Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Air Power

Our choice of “Air Power” for this post evokes multiple images. Are we talking about  military strategy, an aviation technology, or a cleverly named industry? Few search engines offer air power as a synonym for air pressure. When we deal with multiple aspects of the topic of air pressure, however, we suggest power is an appropriate alternate term. Air pressure is a dynamic, powerful force to be reckoned with in many aspects of human experience. Some do not understand the causes and effects of air pressure. The current post investigates the possibility of “Air Power” as a synonym for air pressure. 

Events in our world are explained with a healthy measure of questioning and investigation. Explanations rely on scientific method for answers to our questions. Natural curiosity of children and adults is not age limited. Answers are provided by experiments performed in the science classroom and in everyday life. Solid learning is provided by skillfully presented demonstrations and the help of the instructor to explain difficult or mysterious results.

The power or pressure of invisible air surrounding us provides fascination and wonder. In a physics classroom instructors may stress definitions and distinctions for terms they use. (One reference book listed 14 different definitions for power and a similar number of definitions for pressure—an illustration of the richness and sometimes challenging aspect of the English language.) Use of “power” in this context relates to the total output of energy available. In this sense, the “power” of air is almost unlimited on a planet such as Earth enveloped by an air blanket. In contrast, “pressure” could relate to an effect experienced at a specific location. For example, in describing the results of our “crushed can” experiment (4-30-17 post) we focused on the effect of air “pressure” at only one location—the spot where our can demonstration took place. The “crushed can” experiment, however, could be performed anywhere and everywhere on the Earth simultaneously.

A famous effect related to the pressure and power of air was discovered by Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782), a mathematician and scientist. He reported on the phenomena that air pressure in fluids such as air is reduced when the fluid is in motion. The effect he described is known today as Bernoulli’s Principle. Bernoulli explained that air always flows from a region of higher to lower air pressure. We first relate several simple lab experiments or classroom discussions related to the principle.

In keeping with our preference for somewhat spectacular demonstrations, we describe several which seem to contradict common sense. We took an old fashioned thread spool with an open shaft through the middle and placed a piece of oak tag on the open end. After sticking a straight pin through the paper and into the spool to stabilize the cardboard, we forced our breath into the spool from the opposite end. Without an air flow gravity causes the cardboard to fall to the floor. When the air flow began, the oak tag defied gravity and remained on the spool. When we blew harder, the stiff paper oak tag adhered to the spool even more tightly. When the student stopped blowing into the spool, gravity took over and pulled the cardboard to the floor. 

A ping pong ball remained suspended indefinitely in a vertical stream of air above a hair dryer. The rapid air flow from the hair dryer possessed less air pressure compared with the motionless air outside. Higher pressure flowing from still air to moving air kept the ball within the moving, lower pressure air. A dangerous application of Bernoulli’s Principle occurs in city subway systems. Subway trains rushing by at high speed creates a moving air flow. Air pressure behind the passengers is higher in the motionless air. Therefore, one feels “pushed” toward the moving train. “Stay behind the line” is a multi-purpose safety warning. For a similar reason, drivers on interstate highways feel themselves being pulled toward a large truck if it passes closely at high speed.

Finally, our last example comes from modern aviation. Airplane wings are constructed with a slight curve over the top but are flat on the bottom. On takeoff, when sufficient air speed is achieved, the pilot pulls back on his flight control stick in order to begin the ascent. According to Bernoulli’s Principle, faster moving air exerts less pressure than slower moving air. Over the top of the wing the air is forced to travel a little faster than air at the bottom in order to rejoin as the wing slices through the air. Therefore, airplanes are “lifted” into the air by greater air pressure acting on the bottom of the wing. Many other complex issues are involved in the science of aeronautics. The principle described by Bernoulli was posed long before airplanes became a reality. I link the following post from 5-20-15 for our readers’ enjoyment. Bernoulli articulated a principle that may have preserved my life in 1952:

The phenomenon of air power or air pressure supplies a spiritual object lesson. The power of air pressure is available over the entire area of Earth. At any moment in time, the power of air and air pressure is virtually limitless. The God of Creation has designed hundreds of systems by which humanity and all other living things enjoy a rich physical existence. God also makes spiritual power available. His physical and spiritual power is limitless and independent of the constraints of time, space, matter, and energy in which we exist. God created our dimensions of reality, but he exists in a realm beyond our dimensions as well as within our temporal realm. 




Friday, May 19, 2017

Pressured and Sustained by Air

Air pressure is a subject of fascination apart from its relationship to the complex phenomenon of Earth’s weather system. Our planet manifests multiple physical systems worthy of investigation—systems ranging from small to large and simple to  complex. The subjects of air and air pressure are examples of systems which appear to become increasingly complex as we discover the interrelationships of multiple systems. Sub-systems interlock to form complex systems.

One example of a simple system begins with air. Upon study we discover simpler sub-systems: Air is composed of molecules of nitrogen (two atoms of nitrogen chemically linked) and molecules of oxygen (two atoms of oxygen chemically linked). Nitrogen and oxygen are two of eight diatomic elements. Even more simple is the system of individual atoms. Each atom of nitrogen or oxygen can be considered a system. Atoms are wonderful examples of fine-tuning and design, from the consistent forces holding their electrons to the nucleus, to the identical masses of each proton, neutron, and electron.

Our air blanket is held close to the earth’s surface by the force of gravity. If there were no gravity there would be no air clinging to the planet’s surface. In our atmosphere all of Earth’s weather occurs. The weather system would not exist without an atmosphere. Of course, virtually all earth life depends on the components of the atmosphere—oxygen for animal life and CO2 for plant life. The dynamic blanket of air must cling to the earth and be able to move, mix, and transport life sustaining water vapor from place to place. Moving air is termed wind. Dynamic connotes forceful, powerful, and energetic. Hundreds of physical requirements must be fulfilled and hundreds of processes must be completed successfully in order for human and other life to exist.

Changes in air pressure from one Earth location to another are a necessary pre-requisite for producing moving air. Air pressure varies according to temperature and altitude. Cooler air possesses higher pressure; warmer air possesses lower pressure. Several factors result in global temperature variability. The primary factor is varying solar radiation. When the sun’s rays strike Earth at a high angle near the equator, the earth receives more heat; it becomes warmer. In contrast when the sun’s rays strike the earth at a low angle at high latitudes, the planet receives less heat. We have contrasting temperatures—cold at the poles; warm at the equator.

Wind results from the tendency of higher pressure air to flow toward regions of lower pressure. Light winds result from adjacent areas with a moderate pressure difference. Strong winds result from substantial differences in pressure—there is a strong pressure gradient because strongly different pressure zones occur near each other.

Diagrams of Earth’s wind belts remind us of the importance of differences in air pressure existing from one location to another. Wind belts result from the tendency of air to flow from high to low pressure. A large portion of earth’s population exists in wind belts termed prevailing westerlies or northeast/southeast trade winds. Wind belts converge or diverge in their effort to equalize pressure conditions. In terms of our healthy, dynamic weather system, these effects are necessary. Absence of differences in pressure would result in the absence of wind, the absence of precipitation-producing storm systems and the absence of a mechanism for distributing life giving water where it is needed. It is not difficult to imagine that earth life would be very different if it would exist at all.

Looking back on my personal classroom teaching experience during weather units, we trust that after many years my former students may still relate the “wow factor” of our crushed can and vacuum pump demonstrations (5-11-17 post) to the importance of air pressure as that topic relates to the welfare and survival of life on this unique planet. Earth’s weather is a complex system for which success depends upon the effective working of many supporting sub-systems. Who could deny the supernatural design features of our weather system as well as thousands of other working systems enabling the existence of life on our Earth system

Earth’s life sustaining weather system is a marvel of complexity and beauty. Many other systems yield their secrets of design and the supernatural intelligence of the designer, the Creator of All Things. As parents and teachers of both young people and adults, we must first discover for ourselves the sense of wonder at the many operating systems surrounding us.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Non-Obvious Causes

When we think scientifically, we are acutely aware of the cause and effect phenomenon. Causes are easy to observe in some cases. For other situations causes are difficult to observe without devising appropriate observational strategies. Before the Scientific Revolution empirical observations were not systematically utilized. At the onset of the Revolution implicit powers of men’s minds yielded to a greater dependence on evidence, both experimental and observational, and rational analysis. Formal science methodology achieved prominence during the Revolution along with a heightened awareness of cause and effect. 

Science experiments in our classrooms depend on traditionally accepted methodology. Some experiments are designed with the “wow factor” in mind in order to capture the attention of our young scholars. In this day of graphic displays of contemporary technological wizardry, we sometimes “sell” our science based upon how spectacular our science demonstrations are. They may be spectacular indeed.

Example 1: (I plead guilty of appropriating the “wow factor” on some occasions in my science classroom.) The “Egg in the Bottle” experiment is a classic science classroom spectacular. Air at sea level (most locations are somewhat above sea level) exerts a pressure of 14.7 lb./sq. in. If this substantial pressure is enlisted to push a hard boiled egg into an old-fashioned milk bottle without touching the bottle, we reap the “wow factor.” Observation of this classic experiment may help us determine a non-obvious cause after we observe a startling obvious effect.

The diameter of a peeled, hard boiled egg is larger than the the diameter of the mouth of the milk bottle. We could have challenged a student to push the egg into the bottle manually. He may have succeeded using considerable force, ruining the egg in the process. Our teaching challenge was to instruct students concerning the presence and strength of invisible air pressure. We must permit normal atmospheric air pressure to accomplish the task without our help..

The teacher folds a strip of newspaper and lights one end. He drops the burning paper into the bottle; the paper burns and is quickly consumed. Smoke pours out of the bottle along with heated air which expands out of the bottle. We quickly place one end of the egg on the mouth of the bottle. The egg almost immediately pops into the bottle followed by student “oohs” and “aahs.” After discussion students conclude there is less air in the bottle after the smoke and hot air air are expelled. Consequently, there is less air pressure inside the bottle than outside. Students conclude that the pressure of normal outside air pressure forces the egg into the bottle toward the now lower pressure. Discussion generates reminders that air always flows from a higher pressure to a lower pressure region. The egg obeys this “rule” of nature. The pressure differential does not have to be great for the experiment to succeed. Many students propose that the egg enters the bottle by “suction.” I respond, “Suction never did any work.” The egg is forced into the bottle from the outside, not from the inside. 

Example 2: The vacuum pump demonstration was another spectacular attention-getter and a wonderful teaching tool. A bell-shaped glass cover (the bell jar) on a platform is sealed shut and the pump motor started. Most of the air inside the bell jar is removed after a few minutes. When invisible air is removed we notice no obvious change. But when we place various objects into the bell jar and turn the pump on, we notice remarkable effects from the non-obvious cause: removal of air and subsequent lowering of air pressure.

A partially inflated grapefruit-sized balloon maintains its shape inside the bell jar before the pump was started. Air pressure inside the balloon is equal to air pressure outside the balloon. The air pressure forces of both air regions are balanced, but when air was removed from the outside of the balloon, the forces of air pressure inside and outside the balloon became unbalanced; the balloon began to expand. Outside air pressure was diminished—air inside the balloon remained the same. The ballon soon expanded from the force of air pressure inside the balloon, stretching the balloon to its breaking point.

Students are challenged to stretch the rubber of an uninflated balloon by hand to resemble its size and shape before the pump motor was turned on. They discovered that assignment is impossible. A little bit of air inside the balloon however, accomplishes the trick with the greatest of ease. Students determine that “a little bit of air” inside the balloon exerts an exceedingly powerful force in order to expand and pop the balloon. We need only to reduce the external pressure to visually observe the effect of internal air pressure.

Several other vacuum pump demonstrations became classroom favorites. One was expanding a marshmallow to many times its normal size. When we allow air back inside the pump, the marshmallow gives away its secret: it is filled with multiple little air compartments acting initially like little balloons. The marshmallow ends up tiny and shriveled. A somewhat more difficult demonstration to understand is “boiling cold water.” We boil tap water without raising its temperature. Lowering the air pressure permits water molecules to escape more easily. (Water molecules are always “trying” to escape.) The water molecules burst through the surface of the water more easily unimpeded by normal air pressure. The boiling point of liquids relates to both temperature and air pressure.

Many non-obvious causes in our world result in startling effects. The Creator of all things authored all physical laws of our universe. This authorship results in an incredibly ordered world. God, therefore, is not only the Creator, but also the Lawgiver. We rejoice in the love and omnipotence of our Lawgiver.           




Thursday, May 4, 2017

A World Working Well

Our current focus on the wonders of air pressure directs us to some deeper questions. It is appropriate to backtrack somewhat to discuss a few questions about constantly moving sub-microscopic atoms and molecules. Children and adults fascinated by air pressure will profit from a discussion of the structure and characteristics of atoms and molecules. In the case of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, argon and all other atoms found in air, the atom is a marvel of structure and predictability. The nucleus, where over 99% of atomic mass occurs, is composed of tightly packed protons and neutrons held together by one of the four fundamental forces of nature—the strong nuclear force. Electrons swarming around the nucleus are kept in place close to the nucleus by another fundamental force—electromagnetic force.

How is our discussion related to air pressure? The atmosphere is composed of oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon, and other elements. Components of air molecules—protons, neutrons, and electrons—cohere by powerful forces. Two of the four universal (or fundamental) forces, the strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force insure that these atoms hold together instead of generating a chaotic mass of protons, neutrons, electrons, and smaller particles such as quarks which compose them. Without the ever-present universal forces, our world’s matter would not exist as we know it. For example, some scientists humorously write that the protons in the nucleus of every atom in our universe have no business holding together in their densely packed condition. They are all positively charged particles in close proximity. Like charges repel. Why don’t the seven protons in nitrogen atoms and the eight protons in oxygen atoms fly apart? The answer lies with the strong nuclear force holding the particles together within the atoms’ nucleus.

For children and adults a discussion of the wonder of air molecules responsible for Earth’s ubiquitous air pressure phenomena may be appropriate. Diatomic molecules of nitrogen and oxygen composing 99% of our atmosphere each have nuclei which cohere by the strong force. In our last post (4-30-17) we stated there are 2.5 septillion air molecules in one cubic meter of air. Consider a smaller volume: In one cubic inch of air there are 440 quintillion air molecules at sea level. With either volume of air we deal with inconceivable numbers of molecules.

Especially curious older children and adults may understand that molecules of air are unlike simple sub-microscopic beads zipping around. Air’s uncountable billions of molecules zig-zag around at 1000 mph. Air possesses atoms whose components are held together by the strong nuclear force. When we discover the 14.7 lb. per square inch force of air pressure from air molecules colliding with any surface they contact, we have additional reasons to express open-mouthed wonder.

Children in Middle School learn basic atomic structure: protons, neutrons, and electrons. In subsequent years they study additional truths about the matter in air as reported to us by particle physicists. We trust that heavy scientific truths do not tire our young people prematurely. Parents and instructors must be alert for teachable moments. We propose that discussions or demonstrations of visible vs invisible forces are appropriate even for young children.

A startling New Testament passage occurs in the Book of Colossians. We do not quote these verses as a “proof text.” The Colossians passage may bring to mind a sometimes lively discussion of a little known term: Concordism. Some theologians believe that scripture provides explicit modern scientific truths. For example, they believe almost everything we wish to discover about creation events or the age of the earth is revealed by Bible passages. Such people are called “hard concordists” by astrophysicist/theologian Hugh Ross. In contrast, Ross describes “soft concordists” as less rigid. They “seek agreement between properly interpreted scripture passages that describe some aspect of the natural realm and indisputably and well-established data in science.” 

With the definition of “soft concordism” in mind, we quote from Colossians 1:16-17: “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 1:16-17 NIV.) These verses reference (1) the initial creation event, (2) two realms of existence, temporal and eternal, (3) visibility and invisibility, (4) purpose of creation (for him), (5) time frames (before all things), and (6) holding together (coherence) of matter. The Colossians passage is startling because centuries before the scientific revolution of the past 400 years, the Apostle Paul expressed these powerful scientific insights. Whether or not this is an example of hard or soft concordism, the passage reinforces our collective worship experience.

The concept of “a world working well” has broad significance. It could mean working well spiritually, socially, politically, or a host of other operational possibilities. In the context of our blog, we stress working well in a physical and scientific sense as affirmation of the past and present work of the Creator and to provide support for belief in the existence of God. If our world does not work well in a physical sense, our experience in other spheres of existence is weakened. Worse, If our physical world were to operate chaotically and unpredictably, the supporting framework of our physical existence may not exist. 

Depending on their age, children may be aware of protons and neutrons in atoms of air molecules. The mass of every proton and the mass of every neutron is identical and constant within their nuclei. The force binding protons together with neutrons in the nucleus, the nuclear strong force, is also constant. A slightly heavier or lighter neutron or a slight strengthening or weakening of the nuclear strong force would preclude life on Earth. Even one of hundreds of other slight changes in our working well world would make life on Earth impossible. 

We used Earth’s atmosphere and air pressure as a launch point of discussion. Each of quintillions of atoms in a single cubic inch of air obeys fundamental physical constants and universal laws of force.    

We link our post from 8-4-2008:



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Forces of Air Pressure

During my tenure as an earth science teacher weather was one of my favorite units of study. I hoped it would become a student favorite as well. Many of the experiments we assembled to teach weather concepts possessed an element of the “wow factor.” My reticence about over-stressing the pure entertainment value of science demonstrations took a back seat as we realized that learning real world scientific facts could be wholly instructional and entertaining at the same time. Air pressure demonstrations fell into the dual category of instruction plus entertainment.

Pedagogically, science instructors could argue that learning book facts should not precede a classroom demonstration. This depends on the nature of the facts being learned. If facts concerning the existence and action of air molecules are not readily apparent, the teacher may initially discuss the existence of billions of invisible air molecules randomly zig-zagging through the air striking neighboring molecules and surfaces in the environment. Their movement is due to the heat energy present in any sample of matter above the temperature of absolute zero. Molecules always possess kinetic energy—the energy of motion. Collectively, impacts of billions of whirling molecules against surfaces result in the constant force of air pressure. Ordinarily we do not perceive these considerable forces, but classroom demonstrations enable the teacher to affirm their existence.

As a prelude to lessons concerning air pressure it may be appropriate to promote wonder in students about the beauty of our air blanket. Air is low in density but its attraction by earth’s gravity is necessary for life on earth and makes air pressure phenomena possible. It is a protective layer against harmful radiation from outer space such as ultraviolet. The atmosphere helps warm the earth and protects planetary life from extreme heat or cold. The 21% oxygen level is life-giving for animals. The trace amount of CO2 is life-giving for plants. Oxygen permits combustion of fuels. Our world would be without sound except for the presence of our atmosphere. Circulation of air distributes life-sustaining precipitation. Mastery of facts about our atmosphere is a life long project for professional atmospheric scientists. The air pressure topic is of vital significance in atmospheric science. 

Each cubic meter of atmosphere contains 7.5 septillion molecules of mostly nitrogen and oxygen. The pressure results in a substantial force of 14.7 lb. per square inch. This is illustrated by a 14.7 lb. weight pressing down on an area of one square inch. The average man’s body has about 2500 square inches of surface area. This calculates to roughly 18 tons of total pressure. Man does not feel this enormous pressure because his body’s internal pressure pushes back with equal force. The forces are usually balanced so he does not feel pressure from any direction. Only if internal pressure were reduced or increased or if external pressure were reduced or increased would our subject feel any effects. Ordinarily such pressure changes do not occur.

We begin with of one of the most spectacular demonstrations of the force of air pressure. This demonstration had a strong visual impact. We needed old-fashioned two gallon rectangular methanol or motor oil cans for our “wow factor” experiment, making sure no volatile vapors were left in the can.

The can with a small amount of water was heated with a propane burner until the water boiled long enough for steam to escape from the open can for at least a minute. After extinguishing the torch we tightly capped the can. I told the students to be quiet, watch, and listen. After a little while the can began to make noises as the can crinkled and collapsed before our eyes. The invisible force of air pressure was collapsing the can before our eyes—the same force that presses on our bodies every moment. (The can had been filled with water vapor after boiling the water. It began to condense back to a small amount of liquid water leaving a vacuum in the closed can. The force pushing out was no longer equal to the external force pushing in. Strength of the can was no match for strength of the outside air pressure.) The strongest boys in the classroom admitted they might be unable to match the destructive force of air pressure!

The behavior of molecules in air is tantamount to mayhem. They speed around chaotically, colliding with other molecules or with surrounding surfaces multiple times per second at a speed of about 1000 mph. On the scale of molecular sizes the distance between molecules is very great. Over 99.9% of air in our room is empty space. But trillions of tiny particles colliding with our bodies and with our demonstration can uncounted times per second at 1000 mph produced a startling visible and audible effect. The behavior of any one air molecule unpredictably moving about with kinetic energy is impossible to describe. In contrast, the collective behavior of gas molecules in our atmosphere may be accurately described by numerous gas laws.

Was the collapsed can experiment an example of magic? Or did it fuel our desire to explain phenomena with scientific inquiry? What is the basis of the “wow factor?” Laws of science, including the laws governing the behavior of air, were established by the Creator who initiated time, space, matter, and energy in the beginning. The Creator allows us to discover these laws and to describe their effects on humanity. 





Friday, April 28, 2017

Into Thin Air

The popular idiom “Vanish into thin air” has acquired meaning in our modern experience. It refers to a mysterious disappearance of something which is no longer visible but may still be present and real. Not always does the expression apply to a literal physical substance. It could indicate, for example, the peculiar disappearance of funds from a bank account or the loss of a large lead in a game of basketball. In the sphere of science there are some examples of visual vanishing such as the  evaporation of water or sublimation of ice or snow. Visible clouds may vanish as condensed micro-droplets of clouds re-evaporate into the air. 

How thin is air, we might ask? Compared with most solids and liquids in our daily experience, we answer, “Very thin.” But not until we begin studying and experimenting do we realize that air may not be all that thin. The layer of air which envelops the earth is almost all within ten miles of earth’s surface. In relation to the distances we travel to our local supermarket, the layer of air surrounding our planet is actually rather “thick.” Air fails to meet another common definition of thin: “Having few parts or components in relation to a given area.” In terms of “parts” in relation to a given volume such as one cubic meter, air has 2.5 septillion parts (molecules). We cannot see air molecules so how do we know they exist? Is there any way we may perceive the effects of these invisible molecules—2.5 septillion of them in only one cubic meter?

Let’s answer a few other questions about our proverbial “thin” air. One cubic meter of air has a mass of 1.3 kg—about 2.9 lb. In our home’s small office which also serves as a library and computer room, the 53 cubic meters of thin air has a mass of about 150 lb. This air surrounds us from every direction—top, bottom, and from every side angle of our bodies. The invisible, real, thin air which surrounds us has a number of powerful, sustaining effects on our lives.

Air is invisible matter. On our planet most matter is visible. Air, along with other types of visible matter, has mass and takes up space. Another invisible factor in our environment is energy. Energy is not matter, but it also has strong effects on our lives. Energy is the capacity to do work. This simple definition does not tell us very much about energy, its forms, or the quality and quantity of its effects. For now we will let the definition stand on its own. Other invisible factors in our environment relate to the phenomena of mind and spirit. Power of mind and spirit is not matter-based. God is Spirit (John 4:24). His existence is elevated above our matter-based existence. The power of our human mind helps us access the concept of God as Spirit. As humans we share awareness of the element of mystery concerning the reality of both mind and spirit.

Returning to the thin air surrounding us invisibly, we continue with a brief introduction to “air pressure.” Molecules of air—2.5 septillion of them in a single cubic meter—are continually zig-zagging around with kinetic (motion) energy. Our bodies and everything in our environment are being bombarded by constantly moving air molecules. The force of this bombardment is called “air pressure.” In our upcoming posts we will deal with some fascinating phenomena of air pressure, the invisible force on our bodies exerted by the impacts of billions of moving air molecules surrounding us.

A scripture verse comes to mind relating to moving air—wind: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NIV). Air moves because of differences in air pressure from place to place. But even if there is no pressure differential capable of producing breezes or stronger winds, the pressure exerted by trillions of impacts of moving air molecules provides dozens of fascinating, impactful phenomena sustaining our everyday life.

We conclude with a family incident involving the concept of “invisible, but real.” During the Easter visit from our children and grandchildren, the conversation turned to many “invisible but real” experiences of our lives. Several days later our 3 1/2 year old grandson noticed an unusual event while taking his daily bath. His mother texted us with the ensuing conversation: “I made up another invisibility reality—air molecules! In the bathtub he put a cup upside down and I noticed that it didn’t fill with water. We talked about why, and the invisible reality of air. Then (our grandson) mentioned that God is real even though we can’t see him. Such a fun science lesson…that points to our Creator.”

The forces of constantly moving air molecules pressing back against the water from the inside of my grandson’s bath cup kept the water out of the upside down container. It balanced the force of outside air molecules pressing the water inward. Had no air been inside the cup at the beginning of the “cup experiment” the water would have immediately filled the cup. Instead, the considerable force of thin air inside the cup opposed the considerable force of the thin air outside the cup. The forces were balanced when the appropriate water level was reached.

We disclaim that our references to the invisible but real qualities of God or the many analogies of invisible but real phenomena in our experience is conclusive proof for the existence of God. The New Testament book of Hebrews offers a well argued case for the certainty of “what we do not see,” however. Taken together passages from this epistle offer thoughtful support for our theistic belief system. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3 NIV). The worldview of naturalistic, atheistic materialism becomes increasingly difficult to defend as we observe the wonders of our environment—both the visible and the invisible.      




Friday, April 21, 2017

Visions of God

In a metaphorical sense we may have heard the term “seeing God.” Recently I have encountered several parents who have been challenged by questions from their children concerning the reality of God’s existence. Adults are also challenged by questions from their friends concerning the reality of God. This is a hot discussion topic—one which deserves more attention from our adult church discussion forums. Adults may understand the figurative expression “seeing” God differently than children. Levels of understanding for children and adults could and should be considerably different.

Historically the Israelites experienced powerful manifestations of the presence of God during their desert wanderings prior to entering the promised land. These startling encounters at Mt. Sinai are documented in the Book of Exodus. Moses ascended the mountain at least eight times. God spoke audibly to Moses on the mountain concerning past and upcoming events. The people were instructed to prepare to meet God. The meetings were awesome, frightful occasions featuring fear-provoking episodes with lightning, thunder, smoke, trumpet blasts, and trembling of the mountain.

The reality of God as expressed in the Exodus chronicle at Mt. Sinai may not be a lesson for an ordinary Sunday School class of primary school students. This illustrates the importance of “age-appropriate” teaching, but not because the traits of God are off-limits for study. Deep study reveals that God does not limit himself to our dimensionality of length, width, height, and time even though he fashioned these dimensions when he created “the heavens and the earth,” an expression encompassing “all that exists.” God also created matter, energy, and the four fundamental forces of the universe which act among the particles of matter. Our Creator, therefore, is far superior to his creation. 

One way God is superior to his creation is that he created more than the familiar dimensions in which we ordinarily exist. Many physicists pose the fascinating scenario of the existence of invisible, extra dimensions of space—perhaps 10 or 11 dimensions altogether. Our ordinary lives exist in only one time dimension going from the past, to the present, to the future. Some physicists believe there could be other dimensions of time beyond the forward moving dimension governing our lives. The omnipotence of God who created all things may be more easily grasped if we recognize the reality of dimensions unfamiliar to us in our daily lives. God created other dimensions. He exists in unfamiliar dimensions, but could confine himself to our dimensions when he wishes. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, confined himself to our dimensions in order to communicate his message of care and love for humanity. 

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus would not be possible unless he existed in extra dimensions. He entered rooms “the doors being shut,” ascended to the Father, and returned bodily. The disciples were living in ordinary dimensionality, but Christ’s resurrection body was not ordinary. Christ could still operate in our dimensions in order to eat breakfast with the disciples and permit Thomas to feel the nail prints in his hands and the wounds in his side. A remarkable passage in the Mt. Sinai chronicle occurs in Exodus. Four leaders including Moses, along with seventy elders of Israel “…went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11 (NIV).

In other Exodus passages the people were cautioned not to approach the mountain under pain of death. In what one writer described as a “very heavy text,” the lesson to be learned is that the people were subjected to fear, awe, and reverence of God so they wouldn’t treat God casually. They were to be tested and proven. In the eons prior to the Mt. Sinai law-giving, human conscience proved to be completely inadequate to bring about righteousness in humanity. The Mosaic law illustrated the necessity of man to obey a higher authority than himself; specifically, the higher authority was God, the Creator.

In several passages where the written language of the Bible uses the term “see God” we pose the likelihood that a person saw a vision of God’s glory without actually seeing God’s face. Moses himself, late in the law-giving process requested of God, “Now show me your glory.” God placed Moses on a rock and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” Exodus 33:18-23. One commentator offered the possibility that men could probably see some outward sign of his presence such as a bright cloud or great blaze of light. These are mysterious and wonderful events beyond our complete understanding.

In our day it is imperative to review with our children the fact that we do not see God visually but we note numerous manifestations of invisible forces, abundant design features, and the predictable orderliness of the natural world. In particular, the physical features of living things and the remarkable developmental regeneration of plants and animals is apparent all around us. Our scientific knowledge gives us more profound knowledge of our powerful Creator than the Israelites under Moses ever experienced. Parents, youth leaders, and pastors must actively search for opportunities to produce a mature vision of God.