Monday, August 22, 2016

Science Appreciation for Kids

Endearing photos of grandchildren may now be instantly shared by grandparents hundreds of miles away. Last week we were apprised of the capture of “Cray-Cray,” a two inch long crayfish proudly named by our 4-year old granddaughter, Juliana. Their neighborhood pond and stream produced the healthy little crayfish. It resided in a plastic bowl for several days before we arrived to baby sit our three young grandchildren. Our granddaughter agreed that Cray-Cray would be happier if returned to his natural home. There he would have access to his natural food—water plants, worms, insects, plankton, and a variety of other foods, according to our internet search. The trip to the pond and back provided a wealth of wonderful object lessons from the world of nature.

On the way to the pond and stream we passed a small tree from which a noisy dog-day cicada was broadcasting its familiar late summer mating message. Grandpa posed the possibility of finding the singer in order to get a closer look while he sang his love song. He did not actually hope to find him because these insects tend to shield themselves in foliage or move carefully around the tree branches in order to remain out of sight. But thankfully, this particular cicada was oblivious to us. After tracking his musical rendition we found the colorful insect perched upon a small branch in surprisingly plain sight about eight feet up. Pointing him out at close range with a stick did not deter him from singing. He sang uninterrupted for several minutes. Grandparents shared an exciting first time experience with their grandkids.

A few hundred feet beyond we arrived at the neighborhood pond. A large dragonfly sailed close to our heads on the way. It was time to plan our strategy for gently returning Cray-Cray to his watery home. When Juliana picked him up she was pinched by her pet who had assumed a defensive posture. Grandpa was hard pressed to assure her that he had been pinched many times in the past by crayfish chelipeds (front legs bearing the claw) without permanent injury—so…not to worry! Soon we devised a strategy for letting Cray-Cray walk off one of the stream’s flat rocks on his own: Mission accomplished.

More adventures awaited us in the clear stream as we observed openings between the water plants. Juliana spotted a polliwog and little fish and unsuccessfully attempted to catch them. Grandpa posed the question, “What do polliwogs become?” He had to answer his own question: “They become frogs or toads.” Juliana wondered, “What do little fish become?” The answer: “Bigger fish.” While we were considering other questions suggested by the stream environment, we were careful not to overkill the children’s curiosity with too much detail. For example, perhaps Grandpa’s comment that some of the flat rocks in the stream were formerly mud or other sediment before they hardened into rock may have been an unnecessary detail.

Throughout the visit to the stream there were numerous opportunities to credit God as the Maker of all sorts of creatures we were observing—cicadas, dragonflies, crayfish, polliwogs, little fish, and the bigger fish the young boys were catching with their parents. Our 4-year old Juliana’s comments affirmed her belief that God made many different animals and plants and that they are all designed wonderfully. We noticed that each and every birch leaf beside the stream was virtually identical with every other birch leaf, but different from leaves of other types of trees. 2-year old Torren was a quieter, but interested observer during the pond visit.

The return trip home was mostly uphill. The children noted that navigating uphill on their balance bike or regular bike was a struggle. Grandpa does not miss opportunities to remind young children of gravity as both a facilitator and inhibitor: a facilitator if traveling downhill; an inhibitor if moving uphill. It is not too early to encourage children to think about the benefits and challenges of gravity. After we returned to the house, neighbors brought over several newly found milkweed caterpillars to share, soon to morph into a chrysalis and later an adult monarch butterfly. Metamorphosis is a glorious natural process in the world of living things. It is possible to pique young children’s interest in these processes and present them as superb ideas in the mind of our Creator.

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Many of our past posts have made reference to children’s belief in God as reinforced by their observation of the physical creation. The most recent post is linked here:

On the “SEARCH THIS BLOG” link on our blog site, entry of the word “CHILDREN” and clicking “SEARCH” will produce several dozen relevant and helpful posts with reference to CHILDREN.  





Saturday, August 20, 2016

Science in the City

Approaching New York City by automobile, bus, train, or aircraft we are struck with the architectural engineering technology applied in the city’s physical construction. Most visitors are impacted by the aesthetic grandeur of the skyline. Soon they experience a close-up immersion into the city. An abundance of additional sensations surround the tourist—close-up sights, sounds, olfactory, and gustatory delights. Modern science enhances the visitor’s experience at every turn.

In our previous post we compared the city of ancient Rome with modern New York City. Architectural and structural technology were used by the ancients to a remarkable degree. The Colosseum and Pantheon were marvels of engineering for their time. Contemporary travels to NYC, however, reveal a very different set of experiences in city life. Our modern experience would have been startling for the Romans were it possible to transport Roman residents to modern times.

The city experience of the 21st century has its foundation in startling events of the past four centuries. The beginnings of the scientific revolution were marked by a revised approach to the investigation of natural phenomena. It was an epistemological revolution resulting in revision of beliefs and practices. We have previously discussed the agricultural, industrial, and sanitary revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. These supplied impetus for the remarkable world population explosion from one billion to over seven billion souls in the past 200 years. At the risk of oversimplifying complex scientific history, we mention but two startling discoveries and innovations: the theory of electromagnetism championed by James Clerk Maxwell in the latter half of the 19th century and the digital revolution of the 20th century.

In looking back at the history of humanity, we may have trouble visualizing how cities such as ancient Rome could manage their affairs without knowing the nature of the electromagnetic spectrum, much less applying its potential for the enrichment of their lives. In our time waves of electromagnetic energy enable hundreds of types of communications at the speed of light. Cities of the modern world would be unable to function without man-generated radio, television, radar, microwaves, and countless other electromagnetic frequencies operating at thousands of different wavelengths. Our ability to use and generate these waves powers our modern way of life. Seldom do we contemplate life in the city just after our country was born or life in ancient Rome. Communication was by unamplified voice, gestures at a distance, and written and oral messages borne by painfully slow messengers.

The purpose of communication is transfer of information. Since mid-20th century we have entered the Digital Age, also known as the Information Age. Virtually unlimited information can be accessed quickly, applied, and stored. The Digital Age we entered in mid-20th century was powered by recent computer technology. It has blended with knowledge of the electromagnetic spectrum first understood in the 19th century. Our culture benefits significantly as we apply our newfound knowledge.

We are concerned about the obsession with cell phone technology. As we navigated the streets of New York City recently, we noticed many residents were speaking on or manipulating their iPhones or cell phones as they walked along the streets. This may be characterized as overload—immersion in a surfeit of information, much of it unnecessary. We understand the meaning of Marshall McCluhan’s famous phrase, “The medium is the message.”

Advanced iPhones provide audible phone communication, texting, media such as television and radio, email, internet, and even our personal banking statements, creating constant multitasking potential at the tip of our fingers. These devices are ubiquitous as we sit in a waiting room, ride the subway, or walk down the street. Personally, I initially welcomed the potential to be in instant communication with my wife or other family members at a moment’s notice almost anywhere on the planet. On the negative side, however, traditional social interactions have been supplanted by interactions with this digital medium.

The “miracle” of our use of cell phone technology developed in the last few decades may have suppressed our appreciation of how it works. In my personal teaching experience decades ago I enjoyed creating student wonder at the reality of invisible electromagnetic waves passing through our classroom and our bodies every moment. At that time I used radio and television waves as object lessons: Their portable radios or TV receivers could prove the reality of their teacher’s claim. In the 21st century my classroom object lesson could include trillions of additional electromagnetic waves pulsing through our bodies. One iPhone call would demonstrate the truth of their teacher’s assertion. Beyond understanding the modern iPhone’s functional capabilities, we wonder if we could generate enough student interest in how the iPhone actually works as well as how it works for us!

We leave this question with our readers: Does our culture’s success with the wonders of science point to the genius of the Creator of all physical phenomena such as the electromagnetic spectrum and its relevance to the Digital Age? Or does our culture’s scientific success signal only the human genius of scientists? Our blog seeks to establish the superiority of the the genius of the God of Creation. 





Monday, August 15, 2016

Progress of Millennia

New York City is a mainstay of family vacations to the United States Northeast. This city is unique for its multiple tourist attractions and has been dubbed the cultural and financial capital of the world. In many decades of residence in New Jersey just a few dozen miles west of this great city, our family had never visited for multiple consecutive days, much less enjoying two overnights a few blocks from Times Square, the “Crossroads of the World.” This intersection is arguably the world’s most visited tourist attraction, hosting 39 million visitors in a given year. The fame of New York City is legendary, not overshadowed by the sometimes conflicting metrics of most visited, most popular, most fascinating, or other superlatives describing cities of our modern world.

This marvelous city was home to a few tens of thousands of people before 1800, had grown to one million in 1870, and now boasts 8.5 million residents in its five boroughs. It has always been the most populous city in the US and retains that distinction to this day. Historically, New York is a relatively recent arrival on the world map along with many other densely populated world cities since the global population explosion began two centuries ago. 

The recent visit to New York City was reminiscent of our stay in Rome, Italy in 2011. Rome was the first world city to achieve a population of one million residents in its heyday around the time of Christ. Rome experienced a serious depopulation in the intervening centuries due to a multitude of factors, but in modern times it has regained its former glory and its population now numbers 2.8 million. We will contemplate two architectural wonders of the ancient city of Rome and their parallels in modern New York City. The two wonders of ancient Rome, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, provide interesting counterparts in New York City’s new Yankee Stadium and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in northern Manhattan.

The ancient Colosseum, an architectural wonder even for its day, was built from 72-80 AD with slave labor and the efforts of skilled Roman artisans. It was the venue of gladiator games and other public spectacles. Concrete and vaulted arches were an innovation. It was financed partly with treasures from the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD and accomplished with slave labor from Jews captured in that event. Imagine—in the Colosseum there were no loudspeakers, video cameras, or giant video screens for instant replay, or to quickly replay events for judges to determine the accuracy of athletic officials’ on-field calls many miles distant. The Colosseum’s vast network of rooms, passageways, and tunnels supplementing the main arena find an analogy in passageways and refreshment venues surrounding the beautiful grassy playing field of the New Yankee Stadium, built from 2006-2009. We wonder, however, if Colosseum patrons felt they were deprived as spectators in the first century AD.

The Pantheon was conceived by Emperor Agrippa around the time of Christ. It was destroyed by fire, reconstructed, and dedicated by Hadrian about 126 AD. Originally the Pantheon was intended as a “Temple of Every God.” Its dome is 141 feet above ground and is still the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world, 23 feet thick at the base of the dome and ranging to two feet thick at its summit. The engineering genius of that era provided a progressively lighter composition of concrete from the dome’s base to its summit to allow for ideal weight bearing. In my personal view, the Pantheon, standing for two millennia, is one of the most astounding wonders of architectural technology and engineering, even in the present day. Professional engineer David Moore has written, “Today, no engineer would dare build this structure without steel rods. Modern codes of engineering would not permit such mischief.” The Pantheon was converted to a Christian church in the 7th century.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in northern Manhattan is spectacular for different reasons. This enormous 601 foot long Episcopal cathedral was begun in 1892 and is far from completion. It is doubtful the structure will ever be completed, because the need for maintenance and repair far exceeds the requirements for completion. The emotions we experience upon perceiving such monuments to God’s gifts range across a wide spectrum. Our family sojourn in New York City and Rome enabled us to contemplate the physical, intellectual, and spiritual gifts our Creator has bestowed ever since the creation of humanity in the image of God.