Happy St Patrick's Day


Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I thought it would be appropriate if we would remember this great Christian hero. I was surprised to discover that St. Patrick actually lived extremely early in the Christian Church – around 387 to 460, which makes him roughly contemporaneous with St. Augustine, incredibly. So really Patrick in that sense could count as one of the church fathers; at least he belongs to that era of the great Christian patriarchs.

He was born in Britain but as a teenager was captured and enslaved and taken to Ireland where he spent six years in slavery. Well, he managed to escape. He returned to his native Britain. But after a few years there, he had a vision of a man from Ireland appearing to him carrying letters to him and on these letters the heading said, “The Voice of the Irish.” That is, in a sense, what St. Patrick became. He felt called to be a missionary to Ireland and he went back to Ireland and labored there for years where he won thousands of people to Christ, including many influential people.

The impact of St. Patrick and the movement to Christianize Ireland had a lasting impact upon the Western world. A few years ago a book by Thomas Cahill appeared called How The Irish Saved Civilization.[1] What he argued was that during the declining days of the Roman Empire as the barbarians swept over Rome and learning and culture was eclipsed during those dark centuries, it was through the Catholic monasteries, through the church founded by St. Patrick, that literacy and learning were preserved in the West and finally then reemerged to help to civilize the Western world. So really, all of us are the heirs in that sense to St. Patrick and not simply the Irish. So I think it is very appropriate that today we remember this great Christian saint and missionary and hero of the faith.

I also saw a very interesting article come out this last week. I don’t know quite what to make of this but I thought I’d share it with you just for your own reflection and consideration. It was an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 16 called “Do Atheists Really Believe In God?”[2] This is what the article reports,

Very few of us would argue that “it’s OK to kick a puppy in the face.” That’s not a nice thing to say. Here’s an even less nice thing to say: “I wish my parents would drown.”

. . .

Now consider this statement: “I dare God to make my home catch fire.”

It’s a little different, right? You’re still imagining a terrible event, but this time you’re invoking the supernatural. . . . But what if you don’t believe in God? You wouldn’t give it a second thought, right? Bring it on, Fictional Deity!

In a forthcoming paper in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, titled “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things,” researchers asked subjects to make the horrible statements mentioned above. . . . Of the 29 subjects, 16 were self-described atheists and 13 were religious.

. . .

In the study, . . . subjects were asked to read aloud the statements while hooked up to a skin-conductance meter, which basically measures how much you sweat. The idea is that the more you perspire, the more worked up you are about a particular statement. . . .

This is where it gets interesting.

According to the skin-conductance tests, the atheists found asking God to harm them or others to be just as upsetting as religious folks did. The researchers also compared the reactions of the atheists when making statements like “I wish my parents were paralyzed” and “I dare God to paralyze my parents.” Atheists were, like believers, more bothered by the latter statement . . . even though both declarations would be, in theory, equally empty if there were no heavenly overseer.

. . .

I’m curious about the results if, instead of God, subjects beseeched an obviously false deity . . .

For example, “I wish Thor would strike my parents dead” or “I wish Zeus would burn down my parents home.” How would they react to a statement like that compared to a statement like “I wish God would strike my parents dead.”

In an e-mail, one of the authors, Marjaana Lindeman, “Unfortunately we did not include [the] statements you mentioned,” she wrote. “This would indeed be an important question for future studies.”

So, who knows what to make of that? But certainly, it is very interesting in the way atheists themselves react to these kinds of statements.

The final thing I wanted to share was just an encouraging note from the Science Daily. Just one more discovery of a fine-tuned parameter in the universe.[3] The article says,

Life as we know it is based upon the elements of carbon and oxygen. Now a team of physicists, including one from North Carolina State University, is looking at the conditions necessary to the formation of those two elements in the universe. They've found that when it comes to supporting life, the universe leaves very little margin for error.

Both carbon and oxygen are produced when helium burns inside of giant red stars. Carbon-12, an essential element we're all made of, can only form when three alpha particles, or helium-4 nuclei, combine in a very specific way. The key to formation is an excited state of carbon-12 known as the Hoyle state, and it has a very specific energy -- measured at 379 keV (or 379,000 electron volts) above the energy of three alpha particles.

. . .

In new lattice calculations done at the Juelich Supercomputer Centre the physicists found that just a slight variation in the light quark mass will change the energy of the Hoyle state, and this in turn would affect the production of carbon and oxygen in such a way that life as we know it wouldn't exist.

. . .

“In our lattice simulations, we find that more than a 2 or 3 percent change in the light quark mass would lead to problems with the abundance of either carbon or oxygen in the universe [making life impossible].”

The researchers' findings appear in Physical Review Letters.

Very interesting confirmation, once again, of the fine-tuning of the universe – the light quark mass has to be very finely tuned if carbon and oxygen are to be present in the universe making life possible.[4]

[1] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York: Anchor Books, 1995).

[2] Tom Bartlett, “Do Atheists Really Believe in God?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 11, 2013. See http://chronicle.com/blogs/percolator/do-atheists-really-believe-in-god/32301 (accessed September 7, 2013).

[3] “Life in the Universe: Foundations of Carbon-Based Life Leave Little Room for Error,” Science Daily, March 13, 2013. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130313182310.htm (accessed September 7, 2013).

[4] Total Running Time: 8:17 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)