleological argument is the argument that the universe seems created for the purpose of life -- that there appears to be a design, or fine-tuning in the creation of a universe.  This becomes a probabilistic argument, meaning that it quickly becomes far more likely that God exists and created the universe than that it arrived in its present form accidentally.

The atheist will typically argue that given enough time and space, eventually any coincidence is possible and there would be some place somewhere ideal for life.  But the fact is that there is a limit to the amount of matter in the universe.  There are differing opinions on this, but the general consensus is that there are around 1.0 x 10^80 atoms in the universe.

In comparison to that, we can conduct something known as a Fermi estimation.  This is a process where we do not attempt to be precise, but we choose orders of magnitude to estimate just how probable an event is.  It turns out that the result of a Fermi estimation might be off my 25%, but it can still be highly instructive when discussing large numbers in comparison.  If the odds of natural formation of, say, Earth in a Fermi estimation is 1.0 x 10^40, then we can safely say that the Earth could have happened naturally.  If, on the other hand, it is 1.0 x 10^100, we can safely say that it is very unlikely the Earth could have happened naturally.  After all, even if we are off my 25%, it still only makes the probability 1 in 7.5 x 10^99 (in comparison to the number of atoms in the universe, which is much, much less).

For the Fermi estimation, we take those things that we know are necessary for life and we calculate how likely they are.  Mathematically, we can show that only G-class stars such as the Sun can support life (other stars either have too much UV radiation or no liquid water -- it is impossible to have a place that has both elements of life for non-G-class stars).  That eliminates 80% of the stars in the universe, but because it is a Fermi estimation we will look at that like an order of magnitude of 0.1.

We then start collecting these orders of magnitude.  Only certain masses of stars work (0.0001).  Only certain locations work (0.1).  Only certain distances from supernovae (0.01).  Only certain distances from the star work (0.0001).  Only certain surface gravities work (0.001).  Only a certain axial tilt of the planet works (0.1).  Only a certain rotational period works (0.1).  The separation between water and land (to support life) required a collision in the ancient past (0.1), but of something with a certain mass (0.001) at a certain time (0.01).  Just these few elements give us a number 1.0 x 10^21, but this is really just the beginning.

When all of these things are collected, the Fermi estimation for a planet like Earth developing is 1.0 x 10^105.  That means that if every atom in the universe was actually a planet, Earth would naturally form by accident (according to our best current understanding) in only 1 universe out of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  Long odds, indeed.

And that is just for the conditions for life to have formed with the underlying physical constants of the universe being what they are.  In reality, even those constants are all in a position favorable to life (arbitrarily -- a great mystery to the secular materialist), and the likelihood of that happening by chance is more unlikely than a planet such as Earth forming on its own.  And then we get to abiogenesis, which requires an equally long series of unlikely events to have happened.

So the question is, what is more believable?  We have an intricate series of physical laws and constants (arbitrarily established, to the best of our understanding), a wildly improbable set of coincidences to establish a planet such as Earth, and even after Earth is established a fantastically unlikely set of circumstances to generate life.  Is it more likely that God established this?  Or is it more likely that it was chance?  Keep in mind, the universe has an age and limits, so it isn't just a matter of enough time and enough space.  In fact, to put things in perspective, the odds on the universe having a planet such as Earth form at any point in its existence is approximately the same as the odds of winning at roulette.  53 times in a row.  Then winning another 49 times in a row for abiogenesis.  Then another 180 times in a row for the fundamental physical constants.

Hey, maybe the atheist feels lucky and should go to Vegas.  But given the choice between a universe where the dice were rolled at the very beginning and somehow we managed to luck into the most improbable situation that defies comprehension, or a universe established by God for the creation of life, I know which one seems more likely to me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

2 Nephi 9

(July 29, 2014)
                My thoughts, as I read through this chapter, were focused on the Gathering of Israel – which seemed a bit odd to me, as there is very little in the text that would seem to push that idea to the front of my mind.  But nevertheless, that is where my mind went and where it remained as I read.

                I had long understood that the Gathering was both a temporal and a spiritual Gathering, but I didn’t (until today) realize how literal the spiritual Gathering was.  After all, we who are of Israel have been carried away into Babylon.  There, we are tempted to fall astray – to go native, so to speak – as were the people of Israel.  Ultimately, though, we will be physically gathered back to the Lord if we maintain our loyalty to Him despite our current circumstances.

                C. S. Lewis used the phrase frequently that we are behind enemy lines or in enemy territory.  I always thought that was appropriate, but now I think that I would change it.  Instead of merely saying that we are behind enemy lines, it is appropriate to say that we are currently prisoners of war – held by the enemy in his prison camps of Babylon as prisoners of the War in Heaven.  Some (many, perhaps) will go native and will side with the enemy in order to gain extra privileges.  Others will become passive – not making waves so the enemy won’t notice them and hoping to get out alive.  But the third group will actively be involved in trying whatever is within their power to damage the enemy to assist the Kingdom to return.

                Like saboteurs held in enemy camps, sometimes those who fight in this way find themselves confronted and badly damaged by their captors.  Some may even be killed.  But when the Kingdom arrives, they too will be gathered in and none will be lost.  We know the day of our liberation is coming – may it come quickly and may we be found on the correct side.

Monday, July 28, 2014

1 Kings 15

(July 28, 2014)
                I was struck by this chapter once again by the complete and all-encompassing nature of the commandments of the Lord.  They applied to the kings on both sides of the war, and they applied to Asa, and Asa even correctly applied them to his mother.  Sometimes, I think that there is a temptation within each of us to believe that for some reason the law does not apply to us.  We become a ‘special circumstance,’ because of what we have been through.  Maybe this has happened that provokes us, or that has happened that hurts us.  As a result, the general rules of the Gospel do not apply to us in these circumstances, as we suppose.

                This is a great deception that we pull on ourselves.  The Lord’s commandment to be perfect is not limited to only a class of people (‘Be ye perfect, unless you are kings in which case sin some but not too much’), or people with only certain life experiences (‘Be ye perfect, so long as you grew up in a happy home and are part of a nuclear family’ or ‘Be ye perfect, so long as no one has done anything to hurt or offend you’).  We must escape the desire to believe that we are the exception rather than the rule – Satan works with this desire to pull us into his clutches.  It is best to always believe that we are not the exception – that each of the commandments applies to us and the counsel we receive is meant for us, no matter how difficult or how much it may hurt.

2 Nephi 7-8

(July 28, 2014)
                As I read these chapters, for some reason my mind fixed on the thought of turning to Abraham and Sarah.  I thought about the sheer lifetimes of effort and work required to get me to the point where I was in my progression.  I thought of those who struggled that I knew of – my grandfather, who converted to the Gospel and worked to provide opportunities for my Father.  My Great-Grandfather, who was the first member of the Church in my family.  My Father, who struggled over the course of a lifetime to provide for me.  My Mother, who sacrificed everything she had or could have had so that I would have the best chance at success in life.

                I then thought of those I didn’t know who did likewise.  The ancestors who survived on meager food, so as to scratch out an existence and have a family.  The centuries of progress, backwards in time, culminating in who and what I was.  It was simply awe-inspiring to realize the untold millions of sacrifices required to make of me what I was today.  I felt overwhelmed by a sense of my own ingratitude for my failures to live up to those who had come before me.

                I also turned my mind forward.  Was I living in a way that I was passing on these blessings to my children, and their children?  Certainly there was more that I could and should do in that regard.

1 Kings 13-14

(July 27, 2014)
                There is a hierarchy to the Lord’s Kingdom that we sometimes need clarifying in our mind.  This hierarchy is traceable all the way upward, and we are instructed to follow the highest instruction that we receive.  First, there is our own wisdom.  Then, we have the counsel of those in direct stewardship over us (Quorum President, then Bishop, then Stake President, and so on).  Up the chain we go in mortality until we reach the Prophet.

                On any given issue, we are to follow the highest hierarchical counsel we receive.  If the counsel of our Bishop is contradicted by the counsel of an Apostle, we follow the Apostle.  If the wisdom of our hearts is contradicted by our Stake President, we follow our Stake President.

                But the highest authority is always the Lord.  When we receive revelation on any issue, that should be the end of things no matter whatever else people may say or do.  Even the Prophet’s counsel does not exceed direct revelation from the Lord.  We must be very wise and very careful to be certain that we are receiving revelation in such instances, but when we are sure we must act on it.

                In these chapters, we see a righteous man who dies for failing to follow that counsel.  He receives instruction from the Lord, but he follows a prophet instead of following the Lord’s words.  As such, he is torn and killed.  While it is likely extremely rare to have the Lord contradict a prophet in our lives (maybe once or twice in a lifetime) and while it is certain that receiving such inspiration does not authorize us in any extent to argue against the prophet’s counsel in any application except to our own in our particular, individual circumstance, we are still obligated to follow the orders of our King even when those orders contradict the orders of our Generals, the Prophets.

2 Nephi 6

(July 27, 2014)
                I was struck by how this must have felt to hear this sermon by Jacob.  On the one hand, they were hearing that the promised disaster had occurred and the destruction and captivity of their people was accomplished.  On the other hand, they were also hearing that the Messiah would still be coming to the land that they left.  I wonder if hearing that worried or upset any of them?  I wonder if they thought that perhaps they had lost opportunities of seeing the Christ for their descendents by their choice to follow the Lord.

                I bring this up because of some of the struggles that I am dealing with in my life currently.  I see certain avenues that I feel are righteous and good, and I recognize that these paths might be closed to me regardless of what I may want or how much effort I may make.  And it has been a difficult thing for me to accept – after all, if my desired ends are righteous (not only good but commanded), should it not be something that I am able to accomplish?

                And yet, I see promised blessings that I looked forward to for now and in the future (and even into the eternities) slipping beyond my reach.  I see no mechanism by which I can restore that which is quickly being lost.  And I feel a profound sadness at that, much as the Nephites at this time must have felt sadness.  I believe that I am doing the right thing, to the best of my ability.  But I also feel that doing the right thing should accomplish the right result, and in that I find that I am not correct.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

1 Kings 11-12

(July 26, 2014)
                I had three smaller thoughts as I read through these chapters, and one rather more significant thought.  First, though, the minor thoughts.  The first was the blessing of equality that exists in knowing that rules and laws apply to kings as well as servants (Solomon’s violation of the Lord’s law brought condemnation on him despite his status).  Second, seeing God and hearing His voice is no ultimate solution – we still must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (a fact which makes me feel less horrible about losing my testimony for a short while, despite the miracles that I had seen in my life prior to that time).  Third, I have always wondered about fighting prophesy.  If Solomon didn’t believe the prophesy about Jeroboam, why fight him?  If he did, then surely he knew it would come to pass – so again, why fight him?

                But the central thought in this chapters has to be the approach by Rehoboam in relation to the pleas of Israel.  The advice of his wise counselors, experienced in the world, were correct.  Instead, however, he turned to the new philosophies of his contemporaries – persuasive, but ultimately untempered by experience and wrong.  I see this around me a great deal right now.  It is just as important in these days, as in the days of the Rehoboam, to remember the lessons of the past and the wisdom of those who have been through it all before (Priesthood leaders, for instance).  We ignore their counsel, and the tried and true principles they espouse, at our peril.