Monday, June 10, 2019

Ecclesiastes: The Preacher's Scientific Musings

The Old Testament contains several Books of Wisdom, including the Book of Ecclesiastes. The meaning of Ecclesiastes is sometimes rendered “the Teacher” or “the Preacher.” Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation, calls Solomon, the book’s probable writer, “the Quester,” because of the experiential stance of the writing in the book, giving voice to what is so basic among men and women throughout history. The author experiences a ‘quest,’ an active search for answers to profound observations concerning his life experiences. Some commentary consists of insightful, empirical observation about the world of nature.

Inspiration for our current post comes from the devotional for June 8, 2019 in the popular daily publication Our Daily Bread. The application section applied a lesson from the bowling alley where routine tasks must be repeated again and again. Bowling pins must be reset time and again. Many mundane tasks such as laundry, cooking, and mowing the lawn must be repeated, seemingly endlessly. The musings of Solomon are ambivalent in his Book of Wisdom. On one hand he complains about common cycles, expressing disappointment, doubt, discouragement, and even despair about the way things are, sometimes categorizing ordinary events of life as “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Eugene Peterson colorfully paraphrases such repetitive events “…nothing but smoke—and spitting into the wind.”

An alternative interpretation of Solomon’s writings may be that he approached some daily cycles with realism and resignation, if not humor. Even in chapter 1 he observes, “What has been done will be done again: there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl.1:9 NIV.) Surely Solomon and his subjects were richly blessed by natural astronomical and meteorological cycles. In a day several thousands of years before the Scientific Revolution, the Quester took note of life sustaining phenomena such as the sun’s daily (diurnal) motion, atmospheric circulation, and the water cycle. His empirical analysis of these daily life-sustaining features of our environment argues against Solomon’s sometimes depressing observations. Solomon’s underlying respect for the majesty and righteousness of the Creator shines through his sometimes pessimistic tone. 

Solomon was a ‘preacher’ or ‘teacher.’ He was not a scientist in modern terms, but his  insights were scientific in terms of his observational skills. What did the ancients believe about the motion of the Sun which rises and sets and “hurries back to where it rises?” Until the Scientific Revolution, many ancients still believed in geocentrism: The Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, Moon, and other planets revolved around the Earth. Many ancient people even believed in a flat earth. Many who did not subscribe to a flat earth had difficulty believing that the earth rotates since it seemed unreasonable that we would not “feel” the earth rotating at hundreds of miles per hour. This was within the scope of Solomon’s observational abilities. However, it was long before the days of humanity’s grasp of real vs apparent motion and their cause and effect relationship with respect to astronomical bodies.

In the arena of atmospheric circulation, our Quester was prescient in recognizing the meteorological cycles inherent in Earth’s wind flow. “The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course,” Solomon observed. In a more complex insight, we sense how deeply he mused about the sequence of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and the return flow of liquid water back to the sea from where it originated. We now speak of the modern water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle.

Another scientific insight is presented in Chapter 3:1-8. Nine consecutive verses begin with the subject of time. The author claims there is an appropriate time frame for every human activity “under heaven.” Time is a linear dimension. As such, it is a scientific concept. Implanted along the dimension of time, according to Solomon, is the overarching flow of human experience as we strive to give temporal and eternal meaning to our lives.  

Other examples of physical recycling appear periodically within the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. A poignant example is the ultimate temporal fate of physical death for all in this world, both men and animals. In Eccl. 3:19-20 we read, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both; as one (an animal) dies, so dies the other (man)…..All go to the same (physical) place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Along the pathway of life we are made aware of the relentless progress of senescence, the tendency of the human body to deteriorate physiologically as old age approaches. Senescence is an intrinsic characteristic of all living things in the firm grip of the Law of Entropy. Read about the approach of human senescence in the poetic description of the onset of old age in Eccl. 12:1-7.

In later chapters, Solomon offers hope. He offers “…the conclusion of the matter” in Eccl. 12:13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This advice overpowers the temporary discouragement experienced in our personal quest for life’s meaning.  



      



    



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Recurring Spring Cycles

Consider the many natural cycles embedded in our life experience. We have described many types of cycles in past posts. Optionally, we recommend readers review our 2012 post entitled “The Ubiquity of Cycles” as an introduction to our discussion of several well-known recurring cycle phenomena associated with the spring season in North America:


As we write, approximately 75% of the astronomical spring has passed. The spring season is always positioned between the same seasons—always following winter, always preceding summer. Many secondary cycles are embedded within the primary cycle of annual seasons. Earth’s rotation causes cycles of light followed by dark, warm/cold temperature cycles related to day and night, or even less obvious daily cycle of elevated relative humidity in early morning. Virtually all weather statistics relate to cycles of one sort or another.

Dozens of natural astronomical and meteorological cycles are associated with our planet’s 23.4º axis tilt away from the perpendicular to its orbital plane. Some cycles, such as the day/night cycle, relate to Earth’s rotation. These two interlocking causes provide wonderful observable cycle phenomena by which humans are sustained, enriched, and even entertained. 

A famous astronomical cycle is illustrated by the presence of the huge prehistoric Stonehenge Monument in England. Huge boulders were positioned purposefully several thousand years BC. According to accepted theory, analysts have concluded that sightings from the center of the original Stonehenge structure align with momentary positions of the sun as aligned with the “heel stone,” a location several hundred feet outside the monument on the specific date of the summer solstice. The calendar date of the summer solstice marks the farthest northward advance of the sun owing to Earth’s axial tilt. This phenomenon is but one example of hundreds of repeating cycles governing the function of our physical world. Cycles of many types are examples of distinctive characteristics and unique attributes of our predictable and orderly planet.

In the home of your blog author, for many years we have observed what we have humorously dubbed “Homehenge” on the same few dates in April each spring. For several days sunlight streams through our elevated kitchen dormer window into the eyes of people seated in our “sun” room. New York City has its “Manhattanhenge” a cyclical, predictable phenomenon visible on certain east-west streets. Afternoon sunlight shines through narrow profiles of city buildings for a day or two on 42nd Street and other thoroughfares on May 28 each year.

Switching from astronomy to the animal world, we were delighted to spot our first Monarch butterfly on May  22. The well-known migration cycle of Monarch butterflies reveals itself each spring from south to north. Monarch reproduction consists of several months of four-stage metamorphosis (sub-cycles within the main migration cycle). The monarchs return to a specific Mexican forest in autumn. These working cycles, repeated annually, are spectacular examples of the living intelligence gifted to Monarchs by the Creator of all things, non-living and living. 

Migration cycles govern the springtime appearance and autumn return of dozens of beautiful bird species in local neighborhoods. Locally, we are blessed with a few species whose members occasionally remain for the winter, including crows, owls, cardinals, various woodpeckers, and sometimes a few robins and bluebirds. Titmice, nuthatches, and chickadees may be able to survive based on their access to preferred foods even in winter. Some of the most fascinating birds are noted for their remarkable migration behaviors, covering thousands of miles during their round trips to and from their wintering venues. Included are confirmed migrants—swallows, orioles, wrens, hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers, gray catbirds, and one of our favorites, the indigo bunting. Migration behavior seems inherently programmed. The most interesting migrations enable some species to return to a specific site year after year. We have affirmed this visually and auditorially with at least one species—the indigo bunting.

Nature’s spring cycles inspire reverent wonder. In our last paragraph we focused on the class aves. Birds of spring amply treat humanity to their distinctive diversity of size, color, adaptability, hunting proficiency, reproductive strategy, nest-building, flying skills, uniqueness of song, and territoriality. Many of these are cyclical traits.

Many natural cycles relate to the recycling of elements or compounds. For example, our planet possesses the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the oxygen cycle, and the carbon cycle. Other cycles involve regular, repeating events such as seasons and recurring annual positions of the sun at various positions on the ecliptic. The vernal equinox and the summer solstice illustrate this meaning. Without the many cycles governing our environment, Earth would not be the wonderful, life-sustaining planet we inhabit.          



   







Friday, May 17, 2019

Wonders of Spring

Springtime is the season of renewal and a time to inspire exuberance, but each season has its unique appeal. In Genesis 8:22, the Lord states “For as long as Earth lasts, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never stop” (The Message Translation). All four seasons are explicitly stated or implied in this passage. Planting is primarily a springtime experience, but winter and spring conditions often overlap. 

The spring season is not always predictably pleasant. When spring arrives in our season-enhanced mid-latitude location in far northwest Illinois, many residents tend to ruminate on how the conditions of the current spring compare with previous ones. With a nod to the limitations of personal active recall, I tracked down several posts from past years, along with a 36-year old volume published during our residence in New Jersey. The search revealed that some memorable past weather events become surprisingly blurred with the passage of time.

Many unusual or unique weather events lurk in the recesses of memory. Over many years, our dynamic weather system affects our environment in diverse ways. It is responsible for many memorable and not so memorable events. Recently my wife was assembling some old books in our storage room for possible discard. I spotted a volume entitled “The New Jersey Weather Book” (Rutgers University Press, 1983), authored by David M. Ludlum. The ink was barely dry in this volume when it described a memorable storm on April 7, 1982: “The Spring Blizzard of 1982.” On April 5 I was guiding a group of student hikers in Morristown National Historical Park. The day dawned clear and cool, but we informed the students that prescient weather forecasters were calling for an intense blizzard the next two days. Our six-year-old son was looking forward to a birthday party with his school classmates. Instead, he was blessed that a few nearby neighbor children were able to share his birthday cake after trudging through 13” of snow at 11ºF in a rare mid-winter style blizzard.

The spring season is supposed to be a pleasant, warming time of renewal. Often our meteorological spring could be described in those terms, but Earth’s weather is a dynamic phenomenon. In fact, spring is the most dynamic weather season of all. This means the season could be snowy, susceptible to flooding, windy, and tornado prone with wild temperature swings. The Upper Midwest, including our immediate neighborhood, has experienced these wild swings of weather. This spring, for example, has provided St. Paul, MN with 42 consecutive days of flood stage on the Mississippi River, exceeding the record of 33 days in 2001. Spring snow melt and hefty spring rains were responsible for this season’s tragic flooding. 

Speaking of wild temperature swings, April 1-18, 2018 provided us with the coldest temperatures on record for that time period, 5.1ºF below the previous record average. That chilly April brought our northwest IL region four relatively minor, but still highly unusual snowfalls. The same year a single Green Bay WI snowstorm on April 14 dropped 23.5 inches, their deepest snowfall in 130 years. In 2019 April 27, our immediate neighborhood received 8” of snow but it was nearly gone within 24 hours. Not to be outdone, Duluth MN received its heaviest May snow on record, 10.6 inches on May 8-9. The Northwest IL region had an average temperature of 64ºF from February 17-22 in 2017 demonstrating that winter and spring weather may overlap with wild temperature swings at mid-latitudes. Spring conditions in 2019 have been ten or more days late in large areas of the Central United States.

Lest our readers suffer undue pessimism about spring seasonal unpredictability we close with a chronicle of anticipated “normal” events of spring occurring every year, notwithstanding the occasional extraordinary departures from “average” conditions. We cite parts of our post from May 5, 2008:

Spring affects our local trees, now slowly springing to life and tinged with pastel green. Startling changes are associated with the onset of spring—visual changes in the plant world accompanying audible spring vocalizations in the animal world. In a deep winter February moment of despair we might imagine that the leafless, dry, gray tree branches swaying in sub-zero blasts of cold wind are dead. Fast-forward to early May, however, and signs of renewed life are everywhere. Our home is situated in a biome called the “temperate deciduous forest.” Most of the trees lost their leaves in autumn after their summer food-making tasks were complete. They sent carbon and nitrogen compounds in the form of proteins to storage cells in the tree roots and inner bark.

Come spring, when nights shorten, days lengthen, and temperatures rise, trees detect these gradual changes. It is time for the roots and inner bark to relinquish their store of nutrients for the leaf building process. Water and soil minerals make their upward journey, defying gravity in the process. After several weeks thousands of leaves have achieved full size, sporting their characteristic shapes and other identifiers. Leaf characteristics join branching patterns, bark textures, flowering and fruit production features, and size limits as traits which never vary from their genetic blueprint. Each tree knows exactly what to do and when to do it.

Descriptions of anatomy and behavior are exceedingly plentiful in the literature of plants and animals. At the same time we are surprised by the lack of explanation for the apparent ‘intelligence’ underlying their behavior. Plant scientists describe ‘what’ but are less able to explain ‘how.’ One article lamented, “Many mechanisms are still not understood.” How does an arrangement of molecules in a plant’s DNA govern the unique behavior of each species? That intelligence is surely more than the reductionist might claim if he explains multiple diverse plant behaviors as mere manifestations of “molecules in motion.”

Together with starling meteorological variety, springtime in temperate climate zones provides many examples of natural work/rest cycles. God instructed Moses to establish a work/rest sequence for the ancient Israelites in order to provide physical and spiritual benefits. Nature’s cycle mechanisms also reflect biblical exhortations to transition from idle inactivity to the bloom of active physical and spiritual renewal. The spring season produces an object lesson for Christ’s resurrection—the transition from death to life. God has given his children many models of spiritual reality from the world of nature. We must be alert for these lessons!   



             







   



Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Climate Change Benefits

Our society is currently besieged by discussions of the worrisome topic of climate change. Earth’s climate has been dynamically changeable over the entire history of the planet. We have heard the term ‘cycles of change’ frequently with respect to virtually all human or natural events. The characterization of ‘change’ is neither good nor bad. It is intrinsically present in every phase of humanity’s experience. With respect to ever-occurring changes in our climate we are challenged to respond analytically and pass judgement even-handedly. Since the term climate change has been frequently substituted for global warming in the past few years, hopefully we find ourselves on the cusp of a more balanced discussion.

For the past fifteen years there have been many movements among evangelical leaders concerning environmental issues. Evangelicals have not been unified in their responses to environmental issues. Beginning 2005, the National Association for Evangelicals (NAE) produced several networks and statements, including the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) and the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) described as “An Evangelical Call to Action.” Notwithstanding the noble intentions of that evangelical leadership, the response of other evangelical church members has not always been supportive or unified. 

NAE leaders published an additional endorsement on climate change in 2015 entitled “Caring for God’s Creation—a Call to Action.” The endorsement was in solidarity with many evangelical leaders around the world. Its most significant pronouncement was a statement we have heard echoed by many secular politicians in our day: “Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.” This loaded statement is the backbone of the case made by secular progressive environmental activists of our day. Some well-known politicians have enlarged upon these inflated warning statements even further: Two current candidates for president of the United States have pronounced apocalyptic warnings for human survival—12 years, and 10 years respectively.  

We support many expressions of Christian environmental responsibility set forth by evangelicals over the last few years. Our blog has expressed unease, however, with some popular models of current and future climate change. Dire warnings of catastrophic results triggered by small increases in world temperatures are open to question. We believe in prudent creation care—preventing pollution, shunning waste of natural resources, preserving natural habitats, protecting endangered species, maintaining sound ecological relationships, and exercising caution in developing new technologies such as genetic modification. Nonetheless, the astronomical cost of carbon “net-zero” solutions could result in economic catastrophe. Temperature threshold models and net-zero carbon emissions proposals are deeply intertwined.

The hot button climate change issue is an extremely passion-producing topic. To complicate matters, it has become intertwined with politics. What is politically correct? Political loyalty conflates with personal ideology—a sensitive matter. Even more delicate is the assignment of morality or religious righteousness to our climate change response. What is our Christian responsibility? Religious people wish to be on the correct side of morality. Perhaps most important is the pressure to be scientifically correct. Does anyone wish to be scientifically incorrect? Politics and religion are recognized as personal, volitional choices, but endorsing climate change may have the strongest appeal to those who wish to be on the side of science. Science is recognized by many citizens as a ‘sure thing.’ Some suppress the concept that personal philosophy may influence scientific conclusions.

We ask readers to judge for themselves the pronouncements of two experts on the topic of climate change. Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University is professor of environmental economics with a particular interest in climate change. He has posited that warmer temperatures may do more good than harm. The present impact of climate change is relatively small (only 1.0ºC since 1900). This small amount of climate change did indeed raise human and planetary welfare during the 20th century. He claims that future climate change (temperature rise) would be beneficial up to 2.2ºC from present levels. Such temperatures would not be reached until the end of this century, given that temperatures are projected to rise 0.2ºC per decade at the present rate of increase.

Benefits from projected increased temperatures would be fewer winter deaths, lower energy costs, better agricultural yields, probably fewer droughts and likely, greater biodiversity. It is well known that the trace gas CO2 is the raw material from which all of the world’s plants make carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Greenhouse operators sometimes pump CO2 into the air to raise growth rates. It has been shown that the slightly increased levels of CO2 have resulted in a noticeable 31% greening of Earth’s vegetated areas while only 3% of vegetated areas have become less green. Increased atmospheric CO2 is responsible. In the last 3000 years average Earth temperatures have varied within a range of 3ºC, including two natural cycles of cool temperatures and two cycles of warm temperatures. A USA Today article from 5/20/15 reported that cold conditions are 20 times more likely to cause fatalities than heat, worldwide.

Bjorn Lomberg, an economist conversant with climate issues, recently appeared on several television news interview shows. He states that, contrary to popular alarmism, people in our world are not dying from climate change. World deaths from weather related causes have dropped dramatically in the last 100 years. Deaths have been reduced 95% in the last century, notwithstanding that world temperatures have experienced a slow increase. Media focus on climate change should instead highlight medical problems such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, suicide, or drug abuse. People espouse their favorite climate change ‘causes,’ including mitigation of atmospheric carbon by substituting renewable energy for fossil fuels. The trillions of dollars proposed for mitigation has been shown to be of insignificant effect on the CO2 content of our atmosphere decades in the future.

If US politicians wish to help poor countries we would be well advised to turn away from the carbon free crusade with its unsustainable costs and turn instead to helping those nations increase their opportunities for trade, improve their medical practices, and expand technology opportunities. Lomberg cites improving technology as a way to enable people to do more, not less, in order to enrich their lives. Forcing a carbon-free existence on the world’s poor nations would reduce their current living standard even more. 

Climate change is one of the most polarizing topics of our age. The spectrum of positions on the topic has broadened considerably, especially in the last fifty years. We must be aware of the issues of climate change. If recurring changes in our climate are beneficial, we must accept them with gratitude to the Creator who cares deeply for humanity’s welfare. If some elements of climate change are truly harmful we should search for valid scientific solutions using the modern gifts of technology. In all cases we desire divine wisdom as our guide to action.       











          

















Friday, April 26, 2019

Attitudes toward Science

A recent family discussion revolved around a basic issue occasionally dealt with by your science/faith blogger. Often my verbal exchanges with new friends uncovers the truth that my avocation is “blogger on the relationship of science and faith” for ATRI—the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. In a broader sense, sometimes I consider the blog a personal ministry, not only to others but also to myself, especially when it results in an expansion of personal knowledge resulting from reading and research.

Herein lies a possible misunderstanding in the impressions conjured up when the term ‘science’ is used as a conversation opener with nonscientist laypeople. Science is frequently mentioned in discussions on a wide variety of everyday topics. Generally the term is used in a positive, approving sense. On occasion discussion reveals that negative attitudes sometimes persist. Scientific vocabulary and science process may prove to be challenging topics for some. 

Our 8-1-2010 post was entitled “Liking and Disliking Science.” Use the post as a primer for the discussion to follow.


Sometimes new acquaintances remark that the connection of science and faith is an unusual and unseemly combination. Perhaps they echo Stephen Jay Gould who achieved notoriety by articulating the NOMA Principle in a 1997 essay. Gould believed science and religion were separate domains of belief; one domain should not affirm the other he claimed. Perhaps he believed that evidence supports the findings of science but does not act to strengthen faith in God since, according to secularists, science is a completely naturalistic endeavor. Most secular scientists do not believe that science affirms any supernatural or divine reality. In contrast, our blog has posited that the evidential findings of science support belief that the God of the Bible is the Divine Designer and Provider of sustaining powers which cause the matter of our universe to hold together. Paul, the author of Colossians 1:16-17, may have had a spiritual insight in the pre-scientific period two millennia in the past.

The most appropriate one-word definition of science is knowledge. Understanding the full meaning of knowledge is not a simple undertaking. The theory of knowledge is called epistemology—its methods, scope, and how it distinguishes belief in what is actually true from mere opinion. A humorous cliché originating with Alexander Pope in the 18th century reads, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” This saying is an encouragement to expand our knowledge to every degree possible, not being content with a small measure of knowledge because inadequate knowledge may even be worse than no knowledge at all!  

When we delve further, we discover a wealth of commentary relating to how scientific knowledge is acquired. Methods of discovery must be systematized, methodically acquired and supported by research uncovering facts about the physical world on a broad array of topics. Science is a discipline supported by observation and experiment. The findings should result in predictive power and testable conclusions. Finally, we are able to formulate general laws governing the operation of our physical world. Naturalistic law explains many operational wonders of our physical world, but not in terms of the role played by a supernatural Creator.

In a Reasons to Believe ministry newsletter, the leaders state, “We’re enthusiastic about science because it provides endless new insights to nature’s realm, and to the One who created and shaped it so that we can recognize him and his care for us.” Our personal view affirms that science points to the creative work of the One True God, who God is, his divine nature, and what he does to sustain the orderliness of the physical universe. When we use the methods of science to research physical evidence of the wonders of chemistry, physics, and biology with its intricate molecular genetics, not to mention the yet unexplained mysteries of consciousness in living things, we understand that science and faith are inextricable partners helping us discover the deepest mysteries of God and his works in Creation.

We close with one caveat. The discoveries of science, magnificent as they are, enable us to adhere more easily to belief in a divine Creator as the ultimate Cause of the visible creation and of our existence. But science discovery is not proof of God in an ultimate sense. Humans still have the choice to believe or disbelieve the evidence. The power of evidence, however, makes the personal choice to believe in God considerably more likely.   
   
















  










Monday, April 22, 2019

Presidential Message on Earth Day, 2019

April 22 has been established as the date when Earth Day is celebrated around the world. The initial Earth Day occurred in 1970. I personally recall that one reason for the event in the school where I taught was inspired by concern for environmental pollution. Following is an excerpt from my previous post of 9/14/18:

Earth Day clean-up events at my school are still etched in my memory. (We remember)… that government policies on air and water pollution were seriously deficient. It is difficult to recall that there were inadequate regulations on clean air, clean water, and endangered species. Soon there were government regulations on air, water, and endangered species. Studies in ecology and activism in environmental issues have sometimes morphed into weighty political issues. It has been difficult to find an appropriate balance between prudent environmental concern and the natural tendency of many citizens to actively propel their favorite movements or causes, often driven by personal politics.

Fast forward to April 22, 2019: Concern for environmental pollution is still a worthy cause for anxiety and remediation. However, the very title “Earth Day” gives us an opportunity to glorify God who created Planet Earth in all its glory and beauty. Sadly, this message is subsumed under pessimism and alarmism about our environment and warnings about impending planetary catastrophe in the near term. Juxtaposed with the heavy politics surrounding the ever-present media intonations of ‘climate change,’ we may have reason for mood depression. 

Donald Trump’s “Presidential Message on Earth Day. 2019” is worthy of a hearty “shout-out.” He mentions “God’s wondrous creation,” and “God-given treasures” and finally, “glorious blessings and awe inspiring majesty of our planet.” The president has taken a number of hits from the media for ignoring climate change in today’s written Earth Day address. A Bloomberg headline stated ‘Trump ignores Climate Change in Earth Day Statement.’ The Daily Caller lamented, “Activists Melt Down After Trump Leaves Climate Change Out Of His Earth Day Message.”

We close with several quotes of President Trump’s Earth Day Statement:

“Earth Day is a celebration of the abundant beauty and life-sustaining bounty of our natural environment. On this day, we reaffirm our responsibility to protect God’s wondrous creation for future generations.”

We are “…blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. As Americans, we all share an immense pride in these God-given treasures and a tremendous appreciation for our abundance of natural resources.” With respect to our nation’s strong market economy which the president characterized…”is essential to protecting our critical natural resources and fostering a legacy of conservation,” our chief executive “is committed to being (an effective administrative steward) of our environment while encouraging opportunities for American workers and their families.” Finally, our president expressed hope that “…all Americans will reflect with gratitude on the glorious blessings and awe-inspiring majesty of our planet.” The citation of glorious blessings brings to mind the agent of the blessings. In our view, the blessings are gifted to humanity by the Creator of All Things.

   




Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Politically and Scientifically Correct

Our unusual post title needs some explanation. The endless pronouncements of politicians of both parties are fraught with (what else?) political opinion. Many modern US and world residents long to be on the ‘correct’ side of politics. Their desire is to be recognized as ‘politically correct.’ Many modern US national and world residents also long to be ‘scientifically correct,’ owing to their profound respect for science. If people are both politically and scientifically correct in their beliefs, so much the better! Often there is inadequate definition of what we mean by ‘politically’ correct. In addition, many do not know exactly what is meant by ‘scientifically’ correct.

Political correctness has become more popular and recognized as a social reality in the past several decades. Initially actions or statements deemed offensive to minorities or other disadvantaged segments of society were avoided. In more recent times the tendency has expanded to endorse wider movements such as activism on social issues, including environmental activism. Action to remediate climate change has become one such movement.

Truth about our climate and how humans interact with it is, or should be, a topic of immense concern to Christians who believe God created our planet with wondrous complexity—thousands of interacting functional climate features working together for the benefit of all living creatures. This includes humanity, creatures He created “in His image.” The Creator’s mandate to subdue the Earth (Gen. 1:28) demands definition and careful analysis. Humanity should lovingly care for Earth as the venue for our physical existence. Sadly, human caretakers of Earth have not always wisely cared for its welfare. Inherent in this fact is the truth that human welfare has suffered.

The responsibility to care for our planet has become more challenging as global population has increased from one billion to 7.5 billion since 1800. At present the paramount environmental issue is undoubtedly climate change. The issue has become inexorably connected with the slight planetary warming related to society’s release of CO2 from the consumption of fossil fuels during the last century.

For some environmental activists CO2 has become the ‘naughty child’ in the family of compounds because it contains carbon. For this reason it has acquired a bad name among the elements in some environmental circles. Significant attention is devoted to ‘curbing carbon pollution.’ In the last two decades terms such as emissions assessments, carbon accounting, and ecological/carbon footprint have become popular. Players such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have become politically correct but in some cases scientifically uncertain or even incorrect. They gained support from a surprising 2007 US Supreme Court decision that permitted the EPA to declare CO2 a pollutant. No doubt the five judges who approved that decision believed they were scientifically correct. The next president rigorously imposed regulations on ‘carbon pollution.’ Many scientists have since refuted the opinion that CO2 is a pollutant.

Life on Earth is carbon-based life. It comprises nearly half of all biomass. The human body is over 18% carbon. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe, behind hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. While recognizing that CO2 is a greenhouse gas contributing to slight warming of our atmosphere in recent times, we have been researching the effects of increased CO2 and the results of atmospheric warming resulting from it. In general, we decry the fear engendered by the idea that CO2 is a pollutant. Concepts such as ‘carbon footprints’ still dominate the journalistic landscape. The footprints are difficult to define, explain, and regulate.

We are thankful to our Creator for the element carbon. Ten million carbon compounds are known to man. Carbon, therefore, is known as the ‘King of the elements.’ Without CO2 in our atmosphere life on Earth would not exist. We advocate studying the wondrous role of carbon without a preconceived negative view of this element. We trust this post inspires readers to further investigate a fascinating issue which remains open and unsettled. Sound thinking is superior to political or scientific correctness.

Our readers may enjoy our previous post from 3/19/12. It does not speak about the political correctness of modern society’s responses to carbon. Instead, it addresses the science of carbon as a critically vital element for sustaining all living things. We link the post below:

      

    

    


  

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Climate Change Catastrophism

Buzz phrases come and go in our language. The Green New Deal is a notable example. The youngest member of the US Congress burst upon the national scene in November, 2018 commanding unprecedented attention with a proposal of Green New Deal legislation. It suggests sweeping changes in our social, economic, and financial fabric. Senate leader Mitch McConnell presented a “motion to proceed to consider” proposal on the Green New Deal. Not one senator voted yes; instead 57 senators voted “No” and 43 senators voted “present” in an effort to avoid a political trap.

The Green New Deal would ban consumption of virtually all fossil fuels in an effort to combat climate change. Otherwise, the world will come to an end within 12 years we are warned. We are counseled that worry concerning the Green New Deal’s cost— trillions of dollars—pales to insignificance in the face of the imminent demise of humanity.

Climate change’s supporting backbone consists of a devout fear of CO2. The modest amount of atmospheric warming since 1900 is due in large part to the effects of this trace atmospheric gas. An all night gathering of thirty Democratic Senators in their legislative chamber in 2014 was termed a climate talkathon. Their many utterances were apocalyptic. Currently a parallel exists in the 2018-2019 warnings that the Earth will end in 12 years. We link our previous post on “Climate Confusion.” It stresses a number of climate issues pertinent to the points raised in our current post: 


Our science/faith blog has never proposed that climate change issues are not important, especially in view of numerous weather and climate related manifestations which suffuse our existence. Quite the opposite: for human residents of Earth, frequent change in weather is a given as are ubiquitous changes in climate. As we survey eons of human history it is evident that Earth is a dynamic planet owing to captivating geological and atmospheric phenomena which sustain human flourishing in both short and long term. We have exulted in Earth’s dynamism, especially in relation to climate. Indeed, this characteristic has enabled a flourishing human existence.

We have uncovered numerous past posts where we used the term ‘dynamic’ to describe our home planet. In terms of the definition of dynamic (changing, active, powerful, energetic, vital) we have always used the term in a positive, approving sense. Even seldom experienced destructive weather events may often be described as dynamically positive in a long term climate perspective.

Our concern is the frequent use of the term ‘climate change’ used pejoratively. We need to ask ourselves how often ‘climate change’ is used by journalists in any other sense. Virtually all unwanted and undesirable weather and climate events are attributed to climate change. Yet historically, climate change has worked for both the benefit and detriment of the human race. In a future post we will deal with some beneficial effects of climate change as well as some of its detrimental effects. We question whether aggressive mitigation of warming might be more harmful than non-mitigation.

Stephen Jackson, writing for openDemocracy, presented an insightful thesis with the title “Catastrophism is as much an obstacle to addressing climate change as denial.” Three quotes from his article follow. He reports the fears of climate change alarmists who wonder, “Would a sufficient level of dread, spread widely enough, cause people to agree on a course of action?” Jackson continues to report that alarmists ask, “Shouldn’t we all muster the courage to face the terrifying calamity that lurks on the horizon?” Finally, in his tirade against spreading fear he repeats his thesis title, “Catastrophism is as much an obstacle to addressing climate change as denial.”

Over thirty US senators expressed an inordinate amount of dread in their 2014 climate talkathon. Recently the dread has been exacerbated by several current US senators who are running for president of the United States of America! Their Green New Deal legislation would set out “a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War 2 to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all.” 

The prediction of terrifying climate catastrophe lurking on our nearby horizon should be accompanied by the diligent prayers of Christians that divine wisdom will prevail in the minds and actions of our political leaders and climate scientists.

Dozens of dire predictions have been proposed and later forgotten with respect to the healthy survival of humanity. Some predictions result from errant science, others from errant theology, and still others from general ignorance. Earth’s climate system has multiple causes and multiple effects. We quote one of several ‘denials’ of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation: “We deny that an infinitely wise Designer, infinitely powerful Creator, and perfectly faithful Sustainer of the Earth would have made it susceptible to catastrophic degradation from proportionately small causes, and consequently we deny that wise environmental stewardship readily embraces claims of catastrophe stemming from such causes.”