Monday, December 31, 2012

Getting the Picture

Do you get the picture? This familiar idiom asks if the listener understands a situation clearly. In terms of understanding literal visual pictures, that is, understanding the meaning of the information our eyes provide, we sometimes come up short teaching the role of mental processes involved with seeing. Stated another way, even in early grades students may begin to understand the connections between body senses and the mind’s ability to make sense of messages our body receives from the outside world. Sensory information means nothing without a sentient, conscious, operating mind. I recall repeating to my classes that our eyes merely receive information via light energy: “But it is our brain which figures it all out. The brain really does the seeing.”

Science instructors teaching light and sight units may rely too much on analogies between our eyes and a camera. For example, the camera has a lens to capture light from billions of data points--light producing points--in our environment. Billions of rays of light from multiple light data points in our surrounding world enter the camera through a tiny opening. Based on our students’ unspectacular discovery that light rays travel through the medium surrounding us in straight lines, simple diagrams of the camera phenomenon may be drawn. Light rays coming from the top of our field of vision enter the camera and fall on the bottom of the image sensor. Meanwhile, light rays from the bottom of our field of vision enter the camera’s tiny opening and fall on the top of the image sensor. Students discover image inversion. Holding a magnifying glass at arm’s length illustrates the inversion phenomenon.

Students discover that a tiny, extremely finely-detailed, focused picture of our sight field falls on our retina inverted and reversed. The student may ask, “Is this how we see?” No, this is just the beginning of our discovery! The remaining wonders revolve around nerve impulses, more technically termed called action potentials. These nerve impulses, tiny electrical charges, are integrated from information received from over 100 million photoreceptor cells in the retina on which the tiny image is focused. Integration consists of processing the information and transmitting it through approximately one million optic nerve fibers to the part of the brain called the visual cortex, a small area in the back of the brain. Some integration takes place in the retina. The main processing of information, however, takes place in the visual cortex.

Biology (7th edition), an Advanced Placement, 1231 page text authored by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece, is one of many wonderful resources for advanced students of biology. Campbell and Reece summarize their section on “Processing Visual Information” as follows:

Point-by-point information in the visual field is projected along neurons onto the visual cortex. How does the cortex convert a complex set of action potentials representing two-dimensional images focused on our retinas into three-dimensional perceptions of our surroundings? Researchers estimate that at least 30% of the cerebral cortex—hundreds of millions of interneurons in perhaps dozens of integrating centers—take part in formulating what we actually “see.” Determining how these centers integrate such components of our vision as color, motion, shape, and detail is the goal of an exciting, fast-moving research effort.

Our concern for today’s population revolves around their primary focus on the operational functions of camera technology, to name one example. Seldom do they discuss how their technological marvels actually work or what historic discoveries led to our present level of achievement. Instead, their conversations center on how such innovative technology enriches their entertainment experience. They master operational skills easily, but their fascination for how their technological marvels actually work may take a back seat.

“Getting the picture” of everyday human vision is far more gripping. Do we comprehend the wonder of our ability to immediately recognize and process the events portrayed in our visual field? Do we consider how our memory of past events instantly integrates with events observed in the present? Campbell and Reece, authors of Biology, observe, “Each neuron may communicate with thousands of other neurons in complex information-processing circuits that make the most powerful electronic computers look primitive.”

Samuel F. B. Morse’s first telegraph message was transmitted on May 24, 1844 between Washington and Baltimore. The message contained a phrase from Numbers 23:23: “What hath God wrought?” If Morse’s simple, technologically primitive electronic message deserved an epiphany giving credit to God, how much more may we apply the exultation to the wonders of “neurons in complex information-processing circuits” in the human body “that make the most powerful electronic computers look primitive.” The process of human sight is an occasion to give glory to God.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Visions of Design

Discussion of the more technical aspects of eye anatomy, including the path of light through the eye--cornea, aqueous humor, lens, and vitreous humor, along with the amazing retina and how it functions--turns out to be tedious for a portion of our population. Their interest may extend only to maintaining eye health with proper care, including dietary practices promoting healthy vision, or how the eye examination may lead to a prescription for corrective lenses. When I visit the ophthalmologist, I sometimes apologize for asking many questions concerning eye function. Doctors in other specialties are also recipients of my “What? Why? How?” queries. Seldom are my requests dismissed. Medical professionals are humbly proud of their professional expertise. They are anxious to share their knowledge of the wonderful workings of their body system specialties.

Curiosity which surpasses our doctor’s office questions may be satisfied by in-depth personal searches. This material is available to laypersons in televised special programs, textbooks, magazines, or internet postings. My interest in more detailed scientific and medical information is driven by desire to share knowledge of the wonders of divine design features evident wherever we look. This blog expresses our conviction that science topics are a powerful apologetic for our Christian beliefs in the reality of God as Creator. The “Theology of Creation” is an under stressed topic in many churches. Here is a link to a previous post under that title:

Each medical specialty dealing with a body system or sub-system is rich with information about the Creator’s design features. The denial of plentiful supernatural design features of the human body appears to be a position of irrationality. This post closes with a brief discussion of the workings of the retina of the human eye. Perhaps it serves to inform readers how much more knowledge is available apart from knowing the familiar truth about rods and cones.

The retina serves to transmit point by point information from the outside world to rods and cones and neurons in the retina called ganglion cells. Each atom or molecule of objects in our visual field is the source of a point of light. One friend described visible objects in our external field of vision as “consisting of trillions of data points.” Separate data from these points fall on different parts of the retina, thanks to the precision optics of our eyes. The human retina receives a great abundance of information. 100 million rod cells and 5 million cone cells collect light information from the trillions of data points in our external world. We may agree that the information received by our retina exceeds information produced by our “pixel-rich” cameras and printers.

The energy of photons falling on our retinal rods and cones triggers the production of “all or none” action potentials--electrical impulses triggered in the neurons which lead from the rods and cones known as photoreceptors to other types of cells in the retina: (1) The “all or none” electrical impulses travel to cells in the retina termed bi-polar cells. All bipolar cells are neurons which, in turn, (2) transmit impulses to ganglion cells. Ganglion cells also occur in the retina. All messages then travel as action potentials from ganglion cells to centers in the brain for processing into a meaningful picture. This transfer of information occurs through the optic nerve. The optic nerves, in two sections, eventually terminate in brain centers. For review, we present this flow chart:

Photoreceptors (rods and cones) à bi-polar cells à ganglion cells à axons of the ganglion cells (the optic nerve) à brain centers.

The optic nerve consists of approximately one million nerve fibers carrying only “all or none” electrical impulses to the brain. Before the electrical impulses travel through the axons of the ganglion cells, two other types of cells in the retina, horizontal cells and amacrine cells, help integrate the information received from the rods and cones. They join with bi-polar and ganglion cells to accomplish the integration. This is information processing at an early level. The most extensive information processing and integration occurs in the brain.

Perhaps the information discussed, cursory as it is, arouses a generous portion of wonder, along with the desire to investigate these topics on your own. We trust readers recognize the futility of a naturalistic explanation for the thousands of wonders surrounding us at every level, both in the living world and the material cosmos. In the world of life, particularly human life, we must also consider the problems posed by the belief that naturalistic evolution, even theistically guided evolution, brought these wonders into existence. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Retinal Function

As we review the biological principle of “Form fits Function,” there is no better example than the remarkable sense of human light detection. Without the functional retina, the innermost layer of our eyeball, we would possess no vision. Most of the eight million extant species on our planet share with humans some degree of ability to detect light, ranging from simple detection of the mere presence of light in primitive organisms to the detailed color images perceived by birds of prey such as hawks. The visual acuity in such animals exceeds even that of humans.

The principle of “Form fits Function” amounts to a commentary on the ubiquitous design features of our universe. More specifically, it argues powerfully for the deliberate work of God whose activity in creating the multiplicity of living things was highlighted by the last product of creation--man in his image. In short, our lives operate successfully because this biological principle applies to virtually every phase of our physical experience. With respect to our sense of vision, we must not fail to understand extraordinary retinal tissue function.

The close range and distant matter surrounding us releases a constant flow of electromagnetic radiation. Visible light is but one type of radiation. That light ranges from dim to intense, along the familiar spectrum of colors. The retinal cells, termed rods and cones, detect light energy under dim conditions and color under bright conditions. There are four other types of retinal cells which possess other functions in the sight process. Rods and cones, however, are the key players in the drama.

All rods and cones contain a light-absorbing molecule called retinal which bonds to a protein called an opsin. In rods the visual pigment called rhodopsin is formed by this bond. When light, especially bright light, enters the eye we see clearly for a time. But the rhodopsin is changed somewhat and the rods become unresponsive. That explains why moving quickly from a bright environment to a dark room causes us to experience temporary difficulty seeing clearly while the rods regenerate.

Cone cells come in three classes. Three types of opsins, known as photopsins are each sensitive to a different color. One cone cell is sensitive to red light, another is sensitive to green light, and the third responds to blue light. Some cone cells are sensitive to an overlap of color wavelengths and together those wavelengths will produce intermediate colors when the brain organizes the image later in the visual process. In this way we may perceive every color on the visible light spectrum.

When we learned about rods and cones in elementary grades, our teachers may have wisely guarded her students against information overload. There was far more to the story. For example, what sort of signals do rods and cones send to the brain through the neurons? How does the light message arrive at the brain? After all, it is our brains which actually “see.” In the retina there are bipolar, horizontal, ganglion, and amacrine cells. They are the next players on stage, paving the way to discovery of “the rest of the story,” a phrase made famous by Paul Harvey, radio commentator for over fifty years.

The retina could not function as an entity apart from the energy of light flowing from the objects around us. The form of light and the function of the eye’s retina are complementary. This is one of hundreds of examples of the complementarity of design features present in our environment everywhere we look. Who is the author of these exquisite complementary design features? Our belief in the Designer is strengthened by recognizing the many form/function relationships evident everywhere in our created sphere.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Form Fits Function

In the current series of posts on human sight, this title may seem irrelevant at first glance. An explanation is in order. Perhaps you have been asked whether you would select the sense of sight or hearing should you be forced to do without one or the other. The question is irrelevant to our experience, but may trigger personal speculation and introspection on how highly valued and treasured all our sensory gifts are. Among the five major senses of the human body, sight probably ranks as the sense we would least like to do without. With this introduction, we look more closely at the elements of form and function related to vision.

There is an important physiological basis for judging that sight may be the paramount body sense, even though we may dislike prioritizing in this manner. According to estimates, 70% of the sensory neurons in our body are located in the retina. The retinal tissue is just over 1000 square mm in area. Roughly, this converts to the area of a teaspoon. In this small area there are well over 100 million rod cells and four million cone cells. This gives 150,000 cones per square millimeter in the central retina, the area providing clear, color vision of our central visual field. Cone cells function for humans in bright light. In the periphery of the human retina, there are many more rod cells which provide us with effective colorless vision even in extremely dark conditions.

Form fits Function is a principle of life science articulated in most modern biology textbooks. It is applicable throughout the living world. The principle applies to molecules, cells, issues, organs, and complete organisms. Among biology books, this principle could appropriately appear in every chapter covering the relationship between biological entities and their purpose. The principle applies to the hundreds of tasks accomplished within an individual organism, to the relationship of that organism to other organisms, and to the relationship of an organism to its environment.

In our current discussion of the phenomenon of sight, there is appropriate application of Form fits Function to the mechanism of the sensory detection of light by the human retina. The light reaching our eyes from nearby or distant objects arrives as billions of photons streaming from billions of data points from the light-giving object. We might say that each atom of those light-giving objects, complete with its vibrating electrons, is the source of a light data point. From each data point flows photons of electromagnetic light energy. Therefore, we have the form of plentiful light generation and effective transmission of light energy through space. What remains is the function of light detection, that is, our sensory organs of light detection. Initially, light is transmitted through the layers and substances of our eye—the cornea, aqueous humor, lens, and vitreous humor. However, the most spectacular functional organ, or, if you will, body tissue, is the specialized retina with its millions of rods, cones, and other specialized cells. These cells are triggered by photons to begin their work of sensing messages of light to the brain.

The form of light, billions of electromagnetic waves called photons, fits the function of the billions of retinal cells with their ability to detect billions of light data points. Beyond the retina, data will be sent to the brain as billions of simple electrical “all or none” pulses of voltage. The most fascinating aspect of “seeing” has yet to be discussed in an upcoming post.

Who is the author of the principle of “Form fits Function?” This blog has consistently proposed that our cosmos is a creation of the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, the God of Judeo-Christian scripture. He has designed all things after His will. We interpret scientific information in this light.

Monday, December 10, 2012

From Eye to Brain

Human sight is an ultimate production of the brain. As I look across the room from my computer keypad there would be no cognizance of the scene without my brain’s interpreting ability. My brain provides conscious awareness of the reality of the scene. Without a functioning mind sight does not occur. Light is a physical phenomenon present whether there is an observer or not, but sight is a subjective phenomenon based on external physical light stimuli. We need a human being to enjoy the subjective experience of human sight.

The transmission of information from the retina via cell extensions called axons through the optic nerve to the brain is one of the most fascinating processes related to the sight sequence. Each optic nerve contains over one million nerve fibers. We may understand the function of optic nerves by comparing how digital photographs are transmitted through a USB cable from a camera to computer storage files. Our digitally literate young people easily grasp this example of modern digital communication. Their personal photographs are transmitted as millions of tiny electrical impulses. The impulses carry the photograph to the computer, they explain. Older citizens might have a bit more trouble understanding how the process works.

These electrical impulses are called “action potentials,” tiny, repeated changes in voltage. Each change is like a light switch being turned on or off. There is no “in between.” In our eyes, 100 million rod cells and four million cone cells sense photons of light. Nerve cell endings then transmit millions of “all-or-nothing” electrical messages to the brain. Each of two optic nerves, one from each eye, contains about one million neural conduits. Our brain receives many millions of on or off electrical messages through the optic nerve each moment from the retina where the external image is projected and focused. The process works with divine simplicity.

The more than 100 million tiny rod and cone cells perceive varied light stimuli and send millions of different electrical messages from each data point projected on the retina. Millions of data points produce a plentiful trove of digital information. In a computer analog, the computer is able to convert received digital information from multiple data points into a high resolution image. The high resolution photographic image will possess no meaning for us until we observe and interpret it as though we were observing the image in real life.

The simplicity of digital messaging, either in technological applications or in the body’s own central nervous system, is belied by the presence of a multitude of physical constants and physical laws set in place by the Creator. Digital signaling, however, is governed by simple “ons” or “offs.” Scientists have figured out a way to use these on or off signals in hundreds of modern applications unheard of several generations ago.

Digitally literate young people have no have trouble mastering the underlying principle of digital technology. Neither do they stumble at the operational logic needed for mastering their ubiquitous remote units and computer driven devices. Our legitimate apprehension for modern users of technology, young or old, is the loss of wonder, amazement, and reverent awe of the Creator. He is the author of physical constants and laws of nature operating in our bodies and in our technology. God has enabled seven billion souls to benefit from application of physical constants and laws authored in his divine mind.

Our prayer is that we would give glory to God for these wonders. He designed the simple beauty of our body’s nervous system, including the concluding steps of the marvelous sequence of sight. Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT) declares: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sight's Missing Link

One entire chapter of John’s gospel is devoted to a remarkable story of physical and spiritual healing. The ninth chapter of John chronicles the story of the man blind from birth whose sight was restored by one of Jesus’ transcendent miracles during his three year public ministry. The story is remarkable for different reasons. Physical blindness was overshadowed by the spiritual blindness of some characters in this scripture account. The healing of the victim’s physical and spiritual blindness and unbelief of the assembled spiritual leaders who witnessed the mighty miracle creates one of scripture’s most powerful multidimensional lessons.

Visual blindness is a malady of overarching significance as we consider a catalog of possible physical deficiencies. For the vast majority of sighted people, imagining life without vision is difficult. Nearly two million United States residents are afflicted with total blindness. Their adaptation to blindness is a tribute to their spirit and ability to adjust to a major life challenge. The absence of remote sensing visual capability, however, is a profound loss.

We may only imagine what caused the man’s blindness. Perhaps there was a congenital abnormality which triggered changes in the retina causing death of the photoreceptors. Infantile glaucoma is an elevation of internal eye pressure which causes damage to the optic nerve. The Bible story does not tell any details about the sight mechanism of the man blind from birth. It is likely he never saw any light at all, much less any images. His deficiency occurred in step 3 of the sight sequence. All his life he was surrounded by (1) plentiful light generation from light-producing objects and (2) transmission of light to his physical body. His physical eyes (3) were unable to process light for reasons we are not told. There was no reception of the light-generated electrical impulses through his optic nerve. But (4) his mind functioned normally, never having processed light images from the outside world. He was able to carry on a discussion of his healing, however, including the acknowledgement of Jesus as the divine Healer.

Normal vision surpasses the capability of the finest cameras. Former president George H. W. Bush popularized the expression “a thousand points of light” in a political speech while accepting his party’s nomination for president in 1988.
In a physical and poetic sense, visual information about our distant and close-up environment could be characterized as a million points of light. One may understand the literal meaning of this imagery by reviewing the physics of digital photography. Modern photographs are composed of “pixels,” the smallest picture element on a visual display. To produce a quality 9X12 inch photograph with a color printer, one needs the resolution of a million pixels (one megapixel). Human eyes define images with great resolution. With the processing our brains provide, our vision is far superior to images captured by high quality cameras.

Information in anatomy reference books provides details of the eye’s physical structure. Light passes through the cornea, the watery aqueous humor, the pupil, and the gelatinous vitreous humor inside the eyeball. The image is finally formed on the retina like pictures on the screen at a slide show. Images are transferred to the brain through the optic nerve for processing and eventual recognition. The man “blind from birth” in the 9th chapter of John provides a fascinating case study. Before Jesus healed him his disciples posed questions to Jesus on whose sin was responsible for his blindness. Was it his own sin or the sin of his parents? Jesus replied it was neither. God’s power was available and evident. The circumstances provided opportunity for manifestation of God’s power.

By human standards we live in an imperfect world. This universe was not created according to our idealized concept of perfection. It was created with an overlay of gradual decay according to the laws set in place by God himself. Ultimately the laws governing this universe will be replaced by the New Creation described in Revelation 21-22.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Remote Sight Sensing

As we consider the sense of sight, we may focus on the anatomy of the eye, how it functions to receive and transmit light-borne messages electrically to the brain and finally, what happens in our brains to integrate the electrical messages and provide conscious perception of the visual images. However, these events are only the last act in the drama of sight.

The story of vision begins with light stimuli generated from and transmitted across distant or nearby space. Human vision is an example of remote sensing. Remote sensing is a technological term applied to activities such as mapping, speed determination, collection of weather data, intelligence gathering, and other purposes. The technology makes use of electromagnetic radiation in most of its applications. Sound waves are also used to access information from remote locations. In all cases we gather information about the physical world from a distance, sometimes very great distances.

Less often the term remote sensing could be applied to human senses such as sight or hearing. Direct or reflected light is radiated at a distance from objects remote from us, finally to be captured by our vision sensors. Before the scientific advances of the past several hundred years, remote sensing would have applied only to human senses. The term originated in 1960. In the 21st century the term is used almost exclusively for technological marvels produced by man-made devices. “Reconnaissance at a distance” is an appropriate characterization of remote sensing for either application.

Lest we become overly enamored with modern inventions and technology, we wish to refocus attention on four aspects of the human sight sequence: (1) a distant source of light radiation, (2) the transmission of light radiation across distances of space ranging from very great to very close, (3) the bodily sensor organs, our eyes, and finally, (4) the processor of sight information, the brain, to which falls the responsibility of interpreting the electrical messages sent from the retina through the optic nerve and processing and converting the information into a conscious, meaningful experience.

In future posts we will focus on the astonishing physical processes of the human sight sequence. More remarkable is the plan of the Creator manifest in each aspect of the human sight sequence and collectively in the integrated process of sight from source to coherent intellectual recognition.

Many sources describe in detail knowledge of the physical and physiological events of the sight sequence. For laypersons interested in the science of light, sight, and the mental processing of visual signals, plentiful resources are available. Physical scientists have mastered the science of light production and transmission. The medical field has produced ophthalmologic knowledge and outstanding levels of patient care. Modern knowledge has progressed to an unheard of level within the last several generations.

The Christian view of the wonders of light and sight possesses a strong flavor of natural theology. Merriam-Webster defines the term as follows: “Theology deriving its knowledge of God from the study of nature independent of special revelation.” The term natural theology means different things to different people, notwithstanding that Merriam-Webster’s definition signals that knowledge of God and his attributes may be achieved by studying the wonders of nature. Very few scientists would avow that study of the natural world enables us to access knowledge of God. Their definition of the process of science precludes this acknowledgement. However, many Christians accept the Merriam-Webster definition.

Natural theology defined in this way provokes vocal objections from most professional scientists. Modern definitions of science, accepted by science professionals, would rule such a view out of bounds, because science has been declared to be an intrinsically limited discourse, limited precisely because its presuppositions are properly naturalistic.

We have digressed for a purpose, highlighting our knowledge of (1) the ability of matter to generate, under different conditions, virtually unlimited electromagnetic wavelengths, (2) the ability of a virtually infinite variety of electromagnetic energy to speed off through space, (3) man’s bodily and technological ability to detect thousands of different electromagnetic wavelengths and use them for multiple purposes, and (4) our ability to convert thousands of light data points to electrical images and mentally reconstruct the millions of electrical signals to produce a meaningful image. This is the extraordinary ability of the human body to convert light to sight.

Believing that light and sight is a naturalistic, random, purposeless effect, a progression of events without a cause, is irrational to an unimaginable degree. Even a fundamental understanding of just one bodily sense--the sense of sight--helps us to investigate and dismiss our doubts. Natural theology integrates the role of God as Creator with creation of the functional wonders of our natural world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Light for Sight

We hesitate to assign sight to top ranking in the catalog of our bodily senses. That temptation, nevertheless, is strong. What wonders does our understanding of sight provide? And what of our marvelous subjective experience of sight, apart from understanding the physiology of how it works? For our sense of sight to be operative, there must be generation and transmission of light energy through space from a light source. In addition there must be an organ of vision to receive the light energy. In each case, wonderfully complex events complete the process. Complete understanding requires us to grasp physical processes of generation and transmission of light energy as well as the function of the eye and brain in making meaningful visual images spring to cognizance.

In 2009 we posted a series on light, just one manifestation of the bath of electromagnetic waves in which we are immersed each moment of our lives. Before we grasp the beauty of light, the energy form by which we experience vision, we must understand what processes produce light and transport light images to our eyes. Accordingly, I encourage my readers to review my 10-post series on light as a prelude to investigating vision. The series begins with this post:

Each additional article may be accessed with the “newer post” link at the bottom of each entry.

Visible light is transmitted to our eyes through space via “packets” of electromagnetic energy traveling at 300,000 km/sec. At this speed light travels the distance around earth’s equator more than seven times per second. While the speed of light is seldom expressed in speed units of miles/hr, the speed has been calculated as 670,616,629 miles/hr. At that speed light almost covers the distance to giant planet Saturn in the time we need to consume a leisurely evening meal.

How many “packets” of light energy enter our eyes each second? The answer depends on what color light we are observing. If we observe an object giving off red light, 430 trillion “packets” of light pass through our cornea each second. The “packets” of red light are about 1/40,000 inch in length. A physical scientist prefers the term “photons” to “packets of light.” The shortest wavelength is violet light. If we observe violet light, 750 trillion photons enter our eyes each second. Physical scientists tell us violet light has a frequency of 750 trillion hertz (Hz).

In our first lessons on atomic structure we learned that all matter is composed of electrically positive protons, neutrons without an electrical charge, and electrons possessing negative charges. The atoms of all matter are in constant motion from thermal energy. So also are their associated electrical charges. The constant motion of the electrically charged particles is the source of photons. Several types of electromagnetic waves, including light, are continually produced by ordinary matter. In addition physicists have discovered the means for artificially generating a virtually unlimited variety of electromagnetic wavelengths. Their multiple uses range from communications to medical applications.

Electromagnetic wavelengths of visible light, a miniscule fraction of all possible wavelengths, are used in our vision almost every waking moment. Modern technology also uses electromagnetic waves produced by scientists in multiple ways. It is interesting to contemplate what life was like barely two centuries ago before scientists began to make discoveries in respect to the electromagnetic spectrum. Their understanding of the nature, generation, and transmission of light was almost completely lacking but their lives were filled with the everyday luxury of their sense of sight.

The pioneers of the Scientific Revolution could only imagine what discoveries were in store for the human race. Their God-gifted talent, creativity, vision, and dedication helped them discover truths and applications originally conceived in the mind of the Creator and known by him since the universe was created.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sight Sense

Many people experience a well known age-related deficiency in our sight mechanism. The modern remedy for this sight deficit is within easy medical reach. We speak of the common problem known as cataracts, a minor malady providing fodder for humor relating to our golden years. Modern medicine has made cataract surgery a less invasive microsurgery affair these days. This ophthalmologic procedure introduces us to a more in-depth discussion of one of the most wonderful organs of the human body along with spiritual lessons our sense of sight provides.

Dirt-streaked house windows, foggy automobile windshields, or condensation-covered eyeglasses on a cold winter day, all illustrate the medical malady of cataracts. The eye’s focusing mechanism centers on the lens, located behind the pupil. This opening becomes larger or smaller to permit entry of different amounts of light. Contraction and expansion of the opening is accomplished by muscles in our iris. The flexible lens, in our youthful years, is also able to change its shape due to involuntary muscles. By so doing, light images from different distances are able to focus precisely on light-sensitive cells in the retina, similar to focusing slide images on the screen during our power point presentations.

Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens undergo changes and become cloudy, usually with advancing age. The cloudy lens is removed. A new artificial lens is surgically implanted to transmit the light rays and focus the image clearly on the retina once again. Some advanced multi-focal lenses enable patients to focus on images at different distances. Our youthful lens formerly accomplished the task by changing its shape with muscular contractions and relaxations.

The physical sequence of proper light transmission within our eyes is perhaps the simplest process to understand relative to our vision. We have mentioned only a few parts of the eye’s anatomy, including the lens. Treatment of cataracts is a relatively simple procedure when performed by the trained hand of an experienced surgeon. We must not compare the simplicity of cataract remediation with the divine genius manifest by our Creator when he designed an organ of vision as marvelous as the human eye. The cascade of processes enabling vision after the light image focuses sharply on the retina demands a different and enhanced understanding of chemical, electrical, and psychological processes of majestic complexity. This does not, however, minimize the simple beauty of the focusing and transmission capability of the eye’s lens.

Charles Darwin uttered a famous statement questioning whether the process of evolution could ever produce a functioning structure such as the eye. Darwin stated, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” This Darwin quotation has been repeated many times as an indicator, from Darwin’s own mouth, of the absurdity of evolution. But in the same passage he goes further to propose that such a scenario is not unrealistic after all, if we could affirm numerous imaginative “What ifs?”

One of my favorite KJV passages is the translation of I Cor 13:12. Near the conclusion of the love chapter the Apostle Paul states “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face…” Many spiritualize this translation which more realistically speaks of looking back through a mirror at a distorted or fuzzy image. The spiritual application to blurry vision is appropriate. Sometimes our physical vision is impeded by age-related or illness-related handicaps.

Another application relates to the well-known scientific reality of aging physical systems. This universe is running down according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Briefly stated, we observe that all physical systems are slowly deteriorating from a useful, high energy level to a less useful low energy level in our present frame of time. This includes emergence of cataract phenomena from protein deterioration. Welcome to the experience of aging!



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fallibilism in Science

Science professionals working in natural science most often seem confident their interpretations are certain. The field of science has acquired the cachet of certainty. Science professionals promote this vision. As a science educator the appeal of science for my students consisted of confident discoveries about what the world was like and how things in the world worked. Along the highway of their science studies, we assumed most of our students judged the world was an interesting and fascinating place worth discovering.

Most discoveries of the “hard sciences” appear fairly certain as methods of their discovery become known. Physics, chemistry, earth sciences, and biology are considered hard sciences. Systematic observation and rigorous mathematically quantified experimental methods help us achieve the comfort of certainty. Apart from the intrinsic fascination for results at this level of discovery, even more satisfaction results from knowledge that the application of our science improves our everyday lives. How could our lives become more enjoyable? The progression to applied science is a natural transition making our science even more appealing.

Some hard sciences, especially earth sciences and biology, permit a somewhat more diverse range of interpretation, particularly when considering cause and effect within historical aspects of their study. For instance, climate scientists may interpret cause and effect of past climate changes differently, even as today’s climate scientists have widely different interpretations of today’s cause and effect. Biologists view the history of earth’s life forms according to an evolutionary or naturalistic mindset, or a creationist mindset, or perhaps some combination of both.

Perhaps trouble lurks underneath our optimistic idealism. One cannot read broadly about the history of science or the current state of affairs in the world of science and fail to become aware of a term popularized by an American scientist and philosopher of science who lived and wrote a century ago. Charles Peirce (1839-1914) coined the term fallibilism to describe the reality that man can be wrong about his understanding of the world and the beliefs he embraces. Peirce wrote “Any claim justified today may need to be revised or withdrawn in light of new evidence, new arguments, and new experiences.”

Many modern observers have not encountered the term fallibilist with respect to science. I have seldom encountered the term in my discussions with friends concerning science topics. The concept applies across all human experience in any field of knowledge, but the term is clearly not overworked. Proponents of personal views, rather, devote much of their energies toward defending conclusions based on their own research. Honest, careful science professionals are justified in presenting their research findings with confidence. Notable exceptions are fields where the scientists are clearly driven by heavy philosophical considerations. For example, many secular scientists freely acknowledge that science is a philosophy-driven enterprise. Daniel Dennett, one of the champions of the New Atheist movement and an evolutionary biologist, says “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”

Scientists and professional researchers in every field of knowledge are not fond of characterizing their work as controversial or subject to potential error. Personal pride sometimes prevents researchers from acknowledging errors or potential errors in their body of work, much less errors in their conclusions. The most honest researchers would acknowledge their work and beliefs are subject to error and revision. They would be considered fallibilists. When arguments are presented to support their beliefs, many researchers suppress evidence which could weaken their proposals. Were they to deal transparently with countervailing evidence, their tentativeness may signal a refreshing willingness to search for truth rather than to labor for a purely personal agenda.

Our human journey through life is filled with learning, unlearning, and relearning. The scope of knowledge is exceedingly broad. Our blog deals with two important spheres of knowledge and their interconnectedness. Knowledge of science connects with theology--God is the author of truth in both spheres. God has gifted us with tools of discovery to help us access truth in science and theology. Discoveries in science point toward God as the Creator of all things and reveal much about his nature. At the same time, our grasp of theological truth helps inform us about the workings of our physical world. It is important to willingly acknowledge interpretational errors in either science or theology as we discover them.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Soulish Avian Enthusiasm

Our previous posts on the collective enthusiasm of birds in our immediate Northern Illinois neighborhood need some updating. Along with my personal sharing of a few local adventures with birds, I must repeat a definition of soulishness from my summer post on that subject. Soulishness is a trait imparted by our Creator to the created animals described in Genesis 1:21--the endowment of mind, will, and emotions in order that these creatures may form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings. My yard has provided more than its share of soulish bird enthusiasm. Some of their behavior may border on deliberate humor.

This autumn I have been impacted several times by the diverse soulish behavior of our feathered friends. First I shall describe behaviors more obviously intended to please other members of their own species. One day a virtual passel of robins swooped in upon the ornamental fountain just outside my office window. It doubles variously as a drinking station and bird bath. Three or four robins bathed together in the small bath while others hopped around and scratched in the mulch below it looking for food. Many other birds observed from the nearby apple tree, their former springtime rivalries forgotten as many other birds flew in and out of the action zone. After ten minutes, the action ceased as quickly as it had begun.

Cedar waxwings, infrequent visitors to our birdbath, nevertheless put on a show of unity and precision one recent day. Four birds equally spaced at the quadrants of the bowl remained quiet and still while their flock mates watched from the nearby branches or flew in and out, presumably on inspection tours. Once again the action ceased suddenly, leaving our fountain deserted. At other times the bath has supplied opportunities for “mixed” bathing, servicing two different bather species at once while two or three separate species watched the action from a near vantage point.

The most fascinating exercise in diverse species cooperation occurs several times each autumn. Recently I counted seven different species flying in and out of the tree branches all at once in our nearby woods. They were sometimes feeding on small cedar cones or insects. Primarily the action consisted of seemingly irrational excited flights from tree to tree in mixed groups. I have described this group action as “going nutty again,” producing some collective excitement. The group consisted of robins, cedar waxwings, tufted titmice, bluebirds, chickadees, a purple finch, and one or two unidentified birds. This is an example of close cooperation between various species. It is reminiscent of human cooperation between diverse groups. The cooperative autumn behavior of robins at the fountain illustrates the willingness to put aside early season intra-species squabbles and join together in unity within their own species.

Perhaps the most people-friendly birds are chickadees. This tiny bird’s vocalization fills the seasons with audible joy. Years ago I succeeded in coaxing one bird to alight on my hand, a not uncommon experience of bird enthusiasts. A few days ago I heard close wing beats several times as a tiny bird approached closely before flying off. I suspected the chickadees had earlier scavenged the black walnut shells I had left behind. On this occasion the little birds approached closely to inspect my work, then retreated to nearby branches. Long after my work was done it was obvious the chickadees had enjoyed the leftover walnut fragments.

As I started writing this post, I heard crows vocalizing in a group through my closed windows. They are intensely social animals. A special treat a few weeks earlier was their display of chasing one another, diving and somersaulting out of apparent mischief or joy. A few miles from home, several dozen chimney swifts flew in and out of a country bridge culvert one evening last summer as our grandchildren watched the display. A nearby town’s industrial chimney supplies swift watchers with seasonal action as they enter and exit their overnight roost before retiring for the night.

Aside from the joy provided for us by our local birds, high level enjoyment is also provided for residents who take time to systematically observe. Most often the bird encounters I describe are accidental and unplanned. We have only to be alert to the multiple wonders around us. Neighborhood bird observations join with the wonder of plant life, mammals, insects and other animals, weather (sometimes frightening, but always interesting), or changing astronomical phenomena which beg to be studied and understood.

High on the list of human enjoyments are soulish animals, created with some qualities which abound in created man. These animals were made, to some extent, for man to observe and enjoy. During imaginative moments, I fancy that our soulish animals may perform for human enjoyment as well as their own. Among the spectrum of human experience from sorrow to ecstasy, we are exhorted to savor God’s gifts. The New Living Translation gives us a fitting reminder: “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (I Tim. 6:17)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Natural Theology and Science

Alister McGrath is a theologian and scientist of high reputation. He has written a three-volume work on the relationship between Christian theology and the natural sciences entitled A Scientific Theology. McGrath approaches his subject from a position of creedal purity and orthodoxy, described by McGrath as a characteristic of evangelical faith. Many other books authored by McGrath express enthusiasm for the interface between Christian theology and the natural sciences.

McGrath delivered the Gifford lectures for the John Templeton Foundation in 2009. His topic was “A Fine-tuned Universe: Science, Theology, and the Quest for Meaning.” He would assert that the reality of the natural order helps us affirm the objective reality of God. This observation, however, falls short of McGrath’s extensive development and description of the connection between Christian theology and the natural sciences. Perhaps he would defer to his own commentary after volume 3 was written: “I have certainly not achieved real closure on the issues it aimed to address.”

The writings of McGrath address my personal query: Do we wish to describe objective reality only in human terms? Or do we wish, by our investigation, to help us identify the Creator and His works? Does our personal exploration of the natural order help us identify the objective reality of God? Above all, these realities are our primary concern.

McGrath speaks of the provisionality of the findings of science. The conclusions of science are known to change. Therefore, he seeks to address the interface of science and faith on a level positioned above the explicit timeline and origins questions. Stated another way, when questions emerge where specific events and processes on the historical timeline are raised, we may describe our responses in more general theological terms.

For the past few years I have conducted extensive high level email and in-person discussions with several evangelical friends, well-known professionals in their fields of science and education. Their insistence that science is viewed by nearly all of today’s scientists as a naturalistic enterprise is viewed with concern by McGrath in one of his recent writings: “Scientists, like all other professionals, are strongly territorial and resent intrusion into their territory by those who are not members of their guild. Natural theology, some of their members would maintain, represents such a scholarly trespass, opening the door to intellectual contamination.” Even some Christians practicing in scientific fields endorse the notion that the blending of modern science and natural theology represents a “scholarly trespass.” Their “territory” is not to be entered unless the password of naturalism and naturalistic is repeated and observed in de facto scientific practice.

Several exact quotations from the letters of my personal friends serve to illustrate what McGrath may mean by his concept of scholarly trespass: (1) Science is an intrinsically limited discourse, limited precisely because its presuppositions are properly naturalistic; (2) I believe modern science as such was always secular in the sense of embracing methodological naturalism; (3) They (science and religion) are not a single, self-consistent whole but two very different ways of viewing reality; (4) We are convinced, however, that standard science does not deal with God and his activities. It is not competent to do so. Science may reach a point where it throws up its hands and simply admits: We can’t figure out how humans emerged, at least not within the framework of our methodological naturalism. But for now, they do not believe they are at this point, and they consider bringing God into the picture violates their principle of methodological naturalism.

Dr. McGrath’s writings are a laudable effort to bridge the gap between science and theology. The dimensions of this discussion are broad, indeed. To the degree we embrace secular science with its naturalistic presuppositions, we will always experience impasse as we communicate our revelations concerning the science/faith interface with those who do not share our concept of God as Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Caution must guide us as we embrace the “provisionality” of contemporary science theory of “molecules to man” evolution. Many enthusiasts of the interdigitation between science and natural theology seldom warn of unanswered questions and controversies concerning evolutionary theory as a broad conceptual belief framework into which thousands of observations must fit. Brilliant proponents of the theology/science interface present biological evolution as a God-supervised process and explain how it is supposed to work according to a naturalistic process. On the other hand, explaining the sequence of developmental events of our “fine-tuned universe” since the original creation, complete with its God-ordained, front-loaded physical constants, is a relatively simple issue by comparison. But when earth’s complex bio-chemical life first appeared, followed by numerous “biological big bangs” over succeeding eons of time--that is another matter.

My discussion does not include a scientific rationale for transcendent creation events. Many scientists have produced such rationale. In particular, the writings of Dr. Stephen C. Meyer in Signature in the Cell have generated a powerful apologetic for sudden and supernatural production of coded genetics for earth’s multiple life forms. His writings harmonize science and theology. The Apostle Paul penned a brief description of his vision of a scientific theology. Its single verse simplicity and majesty are unmatched: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Rom. 1:20 NIV)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Superstorm Sandy

For many days we have been forewarned of a weather disaster of historic proportions. Hurricane Sandy, as usual, formed in warm tropical waters and merged with a rare confluence of meteorological factors to produce one of the great weather events of our time. It has affected millions of people in our hemisphere. My recollections of past weather disasters combined with knowledge I’ve gained from study and review of weather and climate issues during our recent series of posts make the present discussion relevant and timely.

All affected citizens will join together in coming months to cope with the long term effects of this superstorm. Some will exploit this disaster to make their points about its cause and effect within the current politically over-warmed topic of climate change. I must resist the temptation to board the agenda bandwagon to reinforce the points we have been making in these blog posts for the past months. Instead, we benefit from the instruction of scripture, personal past memories, and meteorological history to help put this catastrophe in an instructive perspective.

In the summer of 1955 I was preparing to enter Rutgers University in a few weeks. My father was marketing a crop of sweet corn in northern New Jersey as he had done for several years and would continue to do for more than 30 additional years. I recall more than once harvesting the sweet corn after monumental rainstorms. Such harvests were work-laden ventures even in ideal conditions. The rainstorms transformed the cornfields into a sea of mud, not to mention the inconvenience of picking the ears from fallen stalks. These are dimly recaptured memories of several hurricanes which swept up the eastern coastline from 1954 to 1960.

Several years later my father offered the softball field he had constructed on his farm as a venue for the outdoor tent campaigns of the Morris County Evangelical Ministers Association, a gospel outreach popular in that era. One afternoon my father was forced to call a number of his dear friends to help him shore up the large tent which had been erected and was in imminent danger of being blown away during one of the hurricanes. The call for assistance was successfully answered by a cadre of neighbors.

Far more tragic than these events was the August 18, 1955 loss of forty-six campers at Camp David near Stroudsburg, PA during the passage of Hurricane Diane. The camp was adjacent to Pine Brook Bible Conference. Several of the surviving campers were saved by hiking over to the nearby conference pavilion for a service early in the storm. The remaining souls perished and were swept away as rapidly rising flood waters engulfed the cabin where they took refuge. I recall a dear friend telling me years later that she personally knew some of those campers and their families.

At the height of Hurricane Sandy’s fury I watched a national news broadcaster interview Joe Bastardi, a weather expert. He spoke of a well-known fact among those who research historic weather events. Between 1954 and 1960, ten major hurricanes ran up the eastern seaboard, six of them in 1954 and 1955, including the Pocono camp tragedy. Weatherman Bastardi points out that during the 1930s there were also several significant hurricanes. In the next few years we are entering perilous times again, his predictions warn. The Atlantic Ocean is now in a warm stage, while the Pacific is cold. It’s the 1950s and 1960s all over again, and we had best get used to it. Then we will return to more peaceful conditions.

Does our present global warming account for prevailing bad weather? On the other hand, may it account for our earth-sustaining good weather? According to many commentators who may or may not be weather and climate experts, some comment on issues of weather primarily when it suits them, enabling them to advance their agenda. But according to the record, most would acknowledge that CO2 has been on a slow but steady rise since the Industrial Revolution but still comprises only 1/2500 of our atmospheric concentration. It is in the area of assignment of cause and effect where concerned citizens disagree. Global warming is not responsible for Sandy.

To some members of our population, the first part of James 3:5 may be of more significance than the last phrase with respect to the truth of this verse: “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles.” Those who focus on the “little fire” may have difficulty crediting the Hurricane Sandy superstorm to a very small increase in CO2 in the face of natural oscillations of ocean temperatures and dozens of other natural factors which vary over decades, centuries, and millennia. The concentration of CO2 is increasing, but there is little rise in earth temperatures. Many other factors combine to produce periodic bad weather events.

We pray for the families of those fatally injured or suffering loss from Sandy’s horrific wrath. We must not be unaware of the hundreds of historic episodes of very good and very bad weather over the millennia before and since man arrived on this planet. Through all of these events, the Creator has provided bountifully for man’s benefit, even faced with contrasting tragedies and triumphs of earth’s climate and life systems described in the majestic Book of Job. Notwithstanding each of these events we are called upon to remain thankful: “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thes. 5:18 NLT)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cause and Effect

Our understanding of reality includes, among many other abstract topics, the frequently used scientific inquiry of cause and effect. In terms of origins discussions, for example, we might ask if the molecules to man origins theory of man’s existence is explainable by a naturalistic evolutionary process, or do we explain man’s existence as the product of a front-loaded supernatural miracle at a given point in relatively recent human history? The modern day sibling of evolution is anthropogenic global warming theory. It has a somewhat similar pivot point of cause and effect. Is the warming of our planet caused by man’s increased production of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, or is observed and projected earth warming caused by multiple combinations of factors affecting natural climate oscillations in past ages and still occurring today? The applied scientific term is causal adequacy.

In the evolution and climate change inquiry, errant conclusions are devastating. Assigning the reality of man’s existence to a naturalistic evolutionary process when man really originates with a supernatural transcendent miracle is a theological error of considerable magnitude. We are called upon to assess the scientific credibility of proposals of causal adequacy, comparing both scenarios. The Christian must judge the strength of evidence for front-loaded intelligent design of human genetic existence against the strength of evidence that changes in our genetic inheritance have been achieved gradually and naturalistically. It is our stance that man’s origin in a transcendent miraculous event is supported by plentiful evidence which may be considered scientific, not merely theological. An example (one of many), is the origin of DNA--the coded genetic information bank which could only be the product of an intelligent mind.

Given that our climate has been warming somewhat since 1850, what case do we make for the theory of devastating anthropogenic global warming which still rules media reporting each time a weather disaster occurs? If global warming does not result in significant overall damage to our planet we must turn off the alarm button while searching for more convincing evidence. Whenever climate conditions change there are winners and losers among living things. There are some losers on a seasonal basis if a harsh winter devastates the next season’s pheasant hunting or if a summer heat wave wilts some of our garden crops. Longer term winners may include increased northern range of mockingbirds and cardinals and increased growth rates of foundation species such as birches and aspens at higher latitudes. Admittedly these are somewhat trivial examples but may serve to illustrate our larger point. Winning and losing species have been coming and going in diverse geographical regions for thousand of years as our earth climate and regional ecology have naturally oscillated within the purview of God’s omniscient master plan for planet Earth.

Let’s return to the issue of cause and effect. Life scientists enjoy describing effects they observe among the plentiful variety of living things. Their catalogs of living things fill thousands of biology volumes. Evolutionary biologists notice both similarities and differences among the creatures they study. To explain similarities among creatures, they posit that the creatures are related by common ancestry. They credit common ancestry as the primary cause. This connection among living things is thought to be a majestic naturalistic conclusion to help explain origins. For evolutionary biologists the conclusion produces satisfaction that they have identified an important relationship between cause and effect in living things. With respect to the differences among living things, they propose different causes and effects. Certain changes occurred to produce differences between species. They claim those changes were driven and produced by a theoretical blend of mutation and natural selection, a process repeated millions of times to generate our millions of functioning species.

Climate scientists also search for causes and effects. They enjoy describing what is happening and what is going to happen to our weather in great detail. Related questions arise: Why did we have pleasant or unpleasant weather? What cause may we assign to what effect? The most successful meteorologists receive high grades for answering these questions skillfully. Climatologists proceed with their work at a different level of inquiry. As the trend of weather events over time blends into questions of long term climate change, the same questions of cause and effect arise. Why does the weather seem to be warming over time frames of many decades? Our winters do not seem to be as cold and snowy. Is there an answer? Notwithstanding major historic climate oscillations on a scale of thousands of years, they ask, “What is the cause of the current climate oscillation?”

Since the last quarter of the 20th century, our culture has been immersed in the digitally driven information age. We desire more answers than ever before. If answers are not readily available, many competing computer models are generated to help promote various agendas. Discovery of past, present, and future information gives scientists a feeling of enhanced knowledge and power. I do not wish to denigrate the acquisition of knowledge. As we search for causes and effects of recent changes in our climate, we discover the slight warming of our climate in the past 160 years may not warrant more alarm than it would have had our information age arrived many centuries ago.

Evolution and anthropogenic climate warming are topics which generate disagreement within the Christian community. We must approach the conversation without abrading the integrity of others. Above all, all parties to the discussion must realize that the discovery of truth is more important than the elevation of any personal agenda or philosophy. We must seek truth and wisdom with great diligence. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NIV)

Monday, October 22, 2012

True Rapturous Amazement

We learn much from the pronouncements of secular scientists. Those who work within the venue of nature’s wonders are uniquely positioned to see the beauty and harmony of natural law. The wonder they experience observing and working within this harmony sometimes reads like a true religious experience. In one sense, their experience is religious, but it is not the religion of Christianity, nor is it born of a Christian worldview. Secular religious feeling must not be disparaged, but the religious feeling of scientists triggered by a Christian worldview is superior, by far.

Albert Einstein was an agnostic who did not believe in a personal God. He uttered many laudable sentiments even Christians could embrace but his experience fell far short of the biblical Christian experience. Likewise, appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of our environment, not to mention the awe such a scientist experiences as he observes the precision, complexity, and behavior of matter surrounding us, should exceed the enjoyment of the secular, naturalistic scientist exponentially. The Christian worldview sees God as Creator. Agnostic scientists have a different view of metaphysical reality, a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality. Ultimately the Christian worldview sees our cosmos as the product of a supernatural act of ex nihilo creation.

Einstein’s statement follows: “Religious feeling (for the scientist) takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” Other Einstein statements clarified his religious views and distinguished his beliefs from a genuinely Christian worldview: “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Many quotations from Einstein relate to the nature of his religious beliefs. Many people are eager to be identified with the beliefs and statements of famous people insofar as their own beliefs are affirmed. Those interested in science and its relationship with faith may cite the declarations of famous scientists which help establish their concepts of the science/faith connection. For example, in the “rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law,” we recognize the exuberance a Christian feels for the natural world created by God. Such enthusiasm is justified, but its confirmation is not established in the statements of people who reject biblical notions of the God of Creation.

Albert Einstein experienced many stages of belief on his rapturous journey but in the end his rapture did not lead him to belief in the one true God. He proclaimed he believed in “Spinoza’s God.” Spinoza articulated the belief later to be labelled pantheism, the belief that the natural universe is identical with divinity. He did not see the body and spirit as separate entities, but believed in the essential unity of God and matter. Einstein’s religious beliefs have been dissected by many researchers, but it is doubtful he ever embraced a belief of reality matching that set forth in the Judeo-Christian Bible.

Science professionals who work within the Christian worldview are uniquely privileged to experience a special quality of rapturous amazement, particularly if they recognize the reality of a God who has authored transcendent, transformational, and sustaining miracles along the historic timeline of our cosmos.