Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Uplift or Accident

Childish dreams sometimes materialize into adult reality. When I was in early primary school I envisioned becoming a teacher after observing my classroom instructor hold forth. The seed was planted in my awareness. My interest in science education did not materialize fully until after my senior college year. Many prior incidents had piqued my interest in adhering to ever-present physical laws of science, a necessary learning experience for science teachers and their students in everyday life.

As I progressed into high school, I transitioned to church activities and basketball, among other interests. My older brother also had church activities as a high priority. He eventually went into full time service as a pastor and evangelist. One of his gifts as a young boy was an interest in aviation, possibly sparked by the fortuitous decision of World War II officials to rent my grandfather’s L-shaped farm field in central New York State to use as a training venue for small reconnaissance planes. Piper Cubs were useful for the war effort. The farm was a few hundred feet from our home. Several rides Piper pilots offered my brother piqued his interest in aviation. Without such memories, he may not have taken flying lessons at the Budd Lake (NJ) airport in the early 1950s after we moved there from New York in 1951 a few years later.

One day my brother, a senior in high school and I drove eight miles to the Budd Lake Air Field where his lessons were offered. He had arranged a flight for his younger brother over the northwest NJ ridges. With a sense of adventure, I agreed. The flight instructor and I taxied across the field in the small Piper J-3. Off we went, gunning the motor on the short gravel runway in the small two-seater. In what seemed like no time the pilot pulled back on the control stick, The small plane briefly started to ascend, but quickly returned to the ground. The scenario was repeated several times, bouncing as we went. We were running out of take-off space. One more bounce and we would have landed in what appeared to be a large tomato patch with disastrous results. But my time had not yet come! Finally, we were airborne. We will return to the story in a few moments.

My early envisionings of becoming a teacher were fulfilled immediately after college. In succeeding years, one of my favorite curriculum topics was “weather.” Embedded in the weather unit were many references to air pressure. Our class performed many experiments to illustrate the force of air pressure when the pressure gradient (difference) between two adjacent regions differed by even a small amount. Air flows from higher pressure to lower pressure regions, often exerting a great force. This is not a reference to the force of wind—moving masses of air blowing across the surface of the earth. The force of air pressure acts even when there is no wind. Wind is a separate force.

For this post we will not go into detail about the aerodynamic details of how “lift” operates when an airplane wing slices through air. Briefly, however, the upward forces of the air pressure acting on the bottom of the wing must be greater than downward pressure from the top. Therefore, the pressure “lifts” the airplane into the air, overcoming several other opposing downward forces. But the air speed of the plane must be sufficient. Before we taxied down the runway, air speed was 0 mph. There was no lift. Soon, after perhaps 15-20 seconds with moving air flowing over the wing, the pilot judged that air speed was sufficient to lift the plane into the air. He pulled back on the control stick, but he had misjudged. In the next moments the Piper J3 managed just enough additional speed to become permanently airborne. In our case, an additional two or three mph of air speed spelled the difference between a successful flight and a disastrous crash into the tomato field. Many times over the years I have told the story that, but for two or three mph of air speed in 1952, no one would be listening to my story.

There are many object lessons to enjoy concerning the wisdom of knowing and adhering to physical laws. The behavior of matter, including the behavior of air molecules and the lifting power of airplane wings, is predicable under many differing conditions. The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful flight is the difference between rigorous and careless adherence to the rules of successful flight. Hundreds of similar rules are set in place for operational success in our physical world and in the world of the spiritual. Our Creator is the author of both worlds.  


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Salvation is Created

Sacred Music is a rich and satisfying expression of man’s exultations from deep in the human soul. Musical creativity is the recognition of something new, different, and worthwhile. We shall later discuss a classic sacred choral work entitled “Salvation is Created” by Russian sacred music composer Pavel G. Chesnokov. Even its title expresses a profound theological truth. The combined impact of the text and music is powerful.

Creativity has been celebrated and recognized from early human existence. In any endeavor, creativity is generally acknowledged as significantly different, novel, valuable, and worthwhile. Creativity is identifiable beyond any doubt. It is easy to recognize creative works that are significantly praiseworthy. They attract attention far exceeding ordinary worthiness.

One term related to creativity is genius—the possession and application of exceptional intellectual or creative ability. Genius relates to ability to produce a recognizably superior product. Human achievements are grouped under a broad number of categories. The arts are a major category, including visual arts such as painting and sculpture. Creative genius accomplishments range from the composition and production of music, art, literature, and architecture to development of new science strategies and achievements in technology and skills of leadership. A separate category of creativity relates to the ability to identify and analyze creative genius. Without human ability to recognize creative traits we could not value their existence.

Let us consider the divine component of creativity. Divine reality pre-existed human reality. Therefore, human creative and genius traits are but an outcome of divine action. The origin of the physical cosmic creation took place in the divine mind of God at an unknown time before the beginning of the time, space, matter, and energy dimensions of our universe even existed. This concept is difficult to grasp at the human level of our present physical existence.

Likewise, another creative act originated in the mind of God before the origin of time, space, matter, and energy. Four verses in the NIV translation are commonly interpreted to mean God’s creative salvation plan conceived before the beginning of time. Included are Ephesians 1:4 (For he chose us in him before the creation of the world), Titus 1:2 (A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time), 2 Timothy 1:9 (This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time), and I Corinthians. 2:7 (Hidden wisdom which God destined before the world began). This divine act—the creation of salvation—has been set to music and text in an inspired choral composition by Pavel G. Chesnokov (1877-1944), a Russian Empire Composer.

Chesnokov’s liturgy-driven choral compositions are works of haunting beauty, deliberate and pensive. Even high school choristers exult in the emotional beauty of his choral dynamics and progressions. The text of “Salvation is Created” is simple and elegant: “Salvation is Created, in the midst of the earth, O God, O our God. Allelujah.”

Divine creativity exceeds human creativity by orders of magnitude. If our redemption and eternal salvation were created in the mind of God before time began they are noteworthy beyond human comprehension. They are works surpassing all other works of human creation and human genius.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Wrong Question

Why do some church ministries deal with complex science-related questions in their pulpit ministry only infrequently? They seem to revel in simpler, more comfortable questions involving Christian behavior, theology, and doctrine, leaving complex science issues for the science professionals. One reason may be that pastors feel more comfortable dealing with their acknowledged area of expertise. In this day of knowledge specialization there is some wisdom in this approach. Educated people, however, are expected to maintain reasonable expertise in broad areas of knowledge. That is the approach of a so-called “liberal” education.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has drafted a statement concerning 21st century liberal education. “Liberal education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e. g. science, culture, and society) as well as an in-depth study in a specific area of interest.”

In terms of a liberal pulpit education, science is a candidate for elevation to greater importance. Our point locates the key to unlock private attitudes concerning the importance of science from the pulpit. Asking the question concerning the importance of science as a pulpit topic generates a plethora of diverse reactions. We have received more positive input concerning the topic of science in general. 
When I have introduced my personal “avocation” as a blogger on the interface of science and faith issues, I have often received a warm response. Many respondents report their positive attitudes toward science as a general topic. Church members’ attitudes toward science from the pulpit is somewhat less positive.

Why, we may ask, is the response toward science sometimes less than positive? Many answers could be offered. Topics such as evolution and climate change (global warming) are controversial. Even Christians do not agree on these important issues, not to mention professional scientists. Most similar issues, along with issues of even less theological and global impact, arrange themselves along a philosophical, theological, world view, or opinion spectrum. So arranged, there is plenty of room for individual differences. These differences intermix with shades of truth and personal preference all along the spectrum.

What is the correct question? Is science an appropriate topic to be addressed from our pulpits? Many people stumble at this question. Perhaps the question should not be phrased in this manner. More appropriately the question revolves around the truths we acquire from observing creation itself—not the act of creation—but the created system which surrounds us. The created system speaks volumes about the Creator. 


Monday, May 4, 2015

Goals for Church Science

The Reasons to Believe Monthly Partners Ministry published some “stunning” findings in their February newsletter. As I read it I became aware that our science/faith blog is concerned with many of the same issues expressed in the RTB letter. They  quote the president of The Barna Group, an opinion gathering research organization with outreaches to the spiritual landscape of the nation. David Kinnaman, president of  The Barna Group, reported that church pastors and leaders seldom address science in their teaching. The statistics indicate that only 1% of young adult pastors/leaders ever address science in their teaching.

We do not propose to diminish the theological message of salvation through Christ and righteous and effective Christian living in our modern world. Many sound churches present these messages with great effectiveness. But what we lack in a substantial majority of church programs is a challenging ministry of Christian apologetics. How do we balance the theme of salvation with joyful fulfillment of God’s purpose for His created order? How do we defend the basis for our faith? Is a message of balance needed? The omnipotent God of Creation has designed the physical universe for the purpose of giving glory to himself.

The Westminster Shorter Confession (a Reformation Statement of faith of 1647) begins with the reflective question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Two great works of God, creation and redemption, are intended to display God’s sovereignty and glory. These profound spiritual truths are summed up in just a few words. The full harvest of truth has been elaborated upon in many scholarly works since it was originally penned nearly four centuries ago.

Consider the two great works of God—creation and redemption. If we focus primarily on redemption, creation topics may acquire a secondary role. By creation we mean the beauty, order, and purpose of our physical universe. Many other characteristics describe creation. We are not, however, intent on rank-ordering these two great works of God. This rank ordering would impose a human appraisal categorizing some of God’s works as superior to others. One way to state the relative importance of the two great works is Both/and but not either/or.

Properly applied principles of science call attention to the glory of the created order. Thereby, we really call attention to the glory of God. Do we advocate turning our Sunday morning sermon time into a science lesson? No, we do not. Misunderstanding of the preacher’s pulpit vision could be counterproductive to the stated fact in our opening paragraph: “Only 1% of young adult pastors/leaders ever address science in their teaching.”

In future posts we contemplate dealing with the challenges of this reality. Science has taken a secondary role in many church ministries. Topics of science have been rank-ordered by many church members as low on the spectrum of importance. This is a strange turn of events in an era where science discovery has expanded. As greater discoveries of the natural world are made, the wonders of the Creator appear ever more astonishing!


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.