Stirring Up Controversy

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… (Genesis 1:1)

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8, see also Psalm 90:4)

Is evolution the whole truth about how our little blue planet came to be teeming with life? Not too long ago I read Richard Dawkins’ recent book The Greatest Show On Earth, The Evidence For Evolution and I’ve also read his 2006 book The God Delusion, so I thought I would offer some comments about evolution as my blog contribution for March. In April I’ll let you know if Dawkins convinced me to become an atheist!

My disclaimer: I studied evolution in my archaeology classes back in the 1970’s at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC. I was a history major, but I took as many archaeology classes as I could squeeze in because I loved working the puzzles so much. After obtaining a BA I went on to seminary and obtained an MDiv (Master of Divinity) so I guess its no surprise that I am a committed Christian who happens to be an ordained minister. I’ve been dealing with this intellectual problem for several decades.

So, is evolution the whole truth or is creationism the whole truth?
After mulling this over for years I have come to see the three passages reproduced above as the key to faithfully and scripturally begin understanding the origin and diversity of life on earth. I have concluded that before the beginning (that very phrase is filled with problems!) there was God. That God in fact exists outside of time and space and that He created both of those dimensions as a metaphorical box in which all of His creation abides. When scientists tell us that the universe originated with a Big Bang and has been expanding outwards ever since I see no problem accepting that. What the scientists can’t tell us is ‘what came before the Big Bang?’ To say that the universe has been expanding and contracting in an endless series of Big Bangs explains nothing. Where did all this matter and energy ultimately come from? Science can only say ‘it has always been here’, but I affirm that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

‘Okay’, you might say, ‘but what about the creationist claim of six literal twenty-four hour days of creation?’ Here both Peter and the psalmist come to our rescue by hinting that Moses’ account of the creation as recorded in Genesis is poetic and metaphoric in character and that ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ If a day can be a thousand years- a really, really big number to an ancient mind- why can’t a day of creation be a billion years or even several billion? Perhaps, as some creationists contend, the earth was created with ‘apparent age’, but I see no problem provisionally accepting that the earth really is very old. God didn’t need to be in a huge hurry to get His work done. Put that bread back in the oven for a while, won’t you, until its really ready… As Martin Luther put it when his accusers demanded that he recant his radical rediscovery of the gospel he declared that he would only recant if convinced ‘by scripture and plain reason.’ Both scripture and plain reason affirm that the earth is old.

This leaves us with the essential point of Richard Dawkins’ book that all life can be explained through the working out of natural processes acting over vast stretches of time. He seeks to lay to rest any dependence on theistic explanations by laying out what he claims is absolute evidence that life developed as a result of random mutations and natural selection. I will offer only one point in refutation of that point: ‘Mr. Dawkins, please show me at least one instance of incontrovertible proof of one kind of creature evolving into another type of creature.’

The examples Richard Dawkins offers are, in type, no different from the examples offered in textbooks about evolution for at least the last forty years of my own personal experience. The classic example is the white moth in England that was camouflaged against the white lichen of trees evolving into a black moth after the coal dust of the Industrial Revolution turned the lichen black. The vehicle of natural selection was predation by birds. Prior to the advent of heavy coal dust any moths born black as a result of mutation were easy prey and so didn’t survive to reproduce. After coal dust any moths born white suffered the same fate, hence a white moth evolved into a black moth, hence evolution is the mechanism by which all life came into being. But wait… is the black moth really something new? I think not, since the black and white moths in question can still reproduce with each other and they are still the same kind of thing.
‘Okay’, you might say, ‘but what about dogs evolving from wolves? Haven’t we seen here an evolution of one kind of animal from another?’ Quite to the contrary. In spite of the fact that we have bred creatures as different from each other as Chihuahuas are from Great Danes we have not in fact created anything different in kind. All dogs can still reproduce with each other and also with wolves. Even if mechanical problems preclude Chihuahuas and Great Danes from getting together sexually there are no real and lasting distinctions between the two.

We see this in populations of feral dogs- no matter what breeds of dogs any given pack of feral dogs descends from they all tend to converge over time towards a characteristic mean. That is to say, one pack of feral dogs looks and behaves much like any other pack of feral dogs rather than continuing to be a pack of feral German Shepherds or Dalmatians. Populations of feral dogs seem to obey the second law of thermodynamics which tells us that everything tends to run down, tends to degenerate, becomes less complex, effectively tends to become undifferentiated mush. Genetic diversity in isolated populations tends to diminish over time, not increase, in spite of Dawkins’ claim to the contrary when he writes about populations of rats. That’s why animal breeders are always concerned about bringing new blood lines into a line that is becoming too similar for its own long term good. This is why the more pure your German Shepherd is the more likely s/he is to develop hip dysplasia, etc.

So even if American Fundamentalist Classic Creationism is probably not correct neither is Darwinian evolution proven. Darwin’s finches, as different as they were from each other, were still finches and not discernibly on their way to becoming something else. All dogs are wolves, even if neotenized, and all those black moths from early industrial England are just white moths selected for a darker shade. Each of these examples is consistent with a God who created each thing not identical, but ‘according to their kind.’

So, if even living things are subject to the second law of thermodynamics, where does complexity and diversity come from? The answer is simple: Jesus.
We can declare this as a faith statements because the Bible says ‘…by Him all things were created… He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’ (Colossians 1:16-17) Scientists call this effect of Jesus dynamically holding everything together right down to the subatomic level the phenomenon of Zero Point Energy. Physicist Dr. Hal E. Putoff wrote an explanation:

“When the idea of the hydrogen atom was first put forward in the form that you often see it on textbook covers, where it looks like a tiny little solar system with the electron planet circling the nuclear sun, one of the questions at the time was: why doesn’t the electron simply radiate its energy away and spiral into the nucleus, in a way similar to the way our satellites have certain losses and spiral into the planet? At the time, the answer was simply, well it is just the magic of quantum theory, it doesn’t obey classical rules, and for some reason hydrogen atoms are like little perpetual motion machines. But in fact, from the standpoint of the zero point energy approach, we now recognize – and the calculation has been done, in fact I published on it myself – we show that indeed you expect an electron in a hydrogen atom to radiate its energy away, but it picks up energy from the background zero point energy and therefore is sustained by it. What that means in terms of physics is that it shows why atoms can be seen as perpetual motion machines, it is just that they always have an energy input from the background to make up for the losses.”

That energy input is Jesus, who ‘…was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.’ (John 1:2-4) Do you want to know more? Come out to church some Sunday morning and find out how Jesus is holding us together here at Valhalla Lutheran Church!

Maybe I Should Have Planted Rice

I woke up this morning to a kinder, gentler world than the one in which I had gone to bed.

It’s been wet and rainy for several days, but nothing spectacular. In fact, the farmers had been smiling. ‘This is the month we especially need rain’, one had told me. About half of my garden was flooded, but I felt sure that sunny weather would dry things up before any significant damage was done to my sunflowers, peas and potatoes. Besides, the new garden area that was most flooded had perhaps been poorly chosen. I’m new to this community, and it takes time to figure out the best spots in a yard to do your planting. Still, I had high hopes of showing off stately rows of sunflowers lining my driveway as a display to please the judges on July 20th when they come through town in their Communities In Bloom tour of the province.

Yesterday, though, was a game-changer. The rain came down in sheets and the wind blew with what felt to me like hurricane force. I went out to do chores dressed in my usual sweater and jeans, but this time covered by my parka, knit gloves for my hands, and my cowboy hat to protect my head. I had not previously worn my parka at all, not even when I had first arrived at the end of February to a couple of feet of snow and minus ten-ish temperatures. Here on the Canadian prairies that is nice and comfortable- classic sweater weather. Yesterday when I arrived back in the house I was chilled to the bone.

I got up this morning to find every one of my young chickens- recently feathered out and happy to be outdoors pecking on dandelion plants and eating bugs- lying cold and dead. The leaves on many of my sunflower plants are turning yellow on the edges. Not a good sign. As I looked at the sad scene before me I thought that rice- which can grow in standing water- would have been a better crop for my first year in this new-to-me Peace River country.

A long time ago Jesus told everybody gathered to hear His ‘sermon on the mount’ that ‘He (God) makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5:45) This tells us at least two things:
1) that God has graciously provided the conditions that we need to survive on this planet Earth. We exist in an extraordinarily narrow band of temperature, humidity, and combination of atmospheric gasses such as to nurture a wide variety of carbon-based life forms. A change of conditions of very small proportion would wipe us all out, leaving this planet as barren and lifeless as all the other planets in our solar system. This rain that feels extreme to us is eminently survivable, and the 7 billion humans living on this globe are testimony to how benign conditions generally are here.
2) that we who have experienced God’s blessings are called by Him to spread His love to those who are struggling. Sometimes the falling rain becomes a flood. Sometimes the shining sun becomes a drought. Our status as either good or evil people does not significantly affect whether we have a flood or a drought to cope with in God’s providential economy, but our status as God’s children does mean that we should look for opportunities to share with those doing less well in this world.

This fall some will harvest bumper crops as a result of this 6 inches of rain over the past three or four days. Others will experience a general die-off because of the same 6 inches of rain. There will be winners and losers, as there are every year under every set of circumstances. The question before us, then, is what to do with our winning or losing. Will we be generous in our winning, helping those who are having a tougher time? Will we be hopeful even in our losing circumstances, looking out for the next opportunity God sends our way, even as we graciously accept help from others more fortunate than ourselves?

The rain this week reminds us of an eternal truth: it’s not what happens to you that matters. What matters is what you do with it. Whether you’re winning or losing on any given day, always remember that you are a child of God. Jesus hung on that cross at Calvary all those centuries ago to save you. No matter what else happens, the death of Jesus makes you a winner, and the resurrection of Jesus means that you can share that winning with those who are losing.

Maybe I should have planted rice. I didn’t. But even if I lose my garden I’m still a winner because my trust is not placed in any particular piece of ground. My trust is in a person. And you’re a winner, too, if you put your trust in Jesus! Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Hallelujah!

100 years of faith in Christ

Fast Facts:

  • 1912- The Ronnings, O. Horte, J.O. Johnson, and O. Forseth arrive in the district
  • 1915- The first confirmation service is held in the log schoolhouse
  • 1916- a congregation is officially formed
  • 1926- building of the church is completed
  • 1950’s- services in Norwegian are discontinued

 

Rev. Halvor Ronning dreamed of finding a place where Norwegians in Canada could farm and support a Lutheran Church. In 1912 he and his wife, along with Olaf Horte, John O. Johnson, and Ole Forseth made their way into the district north of Grande Prairie. They settled in a place Ronning later named “Valhalla”.

 

Many more Norwegian settlers soon arrived in the community. The first church services and Sunday School were held in the Ronnings’ tent. Services were conducted in Norwegian. In December 1915 the first confirmation took place, with nine confirmands, and was held in the log schoolhouse. In July 1916 a congregation was organized under the leadership of Rev. Ronning. Names of its charter members included Ronning, Melsness, Olson, Hagen, Horneland, Lunseth, Hanson, Teigen, and Storasli. The first baptism in the congregation was of Ella, the infant daughter of E. Heggelund.

 

Valhalla Lutheran Church was completed in 1926 with the help of many members. Mr. Findan was foreman of the construction crew. Lars Flom, Ted Larson, and E. Oland assisted him in the work. John Viken hewed the trees by hand and Hans Hansen sawed the shingles. Leif Frantzen constructed the altar and railing, and Peder Melhus built the pulpit and baptismal font. Mr. & Mrs. Gust Olson donated the altar picture, an original painting. A plaque on the church reads, “Built in 1926 to the Glory of God.” The church was built on Olaf Horte’s land. In November 1926 the first wedding of church members held in the new building was of Myrtle Larson and Ingvart Heggelund. (excerpted from Scandinavian Connections, Scandinavian Trade and Cultural Society, 2007, Edmonton, Alberta, with thanks to Emily Loberg)

 

And now, 100 years after the congregation was organized, we are preparing to celebrate the centennial of Valhalla Evangelical Lutheran Church. The day is set for June 5th, 2016. God’s Spirit is still working amongst us here and we pray that this celebration will be to the glory of God and in thanks for what His Son, Jesus Christ, has done in dying and rising again to give us new life!