Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teachable Moments

In science studies, teachable moments are abundant. But they are also abundant in everyday life. As a career science educator I formed strong, positive views of the value of science and scientific thinking skills as a tool to strengthen reasoning power, to understand cause and effect relationships, and to promote a sense of wonder about the world around us. This is but a minimal listing of the benefits inherent in science studies. If science is poorly taught or approached with tedium or indifference, the value of science for the student is diminished, as it would be for any subject. At worst, negative attitudes could prevail into adulthood.

What are the positive values of science as a faith strengthener for our young people? I propose that using a scientific approach to affirm the reality of God has definite advantages across the complete age group spectrum from youth to mature adult. Much of the curricular material in our church educational programs centers on social and interpersonal relationships as these connect with Bible events and Scripture passages. This is appropriate, of course, but not to the exclusion of other approaches which may have more apologetic value in our post-modern society.

We might ask how Moses presented his apologetic case to the Israelites. How did he channel the chosen people toward belief and obedience? We have a clue in nearly the entire book of Deuteronomy--three great speeches which may have been three of the longest sermons in the history of preaching. After nearly 40 years of wilderness wandering from Egypt to the Promised Land, none of those who left Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, was permitted to enter Canaan. Those who would enter were all first or second generation witnesses to God’s awesome personal presence during those four decades. They had experienced the presence of God on Mt. Sinai in smoke, thunder, lightning, clouds, and earthquakes. They had seen the stone tablets engraved by God. They observed Moses’ radiant face after he talked with God, and miracles in the wilderness such as a guiding cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. They witnessed production of water from the rock, and provision of quail and manna.

When Moses delivered his lengthy sermons there was little need for references to nature’s glory, for they were eyewitnesses to God’s glory. Nevertheless, he did say, in his second speech, “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth, and everything in it” (Deut. 10:14 NIV). Moses sermon, therefore, was primarily exhortation to obey the statutes of God who had visited them in many direct, physical manifestations. Belief, therefore, in God’s reality was easy, but consistent obedience to Him in future times would not be so easy.

In our 21st century, we have the voice of the natural world which speaks loudly of God’s reality. Science has unlocked previously unknown secrets of the functionality and fine-tuning of that natural world. In Moses’ day, very little such knowledge existed. The first several centuries of the scientific revolution produced exciting, yet primitive concepts compared with the complex and wonderful discoveries of the last century. Today it is difficult to keep abreast of the profusion of knowledge.

In God’s plan, today we may never experience transcendent miracles such as the original creation of time/space dimensions “In the Beginning,” or the transformational miracles of Moses’ or Christ’s day, such as parting of the Red Sea, creation of new forms of physical life from earth’s raw materials, and the healing of a diseased body. Historically, such miracles have occurred infrequently. But we have plentiful examples of what are termed sustaining miracles, such as God’s maintenance of the universal conditions necessary to support life--the “holding together” of all things. We now understand design features which point to many past transcendent and transformational miracles, such as the incredible fine tuning necessary for God’s initial creation event, or clear coding features evident in the DNA molecule--evidence of the intelligent mind of the code designer.

Moses instructed the Israelites, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19). There are plentiful opportunities to speak to our children about the wonders of God’s created order and the evidence for His creative works of past ages and those that are manifest in our day. These opportunities occur when we are sitting at home, walking along the road, lying down, and getting up. Parents, teachers, youth leaders, and preachers should be careful not to ignore our many available “teachable moments.”