Thursday, April 23, 2015

Matter Facts

One of today’s science buzzwords is straight from the realm of the arcane. Around the coffee table, the buzz may be introduced with, “Have you heard about…” without the slightest suspicion that any coffee drinkers really know much about the Higgs boson. In the future, however, thanks to the Higgs, our knowledge may include more about the deep ultimate reality in which we exist. Readers should not be concerned if they do not understand the Higgs subject matter.

We begin with simpler ideas. Our life on Earth is framed in physical matter. There is a soulish and spiritual dimension to our lives, but the drama of our existence is set within material matter. Until recent centuries very little was known about the physical structure of matter except in speculation by philosophers and those interested in natural theology. Modern discoveries about matter have proliferated and now continue at an ever-increasing pace. In the past few months the Higgs boson has regained attention. Our blog posts reported on the Higgs particle in 2008 and 2012. 

Now, as the LHC (large hadron collider) in Bern, Switzerland is starting up again after a maintenance break, we return to the discussion. In this information-hungry culture, there may be more questions than answers in the coming months and years. The 2013 confirmation of the Higgs boson, 118 times the mass of the proton, generates questions regarding extra dimensions and enigmatic dark matter which comprises at least 27% of the matter in the universe. 

One question is how dark matter may possess supersymmetrical particles—partners for each particle known to exist in the Standard Model of Physics, six quarks and six leptons. Quarks and leptons are fundamental particles which comprise protons and neutrons in the nucleus of every atom. The invisible Higgs field, present everywhere in the universe, may generate the supersymmetrical particles. Higher energy levels produced by the LHC in coming months may permit expanded research on the mysterious Higgs boson and the Higgs field.

Questions concerning theoretical “extra” dimensions may be answered. The theory proposes that the mysterious gravity is a weak universal force because it is spread throughout extra dimensions. Our life experience occurs only in ordinary dimensions. The increased power under which the LHC will operate may reveal answers to questions asked for years to come.

The last three of 17 particles of the Standard Model of particle physics were confirmed in 1995 (top quark), 2000 (tau neutrino), and 2013 (Higgs boson). There is less controversy concerning the first 16 particles. The Higgs boson, perhaps the most fascinating particle, is generating far more discussion. The possibility of discoveries about dark matter, dark energy, extra time dimensions and a few other topics are not only mysterious, but also might signal more interest in scriptural truths concerning physical events during end times spoken of in the book of Revelation. The first 16 discoveries Standard Model entities provided a quantum leap in 20th century knowledge of matter. Particle physicists are still discussing the magnitude of future leaps of knowledge provided by the fascinating Higgs particle.

Linked below are three previous posts on the Higgs boson. They provide background information for the current flurry of excitement:


Our 4/15/15 post on “Original Creation Care” mentioned God’s provision of “the existence of an array of elements and their atoms by which life processes could be sustained.” In recent times the secrets of fundamental particles of matter in the atom have been unlocked in terms of their existence, precision masses, and function. With each discovery we explore more of the creative genius of God. Each past, present, and future discovery inspires greater appreciation of God’s divine care for his creation. 












Saturday, April 18, 2015

Constant Creation Care

When we speak of care in any realm we may also address the pre-existing interest level of the caregiver as well as the action of providing the care. Interest level precedes the action of care. Our last post discussed God’s original divine care for his creation as he conceived the plan for the operation of the cosmic order at some point before matter, energy, time and space initially came into existence. Following the full development of the “heavens and the earth” (alternate translation: all that exists) God’s creation care now extends to the operation of the present universe in sustaining its systems to the current moment and into the future. Humans are the beneficiaries of a fully sustained divine universal operational system.

Human projects often exemplify the sequence of divine creation care—original conception (pre-creation care) to current maintenance (sustained care). On a human level, initial care for a project later becomes continuing, sustained care. Of course, the sequence of God’s care from original, pre-creation care to God’s current involvement in terms of sustaining, post-creation care is only somewhat mirrored by human activity. God’s sustaining power in maintaining thousands of optimally operating physical systems is an example of his omnipotence.

Completion of human projects such as culinary skills, gardening, automotive repair, or home building follow a similar sequence of care from original to sustaining. In each of these human projects, effective sustaining care is necessary. The provision of inferior sustaining care is sometimes a common human failing.

Constant sustaining care for the physical systems of our earth is a necessity for fulfilled human life. Since the environmental movement achieved wide acceptance in the last half of the 20th century many societies have sustained their care for the planet quite successfully. Increasing knowledge of Earth’s systems has improved the level of creation care substantially, but imperfectly. Our success in agriculture, medicine, and achieving a high quality of life depends upon how perfectly we adhere to divine wisdom. The commentary on James 3:17, “The wisdom of God is first pure…” generates diverse interpretations, including “of celestial origin, steady, uniform, and consistent.”

The sustaining power of God for our Earth systems has been described by numerous religious authors under topics such as environmental awareness and Natural Theology. Serious physical science textbooks contain detailed treatments of topics such as hundreds of physical constants and laws of nature. To the average layperson in our churches these topics may seem esoteric and inaccessible. Skilled science instructors and pastors work to make difficult topics more understandable. Such topics provide wonderful insights into the omniscience and omnipotence of God the Creator. They may be able to deepen our respect and awe for him.

Physical constants of nature are God-authored blueprints for the operation of the universe. The more we understand the physical constants, the greater their apologetic value becomes and the better we may understand their relationship to spiritual laws. Our blog has endeavored to make clear the mysteries of God-authored physical constants and laws of science in an effort to appreciate the greatness of the Creator/Redeemer who authored them. In the future we will offer additional coverage of laws of nature as they are formalized by physical constants. Meanwhile, here is a post from June 9, 2009 to help us focus on some details of divine creation care in effect today:


  



            






Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Original Creation Care

Many organizations and ministries care for the earth and its environment. Some have interest in the Earth and care for its systems primarily for its own sake. Others care for Earth because humans benefit from a healthy planet. Most “creation care” enthusiasts take pleasure in the beauty of Earth’s systems as well as knowledge that the planet’s optimally functioning systems sustain a thriving human existence.  

Our post now shifts to a different aspect of creation care—divine creation care. There are many different dimensions of God’s care for his creation. We mention only two. (1) How did God care for his creation of matter, energy, time and space from the time of the original creation event? (2) How does God care for his creation yet today? Our post deals with the first aspect.

When this blog speaks of creation events, we speak as adherents of the old earth creationist (OEC) position. Therefore, we endorse the numerous, independent scientific findings affirming that our universe originated 13.7 bya in a stupendous cosmic event of supernatural creation. This primeval event, most often dubbed “The Big Bang,” was not an event of destructive force but rather, an event of incredible creative power.

One is forced to examine the scientific findings of cosmic events in the intervening eons of time. Between 13.7 bya and the appearance of life on Earth, roughly 3.8 bya, much time elapses! How much time? Roughly ten billion years. Our God is not constrained by time frames, especially human time frames. Multiple billions of years equates to an instant in an eternal time frame. In human terms, this is a mystery. 

By the time of the initial creation of life 3.8 bya, God’s creation care had provided the existence of an array of elements and their atoms by which life processes would be sustained. Imagine the existence of atoms of elements which could not generate a wide array of electromagnetic radiation to bathe our surroundings with heat, light, and a variety of other life-sustaining radiation. This would be like a science fiction tale with a very disappointing conclusion. 

As you read these words you are immersed in life-giving heat and light. The heat arrives via infrared radiation generated by every atom in your surroundings. Electrons in those atoms are buzzing around the nuclei they surround. Uncounted moving electrons produce pulsating electric and magnetic fields which rush outward in waves or packets of energy called photons from its “home” atom at 300,000 km/sec (186,000 mi/sec). This is a type of energy known as infrared radiation. When infrared radiation is absorbed by people and objects, they acquire heat. In turn, those objects pass their heat energy to other objects. Infrared radiation travels in electric and magnetic waves in phase. Distances between these waves are exceedingly variable and have different effects.

Light is also generated by moving electrons surrounding atoms under different conditions. References list hundreds of sources of light generated in one way or another by moving electrons or other charged particles in atoms. Again, light waves occur in different lengths or distances between their wave crests. We observe colors according to different wavelengths. There are other types of electromagnetic waves in nature, all generated in the same way by the movement of charged particles in atoms.

Brilliant 19th century scientist James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of many other types of electromagnetic waves. He first proposed that visible light was an electromagnetic phenomenon. Many other electromagnetic phenomena were predicted by Maxwell, including radio waves later to be produced by scientists. Now we enjoy the full scope of thousands of types of electromagnetic waves distinguished from each other only by a difference in wavelength. Without electromagnetic radiation (radio, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-Rays, and gamma rays), human culture would not exist.

Life suddenly appeared on Earth, later followed by a plethora of appearances of diverse and novel species, finally culminating in the sudden appearance of modern humanity a mere moment ago in terms of geological time frames—these we report as divine creation events on our unique planet. In preparation for the appearance of life, God’s original creation care was in full operation. Existence of the marvelous electromagnetic spectrum operating within a framework of orderly physical laws is evidence of a Creator who cares deeply for his creation.  







     



       











Thursday, April 9, 2015

Science or Natural Theology?

Interesting written and oral exchanges among my circle of friends have transpired over the past decade. These exchanges have supplied personal inspiration for significant subject matter of this blog. The sharing of views relates to how science discoveries contribute to and reinforce our faith. By faith we mean, broadly, (1) our belief in the existence of God, (2) our belief that God has acted in past ages to create the universe as we know it, and (3) our belief that God still acts to sustain and preserve the order of the universe we observe. In the three points listed above, we use God to mean the God of Judeo-Christian scripture. 

Beyond (1) God’s existence, (2) God’s past creative actions, and (3) God’s sustaining power in our universe, the concept of a loving God who cares especially for his created living things, especially man, shines through the pages of scripture. In the case of humanity, the biblical message of redemption is paramount. However, the reality of God’s care for humanity in the physical realm is a concomitant of God’s care in the redemptive realm. In humans, physical existence precedes spiritual awareness.

Our blog has connected our physical existence with a soulish and spiritual awareness. The popular categorization of body, soul, and spirit is an expression by some authors as the tripartite nature of humanity. Man is uniquely able to connect physical bodily existence with the presence of soul and spirit. A simplified definition of soul could be “immaterial awareness.” Spirit relates more closely with character and emotions. One popular traditional definition of spirit is “God-consciousness.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 refers to “our spirit returning to God who gave it.” In terms of God-consciousness, we connect man’s ability to investigate the categories of God’s existence, past actions, and sustaining power to the presence of spirit in a human being. 

Past posts have used knowledge of both science and natural theology as a means of strengthening belief in the existence, creative ability, and sustaining power of God. Most science professionals are very territorial in connecting their discoveries to a naturalistic process. They are driven by methodological naturalism (MN) as an inviolable principle. This “rule of science” does not permit them to suggest that even the most remarkable scientific discoveries such as the Cambrian Explosion or the existence of the information-packed DNA code may be examples of the creative works of God. Neither do professional scientists report recent revelations concerning the complexity of the cell as a possible example of natural theology—the principle that observation of the natural world argues for the existence of God.   

The discoveries of science and the principles of natural theology both strengthen belief in the Creator. But science has become more secularized since late in the 19th century. The secularization has become more absolute in the 20th and 21st centuries. Science is methodologically formal but belief in the principles of natural theology could be considered more devotional. People of faith believe both science and natural theology point to the Creator-God of order and purpose.

Scientist and theologian Alister McGrath has written on the science and theology interface. Readers are encouraged to investigate this complex issue for themselves. This link will help you get started:





       

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Core Concerns

Local newspaper articles have recently covered concerns about the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core is one of the most well-publicized educational strategies in the last fifty years. There is much misunderstanding concerning Common Core. 

Lively debate exists over the issue of Core Curriculum standards in pubic school education. Common Core is a state, not a federal initiative. The initiative has received much publicity. Each state is responsible for their own adherence to Common Core standards. An offshoot of Common Core is a set of goals for science education. This initiative is known as “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS). Science standards have not been finalized in most states. Citizens interested in science/faith issues may be well advised to apprise themselves of these developments in their local public school science education. Most people favor local control of education.

Among many issues in both pubic and private education, we must be concerned about science topics taught in the classroom and how they are taught. Two science curricular issues relate to many past post topics in our Science @ The John Ankerberg Show blog. The topics are evolution and climate change. Most curricular materials teach evolution. It is, therefore, surprising that many discussions of this topic indicate the issue is far from settled even in public schools. Evolution gained a deeply-rooted foothold in public science education beginning in the 1960s to the consternation of roughly one-half of our population. Evolution has been a topic of disagreement between those who advocate a biblical outlook on origins and those who favor a secular interpretation. 

In teaching many science topics, personal theistic beliefs do not impact how teachers instruct their students. This is especially true with respect to physical science. For example, when learning about the behavior of water or its chemical composition, there is little disagreement.

Other science topics offer more complexity. Today’s biology education has transitioned from organismal to molecular biology. Genetic commonality and continuity are supported by the belief in the common ancestry of all living things.  However, there are alternate valid explanations for commonality and continuity in the study of human genetics. One is the idea that the Creator used common genetic templates to account for resemblances among species. This possibility is never addressed in public schools. “Equal time” for evolutionary and creationist interpretations would enable students to retain their personal critical thinking but public schools do not offer this solution to the problem.

We link only one snippet of our previous blog treatment of this topic:


Another highly controversial topic is “climate change” formerly known as “global warming.” Climate change advocates have assigned the cause of earth’s gradual warming to modern humans’ fossil fuel burning emissions. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is at fault, we are told. To some degree this is true, but climate change has become dangerously oversimplified. We do not wish to minimize genuine, environmental hazards. The topic is often tinged by personal agendas. Our children are manipulated to accept agenda-driven teachings. This link is only one of many posts on the climate issue from 2012:


As a career science educator I observed many “reform” movements during my 40-year tenure. President Johnson’s ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) of 1965 was an early federal initiative. The current movement toward Common Core has a common ancestry. Numerous state and federal acts have preceded it. Common Core is a state-led response to the ongoing deficiencies in education of our young people. Race to the Top, however, is a recent federally sponsored educational incentive with some linkage to districts’ adherence to Common Core. Current Race to the Top funding is now in doubt. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is faltering. We pray that the frequent mistakes of the past will not repeat.

Lurking beyond education “initiatives” is the question, “What is the correct interpretation of scientific data?” and “What is the truth?” Do we reinforce the quest for correct interpretation and truth in our classrooms? If these quests are unfulfilled, we betray our calling as educators, parents, and all responsible citizens who oversee and fund our educational policies. Warranted concern and input over the teaching of evolution and climate change is the responsibility of Christian parents and citizens who support public education with their tax revenue. Following is a link to a more in-depth discussion from our blog commentary in 2012:

                
     


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Matter's Sustaining Power

We have written about physical characteristics of atoms, the smallest units of matter. All matter is composed of the roughly 100 elements present on Earth. Atoms possess smaller constituent parts. Among the constituent parts are electrons and protons with negative and positive electrical charges possessing electric and magnetic fields. Tiny electrons swarm around much larger, dense atomic nuclei consisting of composites of protons and non-charged neutrons at the center of the atom. Physical science students master basic facts of atomic architecture without much difficulty.

Beyond the basic facts reviewed above, the story of matter’s sustaining power becomes more interesting and complex. This results from the fact, among others, that all matter is electrical in nature. Negative and positive electrical charges abound in the matter of every atom in our universe. Matter coheres as a result of its abundant electrical charges. Electromagnetic force, one of the four basic universal forces, keeps the electron swarm confined near the nucleus of the atom like a swarm of bees around their hive. In addition to the electromagnetic force causing electrons to adhere to their own atom, the strong force, another of the four basic forces, holds the protons and neutrons together in their dense nuclear bundle notwithstanding the tendency of like-charged protons to fly apart. A third basic force of nature, gravity, enables attraction of objects over long distances, such as planets held in place around the sun.

A New Testament passage written to the Colossians by the Apostle Paul is framed in the concept of creation: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17 NIV). 19th century theologian Albert Barnes commented on possible interpretations of this passage. It could refer to the moral creation. Alternately, Barnes writes, “The meaning is, that they are kept in their present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him they would fall back into disorder, or sink back into nothing. If this be the proper interpretation, then it is the ascription to Christ of infinite power - for nothing less could be sufficient to uphold the universe; and of infinite wisdom - for this is needed to preserve the harmonious actions of the suns and systems of which it is composed.” Barnes was prescient in his scientific perception. In the early 19th century scientists were not aware of subatomic particles or details about electromagnetism and the four basic universal forces.

As we contemplate the universe and its design we acquire a deep sense of worship of the supernatural Designer. Agnostics and atheists experience different emotions. Is the design of the universe intrinsically the consequence of a miracle? The remarkable coherence of subatomic particles—is it merely an accidental outcome of naturalism? Opinions vary concerning the remarkable properties of ordinary matter and the characteristics of atoms from which matter is composed. When we consider the generation of hundreds of various types of electromagnetic radiation and the benefit our society derives by motions of atomic particles with their electric charges, what do we conclude? Are these remarkable manifestations miracles? Or are they an accident of chance?

If these characteristics of matter are miracles, we must ask what sort of miracle is demonstrated. Transcendent miracles are works of God which are not subject to previously existing physical laws. We posit that in the beginning, creation of matter, energy, space, and time were the consequence of a transcendent miracle. Since the time of that creation event there have been other transcendent miracles which involve suspension of physical laws. At the Passion season we focus on another event of transcendent, divine significance—the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Other transcendent events of sudden appearances of novel species on earth or divine physical bodily healing not otherwise explained serve as examples.

Miracles are phenomena about which many theologians have commented. Discussions concerning which events are miracles and which type of miracles they are have engendered diverse opinion. A category of miracle about which there is little disagreement is termed the sustaining miracle. Theologians agree that God sustains the universe by his will and power. Our recent posts have called attention to familiar environmental factors sustained by electromagnetism and other fundamental forces. We close with the proposition that these phenomena are examples of sustaining miracles initiated by the Creator.    



   




Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Impossible without EMR

The question “What is your favorite…” is a favorite conversation starter and sustainer. Usually we are asked to choose among games, foods, music, or people. Students of science may be asked to name their favorite laboratory experiment. Less often they may be asked to choose among more serious alternatives, such as, “What is your favorite science topic?”

As a classroom science instructor, I had my personal favorite curriculum topics. High on the list was the electromagnetic spectrum. Of dozens of important topics for which I hoped to trigger student fascination, none rivaled the electromagnetic spectrum. The existence of this phenomenon and its importance is crucial to a basic understanding of how the universe operates. Even fine-tuning advocates who frequently intone beliefs that “without this or that scientific parameter, life as we know it would be impossible,” must recognize the paramount role of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In the first chapter of the Bible, God is identified as the creator of time, space, energy and matter. He created all things in the beginning. Matter before the initial creation event did not exist except in a near-infinitely minuscule singularity. Time, space, and energy did not exist as we now experience them. Then, In the Beginning, God created matter framed by time and space. With the newly created matter God called electromagnetic energy into existence by the action of atoms. Now we recognize radio, micro, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma radiation. Electric charges in atoms were produced by moving electrons (negative) and protons (positive). The result was a sea of electromagnetic radiation. Multiple forms of electromagnetic radiation were present in the eons prior to the creation of microbial life on earth. Earth was bathed in electromagnetic radiation before and after microbial life appeared.

Post-creation, the Creator provided many self-sustaining features of our universe. For example, light and infrared radiation are continually produced by the action of atoms generating magnetic fields by the movement of their electrons, protons, and nuclear particles. Now we are continually bathed in life-sustaining radiation. Visible light and heat (infrared radiation) are the two most familiar examples. These two examples of electromagnetic radiation comprise the great majority of radiation released by the sun.

Visible light and infrared is also produced by humans’ artificial sources. Actually, infrared radiation is being released from all matter in our environment above absolute zero. In nature, no object ever achieves this low temperature. Nonetheless, we are beneficiaries of infrared heat from surrounding matter every moment of our lives. Infrared radiation is constantly being generated, absorbed, and reflected by all atoms of matter in our environment. In terms of human comfort, our bodies are comfortable only within a narrow range of temperature. In our modern world our technology enables us to control the temperature of living environments to within a few degrees.

Atoms from the Sun emit primarily visible light and infrared. These atoms also release photons of every other electromagnetic radiation, but in much smaller quantities. Modern science technologists are able to generate many thousands of different wavelengths, especially in the radio and microwave regions of the spectrum. All of these  wavelengths differ from visible light and infrared in only one respect—wavelength. Apart from wavelength, the physical characteristics of different electromagnetic waves are identical. The literature describing many thousands of different electromagnetic waves, how technicians produce them, and how they are useful to man would fill many libraries.

Is it more important to understand the causes and effects of electromagnetic radiation or grasp the divine genius of God as designer of the cosmic system? Both are vitally important! Acts 17:28 may be interpreted either as a spiritual truth or as a guiding devotional suggestion for appreciating the divinely created physical world: “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”