Sunday, March 19, 2017

Exoplanet Science Fiction

Exuberant optimism abounds when certain popular ideas are proposed. One example is the idea by Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute that “…the universe is replete with real estate on which biology could both arise and flourish.” Shostak calls this idea “a growing conviction.” Many scientists claim mankind needs a new mission such as discovering habitable planets and demonstrating that intelligent life actually exists on these planets.

Rod Serling became famous as an imaginative science fiction writer and television producer of The Twilight Zone during the mid 20th century. This weekend program even captivated my parents and me for a time in the early 60s. Serling stated “Fantasy is the impossible made probable…..Science fiction is the improbable made probable.” The recent discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star system thought to be in the “habitable zone” where temperatures could be fitting for humans may be in the category of “fantasy.” Saying “improbable made probable” is enough for many observers to mentally shift from “improbable” to “possible” and even to “certain” based on astronomers’ confidence that billions of exoplanets lurk in our Milky Way galaxy. Adding to the exuberance of many people are fiction writers such as Annalee Newitz who claims, “Science fiction lags way behind science.” Newitz's statement means the achievements of science sometimes exceed the speculative musings of science fiction.

Belief in the existence of innumerable inhabited worlds, or even belief in innumerable habitable worlds may be an exuberant stretch of reality. With the disclaimer that these worlds are at least possible, we posit that the existence of both inhabited and habitable worlds outside our Solar System may be ideas “remote beyond comprehension.”

We cite two examples of ideas we consider “remote beyond comprehension” currently gripping the belief system of many scientists: (1) The naturalistic origin of life. No one has ever explained how life on Planet Earth originated short of a supernatural miracle. Popular biology textbooks such as the Seventh Edition AP text Biology by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reese, described as “the most successful biology majors text in the world” speculates how conditions on early earth may have generated life on earth. After proposing possible favorable scenarios already existing on the planet, the authors then generously supply phrases like could have formed, can discharge, if…then, probably, can make, provided that, may have occurred, perhaps, might have, would have, and could have. (2) The multiverse theory hypothesizes an infinite number of existing universes: One of them, our own, just by chance possessed every one of the hundreds of precise conditions necessary for existence of Earth’s complex life according to this theory.

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross on February 23, 2017 questioned, “Earth’s Seven Sisters: Are They Really Similar?” His answer: They are thoroughly uninhabitable. Among many reasons, Ross stated (1) TRAPPIST-1 is a fast-rotating star with huge solar flares accompanied by strong X-ray and ultraviolet radiation, (2) the seven planets are tidally locked to their star, meaning that (3) each planet’s side facing the star is perpetually illuminated and blazing hot while the opposite side is perpetually dark and extremely cold, (4) the presence of liquid water is hypothesized but extremely unlikely, and (5) gravitational influences from one planet to another are harmful.

In contrast, Seth Shostak’s “growing conviction” that biology could arise and flourish on these nearby planetary worlds is the product of unabashed, unrealistic optimism. Hugh Ross’s careful analyses of favorable technical conditions on our planet seem more realistic. He propounds these ideas about our familiar Earth: “The number and complexity of the astronomical and geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have exploded within the past decade.” His recently published volume Improbable Planet, Baker Books, 2016, details his claims and is well worth our effort to read and understand.

We argue that Planet Earth is absolutely unique in its ability to sustain life. We also propose that other planets, including all the newly discovered exoplanets, do not come close to fulfilling the requirements for intelligent life possessed by Earth. If future discoveries show this to be in error, we will amend our proposal. Our Creator could choose to create life on other planets. Currently Planet Earth seems to be unique in harboring its marvelous life forms and the conditions supporting life. Our “growing conviction” consists of increased certainty about the uniqueness of conditions on Earth and life on our home planet.   


               

Friday, March 17, 2017

3537 Exoplanets and Counting

Depending on which source of information we quote, the number of exoplanets—planets orbiting stars other than our sun—is experiencing an exponential population explosion. The longer we wait, the more exoplanets are discovered. Their number has roughly doubled every 27 months from the discovery of the first exoplanets in the 1990s. The population explosion is a function of the enhanced information sensing capabilities of our equipment. As time passes, we see farther; we see more clearly. Best of all, information concerning conditions on these exoplanets is revealed.

We have advanced from the days of early telescopes which could only detect and magnify images of visible light. The Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, works by observing certain wavelengths of infrared radiation, thereby making optically dark objects visible. All bodies in our universe emit infrared radiation at all times. Visible light is a minuscule portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We observe wondrous images of our environment in visible light, but there is far more information available to scientists studying our universe by observing other wavelengths. There are many wavelengths longer and shorter than visible light. However, the human eye cannot see them. 

In February exciting news hit the press. Around a fairly close ultra-cool star a mere 39 light years distant, scientists discovered seven generally earth-sized planets rapidly orbiting very close to their parent star named TRAPPIST-1. This star is less than one tenth the size of our sun and less than one quarter as warm. The Spitzer Space Telescope produced its images from infrared wavelengths emanating from the TRAPPIST-1 star and planetary system. 

The most exciting element of this news focused on the planets’ existence in a possible “habitable zone.” The seven planets orbit quickly in a matter of days at a close distance from their cool parent star. They all revolve at less than the distance Earth’s planet Mercury orbits our Sun. Therefore, if some of the planets contain water, it is likely the water is liquid because of the not too hot, not too cold temperature on their surfaces. Scientists believe liquid water is necessary for any planet to sustain life.

We recall the excitement generated when the existence of first exoplanet was affirmed in 1992. Many students in my classroom had imagined that life, perhaps similar to Earth life, almost certainly existed somewhere else in our universe. The students of 25 years ago would be even more excited to know that some of the 3537 exoplanets in the immediate neighborhood of our huge Milky Way Galaxy in the past quarter century may have potential for intelligent life. This gripping notion seems more probable considering that many more billions of stars in our home Milky Way Galaxy certainly harbor planets. The possibility of other sites for intelligent life in our universe seems even more likely given our knowledge that over 100 billion galaxies exist in our vast universe!

Passion for the notion that many other sites of intelligent life exist on orbiting planets  has been dampened, at least in our cosmic neighborhood. The stunning uniqueness of Earth life becomes increasingly obvious as we grasp the improbability that hundreds of just right physical planetary conditions must be present to support our vast array of life. Upwards of nine million species of complexly functioning organisms are embedded on this special planet. Eliminating even one required physical planetary condition precludes the possibility of human life, not to mention the life of nine million other species.

Whenever a discovery such as the science fiction-like TRAPPIST-1 discovery is made, scientists and laypeople alike rush to speculate on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. When my students inquired about my belief or disbelief in life anywhere else in the universe, I responded with an answer such as: “Not one intelligently produced signal has ever been received from outer space. If there are billions of instances of intelligent civilizations in our universe, at least one of them may have acquired the knowledge to communicate via radio or light signals if they were curious about the existence of other intelligent beings. But we have heard nothing at all.” For the past 150 years since the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum and the invention of radio, Earth’s scientists have released billions of electromagnetic signals into space. Some signals have already reached the 3537 exoplanets discovered so far. 

In February Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI institute noted “…The SETI Institute used its Allen Telescope Array (in 2016) to observe the environs of TRAPPIST-1, scanning through 10 billion radio channels in search of signals. No transmissions were detected although new observations are in the offing…” SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Nevertheless on February 22, 2017, Shostak wrote that the TRAPPIST-1 “…discovery has underlined the growing conviction that the universe is replete with real estate on which biology could both arise and flourish.” Read more about SETI and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence here:


We contrast Shostak’s unbridled optimism with our personal view. There are abundant reasons for dismissing the likelihood that any other planetary site in our universe could harbor life, even if it were blessed, for example, with the presence of liquid water and a reasonably friendly temperature. As we discover more and more stunning requirements for life possessed by Earth together with the absence of that array of requirements on even the most promising planetary systems, we realize anew the truth of Psalm 104:24 (The Message Translation): “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”           







     

Monday, March 13, 2017

Youth Science/Faith Apologetics

Recently I was challenged to create posts affirming the usefulness of science to promote faith--belief in the existence of God and the past and present action of the Creator to sustain our present existence. In particular, the request was framed with young people in mind. Presenting evidence for the existence of God and his ongoing works in our present creation is a vital foundation for acceptance and establishment of a Christian worldview. Science as an apologetic tool does not provide proof for God’s existence, but we consider the discoveries of science to be faith strengthening evidence for the existence and attributes of God, the Creator.

Faith, as used in the above paragraph, is meant to convey a life-encompassing belief system. Used in this manner faith connotes “complete confidence or trust.” A secondary definition includes a belief system not supported by any specific evidence. In discussing two variant definitions of faith, we illustrate a characteristic of language: some words possess different shades of meanings. Linguists are faced with a challenge of presenting meanings of words and interpretations of language as clearly as possible.

We could have (1) faith, a belief system of complete confidence or trust based on supporting evidence of one sort or another, or (2) faith, a belief system supported by little or no supporting evidence. The latter faith could be strengthened by personal presuppositions. We could believe because our parents or someone else believed a certain way and we adopted their beliefs as our own. Or we could believe because of what are termed “properly basic beliefs” which require no evidence. By this standard, belief in the existence of God and the author of the created features of our Earth is essentially intuitive.

Truth—correspondence with reality—is a constituent of both definitions of faith as outlined above. Does an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God exist? Did he create all things and does he sustain all things from moment to moment? Within the limits of their children’s maturity level and their ability to understand, wise parents wish to instill in their children an answer in the affirmative. Our position has been that the knowledge of science is an important apologetic for the existence of a caring God of order and purpose. To offer substantiation for the existence of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son we humbly beseech God’s wisdom in offering an age-appropriate apologetic for strengthening the faith of our own children and grandchildren at various ages. This includes the age when children first learn language and continues through elementary school, middle school, high school, and college age.

Parents, pastors, teachers, and counselors who wish to strengthen personal faith in the existence of God search for strategies to accomplish their goals. Comprehension of our orderly and purposeful physical system as created by God and sustained by him from moment to moment is supported by the discoveries of science. Understanding of our environment is a goal of science, not only as an end in itself, but also in support of our belief in the existence and ongoing role of the Creator.

The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy is full of intense instruction to the Hebrews for firming up their faith structure. The book contains three separate Mosaic sermons to establish the belief system of the Hebrew nation before they entered the promised land. On two occasions Moses instructed parents regarding how they should train their children to believe in, honor, and obey the Lord their God. We quote Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (NIV): “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In Deuteronomy 11 identical sermon points were made concerning children. What a powerful set of instructions for the spiritual training of children!

We take poetic license in interpreting how Hebrew parents may have implemented these remarkable commands of Moses in the days of their wilderness wanderings. We trust that our sanctified imagination may have basis both in historical fact and contemporary validity for faithful parents raising their children in the 21st century. Parents and supporting leaders bear a heavy responsibility to focus their children’s awareness on lessons to be acquired from observing their environment. What were they talking about with their children when they sat at home, walked along the road, when they went to bed, and when they got up? There were many lessons from the natural world; animals and insects manifested beauty and design. In Deuteronomy 4:19 Moses referred to looking up at the sky and seeing the sun, the moon, and the stars, together with all the heavenly array. In the context of Moses’ sermons, the animals and  heavenly array call attention to the God of creation. In those days technological distractions of our modern life were non-existent. There was ample time for parents and religious instructors of that day to observe such wonders while walking along the road and contemplate what they discovered before they went to bed.

In future posts we plan to elaborate on opportunities for devoted parents to affirm the reality of God and the beauty of His creation using the support of scientific knowledge. In Moses’ time there was no formal “science” as we have in our day. Observation and study of natural wonders, however, inspired worship and devotion and affirmed God’s attributes—a sort of natural theology. The 21st century provides potential to make use of myriad discoveries of modern science in a faith-strengthening manner.   

   



    
       


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Old- or New-Fashioned Winter?

Climate change is really a metaphor for global warming in today’s conversation. The warming of our planet is perceived by many citizens as undesirable. Many less informed citizens think any departure from the climatic status quo is a source of worry. More specifically, since the last three years have produced, by some metrics, a succession of “hottest years on record,” we are heading for calamity, we are cautioned. It is true that in the last several years we have experienced a small “uptick” of temperatures. When a year is described as “the hottest on record” we may be talking about a small fraction of a degree “hotter” than the previous record. We note that the last several years have been warmer than the average temperatures of the previous 100 years. More broadly, the Earth is now about 1ºC warmer than we were in pre-industrial times. In 2016 the planetary temperature was 0.75ºC above the 1960-1990 period average. In about 1850 Earth entered a slight warming trend, ending what was termed the “Little Ice Age” of the previous five centuries. Alpine glaciers gradually began to melt and continue to melt to this day.

Early US industries and transportation strategies used hardly any CO2-producing fossil fuels. Average temperature change relates to many other causative factors. Today’s average temperature rise, occurring together with a 50% increase in CO2 atmospheric concentration from pre-industrial days, is of uncertain importance. It is, however, a factor in increased and healthier plant growth. Slightly warmer temperatures may benefit human habitation in other ways. Atmospheric CO2 levels and Earth temperatures have been somewhat elevated in the last century, but societal and political anxiety have been elevated exponentially in the last few decades. 

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2015 that in a group of 13 countries analyzed in 2015, of 74 million deaths, 7.3% of the deaths were attributed to cold; 0.4% were attributed to heat. Cold weather caused 18 times as many deaths as hot weather.

Before the recent succession of the three “record hottest years” was announced beginning in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Temperatures have been flat for 15 years—nobody can properly explain it.” BBC News claims the average temperature rise between 1951-2012 was 0.12ºC per decade. But in the years 1998-2012 the average temperature rise was only 0.05ºC per decade. We hasten to remind readers that the three “record hottest years” from 2014-2016 experienced temperature rises of small fractions of a degree “hotter” than the previous years—hardly a cause for concern. Do we remember how many times we have read or heard from the alarmist media that global warming was causing Earth’s temperatures to advance during those “Earth’s hottest years?” This is circular argument. Of course we understand the earth is warming. It is important to explain why and how much the earth is warming.

We take the liberty to cite an interesting pair of weather phenomena we experienced in Northwest Illinois during the winter of 2013-2014 compared with the current year 2016-17. On March 7, 2014 we posted:


The first paragraph of this post is reprinted here in entirety: “Relentless cold describes the winter of 2013-2014 in the central and eastern United States. Accompanying the cold have come frequent snows. In our region this winter has gifted us with over two dozen snowfalls and 43 daily below zero readings so far. Snowfall approaches highest seasonal totals in our area since climate records commenced in 1850. Statistics for record lows and record “low highs” in February augment the recent record low high for March which surpassed the low high for any day in March in meteorological history by three degrees.”

Fast forward to the winter of 2016-17. The February 23 Dubuque Telegraph-Herald had an article headlined, “Record-setting heat—in February.” Its lead paragraph reported, “Dubuque’s high temperature rose to 71 degrees Wednesday afternoon, making it the warmest February day in the city’s recorded history.” Dubuque Accuweather published the high temperatures in the six-day February spell of warmth “for the ages:” 65º-64º-64º-59º-61º-71º—an average of 64º for the six day period Feb. 17-22, 2017. It was a heavy dose of spring during a traditionally cold winter month.

Was the winter of 2016-17 an old-fashioned or a new-fashioned winter? I argue the question is moot. As a life-long weather-fascinated observer, I understand that weather and climate are intricately complex but immensely fascinating. Our planetary weather is a gift of our Creator. His created climate system provides a place to thrive for a population of over seven billion people early in the 21st century. This population figure is up from one billion at the start of the 19th century. In my personal memory I recall many extremes of weather from unseasonable cold to unseasonable warmth and many events beyond those parameters. There were many stretches of unseasonable cold during warm seasons and unseasonable warmth during cold seasons. We acknowledge the beauty and benefit of usual, unusual, and even occasionally severe meteorological events. Ultimately they contribute to Earth as “a place to thrive.”

Unusual weather phenomena inspire us to make an investigation of cause and effect. Has CO2 concentration increased and has climate change occurred? If the answer to both questions is “Yes,” does this support the fallacy of “After this, therefore because of this?” If we identify multiple causes we are obligated to study carefully the effects of those multiple causes. There are many causes for the Earth’s climate change and many causes for unusual weather events. Atmospheric CO2 is a relatively minor player when multiple causes are investigated. Important climate oscillations are recognized and studied today such as cyclical atmospheric or oceanic temperature or pressure fluctuations. Some oscillations are short; some are long. Short term oscillations such as El Nino, La Nina, and others are definitely related to the brutal winter of 2013-14 and the surreal 2016-17 February warm spell described above. These fascinating phenomena are more aptly explained as unusual short term weather events occurring within the usual, long term and ever-present climate change.             


           

Monday, February 27, 2017

Weather or Climate Change?

Weather change or climate change? It may be more appropriate to use weather change more frequently. Climate change is seriously misunderstood, particularly in the last several decades. Climate change is one of the important topics du jour at present. One can barely read or listen to media commentary without encountering the term global warming or climate change as a part of reportorial cachet. The term “global warming” has been transitioning to “climate change.” Real or perceived changes in animal or plant populations or behavior on land or sea? Heat waves, cold spells, droughts, or floods? Long or short term trends in our weather? Memories of deep snows from our childhood? Retreat of glaciers or changing habits of polar bears? Increased occurrences of tornadoes or hurricanes? Seldom is discussion of these issues   raised without coupling it with climate change. We are highly interested in weather and climate phenomena, but we long for more sanity and realism in our analyses of these vital topics. 

Of course the climate is changing. Long term changes have occurred for millennia. Some changes are subtle; others are more dramatic and impactful. With respect to global warming, we recall our recent discussions on the birth of civilization and its coincidence with the waning of Earth’s latest Ice Age. The cessation of the last major Ice Age beginning roughly twenty thousand years ago relegated our contemporary concerns about global warming insignificant in comparison. A large area of the northern US, Europe, and Asia was covered in thick layers of ice back then. In just a few thousand years the bulk of the ice sheet had melted. We now exist in a period of relative climate favorability and stability. Periodic changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit, the axial tilt, and the precession of our planet’s axis and orbital plane brought about most of the warming. A more recent theory posits that in addition, melting glacial ice caused a disruption of deep ocean currents leading to release of trapped CO2 in the southern hemisphere and intensified the warming. As with all weather and climate, uncertainty and complexity are difficult to untangle and separate.

The theorized events related to the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age are only moderately related to climate change concerns which have intensified in the last few decades. Carbon dioxide is presently receiving much of the blame for Earth’s current slight warming. This naturally produced trace gas, vital for thriving plant life, has been labelled a “pollutant” by the EPA. Even if it deserves a modicum of “credit” for a small amount of Earth warming, we cannot attribute a rise of 8º C since the Ice Age began its retreat to increased amounts of CO2 released by human consumption of fossil fuels since the onset of the Industrial Age. Since the Ice Age began its retreat our Earth has gained 8º C in average temperature. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the significant rise in human use of fossil fuels, Earth’s temperature has risen less than 1.5º C. Some scientific organizations claim the slight climate and weather changes of the past several decades have been natural and that human beings cannot delay or stop the progress of these changes. We are able only to adapt to them. We concur with this statement. (These organizations are disparaged as “climate deniers.”) These changes are related to natural cycles which occurred in human history many times before. The current evangelistic zeal of many citizens is rooted in questionable science.

Recently our Northern Illinois environment experienced a noteworthy weather event. For now we withhold the details of this weather event, except to say that it was a rare February weather phenomenon. Our question remains: Was it “Climate change?” or was it an unusual “weather change” event? Our analysis: It was both. (We report in more detail in a future post.) Our population has an insatiable urge to consume news analyses and information on a broad spectrum—weather and climate change events ranking near the top. This is a commendable objective sometimes with an undesirable downside. Journalistic zeal for the story sometimes overwhelms measured, realistic analysis. Details of the story are selectively and disproportionately reported to accomplish a specific agenda. As “producers” of the news, scientists have a sober responsibility to investigate and report free of personal and political agendas. As “consumers” of the news readers must read, listen, analyze, and conclude using the same standards. Never have these guidelines been more important than in our quest for the truth about weather and climate change.

Earth’s weather and climate systems are of paramount concern as they relate to human well-being. Weather and climate processes are beautiful partners with the physical matter composing our planet. This partnership is the venue for our total existence and supplies all of man’s nutritional requirements for healthy physical sustenance. Acquiring a correct and appropriate knowledge base of our systems of weather and climate is of utmost importance. Our physical planet with its interacting systems is one of humanity’s beautiful gifts from the Creator of all things. “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Psalm 24:1 (NASB).  



   


     

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Consciousness in Animals

Human consciousness is on a higher plane than consciousness in animals. Nevertheless, biologists acknowledge that mammals, birds, and perhaps a few lower animals possess the “neurological substrate” to experience consciousness. Anyone who has owned a pet, most especially a dog, would recognize the presence of conscious feelings. Their feelings are not simply explained by the action of atoms and molecules. Stated differently, consciousness in humans or animals is not a reductionist phenomenon. We cannot explain consciousness in either humans or animals by citing simple physical causes and effects. 

Consciousness is one of the ultimate mysteries of the universe. Presently consciousness is beyond the ability of science to explain. We have posited that our omnipotent and omniscient God/Creator is the ultimate supernatural entity of consciousness. We may acknowledge this statement to be true, but in terms of explaining consciousness with cause and effect reductionism, science does not even come close.

Our post title refers to consciousness in animals. Coming from the blurry cloud of speculation, we descend to the realm of clear observation: We are able to observe intense feelings of consciousness in our pets. They express strong devotion to their masters and a desire to please them. They have a sense of playfulness, even humor. They are sensitive to our feelings. On occasions they sense danger for their masters and warn us of the danger.

Many animals are capable of thought and able to plan. Our evidence? Have you ever seen your dog suddenly get an “idea?” Sometimes pets will suddenly scurry off to “parts unknown” for reasons known only to them. Perhaps they thought of the joy of exercise, hunting down prey, or meeting up with one of their friends. (We confess this is pure speculation.)

In their devotion to their masters dogs show emotions such as happiness and shame. Some dog breeds and many other animals do not experience the same positive feelings of consciousness in their interactions with humans. They are cantankerous, even vicious. Their owners would do well to control and curb their conscious, unpleasant outbreaks. God has created animals with a diverse spectrum of consciousness. Humans are able to observe, describe, react, and enjoy these traits.

Because of the many dimensions of consciousness in animals, we must treat our pets, cattle, and domesticated or wild animals with humane respect. A passage in the Old Testament indicates ancient people possessed divinely given freedom to harvest animals for food: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3 NIV). Ancient residents were probably not concerned with deeper existential questions in days when survival was more challenging.


Dr. Hugh Ross has written about soulishness in animals. Many higher level animals have “the capacity for a limited range of thought, choice, and feeling, but without the spiritual qualities possessed by humans.” They have mind, will, and emotions and form relationships with their own species and with man. Soulishness is a concomitant of the fascinating trait of consciousness in many animals. Consciousness, either in humans or in animals, is a product of God’s creative work and is given for our enjoyment.                  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Systems Integration

In a healthy person the eleven interconnected biological body systems function normally as a single system. The brain, part of the central nervous system, controls and coordinates the functions of the other ten systems. Electrical messages pulse through the spinal column and into a network of neural branches toward the organs of the individual body system. This action is a regulatory response to information received from outlying sensory systems in the body. The control and coordination system is an incredible wonder of living things. Our use of a few descriptive words or phrases does not adequately explain the phenomenon of the integration of biological systems in living creatures.

With this disclaimer we attempt to draw several analogies between human body systems and the world of technology. Modern humanity operates in an age of complex machines. We cite two examples: In our home’s heating/cooling system and our personal automobiles, we are beholden to machines. They provide the ability to control our dwelling’s temperature and our personal transportation system automatically. In the pioneer days of our nation, our great-grandparents supplied the regulatory systems for home temperature control and personal transportation manually. They piled more wood on the fireplace, opened the windows, and used a manual accelerator pedal.

In our home’s temperature controlled environment thermostats sense rising or falling home temperatures and activate the cooling or heating system. According to our preset preferences, home temperatures remain in our chosen narrow range of comfort. In winter we desire a comfortable level of warmth. The control system raises the air temperature automatically—the furnace is programmed to go “on” when a certain limit is reached. In summer our bodies cry out for cooling to the desired temperature. The air conditioner kicks in to supply the desired cooling. Does this sound simple? It is simple to check the thermostat to affirm it is set correctly. If it is malfunctioning we call the experts to modify the system. In our day of “miracle” technology this is a minor inconvenience.

Our functioning brain has systems of sensory neural receptors with the ability to respond and react. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) accomplishes the desired outcome. When we become overheated by exercise, the brain responds with complex physiological processes instructing the body to generate perspiration—a cooling phenomenon—neither too much nor too little. Perspiration is mostly water. When water evaporates, heat is removed from the body. On cold days our body calls for more heat. Reflexively, the body engages its “shivering” response—a good thing—because it forces the body to move about to generate more heat. In this case the body reaction is involuntary and automatic.

Speed control in our automobiles, also known as cruise control, is analogous to many brain functions which control various rates. A partial list includes (1) heart rate, dependent on increased rate of heart muscle contraction, (2) digestive function, also controlled by changing rates of muscle contraction and release of digestive juices, (3) respiration rate, summoned by a need for additional oxygen in working cells due to increased bodily activity, (4) salivation rate, controlled both voluntarily as well as by conditioning from food odors or other sensory cues, and (5) multiple glandular secretions such as adrenaline which appropriately heighten our response to stress. The human brain performs multiple functions controlling and integrating the biological systems of the body. 

Our brain, the control center of our body system and the acknowledged seat of human consciousness, is sometimes characterized as computer-like. Its capabilities, however, extend far beyond the most capable man-made computer. Yes, the brain and the neural network of the central nervous system are storms of electrical activity as are computers. But analysts say computers work in a manner foreign to biological systems. 

The Creator has produced humanity in His Image. This image is integrated with the mystery of consciousness by which we perceive divine reality.