Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Astounding Transducers

This unusual title refers to the sense of hearing. We wish to discuss how human hearing occurs in order to magnify our sense of wonder at the gifts God provides for living creatures, including man, the summit of his created beings. In humans the sense of hearing and responses we offer to the sounds we experience enable us to recognize our spiritual qualities. As beings created in God’s image we enjoy the music of talented composers and sounds of verbal language as expressions of our spirit. Along with the gift of sight, the human ear has been described as an “astounding transducer.”

And what is a transducer you ask? A transducer is any device which converts one form of energy to a different form. Sound production provides an example. The energy of sound vibrations in air striking the ear are ultimately converted into electrical nerve impulses sent to the brain through neural pathways of the auditory nerve. Many examples of energy conversions from one form to another occur each day of our lives. Each time our bodies move we convert chemical energy—our digested food—to body heat and motion. A rock tumbling from the face of a cliff converts its positional energy to motion energy. Electricity consumed by our light bulbs converts to light. 

One article on the human ear termed that organ “an outstanding transducer.” This term often defines an industrial process in which energy transformations provide some advantage or benefit. The term has broader applications in other contexts. Energy transformation phenomena are ubiquitous, whether they occur in the every day activity of our personal lives or an industrial application. We revel in the natural process whereby physical sound waves—alternate compressions and rarefactions of air traveling at 1100 feet per second—are transformed to other forms of energy, finally producing millions of electrical nerve impulses rushing to the brain through the auditory nerve.

As I began this post, I recalled a unique field trip with my science classes to the northwest New Jersey community of Blairstown. The Yard’s Creek Pumped Storage Electric Generating Station provided a unique example of energy transformation: During “off-use” hours, excess electricity is used to pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir, an elevation gain of 700 feet. During hours of peak demand, billions of gallons of water from the upper reservoir are released to rush down the penstocks by gravity and generate electricity via the motion of turbines.
Is the analogy of the Yard’s Creek Pumped Storage generating station valid in discussing the ear, the human organ of hearing? The parallel exists in the human ear: Physical motion converts to electric impulses.

Teachers of physical science enjoy challenging students to identify the frequent transformations of energy from one form to another. Teachers of life science may integrate their instruction concerning sensory organs and other life processes with the principles of physical science. The scope of the teaching/learning process could be broadened and interest level in their subject could be strengthened. Pastors and youth leaders could pique natural interest and fascination with how our world operates as a method of raising awareness of the design features and orderliness of our God-created universe.

Currently we are addressing the sensory systems of living things. Such systems display the glory of the Creator. Our study serves as a powerful apologetic for the existence of God and his created works. Not all scientists view the phenomena of the natural world as suggestive of the existence of God, much less proof of his existence. These topics suggest a study of “natural theology,” a broad investigation of the relationship between divine reality and human experience. We have published several posts on the general topic. For further study, we suggest one related link:




Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sensory Intelligence

Our attention to the fresh fruits and vegetables at the local supermarket most often extends only to their visual attractiveness and taste quality. How often is the average person curious about the transportation system which brings the food from distant places in superior condition? With that knowledge our total understanding and appreciation of our food supply is expanded. Likewise, when we learn about sight or sound and include the process of seeing and hearing, our comprehension of these sensory gifts of common grace is greatly intensified.

Sensory systems are built into all living things from the simplest to the most advanced. Several characteristics outlined by life scientists as traits manifest by all living things relate to the manner in which they sense environmental factors, translate that information to control centers, and respond in ways which ultimately benefit the organism. For example, even simple one celled life responds to light, heat, and chemical signals to benefit their survival and help them deal effectively with their environment. It is difficult to imagine living creatures without organs to sense environmental factors and without the ability to respond. Sensory abilities enable metabolism, growth, and reproduction to succeed.

Recently we recalled sermon illustrations from our local pulpit ministry suggesting that we should acknowledge our ability to see and hear as manifestations of the grace of God. By conceiving grace in such a manner, we extend the more commonly perceived theological concept of grace acting to produce man’s redemption. Awareness of sensory mechanisms of vision and auditory perception produces an expanded vision of the meaning of God’s grace known as common grace. We may experience the same awe when we consider somatic (touch) sense, taste (gustatory) sense, and vestibular (balance) sense to be manifestations of grace. In this case, common grace augments our appreciation of special grace—God’s free offer of redemption.

Some secondary school and college biology courses deal in depth with the physiological events occurring in our bodies when sensory information is received and carried to the body’s processing centers. What happens when visible light strikes our body surface? How does the body process impulses of sound when they reach us? We ask the same “What really happens” questions with respect to touch, balance, taste, and odor. The answers supply an even richer dimension of grace.

Understanding the processes occurring in the body when we sense some form of energy in our environment—light energy, the energy of sound or touch, or even chemical stimulation such as taste or smell—may trigger a sense of wonder and enrich our understanding of common grace as a manifestation of God’s many gifts to humanity. There are some sensory phenomena that are reasonably easy to understand. Specialists in physiology may object to our effort at oversimplification, but we may be inspired to dig deeper.

Sensory information must travel from the receptor cells to the brain through neural pathways called neurons. It is well known that matter is electrical in nature. Positive and negative charges exist in neurons as well as in every body cell. The sensory message must travel to the brain through neurons in the form of a series of electrical charges. These electrical responses are called action potentials. For example, the optic nerve is a collection of one million neurons. What does each neuron carry to the brain? Merely a series of all or none electrical impulses. In simplest terms, the electrical messages carried by the neurons of each sensory system are simple messages of recurring “ons” or “offs.” These sensory systems provide all information we receive about the outside world.

Knowledge of the brain is a study in itself. When sensory information arrives at the brain, that organ must process the information and report it coherently so it may be analyzed and interpreted. To understand that the brain makes sense only of multiple “on or off” electrical impulses is to understand the divine genius of the Creator. Our Creator is standing by observing his intelligently designed works. God still pronounces all his works of creation “very good.”  



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bacterial Power

Uncounted trillions of planets in our universe possess the chemical elements of which life is composed. In our own unique solar system the exact proportions of elements may not match the distribution of elements in other planetary systems. Life as we know it, therefore, may not be feasible anywhere else in the universe. The more we discover about the quantities and proportions of elements on Planet Earth, the more it appears that the earth is a very special body in our enormous universe. Beyond proportions of elements present, there are hundreds of other conditions necessary (fine tuning parameters) which make the earth habitable. Not only do we have the suite of physical constants by which our orderly universe operates, but we also have those physical constants operating in almost limitless combinations of circumstances. For example, Earth’s Solar System is incredibly and uniquely structured to allow life to exist.

Sometime after the elements were present in necessary combinations in our primitive solar system, life appeared in the form of bacteria. These morphologically simple yet biochemically complex life forms appeared suddenly. One-celled bacteria are visibly simple in their structure, but far from simple in the complexity of their biochemistry. A naturalistic process is unknown to account for the bacterial origin of life on Earth. Proponents of scientific naturalism vow to continue the search to explain abiogenesis—the appearance of life from non-life. Today scientists freely admit there exists no “standard model” for the origin of life.

For many hundreds of millions of years bacteria were the only living things on earth. They formed many of the resources still used by our modern civilization. Cyanobacteria generated constituents of the early atmosphere, particularly oxygen. In turn, reactions in the atmosphere ultimately produced minerals for use in life forms past and present. Some oil deposits result from the activity of cyanobacteria. Sulfate reducing bacteria aid in recycling of carbon compounds and many other life sustaining chemical reactions in nature.

The appearance of bacteria on earth has not proven to result from a gradualistic, evolutionary process. The onset of bacterial habitation on earth was relatively sudden. No hypothetical “primordial soup” preceded the appearance of bacteria. We view the appearance of bacteria as a divine creation event, or a divine series of creation events on earth.

Bacteria manifest all the characteristics of living things. It may seem inappropriate to connect the list of life characteristics to forms as simple as bacteria. The same list applies to both simple and advanced life. We review the characteristics from our post of 7/23/13 titled “What is Life?” Living things are (1) organized into cells, (2) manifest metabolism—processes of energy use for construction or breakdown, (3) respond to stimuli, (4) have homeostasis—the ability to maintain internal stability, (5) grow and develop, (6) reproduce, and (7) change and adapt.

However simple bacterial life forms may be, they manifest characteristics of sensory ability at a primitive level. Bacteria do not have advanced sensory systems like the nervous systems in higher animals and humans. However, their simple sensory system helps identify environmental factors working to their advantage or disadvantage. Bacteria were divinely created for the purpose of providing future earth inhabitants with beneficial resources. Many cyanobacteria and sulfate reducing bacteria species are still present on earth. Microbiologists variously estimate bacterial species at upwards of 100,000. Some scientists declare Earth’s bacterial biomass exceeds the biomass of all earth’s plants and animals combined. In light of the fact that there are 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and one million in a milliliter of water, this statistic is easy to accept. All considered, we should not be too upset that relatively few bacterial species cause disease. 90% of bacteria are beneficial or harmless.

With apologies to those who prefer more inspiring topics of discussion than sensory mechanisms of bacteria, we remind readers that life on earth benefits from many favorable past and present conditions. We see Planet Earth as a multidimensional miracle of intelligent creativity. Our God is the Intelligent Creator. 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sensory Systems

The approach of warm weather in spring and summer heightens awareness of the body’s auditory system. One could cite spring and summer sounds of birds, mammals, a few amphibians, and insects to augment frequent sounds of rain, wind, and thunder. The sense of hearing is a gift for which we offer God our humble thanks.  

Our auditory system is but one of six major sensory systems. The systems are visual (sight), auditory (hearing), somatic sensation (touch), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), and balance (vestibular). To one degree or another, most of these sensory systems are present in all animals. They are more highly developed in some; less highly developed in others. For example, vision is highly developed in hawks; smell is more developed in animals such as turkey vultures. Hearing is highly acute in owls and bats. In lower animals, sensory systems are present but may be more primitive.

We rejoice in references to the wonder of bodily senses from the church pulpit. Such awareness is part of our recognition that God’s grace is manifest in multiple ways each moment of the day, each day of our lives. In his most recent sermon our pastor quizzed his congregation, “What is the correct response to the breath you just exhaled? to the chair you are sitting in? to the roof over our heads? the fact that you are able to hear and comprehend? Those are all examples of grace given to us.” Several years ago we were blessed by a missionary speaker in our church pulpit. He uttered a similar exultation: “As you’re sitting down there you’re breathing, you can see, you can walk.” After that sermon, my personal commentary in a post entitled “Mundane Miracles” was, “Understanding the grace of God in the complexities of respiration, vision, and motion as well as dozens of other bodily systems, is an occasion to worship the God of creation just as surely as understanding the grace of God manifest in his plan for man’s redemption.”

Sensory systems in the bodies of all living creatures are Creator-provided gifts of grace. They were conceived in the mind of God long before living things were created on our planet, and later incorporated into their physical bodies at the moment of their creation. We apply the term grace in describing bodily sensory systems as treasured gifts from God. Preachers more often use the term in connection with God’s gift of salvation of sinners. However, grace defined as “the free and unmerited favor of God” was in the pre-creation mind of God as he waited to physically create living things. Later when man’s need for redemption became apparent, grace became operative in another context. Some theologians distinguish between common grace and special grace. Common grace is the grace shown by the Creator to and for his creation. Special grace is bestowed upon those who enter a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ.  

Highlighting the wonders of bodily sensory systems from the pulpit may strike some as a substitution of scientific knowledge for more familiar and traditional spiritual truths. Writers on the subject of the science/faith interface find these references entirely appropriate. If grace is a theological concept, we urge pastors to reference topics of biological science (or other sciences) from their pulpits whenever appropriate to strengthen the imagery of the multidimensional majesty of God and his gifts of grace.  


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spectrum of Worship

The potential for worship occurs across a broad spectrum of life experiences. Humanity is created with a special ability to enjoy life and value life’s gifts. People are born with diverse interests and preferences. In the spiritual realm, the concept of worship revolves around recognizing worth and value in an entity outside ourselves. Most often the worship is focused upon a deity—God—but any object could be the recipient of worship if we recognize value and worthiness in the external entity.

Many people loosely use the term worship to express non-theological sentiments. For example, a young athlete could declare he “worships” soccer. He could also state he “worships” the coach who teaches him athletic skills and models values for his team members. Most often, worship connects with a theological concept. If we use the term in connection with living creatures such as birds, one reason may be that we recognize the handiwork of the Creator who ultimately originated the creative ideas for design and function of the wide variety of aves, (birds), a class of animals of the familiar phylum chordata. Therefore, if we humorously refer to “bird worshippers,” we realize many expand their worship to embrace the Creator of all things including birds.

Since moving to our small corner of northwest Illinois called the “Driftless area,” I have enthused about this region as “bird heaven.” Perhaps I was unable to devote enough time to avian observation activities in previous residences during my years of active employment prior to 2000. Since retirement, my definition of “worship” has expanded: it has broadened considerably. My theological concept of worship has broadened as well. Worship experiences may be described on a worship spectrum. Even though I do not claim to be an expert on birds, I shall use Driftless area birds to illustrate an expanded vision of worship.

The opening sentence in the current post used the term spectrum in a broad sense. Summer Driftless area birds display every color of the electromagnetic spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. We must not neglect to mention birds with black or white plumage. Even the cold, snowy midwest winter features startling reds from male cardinals and brilliant blues from a few lingering bluebirds who choose to remain behind in the harshest conditions of the polar vortex.

Spectrum is sometimes used to express a range between limits. The range of bird weights is from 0.1 to 0.2 ounces for hummingbirds to 0.5 ounces for indigo buntings to 20 ounces for crows and up to 20 pounds for tom turkeys. Habits of flight and preferences for habitat, nesting sites, unique behaviors, and food vary widely as do their many different vocalizations. A search of nature manuals tells the complete story. Birds are characterized by their startling differences as much as their similarities. As with all the uncounted millions of earth species, we may credit the Creator with a fascinating multitude of design concepts as he fulfilled his ideas for the class aves. We reverently credit the Creator of earth life with a sense of humor in executing his creation activities, particularly for the variety within hundreds of North American bird species.

During this spring and early summer 2014, we have easily observed dozens of bird species in our corner of the Driftless area. There are many more species seen less easily. Bear with me while I develop a case for personal “worship” to enlarge upon the more familiar corporate church worship. In all cases our personal worship recognizes the Creator as our ultimate object of worship. To support our proposal that God’s living handiwork sometimes manifests a sense of humor, we cite a few examples. Their entertaining antics are a gift for human observers to enjoy.

Cliff swallows make their annual appearance under a small culvert one mile from our home. As I approached to observe the temporary home of about 200 swallows inhabiting the small culvert, they all took wing in about one minute. While I examined the culvert with field glasses a few dozen feet away, the birds circled far overhead, possibly consuming a few insect meals. A few barn swallow relatives joined the scene from a nearby farm with their characteristic calls. Cliff swallow nest architecture is a marvel of engineering consisting of numerous closely spaced intricate mud structures adhering to the vertical culvert walls, each sporting a small opening for entrance and egress. It has been discovered that some birds take one of their own eggs and deposit it nearby in another bird’s nest, perhaps a model of the phenomenon of adoption from the world of nature!

Barn swallows visit our immediate neighborhood only infrequently but my last lawn mowing experience was occasioned by the deliberate circling of a single healthy barn swallow for fifteen minutes. Once he flew dangerously close to my head. Perhaps he was expressing gratitude for the tiny insects I disturbed as I mowed. We both benefitted from the temporary interaction on my lawn. The swallow received a meal. I received satisfaction associated with a sense of wonder at his adaptive ability.

We cannot forego one more opportunity to cite the behavior and appearance of one of the favorite birds of our neighborhood residents—the indigo bunting. The longest surviving indigo bunting achieved an age of eight years. I have been aware of unique indigo bunting behavior in our neighborhood since 2010 when I first noticed the attraction of one special dead branch in one particular walnut tree for one resident  male indigo bunting. Could it be the same bird migrating by memory year after year to the same walnut branch in Illinois from its winter home in Central America? Or could this be the manifestation of a genetic factor passed on to hatchling buntings of several years ago, aided by their recognition of visible dark sky constellations proven to aid these birds in their night migratory flight? One last observation relates to my noisy lawn mower passing under the bird. The shattering noise does not phase him. He seems to sing even louder. The male bird serenades while females raise their babies. Psalm 103 reports “birds of the air…sing among the branches” and “make their nests.” 

Resisting the temptation to extend the chronicle of our Driftless area bird behavior, I offer one more Driftless area bird for consideration—the wild turkey. We are plentifully supplied with these large avian occupiers. I have exchanged turkey stories with many local residents. Three hen turkeys recently shepherded their collective babies to our front porch. There they shook off dust on our porch they had accumulated from dust baths on our next-door neighbor’s property. They left behind four-toed imprints in the dust as if to leave a signature of their visit. The family group lingered in our flower bed mulch before moving on. Birds and humans often coexist with what seems to be mutual respect.

The psalmist David begins his descriptive exultations of the natural world in Psalms 103-104 with “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2 NIV). The benefits of the wonders of life surrounding us include the supply of plentiful opportunities to worship the Creator.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

Worship in Nature

Observation of the living animals and plants in our neighborhood afford our family ample opportunity to worship God in the setting of nature. For Christians, worship is defined by adoration, respect, reverence, and love for the God of the Bible. Apart from the Christian worldview, our post title may be cause for misunderstanding. Worship of nature is not identical to worship in nature. Pantheism is a term in which everything, including the world of nature and its living creatures, could be regarded as God. In the view of pantheism, God does not exist as a personal Being. Christians worship the Creator of Scripture without assuming a pantheist identity. The Person of God in the Bible is the Creator of all things. 

While the study of worship in group gatherings of God’s people in settings such as a church building may help define worship, Christians may experience worship experiences wherever and whenever the reality of God’s creative handiwork is observed. Many locales offer opportunity to fulfill the experience of worship. Having enjoyed the natural world throughout life, we propose that the outdoor setting is an appropriate and meaningful worship venue. Many phenomena tangibly lead us to the experience of worship. Observation of animal life is perhaps one of the best examples. For young children, questions and answers to “Who made these wonderful creatures with their outstanding beauty and ability?” has incredible value.

Understanding the dimensions of worship and means of experiencing worship is a complex topic. If we propose an outdoor setting for worship and suggest study of the characteristics of animals and plants to enhance our experience of worship, some acquaintances might believe we misunderstand the concept of worship. They may endorse a traditional and overly narrow concept. Many Christians traditionally worship most effectively in church at definite scheduled times. We hasten to affirm the appropriateness of this sort of worship experience, but one’s view of worship will broaden as knowledge of the natural world increases.

While observing the wildlife in our surroundings we experience a blend of emotions. From a purely analytical approach, we may describe the physical appearance and behavior of the area wildlife as if we were writing a biology textbook. Observing the animals more carefully and deeply we observe complex physical design features and unique behavioral characteristics. In past posts we have referenced “soulishness” as a characteristic of some higher forms of animal life. Even less advanced forms of animal life without soulishness manifest complex physical and behavioral traits. We experience worship because we believe God is the Creator of all things including our neighborhood wildlife.

Some may cite the wonder of living creatures as evidence of the existence of God, giving them occasion for worship of the Creator. Naturalist biologists may scoff at this idea, claiming bio-science is completely naturalistic. Theistic believers, however, claim design and behavioral characteristics of living creatures give evidence of activity of the Creator. 

Even if evidence for God is not present in a scientific sense, such observations support an interesting concept proposed by theistic philosophers and theologians such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. As creatures made in the Image of God we are gifted with an inner awareness—a God-consciousness. In the Craig and Plantinga proposals it is reasonable to believe in God (and worship him) without physical evidence. They have written entire volumes on their concept of “properly basic beliefs.”

Lest we fail to simplify the point of this post, we claim worship experiences emanate from a variety of events and are experienced by different individuals in diverse ways. As we reinforce our belief that God created all things, we encourage readers to search for opportunities to worship God in ordinary and mundane events.