IBRI Research Report #19 (1984)

A CRITIQUE OF SAGAN'S TV SERIES AND BOOK "COSMOS"

Dr. Robert C. Newman
Biblical Theological Seminary
Interdisciplinary Biblical
Research Institute

Copyright © 1984 by Robert C. Newman. All rights reserved.
 
 

EDITOR'S NOTE

Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

ISBN 0-944788-19-X


Tonight we want to look at Carl Sagan's TV series "Cosmos" and especially his book by the same title which is a somewhat more detailed treatment of the same subject. Let me say by way of introduction that "Cosmos," both TV series and book, has many very good features to it. I think it was a well-written book, and a very well-presented series; Sagan himself is an excellent communicator. The book is beautifully illustrated. I have not seen the series, but from what I have heard about it, it sounds like it is quite good as well.

There is a great deal of value to the scientific information in the book. And I think we get a good picture from it of Sagan's own enjoyment of science, his love for the universe and the study of it. I think we also see a concern of Sagan's that an anti-intellectualism has been developing in recent years. He is concerned to try and turn that around. He is concerned to see a departure from science which he feels would be disastrous in various ways. I am inclined to agree with him.

However, most of what I am going to be saying about "Cosmos" this evening will be rather of a negative sort. I feel Sagan has made a number of errors that are in fact quite serious.

"COSMOS" AS EVANGELISM

The first of these is related to the question of just what the "Cosmos" series and book are. Back in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a popular pastime of many people was reading sermons. Whole books of sermons were published in that period. It is hard to find people who enjoy reading sermons these days, but it was quite an interest at that time. Today with our medium of mass television, there are a lot of people who watch TV preachers and evangelists. Consider the popularity of Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuller among others. Well, Carl Sagan is a TV evangelist, his series is an evangelistic series, and his book is a collection of sermons!

Perhaps this thought has never occurred to you before, but that may be because you have not identified Carl Sagan's religion. Sagan is an evangelist for what is often called secular humanism: the belief that this universe is all there is; that man is the highest form that has evolved, at least in our part of the universe. We might even say that his book of sermons and his evangelistic series open with a text, just as sermons in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries regularly began with a text from Scripture. Sagan's text is, "The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."

Now by Sagan's own definition of the methodology of science, this is not a scientific statement; this is a religious statement. We are not saying, by the way, that this statement might not be true; I don't think it is. What I am saying is that it is not scientific in the sense that it is not methodologically scientific. To say that the universe is all that is means, methodologically, that you have looked at all that is, and found that it is all "cosmos." Unless you want to reduce this statement to merely a definition: "I am hereby defining 'the cosmos' as all that is." I am rather sure that Sagan is not doing that here.

If we say the universe is all that is, we face three barriers I can think of--epistemological barriers--with regard to treating such a statement as a scientific one, not to mention the non-trivial problem that man's mind is limited and he cannot hold in it all the information that is. These three barriers are the following.

(1) There is a macroscopic barrier to being able to say that the cosmos is all there is. We can look out into space with large telescopes, and we can see objects that may be ten billion light-years away, the most distant quasars. But we do not know what lies beyond those distances, as we can see nothing further except perhaps the cosmic blackbody radiation. We cannot say whether what lies beyond is like the visible cosmos or not.

(2) We have energies, because quantum theory says that the energy cannot exist in anything but packets of finite size, where the wavelength and energy are inversely related by a fixed constant. So the smaller the wavelength, the larger the energy gets. Eventually we get to a point where the energy we use to look at things disrupts those very things we are trying to look at, and we are no longer able to observe them as they are, but only as they have been disrupted by our observation. The result is that, although things are going on below this level, our observation disrupts them and we do not know what the causality is below this level.

(3) We not only have a macroscopic barrier and a microscopic barrier, it appears that we also have a geometric barrier. I am thinking here of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Einstein suggested that, in the presence of gravitating objects, our space becomes bent or non-Euclidian, and the bending is greater where there is a larger amount of mass in a smaller volume, that is, where the mass-density is greater. The idea of bending space itself, that is, of bending a three-dimensional space, rather suggests the existence of a fourth spatial dimension, just as a third spatial dimension is necessary in order to bend a two-dimensional sheet of paper. If indeed this is so, then there is a whole realm which we have no way to even look at. I don't know whether you want to include this in the cosmos or not, but it is obvious that it is not what we mean by the cosmos when we investigate, and we don't know what is in it. How then can one say, "the cosmos is all that is," on the basis of any scientific methodology?

This should be sufficient, I think, to show that this statement, "the cosmos is all that is," is a faith-statement, a philosophical statement, a religious statement if you like, rather than a statement based on strict scientific methodology. The same sort of thing could be said about the statement "the cosmos is all that ever was," for here we run into another epistemological barrier. We can trace things back for perhaps ten, fifteen or twenty billion years, until we are stopped by some event which we call the "big bang." Even those who believe that the big bang is not the beginning of all things, but only the beginning of this present cycle of the universe, hold that we cannot get behind the big bang, and therefore we cannot know what existed back in that previous period. It is therefore difficult to say "the cosmos is all that ever was."

To go on and say that "the cosmos is all that ever will be" involves the whole matter of prediction. Certainly if we know anything today, it is that in order to predict the future we must know all the data involving anything which interacts with that which we wish to predict. If we don't have all the present data to put in a computer, how can we expect to run some kind of a time-extrapolation and be able to tell what it is that lies ahead. Suppose, however, we did know all the data necessary. We would have to build a computer about the size of the universe (perhaps somewhat larger) to store all this data. It would have to operate at maximum speed, perhaps sending signals at the speed of light between its components, and even at that rate it would only be able to predict at about the same speed as time is actually progressing. Thus we would be doing nothing but building a parallel universe and seeing whether or not it stayed aligned with the one we inhabit! There are obviously some serious problems with this whole area of predicting the future in saying the universe is all that ever will be.

"COSMOS" AND CHRISTIANITY

Now before we finish dealing with the whole question of what sort of work Sagan's "Cosmos" is, we need to take a look at its attitudes toward competing religions. Sagan rather clearly sees a threat in the growing mysticism around today. I think he is worried that science might lose out in a competition with mysticism and die, as appears to have happened in the Greco-Roman civilization. As Sagan himself points out, the golden age of science in the ancient Greek civilization was over by the time we reach the first century AD. The large number of scientists he has on his chart are gone by this time. I think Sagan is concerned that something of this sort might be happening today. I am also concerned that science might die out. It is possible that it could; it has happened before. It happened in the Greco-Roman civilization; it happened in the Islamic civilization; and it certainly might happen again. I'm not sure whether Sagan has properly analyzed why it might die out, but I think he is right that a competition with some kind of mysticism would be involved.

Most of Sagan's fire is reserved for Christianity, which he apparently sees as a threat to science. I am not sure why he sees this to be so. Modern science arose in Christianity, and it is not obvious why it should try to put science to death. Christianity is probably less hostile to science now than it has been for centuries, but we will look at that in a moment. It is possible that Sagan's fire is reserved for Christianity because he has an eye on the creation-evolution controversy, which has begun to stir again. I am not sure. In any case, it is fair to say that one theme of Sagan's work is Christianity as the foe of science.

Sagan gives a number of examples in this direction, and these examples seem to me to be somewhat evangelistic in their nature, rather than being a fair and balanced discussion of the relationship between Christianity and science. He brings up the story of Hypatia and the Alexandrian library on pages 335-336 of Cosmos. This story indeed is an example of the terrible things that have been done in the name of Christianity. There have been terrible things done in the name of Christianity. This particular one, if you are not familiar with it, involves a woman scientist named Hypatia, an attractive person with many students, who worked in Alexandria, a Neo-Platonist. She was put to death by a mob of persons calling themselves Christians; doubtless they thought themselves Christians; maybe many of them were Christians. Please note that I use the definition of Christian that the Bible gives; not all who call themselves Christians are Christians. It was a terrible thing that was done, but the mob apparently thought she was influencing the Roman governor against Christianity. She was mobbed while she was riding through the streets, stripped, and flayed with oyster shells, dying as a result.

We certainly don't condone the activity of the mob. Yet we do need to realize, for balance, that terrible things have been done in the name of science as well. Hitler's slaughter of six million Jews in World War II was allegedly a scientific activity to improve the genetic stock. Now a lot of scientists would not accept that, but Hitler had a lot of scientists who accepted that. It was done in the name of science, yet I think a scientist would not accept it as really being scientific at all. Similarly a Christian who believes what the Bible teaches about ethics would not accept what was done to Hypatia as being Christian at all.

Sagan's version, however, of this Hypatia story does contain several errors which, when corrected, greatly weaken the value of the story as a picture of the conflict of science with religion. In the first place, the action itself was deplored by many Christians when it occurred. One of these Christians wrote up the incident in his church history, which is the only account we have of the event. All our information of the event comes from Socrates' Church History. One prominent Christian leader, Synesius, bishop of Ptolemaeus, had been a student and ardent admirer of Hypatia. We have a number of his letters still extant today. Christians did not at the time treat this as a good thing.

Secondly, the action itself was not a Christianity versus science matter, it was a church versus state struggle. The Roman governor of Egypt, Orestes, was beginning to take action against the Christians. Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, tried to oppose him by speaking rather strongly against him. I think it is fair to say that the bishop had some responsibility for what happened to Hypatia, whether or not he actually was involved in organizing the mob. At least some of the things he said led some of his followers to do this. But it was a situation in which a scientist got caught in the middle of a controversy which was not per se a Christianity versus science struggle.

In Sagan's book, the event is pictured as though the destruction of the Alexandrian library was the outcome of this murder of Hypatia. This seems to be a rather serious chronological error. The historical information I found indicates that the vast majority of the Alexandrian library was destroyed in 273 AD, about 150 years before Hypatia's death (415 AD). Most of the library had been destroyed in a civil war during the time of the Emperor Aurelian when that whole section of the city was burnt down. The rest of the library, the Serapium, which is in fact the building that you see a model of in "Cosmos," was, as far as we can tell, closed by the Emperor Theodosius I in 391 AD, about 25 years before the Hypatia incident. It is difficult to see where Sagan gets his statement that Hypatia's work was destroyed in the Alexandrian library when the Christians hating science burnt down the building. So I think we see an example here of a desire to present Christianity as the foe of science by an example where the historical evidence does not support the case.

Sagan also mentions Luther's rejection of the Copernican theory on page 53 of his work. He is correct here. Luther spoke out against Copernicus in fairly strong words when he heard of the Copernican theory. We should, however, balance this by pointing out that Luther heard of Copernicus' theory no earlier than when it was published, in 1543, just three years before Luther died. So Luther was very near the end of his life. Luther was not a scientist, either; he was a theologian, and he heard that this fellow had an idea which was going to change our whole view of the world. He was going to take the earth, which everyone knew was in the middle, and put the sun in the middle. And he was going to move the earth, which everyone knew stood still, and have it swinging around the sun.

It is easy for us, looking back over the centuries, to say, "Boy, Luther was certainly a dope! Why didn't he believe Copernicus, who was right after all?" Well, it is also very easy for us, talking over the football games on Monday morning, to say that we would never have fumbled, we would have had the right play. But we weren't there when the plays were going on!

Actually, Copernicus' theory did not fit the data better than the Ptolemaic theory until Kepler introduced the idea of elliptical orbits. This occurred after 1601, more than 50 years after the appearance of Copernicus' theory and the death of Luther! Thus, it would be no more fair to take this as an example of Christian opposition to science than it would be to take the reactions of the geologists to Wegner's first suggestion that the continents moved around as geological opposition to the truth! As it would be unfair to blast them for opposing Wegner three years after his proposal, so it is unfair to blast Luther for his reaction to Copernicus.

Now, Sagan does mention Galileo's run-in with the Catholic Church, p 142, and that is a collision between science and Christianity, if you like. But it is probably fairer to say it is a collision of old science with new science. The view that Galileo opposed--again the Ptolemaic theory--had been around a long time. An earlier form of it had been used by Aristotle. Aristotle's works had become known again during the high middle ages. The Christian Church then sat down and tried to synthesize their views of the Bible with Aristotle's views of science, and they had worked out a nice synthesis over a couple of hundred years. Theologians were not totally enthusiastic about suddenly tearing down this whole structure they had built up just because some fellow told them that the earth went around the sun rather than vice versa. What we have then, is an old scientific view which has been well-accepted for a long time being challenged by a new scientific view. At Galileo's time Kepler was just working out the elliptical orbits which began to make the data fit Copernicus' theory better, and so we see the conflict still going on at that time.

Now even in scientific revolutions, it is often the case that the men holding the old views don't change; they just get old and retire or die. It is the new fellows coming in who are usually open to the new views. And that is often how a position in science changes. Although the ideal of science is still that everybody is to be 100% objective and ready to jump whenever the data changes, that ideal is not reached. In science, too, you have the problem that people like their own view because they have published on it, because they are famous for it; they don't want to change. Well, we have the same kind of problem in Christianity, too. Christians are people; scientists are people.

It is somewhat disappointing that, in a survey of the relation of science and Christianity, Sagan does not mention the role of Christianity in the origin of modern science. Men who have worked in this area feel there were a number of features in Christianity that contributed to the rise of modern science. Sagan had an excellent opportunity to bring this in when he was discussing a problem with Greek science. Greek science never got very far in many directions because the Greek upper-class--the ones who had time to do any science--despised manual labor. Therefore there was never the fruitful marriage between science and technology that characterizes modern science. The difference here is that in Greek philosophy, manual labor was a thing to be looked down upon. In Christian thought, manual labor is a good thing, something man is commanded to do, though it has become a toilsome thing as a result of man's fall into sin. The laborer is not to be looked down upon, but he is to be accepted as one who is accomplishing something as important to society as the thinker.

If you would like to some balancing material to Sagan in this area, I would recommend Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, R. Hookas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, and an interesting chapter in Beryl Smalley's work, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages.

Sagan also, showing a lack of balance, does not discuss various bad episodes that have occurred in the history of science. He does not discuss, for instance, the fact that the French Academy (of science) was unwilling to believe in meteorites because only peasants and priests had reported finding them, and they didn't trust either of them. Thomas Jefferson, one of the great lights of science (and of rationalism) in the United States, said, when he heard that some professors at northeastern universities reported on meteorites, "I would rather believe that Yankee professors can lie, than that stones can fall from the sky!"

We also have the problem of Haeckel's falsification of embryo drawings in attempting to put forward the theory of recapitulation late in the last century. You have also doubtless heard more than you want to hear about the Piltdown hoax. Hoaxes can occur in any group, and they don't prove the group is all wet. What is a little distressing about the Piltdown hoax is the large number of theses and conclusions about the culture of Pildown man that were based on what after all turns out to be fantasy.

A recent one, lest we think that bad things no longer happen in science, is the popular book The Jupiter Effect by Gribben and Plageman. A book that, frankly, builds its whole case on a false statement that the planets would be aligned in 1982. A calculation, which would not have taken too much time to do, shows that the planets, at closest alignment, would not even all lie within a 90-degree angle.

We have also begun to turn up some very disturbing examples of data falsification in scientific circles. These are things that people deplore. But it is certainly not a fair treatment of the history of the relationship of Christianity and science to emphasize where Christians have fallen down and then ignore the fact that scientists have done the same things.

I think this whole picture of Christianity versus science is a simplistic one. There is no question that Christianity is opposed to secular humanism. They hold inconsistent theological and philosophical positions. The one holds that there is no God, and that theistic views are detrimental. The other holds that there is indeed a God, but agrees with secular humanism that wrong religious views are detrimental. There are plenty of Christians who are scientists. So it is not Christianity and science that are opposed.

There is, however, a tension between conservative Christianity and science today. But you ought to give a break to conservative Christians regarding their motivation in this area. They believe that science has taken a wrong turn in the area of evolution. Evolution is having a tremendous influence in society today, and they think it is a detrimental one. If they are right that science has taken a wrong turn, then they certainly are not doing anything harmful in opposing those views. If they are wrong, of course they are doing something harmful in opposing evolution. The question comes down not so much to motivation, but who is right?

I was a little puzzled when I noticed last night that there was no mention at all of Islamic science in "Cosmos." A flourishing scientific activity existed in Islam in the early middle ages which was apparently totally quashed in the late middle ages. It would certainly have been a great illustration to bring in of the problem of religion and its interference with science. Then I noticed something rather interesting. The "Cosmos" series is sponsored by Atlantic-Richfield Refining Co. I wondered whether or not that might be significant. I don't know.

"COSMOS" AND COSMOLOGY

Let's move on to more substantial questions. Where did the universe come from? Sagan here deals rather briefly with the possibility that God might have had something to do with it, p 257:

If the general picture of an expanding universe and a big-bang is correct, we must then
confront still more difficult questions: What were the conditions like at the time of the
big-bang? What happened before that? Was there a tiny universe devoid of all matter and
then the matter suddenly created from nothing? How did that happen? In many cultures
there is the customary answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is
mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must of course ask
next, where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a
step, and decide that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or if we
say that God has always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has
always existed?

What Sagan is doing here is applying Ockham's Razor. Ockham's Razor is a late medieval principle which basically says, "It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer." Or, "one should not multiply entities beyond necessity." Or, perhaps, as we would modify it for science, "One should keep his hypotheses as simple as possible, consistent with fitting the data." The catch, of course, is "consistent with the data." Is the view that the universe has always existed, or the view that God made the unverse, most consistent with the data?

Sagan apparently favors what we may call an oscillating big-bang cosmology. The oscillating big-bang theory, roughly speaking, holds that at the present time, the universe is expanding, but before the big-bang it was contracting. This expansion means, at least, that the galaxies are moving apart from one another, and probably that the whole space manifold is expanding. Sagan believes that the density of matter in the universe is high enough that it will eventually stop expanding and begin contracting. The universe will collapse faster and faster until a very high density is reached, at which point the universe will "bounce" and begin a new expansion. This "bounce" will be a new big-bang. That basically is Sagan's view--the oscillating big-bang theory.

This view faces two problems, either of which will be fatal to the view unless they can be solved. One of them is, however, a minor problem observationally. The other is a major problem, both theoretically and observationally.

The minor problem: is there enough matter-density in the universe to stop the expansion of the universe? Well, we can look into space and count the visible objects--stars, galaxies, and such. And we can estimate, from the way galaxies rotate, what invisible matter is in the neighborhood of those galaxies. We can also look into space at the quasars and try and see if we can detect any invisible matter between us and them that would absorb light from the spectrum of the quasars. When these things are done, it looks like we are short by a factor of ten to one hundred of having enough matter-density to stop the universe's expansion and start a collapse. That would suggest, then, that if we don't find some more matter to raise the density, then the universe is going to keep expanding forever, and it must have had at most only one bounce, some fifteen to twenty billion years ago at the big-bang. At the moment, the only way out that anyone has suggested is that neutrinos may after all have mass, and maybe the mass of these would be large enough to bail us out of this problem. I think we can say that we don't know for sure whether this will work out or not. It is possible that neutrinos will have enough mass to solve this problem.

The major problem is at the other end of the scheme--the bounce itself. In Sagan's view the big-bang is actually a big-bounce. The universe was contracting before that time; at that point it stopped contracting and began to expand. At the present time, we do not know of any force that would stop a contracting universe and make it begin expanding. It appears that when you get enough mass together gravity will not only overcome the minor forces like the electromagnetic and weak interaction, but it will also overcome the strong interaction, and the material will pull into a black hole. This appears to be the case even for a star as small as five or ten times the mass of the sun, as it begins its final collapse. Here we are thinking in terms of the whole universe's matter being condensed into a relatively small volume--very high densities--and the question is whether or not there is some force to stop the collapse.

So basically what Sagan has to do is postulate a large unknown force that will do just the right thing--that will not come into play until the density is high enough to have the radiation that we associate with the big-bang; yet it will be strong enough to stop that powerful gravitational contraction and start an expansion. This at least is a problem--one has to postulate a large, unknown force to solve the problem. Robert Jastrow, who is a professor at Dartmouth and Columbia, but also Director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City, believes that there is another serious problem here which is nearly insuperable. Suppose one postulates a powerful force to overcome gravity at these high densities. This force field will have a potential energy which, by Einstein's famous formula E = mc squared, is equivalent to additional mass. This large additional equivalent mass will gravitate as well, adding to the gravitational force enough to overcome the postulated repulsive force so that the contraction is not stopped after all! Jastrow gives a very quick treatment of this problem on page 29 of his book Until the Sun Dies.

To summarize: where did the universe come from? Sagan believes the universe has always existed in some form or other. And yet, to maintain his view, he must suppose that somewhere between 10 and 100 times the known density of matter-energy exists, and that there is also a powerful unknown force that violates Einstein's mass-energy equivalence. Christians, on the other hand, suggest that these sorts of things are evidence that the cosmos is not all that is; that the cosmos was brought into existence at a finite time in the past, one would guess at the time of the big-bang.

"COSMOS" AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

There is a second question that should be dealt with here that is also crucial to Sagan's position: where did life come from? Sagan is well-aware of the complexity of life, though mankind has only become aware of that in recent years. Sagan wrote the article "Life" that appears in the last couple of editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There he points out that the simplest living cells are very, very complicated things. If we try to represent the information content of the simplest living cells in terms of storage in a computer, then it would be about 10 to the 12th power bits. If printed out in book form, it would occupy the space of 4000 sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Now the question is, where did this high level of organized complexity come from? Sagan's answer basically is, time and chance operating within the realm of natural laws has produced from a very low level of complexity this high order of complexity. Not many people, I think, have thought over the problem of generating any level of complexity by random processes.

I have heard the statement made, "Give enough monkeys enough time and they will eventually type out the Encyclopaedia Britannica." I think the proper response to this is, "How many monkeys? How much time?" I did a little calculation: Let us type out the title only: ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA. To give the monkeys a break, let us have them type it on typewriters where they do not have to use the shift or capital key. All caps on the typewriter; 33 keys--the 26 letters of the alphabet, plus period, space and other punctuation. Let us imagine that the monkeys are trained to be able to type constantly at three characters per second. Let us ask ourselves the question, how long would it take the monkeys to type the number of combinations possible on these special typewriters equal to all character-strings the same length as ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA (24 characters, counting space between words)? That turns out to be an enormously larger job than you would imagine. If we think of dividing the job up into something like man-hours: say, how long is it going to take to paint this room? You might say, 15 man-hours, which would mean one guy could do it in 15 hours or 15 men would take an hour. Well, I worked out this calculation myself; you can do it over if you like. I rounded a few things: I got 3 times 10 to the 28th monkey-years to cover those possibilities, that is 30 billion billion billion monkey-years for those of you who don't use exponential notation.

Now we have had 20 billion years since the last big-bang. How many monkeys would we need to do the job in this time? Ten to the 18th! A billion billion monkeys, typing constantly on monkey-proof typewriters, just to run through the various possibilities for a 24 character string. That is not a practical calculation relative to the origin of life; it is only an illustration to show the complication of producing even that low level of order by a random process.

Let us try a more realistic calculation. The simplest protein occurring in life, I am told, is a chain of about 100 amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids that take part in living organisms. So your problem is basically that of typing a 100 letter word with a twenty-key typewriter. We will try to make several simplifying assumptions that are favorable to the production of such chains, and try to calculate the time involved. Let us assume that only 100-link chains are formed. We are not going to waste any of the matter of the universe on forming 50-link chains, say. Let us assume that every nitrogen atom is in amino acids. Let us assume that the matter is at a nice comfortable temperature, like 300 degrees Kelvin. Let us assume the matter never repeats a combination, and that new combinations are formed as rapidly as the amino acids can move from one chain to another, say a distance of 10 angstroms. These are very, very favorable simplifying assumptions! How long would it take to form all the combinations of 100-link chains if we used all the matter in the solar system? About 5 times 10 to the 61st years! How long would it take if we used all the matter in the galaxy? About 5 times 10 to the 50th years! How long would it take if we used all the matter in the universe out to the Hubble radius, that is, within the knowable universe? 2 and 1/2 times 10 to the 38th years! The chance it happened in the 20 billion years since the big-bang? One in 10 to the 28th!

I did these calculations myself, but a similar result was obtained by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe in their book Space Travelers, the Bringers of Life. They felt that you could not get life formed on this planet; as unlikely as it is, they felt life must have formed elsewhere in the universe and been brought here.

That calculation shows us at least one thing. If life formed naturally, there must probably be almost an infinity of ways to form life, because there has not been time to try out more than a miniscule fraction of the possibilities.

Sagan, then, to maintain his view that there is no God, has only time and chance, working within the scope of the physical laws, to develop the requisite order. Now we can, of course, beg the question. We can say, life exists now, therefore it must have come into existence by natural causes. But notice, this does beg the question of whether or not there is a supernatural. The Christian view is that God, who may be represented very roughly as a mind analogous to man's but far beyond it, produced this order.

What can be said for the status of the two positions? Sagan has a model which cannot be demonstrated to work by computer modelling. It cannot produce the requisite level of order by random processes. Christians have a view that can be shown to work. We know that human minds can produce order. It is possible that you wonder about your roommate, but we do know that human minds can produce order. So we are basically saying that the human mind is an analogue which does produce high levels of order, whereas computer modelling of random processes does not, at least not within the time-scales available.

Well, we have looked over two rather central matters related to Sagan's Cosmos. If there is a God, something is drastically wrong with his presentation. I think we have already given rather substantial evidence that there is a God.

VALIDATION OF WORLD-VIEWS

At this point, however, one might argue, "Well, we have two alternatives. There are probably some others as well. We've got an eternal universe with no God, or an eternal God who created the universe. They are both based on inferences, so take your pick! Take your chances. Some prefer one, some prefer the other. But we're both making inferences, and we can never know what the right result is."

I think Christians may respond, "If we're right, you will at the latest find out when you die." But that would be a bad time to find out. Christians claim that one can move beyond inference to a much stronger position, on the basis of further information. Let's take an illustration to try and picture this. There are many people who believe there is intelligent life in the universe. There are many people who believe that, other than man, there isn't any intelligent life in the universe, and some wonder about him. You have UFO groups and you have scientific groups who believe in extra-terrestrial intelligences. Both of these are trying to communicate with extra-terrestrial intelligences. Now that whole question, of whether extra-terrestrial intelligences exist, would be confirmed by a validated communication with those extra-terrestrial intelligences. If we had a message which we could show was from out there somewhere, then I think we could move beyond inference to solve the question whether or not there are extra-terrestrial intelligences.

Well, Christians claim that the Bible is a communication from the most intelligent extra-terrestrial intelligence that exists, namely God Himself, and that He has the solutions to the basic problems of mankind. He has the solutions for the very things that concern Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos. What is man? Where is he going? What is going to happen to this planet? What is life all about?

Now of course the claim itself doesn't prove anything, any more than if I were to tell you that I am a UFO contactee, and that I have been taken to Venus. (I have not, by the way.) However, there are several lines of evidence that the Bible is not a vast hoax perpetrated by some ancient writers which has been superstitiously believed all these years. I would suggest three lines of validation for this. There are other lines, but these will take me all the time I've got this evening.

Historical Validation. First of all, historical validation. The Bible pictures some rather striking interventions which have occurred in history, as a result of God communicating with mankind. I pick two of these particularly, because these are the basic two that are involved in the Bible. These are the first appearance of God to Moses and the resultant formation of the Israeli nation and the giving of the law, which form the basis of the Old Testament. The other would be the appearance of Jesus about two thousand years ago, and his formation of the church and his proclamation of the materials recorded in the Gospels, which form the basis of the New Testament.

Now if you have had any academic work in Old Testament or New Testament, you are probably aware that there are a great many people who believe that these events did not really happen as presented or anything close to it, and of course being historical statements there is no way we can go back in time and check them out.

Time machines work extremely well in science fiction, but seem to have a logical flaw at their center which prevents their actually working in reality. The flaw has to do with conservation of matter and the identity of entities. Let me give you a quick example. Suppose I have invented the time-machine. I am not at all adventurous, but I want to make a killing financially. So I spend all my life savings and the money of several investors to buy a gold brick. I set it on the table in front of me, and I adjust my time-machine to go back in time one second. Getting out of the machine the brick is still there, so I pick it up and put it in the machine. I go back another second, get out and pick up the brick which is outside and put it in the machine. And so forth, until I have my machine loaded with gold bricks. I come back to the present and put them in the bank. This violation of the identity principle rather suggests that there is a philosophical and logical flaw in the idea of time-travel.

Well, we cannot therefore go back in time to determine whether these things actually occurred, but it is very interesting to see the rather wild conjecture that is necessary to explain away these events. Here we have a nation whose whole existence is based upon a series of events bringing them out of bondage from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the law at Sinai. They have the law, they have the narrations, etc., and to explain that away, those who say that there is no miraculous have been forced to take the documents and say, "Ah, this was written a thousand years after the time claimed. This was written 1100 years after. This was written 1200 years after." They have to divide up the books into documents by all sorts of complicated schemes--the same sort of thing that literary critics were doing with Homer, Beowulf, and Shakespeare in the last century. And yet almost in OT work and NT work alone are these things still believed today, because otherwise it is hard to explain away the historicity of these events.

Those events themselves are two of the striking examples where the intervention of God has really changed the course of history, and to avoid it one has to do some very, very funny things with the evidence. I have written a little paper on this subject related to the NT, which my sponsors were kind enough to bring with them tonight, called The Biblical Narratives of Easter Week: Are They Trustworthy?. You ought to have a look at it. What you really find is the explanation that the resurrection did not occur is totally an outworking of the idea that there is no miraculous. It is not a fair dealing with the documents to see whether or not something of that sort may really have happened. This is the area I would call historical validation. I would point out here that real changes have taken place in history for which only trivial causes can be assigned when one has no miraculous, and for which a great deal of juggling has to be done with the documents. A great deal of juggling has to be done with the nature of the groups that preserved the documents also, in order to explain them away.

Prophetic Validation. The second line of validation is a little bit more direct, what we might call prophetic validation. In the realm of science, one of the strengths of a theory is its ability to predict how things not yet observed ought to be, if indeed the theory is correct. Well, the Bible claims that its author is the One who controls history. It puts forth as an evidence of this the outcome of events long in advance of their occurrence. I have about seven examples I want to run through quickly with you.

In Jeremiah chapter 51, verses 42-43, we are told of the great city of Babylon, which was the capital of the world at that time, not only that it would be destroyed (no great statement--that has happened to nearly every city that has existed for more than a couple of hundred years), but that it would become a desert. The area remained a rather populous area for centuries after the Persians conquered Babylon, until finally the channel of the Euphrates River changed, and Babylon was left high and dry, about 20 miles from the new channel. It is now a desert area.

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 30, verse 13, a statement in the midst of prohecies against Egypt is a very strange one. We are told that the idols of the city of Memphis will disappear. Now when we go into Egypt today, we can find plenty of idols in most of the ruins of ancient cities. But in Memphis, out of the thousands and thousands of idols that stood there, two can be found today. The reason, historically, is that the Muslims built their city Cairo just a few miles away. So they used Memphis as a quarry, cutting up the idols there so that they would not be recognizable when reused as buiilding stone in Cairo.

In Ezekiel chapter 26, verses 4 and 12, we are not only told that the city of Tyre would be destroyed in an invasion, but we are told that the dust of the city would be scraped off and thrown into the sea. The debris of the city, even its very dust would be scaped up and cast into the sea. When Nebuchadnezzar took Tyre some years after Ezekiel's time, he knocked the city down and left it there; no big deal. But 300 years later, when Alexander came through the area, the Tyrians had moved to an island about a mile offshore, so he asked them if he could come into the city to worship. They didn't want him to come into the city; they figured he would pillage the place. So they told him to worship at the ruins of a temple on the mainland. Alexander didn't like that, and he decided he would make an example of the Tyrians. Yet Alexander found it was difficult even with a navy to do much against an offshore island, since the Tyrians also had a navy. Alexander finally built a causeway out to the city, using the rubble from the old ruined city on the shore, dumping it into the sea, and so he took the city. Indeed the very dust and rubble of the city was cast into the city as predicted in Ezekiel.

These three predictions involved cities, major cities of the Middle East in their time. An even more striking example invovles a general picture of Israel's future from the time of the prophet Hosea until today. This is found in Hosea chapter 3, verses 4 and 5. Hosea has been told by God that his marriage was going to be a picture of the relationship between God and Israel. He marries a woman who becomes unfaithful to him, just as the Israelites were unfaithful to God. The woman goes off and has children by various people, and these are given names that are predictive of things that are going to happen to Israel. Then in Hosea 3:4-5, Hosea buys back his wife, who had run away from him, who had been reduced to slavery. He tells her that she is to come home with him, but there are to be no marital relations between them for a long time. Then after that time they will come back together as husband and wife. In parallel to this the prediction is given: "The sons of Israel will be for many days without king, without government official, without sacrifice, without pillar, without ephod and teraphim."

They are going to be without their king, who was a crucial part of the OT arrangement, the one appointed by God to protect the Israelites. They were even going to be without a government official; they would not even have a government for a long time. They were going to be without sacrifice, a central feature of the whole Mosaic religion. They were going to be without pillars, and the pillars were involved both in their own temple worship and in idolatrous worship. They were going to be without the ephod, a garment worn by the high priest, and yet they were going to be without idols--teraphim is a word for idols. That is, there was going to be a long period of Israel's history in which they would have no monarchy, in fact no government; they would have no Sinai relgion, but they wouldn't be idolators either.

This has been very strikingly fulfilled in Israel's history. From about 70 AD until 1948 they were not only without a king but they had no government official. Although the whole arrangement of the OT was that Israel should worship by sacrifice, they have not carried out sacrifice since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. And they still do not. Yet neither have they turned to the image-worship of the pagan nations. We are told further on in the prophcy that they will one day return to their God and to David their king.

Another example relates to the time of the Messiah's coming. We are told in Genesis chapter 49, verse 10, that the sceptre--the symbol of rule--will not depart from Judah until the one comes to whom it belongs. As we look through the history of Israel, we see that there is a period starting at 587 BC when there is no king over Judah for quite a long time. But in the time of the Maccabees there are kings over Judah again. And then in the NT period, Herod the Great is king over Judah, as is his grandson, Herod Agrippa I. But from that day until this there has been no king over Judah. The passage would seem to indicate that the Messiah should come by or before the death of Herod Agrippa I, which occurred in 44 AD.

In Daniel chapter 9, verses 24-27, a much more specific chronological prophecy is given, which seems to have been influential in the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-73 AD. In this prophecy we are told that from the command to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of Messiah the prince there should be a period of 69 weeks. These "weeks" appear to be referring to the 7-year OT sabbatical cycle, which were called "weeks" in the intertestament period. By calculating from the most reasonable suggested date for the command to rebuild Jerusalem--that is the command given by the Persian king Artaxerxes I in 445 BC that allowed Nehemiah to go back and build the walls that converted Jerusalem from a village to a fortified city--we find that 445 falls in the middle of one of these sabbatical cycles. Counting that as the 1st cycle, using the standard Jewish counting technique, we find that the 69th cycle falls in 28-35 AD. The Messiah was to come, actually to be cut off, somewhere in the period 28-35 AD. Rather strikingly, the most famous claimant for the Messiahship in Israel's history, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared and carried out his ministry in that seven-year period, and he was cut off.

Isa 49:6 tells us the coming Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles. It is rather striking that the religion of Israel, which remained within one race for centuries from the time of Moses, began finally to move out to all the other nations as a result of the work of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century AD.

In Isaiah chapter 11, verses 11 and following, we are told that Israel will one day be regathered from all of the nations, and it names a whole sequence of nations from which they will be regathered. In our own generation, those very areas which are named have been nearly depopulated of Jews as a result of reaction to the holocaust and to the problems related to resurgent Islam. We are also told they will go back and become a unified nation in their own land, which has now happened as well. The passage goes on to describe some events to come at the end of the age, and it suggests that we are not as far away from the end as the collapse of the cosmos predicted by scientists today!

These are examples of predictions made in Scripture centuries in advance of their occurrence, which have come true in a striking way. These are not trivial examples; they deal with major movements of people and of nations.

Personal Validation. There is a personal validation as well. The Bible's message is a life-transforming message. The number of people who have had their whole life turned around by the Bible is a very striking thing in Christian circles. I do not know of any other religion that is comparable in this regard. One has only to go into any Christian bookstore and see the hundreds and hundreds of titles of personal transformation testimonies. I guarantee you that nothing has happened in secular humanism that can match it!

A challenge was once made to a rather famous Christian evangelist, Harry Ironside, in the 20s of this century. A fellow came up to him when he was leading a street meeting and handed him a card challenging him to a debate. The fellow was a prominent socialist leader of San Francisco at that time, and he wished to debate Ironside on the relative merits of Christianity and socialism. Ironside read the note, and said, "I will be glad to make arrangements to debate with you at the specified time, but in order that we give some indication that there is anything to debate about, I would like you to bring with you one man and one woman. The one man must be someone who has been totally overpowered by some habit he could not kick, such as alcohol or drugs, but which he was able to overcome through the power of socialism. The woman must be one involved in professional prostitution for many years. As a result of your message, this woman came to see the error of her way. She saw that socialism was what she needed to get her life together. You bring these two, and I will bring fifty of each who have been rescued from the same problems by Christianity. I can find that many right here in San Francisco." The fellow declined the debate!

That, I think, is a pretty good illustration of the life-transforming power of the Christian message that you can see in people you know. It is hard to believe when you just read books about it, because you don't know whether the authors are writing fiction or not. You've got to see it in somebody. You can see it in yourself. All you have to do is be willing to trust the One who has sent the message.

Well, what can we say in conclusion? I think we can draw our conclusion from a statement of Sagan's on page 333: Sagan sees two cardinal rules of science. The first, he says, "For science, there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined." The second one is: "Whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised." Strangely enough, the Bible agrees with both of those statements, and they can both be found in one passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:21. "Test everything; hold fast to that which is true." Sagan also says on the same page, "we must understand the cosmos as it is, and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be." May we all follow this excellent advice!
 
 

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Last updated: January 19, 2002