Monday, April 29, 2013

God's Climate System

When we credit God with creating all things or with designing our intricate climate system, we express a sense of worship or devotion. Our general understanding of the power of the Creator or our tacit appreciation of our many global systems, however, are insufficiently weak unless we work to understand the realities of our climate system more fully.

Research on historical climatological data for our recent posts on weather and climate has revealed unfamiliar facts concerning North America’s climate events of the past thousand years. Our tendency to generalize about weather and climate or to pass judgments based on events in recent years or recent decades based on our personal memory is unwise. It is also imprudent to generalize concerning future weather and climate based on observations from the past several decades. Notwithstanding great strides in short and long-term weather forecasting, the science of climate prediction is still imprecise in many significant respects. Knowledge of climate swings even in the past thousand years affirms this truth.

The earth has evolved through many cycles of warm and cold or wet and dry conditions. Weather proxy records such as tree rings, ice cores, and sediments reveal ancient temperature and precipitation fluctuations predating instrumental records. The historical advance and retreat of desert conditions is a clear indicator of diminished rainfall. There is evidence that extreme and extended droughts occur at a rate of two to three per thousand years. Prior to the 17th century, before the settlement of the Great Plains by Europeans, megadroughts afflicted huge areas of the continent and sometimes extended as far as the east coast. There are tens of thousands of square miles of the Great Plains where active sand dunes were moving across the landscape in the past thousand years.

Superimposed on megadroughts are more frequent droughts of lesser severity and time scope such as the one on the Great Plains around 1860 before heavy settlement occurred. Prior to that, in 1810, the explorer Zebulon Pike wrote about desert conditions in parts of Colorado and Kansas: “These vast plains of the western hemisphere may in time be equally celebrated with the sandy deserts of Africa; for I saw in my route, in various places, tracts of many leagues where the wind had thrown up the sand, in all the fanciful forms of the ocean’s rolling wave, and on which not a speck of vegetable matter existed.” We may ask if the horrendous drought and heat of the 1930s rivaled any of these events. The answer is no. But desert dunes could have formed within a few years had drought conditions continued.

Temperature variations triggering such dry or wet conditions do not seem extreme by our standards. Long term average temperature swings as small as 1-2˚C could bring about long term events such as the Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 AD) or the Little Ice Age (1550-1850 AD) which followed. Perhaps our “to visit” list should include a visit to the Nebraska Sand Hills or abandoned Pueblo culture ruins, remnants of megadroughts between 800-1600 AD when desert conditions profoundly molded landscapes and altered the lifestyles of native residents of the time. Evidence visible today provides a flashback.

Climate changes such as long term megadroughts lasting more than two decades or shorter droughts of lesser duration would result in significant economic and social upheavals within our greatly expanded population of the last two centuries. Technology has enabled man to keep pace with the growing health and nutritional needs of Earth’s expanding population. But who would dispute that our societies tread a fine line of balance between prosperity and disaster caused by extended climate shifts?

Geoscientists who have knowledge of the many complex natural causes of climate variation are also aware that we bear responsibility to monitor effects of human-induced climate change. Scientists are becoming more knowledgeable about periodic natural oceanic and atmospheric oscillations and more aware of their impact on expanding global population. The disputes between climate deniers and climate alarmists originate with disagreements in interpretation of climate data and differences of opinion in what remedies are applicable. Our past blog posts have highlighted these differences. We should prudently explore middle ground to address these problems.

In the past 150 years earth’s climate has warmed somewhat, in keeping with the established pattern of climate swings for thousands of years of earth history. Our current levels of population could not have been sustained had we experienced megadroughts since the so-called Little Ice Age concluded in 1850. Even shorter droughts such as the 1930s, 1950s, 1988, and 2012 events were minor compared with true megadroughts were they to occur today.

By God’s grace, extended megadroughts have not devastated the United States in our time. We humbly pray that the rapidly increasing throngs of human population would recognize the omniscience of God as Creator. He has created a world in which climate cycles have been prevalent for thousands of years. Generally, human population has thrived in the face of these cycles. Our modern population explosion of the past few centuries corresponds with our modern technological explosion. The Creator has gifted man with the ability to “subdue the earth” (Gen 1:28). Given the uptick in knowledge of our earth’s climate system, past and present, humanity must observe the counsel to “Handle with Care.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rags to Riches Weather

Readers across America may identify with several recent weather events in our region of the Midwest--northwest Illinois. For example, in the last two weeks my personal rain gauge has collected over ten inches of liquid water. As I write many areas are experiencing record river levels. This statistic is in sharp contrast to the widespread drought of 2012 which began early that year with unprecedented March heat and culminated with crop-wilting drought throughout the year’s growing season. The pathetic drought of last summer, however, contrasted to the deluge of July 2011 when fifteen inches of rain poured down on our locality in less than 24 hours.

Some climate commentators have speculated that weather extremes have intensified as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Our perception of “extremes” is easy to detect in these recent events. The discussion about weather has a popular conversational dimension. Jonathan Overpeck, professor of atmospheric sciences and geosciences, observes in his article “Climate Surprises,” that, “It is hard for anyone, even specialists in the study of climate, to know just how much of this impression is due to our limited perspective and imperfect memories, and how much stems from genuine changes in the Earth’s condition.”

It is impossible that dense human habitation does not affect our weather to some degree. Since 1830 the human population has increased seven-fold to over seven billion souls. In search of adequate living conditions many people have crowded into urban areas, pleasing locales such as coastal regions, or other desirable but environmentally sensitive areas. Our climate changes owing to a multitude of causes. Atmospheric carbon dioxide increase from fossil fuel consumption amounts to only 1/8700 of the total atmosphere according to my calculations. This factor is only one of numerous man-caused factors but has generated significant but largely unwarranted public angst. In our politically correct, agenda-driven age, some complex problems are perceived to have a simple solution, even though long term costs of the solution may be billions or trillions of dollars.

The greatest danger to Planet Earth with respect to weather may be ignorance or misunderstanding of the multiple factors driving weather. Across the spectrum of weather phenomena, some events are perceived as extreme and harmful while others are deemed normal and beneficial. Distastrous or inconvenient weather receives most of the press coverage. Regional climate events such as droughts and floods provide an example. Media weather correspondents attract more listeners if they can highlight below or above normal temperatures or below or above normal rainfall or snowfall. Droughts such as the horrendous 2012 event, and seemingly more frequent floods, appear to be out of the ordinary. Television forecasters concentrate on what is happening at the moment. Interest in their stories is driven, of course, by viewer demand. More spectacular weather anomalies in recent centuries tend to be forgotten or under publicized.

Had such “harmful” weather events never occurred, it is doubtful that our planetary system would function the way our Creator designed it and intended it to be for man’s benefit. Long term climatic trends may drive desirable population redistribution or inspire creative responses such as development of drought resistant hybrids and agricultural practices. The human intellect is capable of responding to difficulty and challenge, not only in response to daily life struggles, but even with respect to “rags to riches” weather.

Scripture passages concerning hardships could relate to weather adversity. The Apostle James claims, “Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1: 2-3) The Apostle Peter repeats a similar sentiment, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1: 6) The Bible speaks mostly of our spiritual needs and welfare, but hidden with the spiritual counsel is awareness of our physical welfare and concerns with our environment. Passages such as Phil. 4:9, “And my God will meet all your needs…” and II Peter 1:3, His divine power has given us everything we need for life…” apply to our environment and our ability to manage the conditions brought about by weather and climate.

Public attention to weather and climate may appropriately stress how wonderfully the weather/climate system supplies the needs of our burgeoning human population in contrast to highlighting inconvenient and occasionally disastrous events. In the last half of the 20th century there were gloomy forecasts for the potential for famine, overpopulation, and even the imminent return of an ice age. We should be responsible and energetic stewards of our home planet’s well-being. We must not forget to offer thanks to God for our fine-tuned system of weather and climate along with our Creator’s plan for the sustenance and well-being it provides humanity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Intelligent and Creative

Our recent coffee table book discussions proposed intelligent design as a requirement for the books’ subject matter. The personal appeal of the volumes displayed on our sun room coffee table or the tables in our doctor’s waiting room often depends on our ability to identify a mind speaking through the book’s pages. As we thumb through the pages of a Chronicle of the American Automobile, or peruse photograph-rich Cabin Fever to appreciate the architectural design and appeal of early vacation camps and dwellings, or even exult in pictures and descriptions of the unique beauty, behaviors and functions of creatures in National Geographic’s Animal Encyclopedia, we are left with an inescapable impression that design surrounds us everywhere. Moreover, the designers’ creative mental blueprints speak more powerfully beyond physical designs.

Returning to over 1000 high quality photographs and 2500 written descriptions of animals in the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia, the impressions of intelligent design are ubiquitous and overwhelming. The former buzz term intelligent design (ID) does not appear anywhere in this 2012 published volume authored by Dr. Lucy Spelman. We did not expect the term to appear in a secular science book. What is highly unusual, however, is that the term evolution does not appear anywhere in the text either. I have long observed that repeated and wearying use of the term evolution does nothing to fortify the concept of naturalistic evolution in a book not written explicitly about evolutionary theory. Rather, frequent use of this word serves more aptly as cheerleading propaganda in the face of serious weaknesses in evolutionary theory.

Intelligent design has been touted as a relatively recent religious concept sometimes standing in for or supplementing the scriptural doctrine of creation. The willful production of designed features in our cosmic domain by the Biblical Creator and the process of supernatural creation in the beginning or at intervals since the beginning both speak of the work of the God of the Bible. Whether or not the terms intelligent design and creationism are interchangeable, one thing is certain: In our modern culture, both intelligent design and creationism are characterized as non-science by our modern evolutionary scientific elite. Even theistic evolutionists disparage intelligent design and creationism on grounds ID and creationism are non-science.

The intense secular effort to remove discussion of life’s development from any reference to God is related to the effort to preserve the distinction between science and non-science. This distinction is frequently an effort to deny the reality of God and God’s work as designer and creator. Pronouncing concepts of theistic design and creation non-science, unscientific, or pseudoscience obscures the more important quest for truth concerning the origin and history of man and life on this planet. The science profession has succeeded in establishing science as unable and unwilling to consider evidence for design features and creation events, especially if that evidence points toward a supernatural adequate cause and away from a natural adequate cause.

Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT recently generated discussion based on distinctions between science and non-science. What distinguishes science from non-science? We might ask if intelligent design is science or non-science? Or is it pseudoscience? Hutchinson claims that the current opinion in philosophical circles is that the demarcation between science and non science has no clear solution, but there are “intuitive ways” by which science is identified.

One of Hutchinson’s identifiable characteristics of science is clarity. Hutchinson may be more confident in clarity as an intuitive means of science identification than the stiff, scholarly characterization of methodological naturalism (MN) as an identifier of science. This blog has repeatedly described the science profession’s embrace of MN which does not permit scientists to include any supernatural considerations in their explanations of reality. In brief, they practice science AS IF God neither exists nor ever existed. Hutchinson accurately describes the codification of science… “For much of the twentieth century philosophers of science sought mightily for methodological descriptions or definitions of science: either to identify and explain the methods that science uses to obtain its knowledge, or more modestly to supply criteria that distinguish science from non-science.”

What about the public view of ID and creationism as they have been characterized in the 21st century? Are ID and creationism religious concepts? Are ID and creationism true? According to the clarity by which ID and creationist conclusions about the world of living things are manifest, we posit that adherents of ID and creationism hold a strongly credible position. Humans possess a strong intuitive belief in supernatural design features and supernatural creation. In addition, realities of design features surround us everywhere we look, even within our coffee table volumes. Intuitive beliefs in concepts of intelligent design and supernatural creation supplement rational beliefs. It is our position that plentiful evidences of design features surround us everywhere and that historic evidences of sudden creation events overwhelm evidences for gradual, naturalistic evolution.

Friday, April 12, 2013

ID at the Coffee Table

What sort of book could be considered a “Coffee Table” volume? Some books so designated may be considered superficial in content and geared more to the entertainment value they provide. Others are volumes with snippets of general reader interest. Still others blend skilled photography with appealing narrative. Coffee table volumes often serve to highlight the activities of special artisans with unique skills.

Recently we were the recipient of the ultimate coffee table occupant meant to entertain our grandchildren for the next several years on visits to their grandparents. The 2012 edition National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia touts itself as having “more animals, more photos, and more fun than any other animal book you’ve ever encountered.” Generally unswayed by hyperbole, after carefully thumbing through this National Geographic production, I acknowledge the worthiness of their self-accorded praise.

The Animal Encyclopedia features vertebrate phyla such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and a smaller section including invertebrates. Only 3% of the world’s animals are the five vertebrates named above. It is common knowledge that animal life includes multiple other biological phyla. A volume such as the Animal Encyclopedia includes the most recognizable vertebrate species almost any young person or coffee table reader could identify as well as hundreds of more exotic animals. This does not include many members of unfamiliar animal phyla.

Let’s approach our coffee table book from a unique vantage point. Without becoming excessively descriptive, we must describe its entertainment, artistic, and instructional value as superb. My personal appreciation of this book, however, exceeds its value of entertainment, art, and instruction. The 300-page Animal Encyclopedia is a paragon of intelligent design authored by God, the Creator of all life forms. I challenge my readers to digest this volume without experiencing the overwhelming impression that all life forms manifest design features requiring an explanation far beyond naturalistic random chance. Features of the animals pictured and described in the Encyclopedia--their physical, bio-chemical, neurological, and adaptational characteristics, for example--trigger a subjective, intuitive awareness of the reality of design by an intelligent agent.

The Encyclopedia was a gift to us for the entertainment and instruction it would provide our grandchildren, not to mention the instructional review it provides for their former science educator grandparent. When warm weather outdoor activities are abbreviated by seasonal darkness and cold, the Encyclopedia will provide entertainment in future years as have the Audubon Society Field Guides and audio of Bird Songs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

After Moses received the Ten Commandments he devoted considerable instructional time insuring that the Israelites would apply God’s principles and commandments across the spectrum of their daily experience. Deuteronomy 11:19 counsels God’s people to “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.” Along with the law committed to Moses, the Israelites knew the declaration of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Surely this truth was foundational. One may imagine creative Israelite fathers interpreting this passage for their sons and daughters in modern parlance: In the beginning God intelligently designed everything, including all the animals.

We possess more information to heighten awareness of the spectacular ordered design and functionality of living things than ever before in human history. Wise parents may teach their children ubiquitous design features in the world of living things as they walk along the road or sit at home, as they lie down in the evening or get up in the morning. In the 21st century we are gifted with ability to identify design and the divine Designer more effectively than ever.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Designer Chronicle

In the past few weeks I have rediscovered a thick coffee table volume entitled Chronicle of the American Automobile—Over 100 years of Auto History by James M. Flammer. I occasionally encounter this book and revel in pictures of automobiles in the post-World War II era. My interest in automobile designs was piqued by the renewed availability of cars to the public at the end of the war. Too young to drive, I settled for drawing the new arrivals and memorizing grille and body features in what proved to be a surfeit of designer imagination during that era.

Lest readers wonder where this post is headed, I confess to my fascination with the chronicle of automobile industry design and its analogies to design concepts in every aspect of our lives. In the early 1990s Philip Johnson and others proposed the concept of intelligent design to the public as an adjunct to more traditional concepts of creationism. These proposals were an effort to counter the increasing popularity of belief in evolution. As a reaction to Johnson and other blossoming organizations such as Discovery Institute, the term intelligent design began to acquire a somewhat negative reputation. Some posed suspicions that it was really a cover for theistic creationism which had acquired antagonism from many mainstream scientists who had gone to great lengths to establish science as a totally secular enterprise.

You may ask why our coffee table volume has anything to do with the concept of intelligent design. We will attempt to pose analogies on two levels. As a pre-teen I was fascinated with exterior automotive designs which tended to change rapidly in that era. The designs were meant to be the work of talented designers--creative, esthetically pleasing, and perhaps even excessive. Choices of colors offered could enhance eye-catching appeal. The Chronicle volume author did not shy from commending genius design strokes (“masterful, aircraft-inspired…curvaceous roof and fender lines”) or criticizing clumsy designs (“slab-sided or flush-fendered”). All considered, the hundreds of automotive designs are the work of intelligent minds. We may call the book’s 608 pages a chronicle of automotive “intelligent design.” Features of intelligent design are everywhere present in daily life and readily identifiable from the mundane automobile to ubiquitous everyday wonders.

On another level the buyer is concerned about the mechanical capabilities of their automotive purchases. In particular, what about horsepower, braking, driving comfort, fuel use, and entertainment? Automobile design is a blend of appearance and function. Chronicle of the American Automobile is a book on intelligent design. The Creator has enabled man to design automobiles, homes, schools, and businesses and carry out each of our daily activities using the principles of intelligent design. All human productions are fueled by intelligent design. Who could pose disbelief, therefore, in intelligent design in any of life’s contexts?

Personal coffee table books sometimes tend to be tucked away for months or years. Many such volumes are produced for our edification and instruction.  We suggest that many of our books may enhance awareness of ubiquitous intelligent design in our surroundings, man-made or in the world of nature. Intelligent design is a God-provided characteristic of a universe filled with order.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Literal Days of Genesis

Among the three theistic views of origins, the belief that the six days of the Genesis creation account are literal and recent is the majority view in the United States. If the definition of creationism is accorded to other views, the percentage of believers in creation vaults upward substantially. For this discussion we include evolutionary creationism (theistic evolution) under “other views,” along with “old earth creationism.” Including these alternate definitions, the creationism statistics rise substantially. Many creationists strongly object to broadening of the definition of creationism. A reappraisal of who could be considered a creationist, however, may be worthwhile. This does not indicate agreement of positions among those who hold the creationist banner.

Of the three most well-known theistic origins views, young earth creationists hold an exclusive claim on belief in the literality of six 24-hour Genesis creation days. Theistic evolutionists and old earth creationists do not accept recent creation of the universe in six literal days. The YEC belief in literal 24-hour days is a fundamental tenet of nearly half of the creationists in the United States. We ended our 3/16/13 post entitled “Distressed by Old Age” with a commitment to give voice to listener comments sent to the John Ankerberg ministry resulting from the airing of programs featuring old earth scientists and theologians as well as comments on our science/faith blog. We reprint seven listener comments voicing their concerns:

I am disappointed to hear you talk about billions and millions of years. The Genesis account of creation is clear…..It troubles me that if you can’t trust God’s word for the creation account, how can you believe in anything else in the Bible?

But when Christian astronomers say the universe is billions of years old it just disappoints me. They are not taking the Book of Genesis literally. Clearly (God) took six days and rested on the Sabbath.

Did I hear you agree with Dr. Ross that the universe is billions of years old?.....I wondered if you believed that also goes against the Genesis 1 account?

Is the earth 13.7 billion years old or is it LITERALLY what it says in Genesis 1, the six days of creation. If we can’t take the Bible literally what good is it?

It is not a case of scientific and intellectual ability, but rather revelation. God says 6 days, who am I to argue?

You believe that adopting an old earth position makes it easier for skeptics to believe the Bible, but you are really undermining the credibility of scripture.

I find statements that the universe is millions of years old to be disturbing. Either the Genesis record is correct or the whole Bible can be called into question.

The John Ankerberg ministry welcomes the comments of listeners. We thank them for taking the time to voice their concerns.