Friday, December 28, 2018

Do Aliens Exist?


I know that this is an enormous topic which we may never reach a solid conclusion because of cultural desire alone with Star Wars, all the Marvel and D.C. comics and movies with characters in them from space, as well as Star Trek and all the others not mentioned, but it is interesting to discuss.

I think the question of space aliens arises because of the vast amount of space in our universe. Hubble reveals an estimated 100 billion galaxies (With our own Milky Way Galaxy being but only one of those), and that is just what can be seen with amplified sight from our planet. The probability just seems to be immeasurable that there is life on other planets because of the enormity of outer space.

My first exposure to the idea of aliens happened when I came home from a county fair and my sister and her high school boyfriend were watching the movie, Aliens. So, I asked them what was going on. I kid you not, from that moment on, I had an extreme fear of aliens until their big eyed, green faces became a fad in our part of the country. I remember having night terrors as a tween because of a book cover I once saw. I was terrified at the concept of them, which I believe caused me to consider them quite frequently.

That said, I suppose it would be prudent to define what a space alien is. I will define a space alien as any form of life—preferably, but not necessarily, intelligent life—anywhere in the universe.

From a biblical perspective, the existence of life on other planets must be at the mercies of several measures:

Would aliens be created? Or would they always exist?
John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made. Without Him nothing was made that has been made.”

The “Word” (λόγος) is the Living Word, which is Jesus Christ. This tells us that nothing in this entire physical universe was created without Jesus… including aliens. This passage alone shows that aliens could not have always existed, but there are several more. Colossians 1:16 for example, says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” “Heaven” can be understood as everything observed by the eyes and beyond, because this is where God resides (See Matt. 5:34, 45 and 48; Mark 13:27). If aliens always existed, they would then have to be transcendent beings, meaning that they would have to exist outside of the physical universe, because we know beyond a reasonable doubt that the universe had an ultimate, absolute beginning.[1] Nothing in the physical universe, except through miracles, could exist from outside the universe. Therefore, their appearances to humans would have to be considered miracles (a supernatural event) if aliens were never created.

There is a problem with this however, because a being that exists uncaused would be a necessary being. A necessary being does not have a cause for its existence. A necessary being is the cause for beings that are contingent. I am a contingent being, for instance. My existence is contingent ultimately on a necessary being. We cannot have infinite regress of contingent beings, because nothing physical can be actually infinite. Space and time has its limitations, according to the beginning of the universe (This is a huge subject as well, and I do not want to get off topic). The point here is that there can only be one necessary being. There must be an uncaused cause, which, that uncaused cause itself must not be caused, based on the principle of causality. There is, therefore, only one being that is necessary and uncaused. “If there were two unlimited beings, how could you tell them apart?”[2] Therefore, aliens cannot be self-caused, nor could they have always existed. So if aliens do exist, they are, according to the Bible, created through Jesus and for Jesus.

If aliens do exist, then Jesus keeps them alive.
Colossians 1:17 continues, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
He is the sustainer of all things, just as Hebrews 1:3 reveals as well: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power...” Think of it like Him working in order to keep His creation alive. As soon as He withdrawals His hand, life ceases to exist. Aliens would not be out of this category. They too, would die at the withdrawal of the power of Christ.

With all of this being said, it seems that there are some questions which should be raised. For instance, if there are no aliens, would it make God less powerful in any respect? We get the idea that God would be more powerful because there would be intelligence out there somewhere and it would give us reason to revere God more than we do now. But the reality is, God created all of everything we see ex nihilo (out of nothing). What could be possibly more awesome than that? If aliens do exist, they would be physical beings, which means that they would have been created, much like humans or ants.

I am writing these things because I do not see any evidence for their existence, but of course, it is definitely possible. I do not intend to be the destroyer of fantasies and dreams, but just because there is intelligent life on this planet does not mean that there is life on other planets. It would be logically fallacious to conclude that life exists out there because life exists in here.

How much more would it show us how much God loves us if we knew that God created all of this, just for us? If God created all of this, the billions of galaxies, just for us, for our eyes to see the wonder of God’s creative beauty, wouldn’t this different facet seem to reveal His deep love and desire for us?
The outstanding work of Starry Night, by the Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, seems to point to the idea that the night sky with all of its lights and curiosities is a thing of objective beauty. My friend, Tim Stratton, of Free Thinking Ministries argues for Objective Beauty. I will let him explain the bulk of objective beauty, but I do want to give an example of objective beauty, which is the night sky. I’m not talking about a person living under the smog of Los Angeles looking up and seeing the sky at night, I’m saying a clear, early summer night in say, Montana, the Big Sky country. Unblemished by pollution of smog, fire or light. Even through the lenses of the space telescopes, I would think it would be next to impossible for someone to truthfully say that it is not beautiful. A person looking up at Aurora Borealis could not in any real or serious manner say that it was ugly. Why do colorblind people receiving EnChroma glasses burst into tears or start shaking after putting them on? Ultimately, because God exists.
I am offering a reasonable explanation for the vast size of the universe which does not necessarily require aliens. In other words, maybe the universe is so big, just so our eyes can soak up the objective beauty that God created just for us.

"The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."
Psalm 19:1-4

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus


[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 111. 2008.
[2] Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 22. 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

In the beginning was... Matthew?


The order of the New Testament is probably in proper-enough order, but I think there could be a healthy change of the order presented in Bibles today. The New Testament starts with the gospels which is highly appropriate, because if the New Testament were in, say, chronological order, then some of Paul’s letters would be first, because they were written before the gospels, which might not make much sense in a New Testament only such as a Gideon’s New Testament or vest pocket. In any case, it is in appropriate order for the gospels to be first because they introduce the material for the rest of the NT to build on. I do, however, have an issue with the order of the gospels presented in Bibles, mainly, the 4th gospel.

 

The gospel of John, in my opinion, should be the first book in the New Testament for at least three reasons:


1.     John begins his gospel with, “In the beginning…”


Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Emphasis mine). If you haven’t made the connection yet, the beginning of John 1:1 is a direct reference to Genesis chapter one, verse one. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word.” John clearly had the beginning of Genesis in mind when he was penning the 4th gospel, because he wanted to show his readers right of the bat that Jesus is God (more specifically, the Son of God. See John 20:31). The way that the gospel of John begins would be in parallel order with the beginning of the Old Testament if the Johannine text would be placed first in the New Testament.

2.      Because it would place Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles next to each other.


The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (in that order) are followed by Acts, which was written by Luke, who is also the author of the 3rd gospel. So here we have on a bookshelf, per se, four authors, and five books. Luke, having two historical volumes is separated seemingly randomly by the 4th gospel, breaking up the flow of the historical accounts of Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” – Luke 1: 1-4 (NIV. Emphasis mine).

“Most excellent” was generally a title for someone in a political position of sort, and Theophilus in Greek, broken down means, “lover of God.” Some people believe that Theophilus was not a real person, but that Luke was writing metaphorically to someone who simply loves God. The “Most Excellent” title suggests otherwise.

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 1:1-3 (NIV. Emphasis mine).

It seems to be a bit awkward to separate these two volumes from this one author. If you are reading this and you did not know that Luke wrote the book of acts (or at least the same author wrote the two books), it is probably due to the 4th gospel separating the two volumes.

3.     Because many Bible scholars, encourage new readers of the Bible to start with the gospel of John before reading any other book in the New Testament.


The reason for this is because John’s gospel is pretty simply laid out, and seems to be richer in theological explanation than the synoptic gospels (take the first chapter, for instance). The gospel of John seems to set the stage for the reading of the other gospels. I am not saying that the 4th gospel has more value than the other books of the New Testament. I am just saying that it seems more appropriate to have the 4th gospel be the first book presented in the New Testament.

These are not the only reasons, but they are the big ones. Another reason from a different facet might be that the synoptic gospels would still remain side by side. On top of all of this, all of Paul’s letters are one right after the other. We know beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul wrote 13 of the New Testament books, and possibly (but not probably) even 14. All 14 of these books are one right after the other, without any other book written by another author separating them.

If there are any questions concerning the order for which I am arguing, it is: John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, The Acts, etc. In any event, I hope that readers consider this information and think about the impact on future readers of the New Testament.

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Path of Least Resistance




This is a struggle I had from several years ago. I was consumed with the idea that one might see the direction of their future by the direction of the path of their past history, but at the same time, I couldn’t understand why I was struggling with not having what I wanted. Maybe some other pastors could share my feelings with where I was coming from, or not even pastors, but just anyone. Where do you think your life path has taken you? What has the Lord brought you through and why?

Is the principle of the path of least resistance a pattern that stretches across the many facets of life? Or is it just limited to the physics we encounter in life? In any event, keep reading and see where I was…

I have had several different careers throughout my life. Anything from factory working, to tree felling, to electrician, to heavy equipment operator, to leather tanner. There is something I learned from looking back at all of these careers, as well as the other activities in my life that I spent a considerable amount of time doing, such as hiking through the deep woods, target shooting, etc., and what I learned is that everything seems to have one major thing in common: the path of least resistance.

Hogging dirt in the trough.
When I was a heavy equipment operator, I would frequently operate a D-9 Caterpillar, which is a pretty enormous machine. Weighing in at over 100,000 pounds, having a 15 feet wide blade, I could push an immense amount of dirt. If I were doing something called “hogging” dirt, which means moving as much dirt as fast as possible, I and every bulldozer operator out there knows that the more you shove the blade into the earth, the slower the machine goes. Bulldozers have the ability to tilt their blade, and if the operator tilted his blade too much to one side, then the bulldozer would struggle to go in a straight line because all the weight of the dirt would be on one side of the machine (The path of the least resistance for the bulldozer was dependent on the depth, and angle of the blade).

If you can’t picture that, consider laying sewer pipe (well, don’t consider it, but I mean think about it with me). If the pipe headed downhill, and all the sudden, there is a rise in the pipe, what happens? The flow stops, or pools. In construction, we know well that these things take the path of least resistance, so we have laser levels and pipe levels and GPS for the bulldozer and all kinds of other things to help us create the path of least resistance.

Working for a master electrician, I learned all about electricity (sometimes, the hard way). I learned that a ground rod had to go really deep, because lightning will take the path of least resistance. All of the outlets have to have a “ground wire” so that the electricity can take the path of least resistance. Sometimes, I personally was the path of least resistance for the electricity, and got a bite “BZZZT!” In any event, that part wasn’t fun, but at least I was alert for the rest of the day.

Between the fence posts was the goal.
Growing up, I would watch my dad, who was a logger, cut trees down, and so I learned how to do it myself by watching him. I learned that trees fall in the path of least resistance when they’re dead, but when you cut them, you can manipulate their path of least resistance. In other words, I can make a tree fall in a direction that is not natural for it to fall, because I am in essence, making a new nature for it. Either way, whether a dead tree about to fall on its own or a tree being cut for harvest or because it is dangerous, the tree takes the path of least resistance. Often times, people who do not know how to cut a tree make the tree decide the path of least resistance because of ignorance, or what one might call, “operator error.”

Anyways, we have well established the path of least resistance. But, just in case, let’s consider one more. I love to explore. I love walking through the deepest brush, where most people would not dream of going. I try to leave the smallest imprint and leave no tracks behind. Sometimes I trailblaze, but that is different than when I trudge through the bush. On these journeys, I often encounter wildlife and their signs (or even skeletons). When there is snow on the ground, there are deer tracks all over the forest, almost like raindrops, depending where you are. Most of the time, these deer tracks are in single file, all going down the same path. If there were moguls in the middle of the woods, the deer would walk between them. They would take the path of least resistance. At the same time, they do not want to get shot by hunters, so they can’t just walk around an empty field, so the path of least resistance in the deep woods on the deer trails is a popular choice.

These and several other things got me thinking about something... I was actually in the woods and noticed all of these deer trails and how they avoided certain things when I considered writing about this subject. The subject at hand is God’s will. I’m not talking about God’s will for mankind or God’s general will, but I am talking about His special will or His personal will. “What is God’s will for my life?” that is a question that I frequently ponder. Who is to say that I am not in God’s will now? It seems that I will never know when I am in God’s will, because that might mean that I won’t need to seek Him anymore. That is not what I am discussing here though. As I mentioned, I have had several different types of careers, and I’ll even introduce you to some new ones: cook, furniture mover, landscaper, small engine mechanic, and when I said “factory worker” above, what I meant was that it is horrific how many different factories I have worked at in my life. What I want to know is the final place.

It seems that all of these skills and education (both formal and informal), would lead me to excel at something at least. What could it possibly be? I feel that I have a deep desire to “contend for the faith” and “correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction,” and because of such, I feel that I am headed in the right direction with ministry. I am passionate about these things. I am passionate about apologetics. I have an M. Div. in apologetics as a matter of fact. Now I am left with one thing. What is the path of least resistance? What is that which comes most naturally to me in ministry? Where am I most effective?

I am a senior pastor currently, and I frequently feel that I am not effective at all, but that most of the congregants are just “stubbornly loyal.” I find it very depressing when someone leaves the church, and I find it depressing failing to bring people into the church. Therefore I question my ability to lead a church. If I am not supposed to lead a church then, because my effectiveness for it is nonexistent, then what is it that I should do? I have 9 years of education in ministry. It is unbelievable that God would send me through all of that and not use it.

I look back and see where I was effective in ministry. I was effective recently leading men’s group, I was effective 10 years ago as a youth leader… I am effective counseling people and couples. I am effective guiding people one on one. I am effective with certain sermon topics…

Acts 16:6-8 says, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.

Acts 27:7-8. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.


Looking back, I believe my problem was that I was reaching for heaven. What I mean by that is that I wanted to find the perfect end result. I wanted to know the final place. Realistically, I think that my heart was not in the right place. I wanted heaven on earth, but in reality, no one will ever come to that point because of the flesh. The issue is, I am not the only part of the equation. There are other people and things, and the other parts of this path of least resistance depend on the Great Manipulator (one might also think of Him as the Great Conductor, which will be discussed below). He is the one who manipulates the path of least resistance, much like the operator controlling the blade of the bulldozer or the sawyer felling a tree, or growing trees for deer to go around.

Now, it seems to me that there are two types of manipulation of the path of least resistance from the Great Manipulator. The first is a manipulation which is immediate, or present, so to speak. Just like in the case of Paul traveling in his boat with difficulty, but still actually going somewhere. This could seemingly be considered a miraculous event, because God is clearly manipulating the contents in the universe in order to carry out His divine plan. (One could argue that this wind is the result of a series of causes from the beginning, but Paul was in the right place at the right time. Continue reading for the conduction of these events).

The second type of manipulating the path of least resistance is basically the cause of the least resistance for a future event, or several possible future events. The tree grew here and not there, and therefore, the hunter is able to take a shot at the deer because it had to slow down for a turn coming up in the path of least resistance through the forest. This path could provide a hunter with food every year (I live in Montana, so bear with me). The deer could have trudged through the thick brush, but it doesn’t. God causes the path of least resistance to look the way it does for future events. He knew what needs were coming, and therefore provided for those needs. He knows all counterfactuals, yet he knows which path people will choose. He doesn’t force them to take the path of least resistance, but He knows which of the many paths one will take and manipulates accordingly.

I briefly alluded to the Great Conductor above, so I want to further elaborate on that for a moment.

The Great Manipulator and the Great Conductor… what is the difference? The Great Manipulator creates the path for the life of an individual, specifically speaking, with special will, and the Great Conductor makes the multitudes of these paths fit together, no matter how diverse the components of the individual.
The Great Conductor takes all of the ingredients of all of the paths of all of the individuals, and causes them to work in symphony. Since God is sovereign, His conduction of the symphony is flawless. There are clearly several paths of least resistance working in action simultaneously on an individual level, and as such, the abrasive interference of other paths would be inevitable, were it not for the Great Conductor. Therefore, the Great Conductor conducts all manipulations of paths of least resistance. This convinces me that not only does God have a special will for us, but that we can know some part of it beforehand.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” –James 4:7-8

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus