Friday, July 27, 2012

Soulish Qualities

The “soulishness” of many wild creatures we observe in our environment is a characteristic of great significance. The definition of this interesting term is worthy of repetition: Soulish life includes creatures described beginning with Genesis 1:21 in which God endowed mind, will, and emotions so they can form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings. Scholar Hugh Ross has written enlighteningly on this topic. We credit him with much useful thinking with respect to the Hebrew term bara, to identify the soulishness described in Genesis 1. There are other Hebrew terms of God’s creation activity such as asah used with respect to other divine acts of creation. Bara however, is usually reserved for creation events having a special character, usually creation ex nihilo, where nothing existed before. Soulishness encompasses a plethora of wonderfully intriguing qualities. The ultimate in soulish beings are humans, who also possess spirit and were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26).

Before elaborating on the wonderful qualities of soulishness possessed by the creatures produced on day five and six of the creation account, we outline the three specific uses of Hebrew bara within the first chapter of Genesis. These are the creation of (1) the entire universe in verse 1, (2) soulish animals in verse 21, and (3) human beings in verse 27. God’s acts of creation provided for the miraculous sudden onset of life billions of years after the creation of matter, energy, time, and space. The life present on earth before about 150 million years ago was not soulish as we define it. The birds and livestock described as created during days five and six were soulish, as were Adam and Eve who also possessed spirit and were created recently in the image of God.

One reason many secular scientists do not note soulishness as a characteristic of life is because evolutionary theorists prefer to place life on an evolutionary continuum. They prefer to perceive the fundamental differences between non-soulish animals, soulish animals, and soulish animals having spiritual qualities such as human beings, as mere naturalistically produced differences in degree rather than fundamental differences in kind. Scholar Hugh Ross states, “God intervened from outside of nature to introduce something of great value…The Bible credits God’s creative involvement, not just natural processes, for the big changes scientists observe in the record of Earth’s life.” But Darwin’s philosophical descendants a century and a half later are “understandably reluctant to let go of their conclusions” because newer biological research strikes at the heart of their naturalistic paradigm. I invite readers to research persuasive scientific affirmation of differences in kind, fundamental differences between non-soulish, soulish, and soulish humans. The first book of the Bible outlines these differences as God created them.

In Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (2011), Hugh Ross devotes an entire chapter to three major categories of soulish creatures from the Book of Job and outlines how each category benefits humanity. Such animals are also included under the broad Hebrew term nephesh. These animals are a diverse group including some wild and difficult to tame, some easily domesticated, some four-legged, some two legged, some birds, and some mammals. They are all catalogued in Job 38-39. Each reader could identify with the most well known soulish animals. Almost all have owned a dog or cat at some point but we may need to work harder to identify the soulish qualities in Ross’s “Top Ten Nephesh” ensemble: the lions, ravens, goats, deer, donkeys, wild oxen, ostriches, horses, hawks, and eagles. A study of the list from the author of the Book of Job together with Ross’s scholarly study may depict the characteristic of soulishness in a different light.

Soulish creatures bring much pleasure to humans as we observe them. Virtually everyone in our community shares their animal stories with obvious delight. Our own residential community has been dubbed “bird heaven” by committed bird lovers. Our personal ornamental water fountain has been visited in the last year by at least eighteen bird species drinking or bathing exuberantly just outside our office window. Who could deny their special soulish qualities as they interact with each other and with us? The drinkers and bathers are exuberant in their joy, not to mention the joy we humans experience while observing them. We watch them zestfully splashing and flying off to dry themselves while they tilt their bodies toward the sun. Some birds are cautious; some are bold; some take quick dips; some wish to stay for some time like teenagers unwilling to get out of the pool. Recently one robin partook of long draughts of water and serenaded the neighborhood between drinks for several minutes while perched at the edge of the fountain. We limit our discussion of soulishness to just one aspect of animal behavior of many we have observed.

We return to the sudden geological record of novel appearances of new life forms as evidenced by the geological record. Our God has created (1) morphologically simple, yet bio-chemically complex life forms beginning suddenly roughly 3.8 billion years ago, (2) life forms from the Cambrian Explosion where geologically sudden appearances of dozens of non-soulish phyla quickly appeared in the fossil record over a relatively brief period about 530 million years ago, and (3) birds and mammals about 150 million years ago marking the appearance of soulish creatures. Finally, and most significant, (4) we observe the recent appearance of modern man according to the record of Genesis -31. It is the fourth and final leg in the sequential progression of created life forms. The brief record of Genesis 1 contains an account of this creative activity: the creation of non-soulish animals, the creation of soulish animals and finally, the creation of soulish animals with spiritual qualities--man created in the Image of God.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Science Literacy vs Appreciation

When our grandchildren visited our outdoor neighborhood during past summers, at times this science educator wondered whether we should stress science literacy or science appreciation. In my own mind I opted for science appreciation without using either of the terms in the earshot of the children, lest we would compromise the genuine joy of outdoor discovery for them. The term “science” might not have been understood, not to mention what “appreciation” may have meant had I used the term when they were very young. It is clear, however, that they were learning the fundamentals of science appreciation.

In the past we have attempted to identify birds both by sight and by song. For roughly four years Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song has been a staple in our sun room, even during winter months, a treasured gift from their aunt. This far from the coast, we enjoyed the unfamiliar sounds of shore birds we would never see, but the book helped us identify our own locality’s pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, tufted titmice, bluebirds, and a variety of other neighborhood companions over the years. Last summer we identified a red-headed woodpecker in the tree of our next door neighbor, truly a flashy bird with spectacular beauty and becoming quite scarce because man is altering its favored habitat.

Before my grandchildren’s interests redirect to more serious social or athletic pursuits, we only hope they have tucked away a few memories of their grandparents’ yard--the little black ant hills, the marvelous digger wasps, and the many monarch butterfly chrysalises we watched hatch before we watched the adults fly off to Mexico, or perhaps produce one or two more summer generations in our area. We watched the planets of our dark skies set on a couple of occasions, savored the hoot of the great horned owls we once heard, and became alarmed at the threat of a mother turkey aggressively shielding her well-hidden babies as we approached her in the woods. These are all parts of a treasured memory bank for future years.

We must not forget our lot’s prime agricultural product. Black walnuts are a staple here. This year our beautiful front yard black walnut tree will bear only the second true bumper crop in ten years. There will be several thousand useful walnuts to benefit from my personalized nut gathering, storage, and cracking practices. The nuts keep for several years and afford tasty treats if one can endure the difficult process of breaking the shells. When the tiny walnuts begin to form come spring, there are meaningful lessons on the sequence of development from beginning to end of harvest. The scripture in Mark 4:26-29 describes this creative process as an occasion to glorify God. Later as the grandchildren sit on the rock wall consuming the newly cracked nuts, there is ample time to reflect on the ongoing process of development toward harvest as sequenced by Jesus.

Several famous secular writers highlight the tension between science appreciation and science literacy. In 1995 one science educator, Morris Shamos, wrote a book The Myth of Scientific Literacy which suggested a more realistic objective would be to highlight science appreciation rather than science literacy. Several national movements advocating scientific literacy have ended dismally because leaders have under stressed a grass roots appreciation of the natural world in favor of a more superficial, program driven effort. These are problems which have plagued many initiatives in education.

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (2008) was popular for a time. Louv “describes a generation so plugged to electronic diversions that it has lost its connection to the natural world” according to a back cover entry from The Nation’s Health. Our mental, physical, and spiritual health is linked directly to our association with nature. In the United States, children are spending less time playing outdoors--or in any unstructured way. The author decries the truth that “for a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in the backyard, in the tool shed, in the fields and woods, have been replaced by indirect learning, through machines.” Finally, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. poignantly stated we shouldn’t be worshipping nature as God, but nature is the way that God communicates to us most forcefully.

Our experience has shown that many children sated with an overabundance of physical goods and prepackaged entertainment can still become fascinated with the why and how of nature’s phenomena. This is illustrated by the way younger children often forsake complex and expensive toys in favor of simple exploring and discovering outdoor wonders. A sense of appreciation of natural things is most likely to develop from activities that are “sense based” to every degree possible. Sense based activities are a manifestation of God’s general revelation, one of God’s two primary means of communicating with His children. Children’s attention may be captured more effectively by events they observe in the world around them. After young people gain more cognitive awareness at different levels, they may be able to integrate their God consciousness more effectively.

The ancient people described in Romans 1:18-20 “can clearly see his (God’s) invisible qualities—his invisible power and divine nature (NLT).” Our awareness of this gift to today’s young people and adults is essential even in this present day. Many poetic scriptures such as Psalm 19 speak of the glory of our entire cosmos and, by extension, the micro cosmos and all we observe at every level of creation. Truly, the entire cosmos tells “of the glory of God.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avian Acumen

“Acumen” is a term most often associated with human traits. Expertise, intuition, accuracy, perception, and judgment are traits associated with acumen, such as the oft used expression “business acumen.” After making a study of this term, I tentatively acclaim acumen as a qualifier for traits of the animal world. For instance, our neighborhood is filled with animals of all descriptions from mammals to birds to the world of insects. After many years of ongoing surveillance of various animals in our immediate locality, I have mentally catalogued enough information on my personal favorites to amuse visiting friends with descriptions of entertaining animal antics.

One creature high on my list of personal favorites is a bird of barely one-half ounce, the indigo bunting. This tiny, finch-like bird has become a personal favorite, not because of the species characteristics described in detail in many manuals, but because the indigo male residing in our neighborhood has returned to our front yard tree for three years running. This bundle of enjoyment for our family has returned to serenade us with its claims of territorial supremacy. The chance that another indigo bunting male would claim and reclaim its tiny perch is vanishingly small.

Before my readers think this post has become a secular manual on bird behavior we claim scripture insights from the Old Testament Book of Job. The inspired author has given many examples of God’s creative work from the world of animal behavior. Job 12:7 could double as a heading for several insightful passages on animal behavior later in the Book of Job. The Creator has equipped the millions of earth species, particularly the soulish creatures defined as “includ(ing) creatures in which God endowed mind, will, and emotions so that they can form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings.” Soulish creatures include birds such as crows and species such as our family’s indigo bunting: “But ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you” (Job 12:7).

Even though soulish creatures are highly remarkable and in spite of counsel that we should “ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you,” Job 35:10 asserts there is a much higher claim for the intellectual capability of human beings created in the image of God: “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?” The two passages from the Book of Job do not contradict in any way. Soulish animals are created with some abilities even humans may not duplicate but they are not created in the image of God. Only humanity has received that honor.

The indigo bunting has the more fascinating navigation system of any of our local birds. By October it sets sail for southern seas using the North Star, also known as the Pole Star. This star is stationary in the sky with all the other stars apparently revolving around it once every 24 hours. Apparently the young birds learn in the indigo nursery before they are fledged to recognize a stationary star. Polaris fills this requirement in our Northern Hemisphere. Without having any stars to view on a cloudy night, its navigation system is compromised. Our family’s indigo bunting successfully used the cloudless sky system to return to his “needle in a haystack” location in Northern Illinois.

We observed our male indigo bathing this spring in our bird bath fountain, followed by either his female or one of his young fledglings. Either way, the energetic, purity of the song of her husband or father was audible all spring and well into the summer. For three years I have memorized his four phrases of paired notes. Our neighborhood songster’s exuberant territory identifier has not varied. From neighborhood to neighborhood, most bunting song vocabulary varies slightly in character. Our bird song recordings are somewhat different from the indigo bunting we have claimed as “our own.”

Our tiny avian marvel dried himself off in an ornamental apple tree right next to his bathing venue. The sun was not shining while he dried himself. Therefore, we were able to see his apparent change to a darker color because the indigo displays its plumage color by refracted light and not by the ordinary colors provided by the reflection of pigments. This effect is most visible in more subdued light. Our male indigo bunting did not appear like “a scrap of sky with wings” as he usually does in bright sunlight.

The study of birds and their God-created soulishness is an occasion for worship. We need to be reminded that each avian species is distinctive and beautiful. Of the worldwide 10,000 bird species almost 20% are migratory. None of the migratory species has a more fascinating story of acumen--the expertise, intuition, accuracy, and perception which has helped our joy-giving annual visitor find its way home to the middle temperate zone with the coming of spring. Each of the millions of species has its own set of tales to tell of God-endowed acumen at different levels of creation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Buntings and Bosons

Buntings and Bosons? Could any title be more unusual?

In the world of particle physics, the Higgs boson is a current news mainstay. Seldom does such pure science news make it to page one headlines. Indeed, the world is abuzz with news about one of the most well known animals populating the “zoo of fundamental particles” as one writer spiced his description. Jeff Zweerink, Reasons to Believe scholar, in a recent article characterizes bosons as able to “mediate the electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces.” In addition, the widely anticipated Higgs boson would cap a fifty-year search for understanding particle mass. Zweerink claims “scientists want to know how all of the four fundamental forces unify under one common theoretical umbrella.” Hundreds of scientists are asking the same questions as are hundreds of reporting science journalists. But do the little birds called indigo buntings populating our residential neighborhood have any application to these recent discoveries? We’ll try to make the connection.

When I was a secondary school science teacher some of my students tended to perceive my interests outside the school setting as singularly science. Perhaps I inadvertently fostered this misperception because I sometimes attached a science application to many of my exchanges with students. Science teachers were often challenged to make sure their subject areas related to the interests of the “whole person.” Had the purported Higgs boson discovery flashed across the news when I made my living as a classroom teacher, science teachers may have been hard pressed to relate the mysterious and obscure news to everyday phenomena in the lives of their students. Some would ask, hadn’t we settled on the concepts of weight, gravity, and mass long ago?

After all, had not our students dealt with elementary concepts such as weight, gravity, and mass in early classroom lessons? Did our students not understand that fellow classmates’ weights vary according to how much gravity pulls on them, especially if they are assigned to positions on the football team or different weight classes as wrestlers? Had our students been instructed that astronauts on the initial manned moon exploration weighed only one-sixth as much after landing on the moon? Did they know that on their way to the moon landing there was virtually no gravity because the effect of gravity was cancelled out completely by the balancing forces? Finally, early definitions of mass as merely the “amount of matter” in an object, long ago settled, are being raised again.

The particle called the Higgs boson reveals there are unusual and wonderful properties we really do not understand about matter. For example, we might report that the Higgs boson gives matter its mass similar to the way, according to one colorful description, swimmers moving through a pool of water get wet. One must ask if such humorous imagery really addresses the questions we have. The standard model may need an extra particle to be added, but physicist Jonas Strandberg from the ATLAS experiment at CERN, states that the standard model doesn’t have gravity in it. Gravity is still not well understood. There are many other questions unanswered, such as the mediations between electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear forces.

Science professionals and educators have pored over reports from CERN spokesmen where the LHC findings have generated this breaking news. To readers not engaged at the professional level the Higgs news appears to provide ready answers to questions posed for almost fifty years. On the other hand, scientists who have recognized important discoveries such as the Higgs boson have already generated many more questions and research opportunities than had been asked. This principle is true not only in science but extends to human knowledge in other fields.

While the buzz about bosons has built to a fever pitch over the last few weeks, an annual repeating event in my front yard for the past three years has been attracting the attention of me, my wife, my grandchildren, and anyone else willing to listen. A little bird called the indigo bunting has returned to one lone bare hickory branch for the third straight year, singing mightily as if to reclaim that temporarily abandoned branch while he spent the winters in southern Mexico or the Caribbean. This bunting has many other stories of interest which we will pick up in another post. Suffice to say that indigos possess unique electromagnetic properties as they display their plumage. The connection with the standard model of particle physics may be a stretch, but we’ll make the connection nevertheless.

Nature is interconnected with the wonder possessed by humans created in God’s image. Some scientists chafe at the suggestion that the complexity of matter in the Standard Model of particle physics is an occasion to give God the glory for designing such a complex and functional physical system. The majority of scientists seem to prefer naturalistic explanations for what we observe in the laboratory, even the laboratory of the LHC on the Swiss border, not to mention the behavior of everyday living things and matter in our front yards.

Fabiola Gianotti, head of one LHC branch of 3,000 CERN scientists, exulted in the new Higgs boson discovery, giving credit to “nature.” In one sense, this credit is deserved were we to understand the authorship of “nature.” Gianotti said, “Thanks, nature!” evoking laughs from the crowd.

For the Christian who sees Jesus as the Creator with God in the beginning according to the truth revealed in the first few verses of the Gospel of John, we acknowledge Him as the author of nature. All of nature’s traits speak thanks and praise to God. A centuries-old hymn bears witness to this truth: “Fairest Lord Jesus: Ruler of all nature, O Thou of God and man the Son. Thee will I cherish; Thee will I honor, Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Evolving Particle Theory

Democritus, an ancient Greek philosopher, was sometimes called the father of modern science. This moniker was assigned to a number of historic figures. The 5th century BC ancient Greek philosopher developed a remarkable atomic theory without ability to support it empirically and evidentially. Nevertheless, his ideas were far ahead of their time. The citation of Democritus’s ancient ideas as we taught our introductory studies on chemistry was a fascinating tribute to the power of human reasoning and speculation harking back over two millennia.

Early atomists proposed a number of concepts, including the idea that there may be spaces between unseen tiny bits of matter, and that the tiny bits of matter could somehow be attached together or even change the shape or size of the sample. Democritus and his followers envisioned the changelessness of matter, imagining how tiny particles of matter become recycled and retain the same inherent, indivisible properties. The Apostle Paul’s familiar verse in Colossians cites a similar concept, the idea that by God “all things hold together.” Man was gifted with the ability to contemplate physical reality long before the development of formal scientific methods even if the early pagan thinkers did not share the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The Scientific Revolution of the last 400 years was bursting with discoveries on atomic theory. These inductive discoveries were founded on empirical and experimental methods and refined scientific thinking and knowledge. Unlike brilliant philosophers of the two millennia prior to the scientific revolution, science discovery by this time had taken a turn away from philosophical speculation. Now there were many brilliant minds uncovering answers concerning the nature of physical reality. For example, early atomic theorist John Dalton (1766-1844) was one of an army of early scientists who discovered the nature of atoms and how they combine with each other in a mathematically predictable way. He discovered laws relating to how atoms combine in constant proportions to form compounds. This was early affirmation that atoms were discrete particles and that all atoms of a specific element share certain common characteristics.

Many retired readers of this blog recall that in the youth of our grandparents and in the early adulthood of our parents, there were pioneering discoveries of fundamental particles which composed familiar elements and what these fundamental particles were like. Did hydrogen, oxygen, iron, and many other natural elements share fundamental particles in common? Did fundamental particles from one element to another even exist? Is there a commonality between fundamental particles of oxygen, iron, and dozens of other known elements even though their characteristics are very different from each other?

Contemporaries of our day might be surprised to learn that between 1897 and 1932 the electron, the proton, and the neutron respectively were discovered to be fundamental particles. In short, many of our grandparents and parents had not even heard of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Their familiarity with the basic characteristics of dozens of elements was remarkable -- nitrogen, carbon, calcium, and sodium, for example -- but they may not have been aware that all these elements shared only three basic fundamental particles. The eventual discovery of three famous discrete particles, the electron, the proton, and the neutron lent a measure of simplicity to our early chemistry courses. We found out how the particles were discovered, how large the particles were, what kind of charges they had, and enough other information to stoke our sense of pride. Could our lives be any simpler as students of chemistry? Yes, the best was yet to come.

Protons and neutrons are not considered elementary or fundamental particles any longer because they have substructure. Since 1960 scientists have gained a wealth of additional fundamental knowledge concerning subatomic particles. The protons and neutrons are now considered hadrons and have been found to be composed of up and down quarks, three of each. There are also six different leptons, of which the electron is only one. All told there are twelve quarks and leptons. In addition there are force carrying particles which are considered fundamental forces. We need to be aware that as our knowledge expands there are many more unanswered questions. The purported recent discovery of the Higgs boson is by no means the end of our quest.

As we search along the historical timeline going back 2500 years, and even thousands of years earlier, we realize God has enabled both discovery and application at each point in time. We might wonder why the keys to the bank of scientific knowledge have been kept locked for many thousands of years while the human intellect has flourished. Why have the secrets of subatomic particles been withheld until the 20th and 21st centuries, including the earlier identities and characteristics of the electron, proton, and neutron during the 19th and 20th?

These questions are appropriate for many more hours of sober reflection, including the words of Isaiah 40:26. His musings included the macro cosmos, “Who created all these?” Perhaps Isaiah, were he alive today, may also inquire of the wonders of the micro cosmos in sub-atomic beauty of matter surrounding us wherever we look!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

God Particle Revisited

In recent years there have been numerous science writers who write using theological imagery. For example, secular geneticists gave the earliest humans names like chromosomal Adam or mitochondrial Eve. When the 1992 discovery of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) provided stunning confirmation of the hot big bang creation event, George Smoot, secular scientist, made a statement with a distinctive theological ring, such as “If you’re religious, this is like looking at God.”

The startling news of the past few days and the apparent discovery of the last major piece of the puzzle in particle physics has been popularly named the God Particle after a book authored by Leon Lederman in 1993. Modern scientists like the publicity afforded by the trendy expression and enjoy the mystique this particle has evoked for decades. Some scientists, however, do not accept the clever name, and would prefer something more technical in keeping with their more sober view of physical, naturalistic reality. For the Christian, the discovery clearly signals yet another revelation, one of hundreds of designed features governing the workings of our magnificent cosmos and helps us place the Scriptural worldview in line with our personal worldview.

In September 2008 the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) came on line at the border of France and Switzerland. It had been under construction for roughly two decades at a cost of ten billion dollars. Problems plagued the collider shortly after the hyped start up date due to faulty electrical connections, but the unit was up and running again after a few months. Now comes word that there is virtual certainty that the elusive Higgs boson has been detected. It is a remarkable discovery unknown to most laypeople. But many of your neighbors could identify with this crucially ultimate discovery. Scientists had long sought for this discovery. It was finally found after many decades.

What could make the importance of this 2012 discovery come alive to our readers? Perhaps the awareness that a complex jigsaw puzzle would be judged a failure if just one missing piece could not be found. Let’s focus on some basics from the world of physics. (Most of our knowledge of exotic particle physics has been discovered since the 1960s. Those in high school or college before that time may not remember.) The most interesting exotic particles have been discovered since that time. The standard model was proposed in the 1970s and tested extensively in the 1980s.  The model was missing an important puzzle piece until the purported discovery of the Higgs boson, first proposed by 83-year old Peter Higgs in 1964. Higgs is rapidly gaining celebrity status.

During the 1960s the standard model was taking shape. Protons and neutrons were found to be composed of quarks. There are six “flavors” of quarks. Matter is also composed of six different “flavors” of leptons. The familiar electron is only one of the six leptons. Finally, there are force-carrying particles for the four universal forces. The standard model is a very successful theory of matter which accounts for many observations we make in our physical world. Particle physicists believe the Higgs boson is the hypothetical missing standard model “puzzle piece” that causes other particles to have mass. The Higgs boson has roughly the mass of a proton. One writer claimed the Higgs boson is associated with a field, called the Higgs field, theorized to pervade the entire universe. As other particles travel through this field, they acquire mass much as swimmers moving through a pool get wet, the thinking goes.

Two-and-a-half hours from where we live, the Batavia, IL Fermilab scientists who until recently manned the Tevatron accelelator had hoped to be the first to discover the Higgs boson before it went off line in 2011. The staff gathered at Fermilab one recent morning at to watch the announcement from Geneva. Scientist Patricia McBride stated “A lot of the techniques that are being used there were first tried out here.” American scientists were plagued by cost constraints over the years, but scientists from around the world are ebullient in their praises for scientific colleagues and enthusiastic about these discoveries. The Fermilab installation will participate in many new discoveries in future years. The discovery of the Higgs boson will trigger many new discoveries about the workings of God’s creation.

For many scientists, discovery about the truths of the physical creation takes a back seat to truths about the God of Creation. We need to respect professional scientists and the gifts they have notwithstanding they do not share the same reverence for the Creator. Their concerns are more along the lines of the fundamental characteristics of matter, energy, and forces of nature, and how they may best discover these realities. Also, what laws govern the operation of all things, living as well as non-living? Thousands of other questions drive scientists’ quest for knowledge in hundreds of specialized fields of investigation. They are fascinated with the unknowns and seek to convert the unknowns to the known. But there is rarely theological speculation within science, because the field of science is naturalistically framed.

The beauty and predictability of the matter from which our world is constructed declares the glory of God. Every discovery furthers our vision of the order with which our creator has endowed His world. Psalm 24:1, declares “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

History No Simple Matter

Among the vast changes in our country occurring about 1960, few possess more impact than the events related to the origin of the intense creationism discussion which commenced about that time. Coincident with what has been termed the “seminal” publication of The Genesis Flood we referenced in our 6/29/12 post, there was renewed interest in origins topics which at first grew slowly within the church in the next few decades and then eventually into the national secular awareness. Eventually creationism became the whipping boy of evolutionists in our educational system in the intervening decades.

At the same time evolution became the whipping boy of creationists. This has become one of the battlegrounds of cultural war in our nation. It may be one of the initial war zones which escalated into other battle zones within our culture. Many people see the 1960s as an important turning point on many fronts. We choose to limit our discussion to science education which had seemingly slumbered in the dozen years since the end of World War II and even in the decades before. To this end my personal experience may lend some light on what happened.

The Russian satellite Sputnik, launched October 4, 1957, brought to light an embarrassing chapter in our nation’s public science education. Our country’s self image suffered a blow when Russia upstaged us in launching an earth-circling satellite. Our program was not really inferior to the Russian technology, but our national pride was wallowing in the embarrassment of being second in this space race as the world watched. Reforms in science education were underway shortly before Sputnik, but it is safe to speak of the 1957 launch as a triggering mechanism. President Eisenhower championed enormous funding to promote the National Science Foundation (NSF) Curriculum Improvement Plan, part of the National Defense Education Act funding in 1958, authorizing funding for broad science education initiatives in public schools. During 1963-65 I participated in three summer NSF institutes in physical sciences and earth sciences funded by the federal government. Our government invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these programs owing to the national perception that our country had fallen behind in crucial areas of public school science education.

One of the most serious deficiencies of our bio-science programs at that time was deemed to be evolution not being taught in our public schools. Accordingly, the NSF responded by providing generous government funding to the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) to provide completely new public school textbooks. The new textbooks replaced the writings of old-style, conventional authors who emphasized the organism. The new textbooks emphasized Neo-Darwinism, and were fueled by the new genetic discoveries of Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. In general, the new courses took an unabashed turn toward evolution. In previous decades most written resources of our bio-science curriculum had barely mentioned evolution. I recall counseling high school parents about what they could expect from the new emphasis on molecular biology. Public school life science was undergoing a sea change.

Not only was evolutionary biology not on the radar screens in our public schools, but our churches were not tuned in to the creationism time scale discussion except in a small segment of the Christian community before 1960. Specifically, the six literal days of recent creation, and the 6,000 year-old earth was not a basic tenet of faith. Most Christian scholars were far more concerned with evangelism and issues such as the 14-point creed Niagara Bible Conference focusing on sound theology and matters of biblical eschatology. Dozens of sound evangelical science scholars readily endorsed an old earth and accepted the plentiful evidence accumulating for a very old earth as the 19th century became the 20th and mainstream scientific evidence accumulated for a very old earth.

In general, the beliefs of many sincere, faithful evangelical Christians, sometimes estimated to be 40% of our current population and most of whom were born since 1960, anchor their Christian faith on a unique version of Bible interpretation. It is their adamant trust that the Bible allows no interpretation apart from The Genesis Flood, The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications of John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris. Such a belief has grounded itself in perceived theological orthodoxy and a large population of sincere evangelicals take comfort that their beliefs are correct and without error.

Who could have predicted this culture war would grow into a major battle ground of our modern time? Evolution now is a word firmly embedded in our modern cultural awareness. It surely is more widely used in the second decade of the 21st century than it was in the days of Sputnik. Our educational system has now become saturated with the term – a cultural icon of our time. In biology texts there are multiple references to the clear meaning of evolution on virtually every page: all earth life has a common ancestor. The implications of this statement are enormous.

What about the young earth creationists’ belief system? This is the other side of the cultural forces aligned that have warred against each other for dominance for over fifty years. If the confluence of these two factors had not occurred from the late 1950s to early 1961, we would have a very different world with respect to the evolution and creationism controversy. The turns of history would have been very different.