Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gun Control and Ancient Philosophy

One of the big arguments in the gun control debate is about cause--if you eliminate the guns you still have the root causes of murder in place, so people will still use them. It is the same argument used by abortionists to justify abortion--eliminate abortion and you still have rape, incest, etc., so it's not going to eliminate abortions.

The ancient philosophy world did a better job of clarifying, defining "cause" as four subsets:

  • Material Cause:  the material construction which leads to the effects
  • Formal Cause:  the arrangement or shape or appearance which leads to the effects
  • Efficient Cause: the Agency external to the thing
  • Final Cause: the end to which the thing aspires, its purpose

For example, take the table I am writing on. What is its cause? Well, its material cause is the wood that it was made from. The formal cause is that it has two legs and a flat surface and thus is in the shape of a table. The efficient cause is the carpenter who made it. The final cause is that I need a surface to work on.

I often have pointed out the problem with naturalism--that is wants to pretend that material and formal are all that there is, and efficient and final causes simply don't exist.

Take Lennox's example of the kettle of tea boiling. Is it there because of the heating elements (material cause), or because of the construction of the stove to produce thermodynamic energy (formal cause), or because of the person who turned it on (efficient cause), or because Lennox was thirsty (final cause)? It is of course all of those.

I think we need a similar amount of intelligence applied to the gun control debate.

So let's take one specific question: Why do mass shootings happen?

It isn't just one cause, but at least four:

  • The material cause is the existence of gunpowder, brass, steel, copper, lead, primary explosives, and the other raw materials which are in the ammunition and gun. 
  • The formal cause is the design and manufacture of guns and ammunition.
  • The efficient cause is the armed murderer.
  • The final cause is the desire in the murderer's heart to kill children (that desire may take a variety of forms: mental illness, desire for fame, depression, etc.)

Now, root cause analysis is a critical part of my job, it's what I do. And looking at it this way, I would say that we have six choices if we wish to reduce or eliminate mass shootings:

  1. Do Nothing.  It is always a choice to do nothing, to maintain the status quo. However, we must be honest to ourselves that if we choose this, we are choosing to allow the effect to continue. In engineering we call this "accepting the risk"--we make a conscious decision to change nothing and will not be surprised when it continues. If we do nothing, we will continue to have our children killed at our schools. Period.
  2. Reduce/remove the material cause.  We could outlaw or limit the use of gunpowder, brass, copper, etc. However this would also affect the entire economy as these materials are used in a variety of other was. This one I think anyone would agree is impractical.
  3. Reduce/remove the formal cause.  We could limit or change the design of guns. It could require biometrics to ensure only a legal owner has it, for example. Or we could outlaw the making of linked ammunition. Or we could make gun manufacturers responsible legally for misuse of their product. 
  4. Reduce/remove the efficient cause. We can attempt to ensure that those who are probable to commit mass shootings do not have access to guns. This would involve things like closing loopholes so that background checks are required for all gun sales, licensing guns, or (like Israel and Switzerland, who have lots of guns but few murders) doing psychological tests and requiring training for all gun owners.
  5. Reduce/remove the final cause.  We could do something (not sure what) to eliminate mental illness and depression, stop giving fame to the shooters, fixing racial and poverty problems, etc.
  6. Combination of the above.  Almost always in my career in engineering, I have found that you need a layered approach, wherein you do some changes in each area.

Those are the choices, really.

If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always gotten--to expect otherwise, as Einstein famously said, is the definition of insanity. If it continues to be harder to buy antihistimines at Kroger than an assault rifle at a gun show, we will continue to have a major problem.

It seems to me impossible to argue that we should do nothing and yet expect a different result; likewise it seems absurd to me to take the radically impractical approaches of the liberals (who would try to eliminate all guns or gun making) or of the conservatives (wishfully think that maybe one day people will wake up and stop wanting to hurt each other).

Me? I would do something like this:
  • Ignore the material causes as we could not practically change anything there, or the final causes because they will do nothing to stop the sinful heart of man.
  • Ignore the formal causes for now. I prefer to follow the Pareto Principle, which is to focus on the 20% of causes which can move the needle 80%. The formal causes to me seem to be very difficult in order to affect meaningful change.
  • Focus heavily on efficient causes. Eliminate the gun show loophole and Cumberland loophole, so that we know everyone who buys a gun is able to pass a background check. That helps stop the bleeding of felons getting them. Require gun owners to get a license in a system similar to cars; nothing too difficult, but they have to pass a basic written exam about safety, demonstrate the ability to use it properly in front of a police officer, and register with the government so we know if guns are stolen, etc. Require a basic psychological exam for mental illness for conceal-carry permits. 
  • That alone would do a great job of reducing the number of guns in the wrong hands. We know it will work, because Israel and Switzerland have had great success.

The point is--if we want to be serious about reducing mass shootings, we need to stop the trivial, thoughtless, meme-focused Facebook sharing of a single idea and admit that there are a variety of causes and focus on the few we can change which are likely to have the biggest impact.

Abortions and Free Gun Access

My lovely wife made an observation the other day that I thought was very profound, and the more I consider it, the more profound it becomes:  the same arguments that Christians are using to defend free access to guns are the exact arguments used by abortionists to defend free access to abortions.

For example:

These are literally the same arguments. 

So if you want to be consistent, then you must either (a) not use ANY of these arguments, (b) support BOTH causes, or (c) support NEITHER cause.

I choose C.

Christians, if you are going to argue for free access, be careful that you aren't justifying the exact same arguments used to justify abortions.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Guns, Rocks, and Christians

I saw the image to the right shared on Facebook today by multiple friends.

A couple of thoughts jumped to mind:

1.  If you misspell your Biblical reference, it makes it hard to take your detailed Biblical ideas seriously.

Cain's brother was ABEL not ABLE.

2.  The context of the verse should really be eye-opening.

In Jeremiah 17:5-9, the prophet is pointing out that when men become idolatrous, they begin trusting in themselves and things other than the Lord in order to obtain their salvation and their security.

What does Jeremiah 17:9 say to conclude the section about why you shouldn't trust in things other than God for salvation? It ends by saying: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure."

If I didn't know better, I would think that people picked this passage with subtle satire in mind...because the gun owner has missed the entire point of this passage, which if anything argues AGAINST his case! 

This passage is arguing that we cannot trust in anything other than God, because our hearts are deceitful and this is not something which we can cure. We have an incurable heart problem and therefore, because of this heart problem, we cannot trust our own decisions or our own actions to bring us security/safety/salvation.

Jeremiah is identifying those things which we seek security in--like guns--to be our idols.

As I posted here just the other day, you could argue that guns are our major Christian idol today. We trust in guns to protect us, we trust in guns to give us strength, we refuse to allow people to 'blaspheme' guns, we think the answer to problems with guns is more guns.

Yet we are so immersed in this gun culture that we even use verses that should shame us as defenses.

3.  Finally, this is a ludicrous argument which shouldn't take a lot of thinking to see through.

When is the last time you heard of a child finding a rock at home and accidentally killing themselves? Or of someone being raped or robbed at rock-point? Or do you see the TSA worried about rocks getting past security checkpoints? Name for me the last mass killing at a school that you can attribute to rock-throwing.

Be honest - because when you "share" the image above, you are basically saying that you are just as worried about a crazy person with a rock as you are a crazy person with a gun.

To say we don't have a gun problem is absurd. People in the US are 54.4 times more likely to be murdered by guns than in the next-closest developed country. The only countries that give us a run for our money are those dominated by drug cartels.

Now keep in mind--I'm not arguing whether they should be constitutionally legal or not.

I'm arguing that we clearly have an idol worship problem. That we have made guns an idol in our culture.

Think about it - how do people defend the need for guns? The most common arguments are: (1) it's legal; (2) it is how I guarantee my protection; and (3) I'm a good, law-abiding, trustworthy citizen so it doesn't do any harm.

If someone made these arguments about a goat statue or a magic wand, you would either dismiss them as crazy or occultists, wouldn't you? Nothing has changed here.


Are we really that much better than the worshippers of Molech, burning kids at the altar, whom God saw fit to wipe off the face of the Earth?

Guns are the idol of our day, and we as Christians should be at the forefront of ensuring that they are limited and used wisely if at all. See my past posts about this here and here.

One day, we will all stand before Jesus and give an account for our lives. What argument will you be making?

  • I wasn't sure You would protect me so I thought I had to protect myself
  • I was willing to kill someone You loved if they came into my house and might take my stuff
  • I didn't personally misuse them so why should I give up my fun hobby just because someone else is crazy?
  • I know you said that those who live by the sword die by the sword, but I didn't think you meant me
  • I know you said that peacemakers would be blessed, but I thought that making peace through intimidation and firepower was probably okay
  • I just assumed if you were around today you'd be packing heat too
  • The deist-founded, largely-atheistic, abortion-protecting, war-obsessed, greed-run country I am a part of said it was my right, so I figured that overruled Your desire to live peaceably

You must REALLY love you some guns if you're willing to make one of those arguments to Jesus.

Postscript, because I can predict the question you will all bring up.

When I've had conversations on guns before with Christians, the argument always boils down to one thing. I can prove that just because something a secular American right does not mean that it is approved by God (there are dozens of examples of this). I can get them to agree that the facts are that we have more gun deaths than other countries. I can get them to agree that no, Jesus and the apostles were not likely to be packing heat. I can show them from Scripture that we are supposed to melt down our swords and make them into plows instead (i.e., to give up violence and instead help set things right). I can show the Scriptures that we are to love our enemies instead of kill them, seek peace instead of violence, and that Christian history says the best among us are those who "turn the other cheek" even unto death. I can show them that the first Christians even quit the military and civil jobs and refused to be judges lest they take someone's life with their decisions.

And they always ask one question:  But Michael, if someone broke into your house and was going to rape your wife and kill your kids, wouldn't you kill them?


No, I would not.

And because I would be tempted to do so, it is better that I do not have a gun handy.

I know what awaits on the other side for me and my family. We are all believers. No matter what a criminal wants to do to us, all they can do is hurt our bodies for a short period of time.

You see, I actually believe God protects us.

I actually believe God loves the desperate criminals too.

I actually believe that God will heal us, no matter what bad things happen.

I actually believe that nothing is more important than shaping my life to be more like Jesus. To ensure that I end up with Him forever.

I actually believe that we have a job to do as the image of God, which is to heal the hurting and fix the broken and forgive the sinner...not to kill them.

So no, I would not.

Or at least--I hope I wouldn't. But, as the Scripture above says--the heart is deceitful. If I'm being honest, I probably would kill someone in the heat of the moment in self-defense or family-defense...even though the Bible and my thoughts in the calm say I shouldn't. That is a good reason not to have a gun in the house, for me. Just like it is good not to have access to porn if you might be tempted to use it. (Of course, being the red-blooded 'Merican male that I am, I do have a 100,000 V stun gun, a professional alarm system, deadbolts, and pepper spray. My castle is well-defended.)

But if someone gets through and even puts my wife and kids at risk, I will not kill my enemy.

I hope I can even do more. I hope I could truly forgive them. I hope I could actually HELP them with whatever troubles drove them here. I hope I could LOVE them. I hope I could BECOME FRIENDS with them.

I'm probably not that good. But Jesus would have done this. And Jesus died for them just as much as me and mine.

No, I will not kill.

That really shouldn't be such a shocking statement. It's kind of been our "thing" historically.

We should all be ashamed of the idol-worship of our time. And we as church leaders need to beware that we are not complicit in it. When you teach people that it is okay to idolize and trust guns for your safety instead of Jesus, that it is okay to kill your enemies instead of forgive and love them, go read Luke 17:2, and reflect on the fact Jesus says that you'd rather have a stone tied around your neck and be dropped into the ocean than to face Him after causing others to stumble.

The Modern Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an 1850 classic novel that many of us studied in high school or junior high.

In the story, a woman named Hester conceives of a daughter through an extra-marital affair. She is required to wear a red letter "A" (for 'adulterer') on her dress to shame her, and she stands subject to public humiliation on the scaffold.

The rest of the book deals with her returning husband, the revealing confession of her secret lover, and the consequences as they affect the small town.

The most enduring idea from the book, though, was clearly the idea of the scarlet letter--the ongoing public shame and humiliation of someone for a sexual sin.

Of course, we've certainly come beyond this, haven't we? After all, this is the age of the sexual revolution! Adultery is advertised on TV, abortions are available on-demand, gay marriage is legal, porn is ever-present. And even though most Christians would argue that all four of those facts are bad, we would all agree that we should treat people kindly and with respect, not with ongoing shame. Everyone deserves forgiveness after repentance, right?

Well, hold on.

You may not realize it, but the idea of the scarlet letter is very much still in play in modern America, at the national governmental level.

Last week, across my Facebook feed (a sort of modern scaffold where the town can see everyone), I saw multiple repeated posts about a sex offender moving into a nearby town. People were furious and warning everyone. He was a part of the national sex registry, so everyone by law had to be made aware that he was moving into the area, and what he had done.

Now I don't know this guy at all. But we do have a mutual friend who had known him since childhood. And this guy said that the idea that he was a danger is ludicrous. Fifteen years ago (think about that...pre-9/11, before George W Bush was elected the first time, just after Y2K proved to be a hoax, a 26-year old got drunk and raped a woman. It is horrible that he did it. Absolutely terrible. He felt remorse, turned himself into police, pled guilty. He was sentenced to 15 years and paid his debt to society, where he was a model inmate. Now he is out and trying to get on with his life.

So what happens? Ah, he's a sex offender. Being a sex offender is the modern "scarlet letter"--it follows you the rest of your life so that no matter what happens, no matter how many changes go on in your life, you are still publicly shamed and ridiculed because of what you did. You can't go near schools. You can't move somewhere and start over. In some towns you literally cannot move into the town at all because the "safe zone" distance between schools covers the entire city limits.

You are an outcast. You are branded forever. As you can read here, a person coming out of prison and trying to reintegrate into society is basically hopeless: he can't live near a support network, can't find jobs, can't find stable homes and income. It's no surprise then that they often end up fleeing to areas where they cannot even be watched by police--indeed there are some entire cities of nothing but sex offenders, because they cannot find any way to be productive otherwise due to the restrictions.

Let's be real:  it is better in the U.S. to murder someone or commit terroristic threats than to commit a sex crime. You can murder eighteen people and if you manage to get out of prison, you don't have to tell a soul. You can sell drugs and guns to kids and after doing your time, you are on your own. But by a 17-year old who has sex with his 16-year old girlfriend, and you might find yourself on a sex registry and your entire life is ruined.

Guys, let's be real. Our justice system is designed to punish wroongdoers. When the sentence is done, it is supposed to be done. You aren't supposed to STILL be on trial the rest of your life. That was the way of the scarlet letter, not today. Want to ensure sex offenders don't repeat? Then chemically castrate or throw them in prison for mandatory life sentences. At least that is consistent. To release them back into society and then take away any chance of a successful life is useless, cruel, and actually more dangerous than anything else.

Let's leave the scarlet letter in 1850, shall we?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sermon Archive Update

I just finished another round of preaching, so as promised here are the updates:

Title:  Every Story Whispers His Name
Date:  13 September 2015
Passage:  Acts 2:12-39
Summary:  On Pentecost, Peter delivers the first sermon in Christian history, and he shows everyone that the Old Testament is really all about Jesus. He is the center of everything. This was one of my favorite sermons I've written, and is hugely influenced by (or ripped off of, depending on your view) preacher Tim Keller.

Title:  Science and The Bible Pt 2:  Is Christianity Anti-Science?
Date:  26 July 2015
Passage:  Psalm 19:1-4
Summary:  Is Christianity anti-science? I tell a bit of my story as an evolutionary Deist who came to Christianity in college. Specifically we address the fine-tuning of the universe, the heavy philosophical reliance that science has on Christianity, and the role of Christians in the history of science.

Title:  Science and The Bible Pt 1:  Understanding Genesis 1
Date:  19 July 2015
Passage:  Genesis 1:1-2:3
Summary:  Many people view Genesis 1 as a fairy tale which has been disproved; others see it as a scientific textbook of creation. In this sermon we correct both errors, instead reading Genesis 1 in its original would it have read to an ancient Hebrew, ignorant of YHWH, recently freed from Egyptian slavery?

Title:  The Problem of Suffering Pt 2:  The Emotional Problem
Date:  12 July 2015
Passage:  Psalm 6:3-7
Summary:  In our series on the Common Doubts of Christianity, we address the Problem of Suffering. This week we speak of the emotional problem of suffering--attempting to help those who say that they cannot worship a God who would allow so much pain and suffering to exist.

Title:  Knowing That You Know God
Date:  17 May 2015
Passage:  1 John 5:13-21
Summary:  As John wraps up his letter, he summarizes his main points of how we can know that we have a relationship with God. We also briefly deal with that sticky "unforgivable sin" thing. :-)

Title:  Why We Fail John's Tests
Date:  15 March 2015
Passage:  1 John 2:12-17
Summary:  John has given us four tests which, if we pass them, will give us confidence in our salvation. But what about when we fail those tests? This passage tells the reason WHY we fail John's tests.

Title:  The Problem of Suffering
Date:  25 January 2015
Passage:  Topical:  Habakkuk
Summary:  Habakkuk was an unusual prophet who recorded his frustration with God's plan. This message is the opening overview of the new series on Habakkuk, and explores the Problem of Suffering--why does a good God allow suffering?

Title:  The Promise of the Coming King
Date:  14 December 2014
Passage:  Topical: Christmas
Summary:  This is the first of a two-week Christmas series which explores the topic of Jesus' Kingship--what does it mean when we say Jesus is the Newborn King? This message explores the Old Testament expectations of the coming King of the Jews.

Title:  Humble planning
Date:  23 November 2014
Passage:  James 4:13-17
Summary:  In this passage, James explains how proper planning should be done--and how often all of our plans are just boasting in arrogance.

Title:  Who is going to teach you how to walk?
Date:  02 November 2014
Passage:  James 3:13-18
Summary:  In this passage, James is going to go into more detail on his claim in 3:1 that not many should be teachers. He will teach us what to look for when choosing the teachers of our faith.

Title:  God Transforms (Doctrines Series Lesson 7)
Date:  17 August 2014
Passage:  Topical:  Communion & Baptism
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Ordinances. We will discuss both communion and baptism, and how God transforms us. We will examine these through the lens of ancient suzerain covenants.

Title:  God Speaks (Doctrines Series Lesson 2)
Date:  13 July 2014
Passage:  Topical: Revelation
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Revelation. We explore how God reveals Himself to us, both through the books of Scripture (Special Revelation) and the book of nature (General Revelation).

Title:  Debating Jesus
Date:  18 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:19-21:4
Summary:  In this lesson we cover two attempts--one by the Pharisees and one by the Sadducees--to trap Jesus in a debate. Jesus deftly avoids both topics and we find that neither purity (Pharisees) nor knowledge (Sadducees) are sufficient for salvation.
Link:  (No audio, text only):

Title:  Two Pictures of Jesus
Date:  11 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:9-19
Summary:  Here we look at the Parable of the Vineyard, from which we get two distinct pictures of Jesus. These two pictures lead us into CS Lewis' Trilemma:  Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord: He cannot simply be a great moral teacher.

Title:  Jesus' Most Bizarre Parable
Date:  15 February 2014
Passage:  Luke 16:1-13
Summary:  Here we study what many consider Jesus' most bizarre parable--the Parable of the Dishonest Servant, in which Jesus seemingly praises an embezzling servant for his crafty dishonesty.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A powerful god--read to the end

Throughout history, Jews and Christians have been different from everyone else. We alone argue that there is One True God. Other religions have also sensed from the creation the need for God's attributes, and have invented gods whom they could discuss, control, and worship.

I want to discuss today one very strange god, and at the end give you something to think about.

The god's name is Ares.

Ares was a god worshipped in many cultures, including many of the most powerful empires and kingdoms in history.

Now, Ares-worship is an interesting religion.

Ares is commonly seen by us as the god of war. And this of course makes sense--his primary use (indeed, virtually his only appearance in the culture from what we can see) was by definition violent.

But according to his cult disciples, he is the god of freedom and safety. The idea is that worship of Ares is the only thing which guarantees freedom from oppression and safety from war and attacks. He is seen as the offensive force when approaching unbelievers and the source of justice, freedom, and safety with regard to his cultic worshippers.

The idea was that the same strength that Ares used to propogate war on unbelievers was a positive, defensive trait with shrines or icons in the home. Thus, worshippers should have one or two icons of Ares in their home if the wish to guarantee their safety (the more, the better).

This is interesting because the icons to Ares were very complex and have to be carefully made. As a result, they turned out to be very expensive, and often also very dangerous in the way they were constructed. Icons to Ares were known, because of their design, to actually crush the heads and bodies of children in the homes they were supposed to protect! Even poor families however felt the need to have many, many icons of Ares in the home.

Now what was very interesting is that of course--like all false gods--Ares offered no security. True security can only come from One Source, and Ares is not that god. Yet nonetheless, devotees to the cult of Ares absolutely refused to think of it in any other way, no matter how many times their children were killed or their cities sacked or their markets destroyed. It was fundamentalism at its best: in the face of all logic, reason, or evidence, Ares shrines were considered the best protection.

Indeed, the answer to attacks that had been unprevented by shrines to Ares was to build more shrines to Ares!

Here is what I mean:  historical statistics tell us that the countries which most followed the cult of Ares, and had therefore the most shrines to him, also had the highest probability of being killed. One would think that it would therefore be obvious, even without much mathematical skill, to conclude that having shrines to Ares was not an indicator of safety but (best case) was neutral and (worst case) was somehow creating a culture of death and violence and lack of safety.

Why didn't people see through this?

Because the priests of Ares were exceptionally good at their jobs. Perhaps never in the history of religion has a cultic leadership group been so impressive at controlling the message. The priesthood of the cult worked with the imperial governments to ensure that the cult of Ares was wide-spread and that blasphemers against it were punished and (if public officials) removed from office. Meanwhile, the priesthood reinforced what amounted to propoganda mantras to reinforce the beliefs. Some of these mantras are mind-bending in the lack of logic (but then, these empires were not very advanced anyway in the studies of philosophy): for example, one popular mantra pointed out that if you did not have a shrine to Ares in your home and robbers broke in, the constabulary who protects you do have shrines to Ares so obviously therefore in that way it is still protecting. If you don't have a shrine and are under attack, your best chance was to call on someone who did have a shrine.

As a result, when people would point out that members of the cult of Ares actually saw more violence as a result, the priestly response was--this only happens because the number of worshippers is too low. The lack of promised freedom and safety was not because they were false prophets, but due to the lack of devotion of the citizens: if Ares shrines were in every home, then no violence would occur. And if the person attacked did have a shrine in his home, or was involved in violence of his own, well that was very easy for the priests to explain away--he just wasn't caring for the shrine appropriately. It is not Ares who was the problem--it was the neglect of, or misuse of, the cult of Ares that led to violence and death.

The priests would tell stories of far-off lands in which this was the case, where everyone were true disciples with shrines in every home properly maintained, and which therefore suffered no violence. But of course it is no surprise to you to find out that we've found no historical evidence to support the claims that the answer to the Ares-inspired violence was actually more Ares icons.

All in all, it was very odd.

Can you imagine? Imagine taking a god of violence and war and building a shrine in your house which is of great expensive, by its design routinely injures or kills the family it is supposed to protect, and then praying to it every day for your security?

Imagine getting wrapped up in the twisted priestly memes that your security is dependent upon Ares and if it isn't working then it is either your fault, or someone else's fault for degrading a shrine, or you just need to buy more Ares shrines?

How could people not see through this?

Imagine the fundamentalism required to buy into the belief that only this shrine--not wise decisions or a sturdy defense system or proper legal protections or (in the case of Christians, trust in God)--is the source of safety.

Crazy, isn't it? I sure think so.

Oh, one thing I forgot...

Ares is just the word I chose as a stand-in for "guns."

What Would Happen If We Found Life on Another Planet?

I watched The Martian last night, and really enjoyed it - as I did the book it was based on. It is a great and entertaining sci-fi movie, which also shows that you don't have to make the science fictional in
order to make a good sci-fi movie; the science can be accurate and still entertaining.

I heard someone describe it this way, which I loved: "Remember the scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers dump a bunch of stuff on the table and say, 'We have to find a way to get a square peg to fit in a round hole, using nothing but this?' Well that over two hours is basically The Martian."

Purely by coincidence (GIANT sarcasm here), NASA is working PR overtime right now, capitalizing on The Martian's popularity to drum up support for the often-underfunded space agency. Earlier this week they announced definitive evidence of liquid water on the Martian surface, which led many to speculate about the existence of life on Mars.

Now this has long been a trope of science and science fiction: from HG Wells to Ray Bradbury to modern SETI researchers and movies, there has always been a lot of effort focused on looking for life elsewhere. NASA has considered missions to Mars, Venus, and Europa to look for signs of life. Science news reporters breathlessly cover every exoplanet which could theoretically host life, and the Internet was full of excitement at the possibility that NASA might be giving evidence of life at its press conference earlier this week. As an avid sci-fi fan, I always read several books per year in which the search for alien life is a critical part of the plot, and perhaps because of this I have written about it three times before on this blog.

NASA is so concerned about this that our robots on Mars do not even test for signs of life, because we can't properly sterilize the craft as it enters Mars and thereby we could get a "false positive" of reporting lifeforms which we accidentally transmitted to the Martian surface. (For now, ignore the strange logic which would lead to calling a single celled bacterium on Mars "life" but considers the 13 billion cells of a fetus which has brainwaves and heartbeats "non-life.")

The Hope for E.T.

I find this to be fascinating. I think part of the fascination, at least for the atheists/naturalists of the world, is that there seems to be a belief that finding life elsewhere will somehow be a disproof of Christianity. I have heard the argument made many times, often implicitly but occasionally explicitly, whenever someone discusses the implausbility of random evolution: "You say that now, but just wait - we will find life elsewhere."

The odds against chemical evolution--that randomly, dead chemicals would form life and self-code to produce computer-like DNA--has long been an argument by theists and intelligent design proponents. The Drake Equation famously calculated the extremely small probabilities of us ever discovering life--not only would it have to chemically evolve (to form cells), but then they would have to biologically evolve (to form complex life), then they would have to intelligently evolve into a spacefaring race, then they would have to try to communicate, and then it all have to match up time-wise so that it happened in the very narrow window that we could receive and understand such a communication.

It just isn't going to happen. We can't even replicate the first step--creating life and DNA from non-live chemicals--in a lab. Just the first step! Much less all the rest.

The idea of atheists seems to be that if we can find evidence that it happened one other time--under Europa's ice sheets or on Mars' dusty surface or anywhere--then it somehow destroys the creationists improbability argument. "See," they would say, "it can happen and has happened more than once!"

The Flaw in the Logic

The flaw in the logic is that the appearance of multiple improbable scenarios only makes them even less improbable. Probabilities are calculated by combinatorial arithmetic: the more unlikely a thing is, the less likely it will happen multiple times due to randomness.

For example, imagine that you and I sit down to play poker. You shuffle and deal. I get a random hand, but you get a Royal Flush--the highest possible hand and the rarest. The odds against getting dealt a royal flush are 650,000 to 1.

Now it is possible that I might call you a cheater, no? It just seems very unlikely. 650,000-to-1 odds isn't very good. By calling you a cheater, what I'm actually saying is this:  intelligent agency (you) interfered with a random process. You didn't get the hand randomly.

But let's say that you shrug your shoulders and say, "Sorry, random dude. Can't help it." You collect your winnings and go to the next table.

And at the next table, you deal...and again, deal yourself a Royal Flush on the next table.

Do you think that I and the other players will be more likely or less likely to see you as a cheater?

More likely, of course!

As unlikely as it was to happen once, it is even less likely to happen twice--especially so close together in time and space. Maybe it could happen to you twice in a life time, but right beside each other? No way!

This is the flaw in the Martian logic. Theists argue against the astronomical odds of chemical and biological evolution happening randomly. If it is also found to have happened on Mars, or Europa, or Venus, that just makes it all the more unlikely!!

[Aside--In fact, I think discovering life elsewhere would eventually be a major problem for evolutionists. For now, the inability to recreate chemical cellular and DNA evolution in a laboratory is understandable--the odds are so low and the variables so complex, that you can't expect to recreate it. But if it could happen in as varied conditions as the cold Martian dust and the sub-freezing ice of Europa and the toxic hell that is Venus--if it happens over and over and over, in such a wide range of conditions--then we should be able to recreate it more easily.]

[Aside 2--when I speak of "evolution" I am speaking of the idea of random evolution without interference from God. In other words, the idea that 'anything could have happened' and God was not in control. I am not saying that all parts of evolutionary theory are false, just that the idea that this could have happened randomly would be even more difficult to argue in such a scenario.]

Simply speaking, finding life somewhere else is a boon for creationism, not a bane.

What Would Happen If We Found Life?

What would the Christian response be if we found life? Let's say that we discovered life on Mars in the form of a single-celled organism, or got a message or monument from space a la 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Well of course, some Christians just flat out distrust scientists and would claim it was faked or whatever. This is a very small number. And some are Christians by culture only, not really committed to it, and would see this (and the excitement it would generate) as a very useful and acceptable excuse to "leave" the faith they belong to in name only.

But I think that most would have no issue with it. Why?

Well first of all--we already believe that God created animal life we can't interact with here on Earth (e.g., dinosaurs, undersea creatures, insects in the Amazon, etc.). We believe God is a prolific Creator who makes things for His glory not for us, so it is entirely possible He would create life elsewhere as well as here. I know of no major branch of theology which requires a sterile universe as a theological principle.

But secondly, we go even further than that!  SETI and some atheists think intelligent life in the universe is possible...we think it is certain and indeed, has contacted us.

You didn't know that? Well, what is the definition of extraterrestrial intelligence? An intelligent being not from Earth, correct?

We have always taught that such beings DO in fact exist...angels, created by God to worship Him, some of whom are loyal to Him and some of whom followed one such angel, Satan, in rebellion (we call those demons).

We don't believe those were created on Earth but in the heavens. But we do believe that they interact with earthlings.

So we Christians--as CS Lewis pointed out--absolutely believe in intelligent ET life. We even think we have met some and know their names! (Lucifer, Gabriel, Michael, etc.)

Contrary to popular belief, Christians would have no problem assimilating Martian life into our worldview. My question is: how could a naturalist?