Friday, February 26, 2016

Unified Forces

My maternal grandfather was born in Switzerland in 1860. I enjoy informing friends that my direct ancestor, only two generations removed from me, was born before the American Civil War. He passed away just a few weeks after I was born, the father of 16 children and the grandparent of dozens of grandchildren. During his 16 years before emigrating to the United States from Switzerland, many scientists were making discoveries on the European continent and in England. Our family records do not indicate he possessed a special interest in science. After coming to the US he became a farmer and church leader in Illinois, Kansas, and Oklahoma. 

Two famous scientists, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), were alive during the lifetime of my maternal grandfather. Faraday was a brilliant scientist in England performing many experiments with electromagnetism—generating electric current with magnets, and producing magnetism, in turn, from electric currents. He was a discovery pioneer in many other fields. In one of his most famous experiments, a magnet moved back and forth through a coil of wire generated an electric current. Likewise, in a coil of wire moved over a stationary magnet, an electric current was generated. A changing magnetic field produces an electric field. This was one of the most convincing demonstrations in my classroom, affirming the linkage of two forces—electricity and magnetism.

The work of Faraday and Maxwell was highly innovative and pioneering in the field of science. One or two centuries before, Newtonian physics was in place. The law of gravitation was brilliant for its time. But Newtonian physics promoted the concept of “action at a distance,” a mechanistic view seeking to reduce physical interactions to the idea of collision. Newton’s ideas were astute, but fields of force such as the 19th century concepts of Faraday and Maxwell were not yet imagined. In the Newtonian concept of “action at a distance,” the iron filings sprinkled near a magnet experiment would have been errantly explained. This demonstration was another favorite experiment in my classroom. The iron filings arranged themselves in a pleasing, visually organized manner along the lines of force. 

Some commentators claim Faraday was not strong in mathematical skills. James Clerk Maxwell, highly admired by the genius Albert Einstein, summarized the brilliant accomplishments of Faraday in his famous “Maxwell Equations,” built on the foundation Faraday had laid. He pronounced Faraday “to have been in reality a mathematician of a very high order, one from whom the mathematicians of the future may derive valuable and fertile methods.” Maxwell’s equations, which unified space and time, later supported Einstein’s Special and General Relativity theories. Faraday first referred to a “field” when he observed magnetic lines of force. He was ahead of his time. There are several types of force fields which Faraday and Maxwell described. Electricity and magnetism were unified in the description of electromagnetism. Maxwell’s equations went beyond, unifying space and time. When the 20th century arrived, Albert Einstein was ready to build on the foundation of Faraday and Maxwell. Scientists are still building on those foundations.

Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell were devout Christians. Much has been written concerning the deep faith of these men, but as most of today’s scientists endorse the separation of the realms of theology and science, we do not hear much discussion on the issue of their strong, motivating faith. Both scientists believed in the unity of the forces of nature. This unity could be defended as a theological concept. The truths of science go hand in hand with the truths of theology. One Creator is the author of truth in both spheres. Many theologian/scientists have elaborated extensively on this concept.    



Friday, February 19, 2016

Maxwell and Einstein

The recent detection of gravitational waves highlights not merely one, but two of the greatest scientists in history and the startling intersections of their respective discoveries. Many news articles proclaimed the idea that “Einstein was right” in his 1916 declaration concerning the reality of gravitational waves and the theories of relativity. But we must search important quotes to learn of many statements Einstein voiced concerning James Clerk Maxwell. Albert Einstein was effusive in praising the importance of James Clerk Maxwell as a giant in the field of science. In a strange irony, Maxwell (1831-1879) died in the same year Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was born. But Einstein recognized the profound importance of his scientific forebear.

James Clerk Maxwell studied previous discoveries on electricity and magnetism during the middle of the 19th century. Maxwell’s work unified the forces of electricity and magnetism in his theory of electromagnetism. His calculations revealed that electromagnetic waves travel away at a finite speed. Scientists had calculated the speed of light fairly accurately in the century prior to Maxwell. The speed of light agreed with Maxwell’s calculations of electromagnetic wave speed. Therefore, Maxwell conceived of light as an electromagnetic wave.

Maxwell predicted that many other electromagnetic waves should be possible long before they became a reality. In theory, electromagnetic waves could be of any length or frequency. He anticipated the electromagnetic spectrum, but during his life he did not know the future applications of his theory of electromagnetism. Heinrich Hertz proved that radio waves could exist less than a decade after Maxwell died, generating them with experiments in the late 1880s. In 1900, the first human voice was sent by radio over an electromagnetic wave in a primitive experiment. In 1906 a short radio broadcast was sent on Christmas eve to shipboard receivers along the coast of the eastern US. Human speech along with vocal and instrumental music was transmitted by a pioneer named Reginald Fessenden. It was still a long way from the tens of thousands of radio frequencies scientists learned to generate in the following century, not to mention television, radar, microwaves, thermal imaging, and many thousands of applications of electromagnetic energy sustaining our lifestyle in modern times. Our modern system of communications and entertainment has its origin in James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic spectrum.

Throughout his life Albert Einstein was generous in praise of Maxwell. He stated, “The special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell’s equations of the electromagnetic field.” Also, in reference to Maxwell’s concept of energy fields, Einstein said, “Since Maxwell’s time, physical reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.”

In February 2016 we were reminded of the terms “space-time continuum” and the “space-time fabric” by plentiful reporting. Einstein would be thrilled at the 1998 discovery that 68% of the mass of the universe is due to a mysterious “dark energy” driving the expansion of the universe into a state of fine tuning beyond our wildest imagination. In addition, 27% of the universe’s mass is composed of “dark matter.” Recently discovered gravity waves may be less mysterious in our day had Einstein been able to detect them and experiment with them a century ago. The recent discovery of dark energy and dark matter during Einstein’s life may have inspired him to propose answers to even more mysteries. Applying the popular modern idiom, Einstein was “ahead of the curve” with his concept of gravity waves which took 100 years for scientists to detect.

James Clerk Maxwell was also ahead of the curve. For a science intellect like Albert Einstein to heap lavish praise on him indicates the importance of electromagnetic fields and the electromagnetic spectrum on which our contemporary lives depend. In lighter moments, I have stated that when we arrive in our eternal home beyond the current cosmos, I may inquire of the Creator concerning secrets of the electromagnetic spectrum. At the same time we might inquire about the secrets of gravity waves and many other mysteries of our present cosmos including the mysteries of special and general relativity. The Apostle Paul no doubt had spiritual realities in mind when he penned I Corinthians 2:9: “No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it—what God has arranged for those who love him” (The Message Translation). In my imagination, I fancy discovering truths about the operation of our present cosmos in future eternity .

In 2008 we blogged on James Clerk Maxwell and his deep Christian faith. Maxwell was a scientist of great repute who never proposed a “God-of-the-Gaps” solution for any of the mysteries of the universe. He preferred to explain phenomena according to the laws God had established for the operation of this cosmos:



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Grip of Gravity

The world has been in the grip of gravity in recent days. Of course, each moment of our lives we experience the physical grip of gravity. But lately the news from scientists has been more gripping than usual. Gravity waves were directly detected for the first time in history and reported to the public on February 11, 2016. They were proposed by Einstein in 1916 when he proposed his theory of general relativity. General relativity is a mystery to most people, but laypersons may understand that the mysterious force of gravity is a component of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

In Einstein’s concept, space and time are interwoven in what is known as the “space-time continuum.” Einstein predicted that mass and energy “warp” space and time. The warps are sometimes described as “ripples” in space. But only the most extreme masses are able to warp the fabric of space-time. For the first time, gravity waves (ripples) may now be detected. 

Warping of space-time has recently been plentifully illustrated by YouTube clips. Imagine a trampoline tightly stretched across a frame. A mass placed on the trampoline warps the mat surface; the heavier the mass the more the mat is warped. A marble or steel ball directed onto the mat will circle the mass in various paths, following the warp of the mat. Earth is attracted by the gravity of the sun in a descriptive sense, but more accurately, it is following the warp or curvature of space-time produced by a massive object.

We return to the idea that gravity waves were undetectable until now. No gravity wave was ever strong enough to detect. Only very large masses moving very fast are able to produce a detectable wave. The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory cost $620 million, including a $200 million update in September 2015. On September 14, 2015 LIGO detected identical gravity waves at facilities in both Louisiana and Washington State at virtually the same time. The recent update apparently enabled quick success in scientists’ initial detection of gravity waves.

The very large masses necessary were two orbiting black holes which merged into a single black hole 1.3 billion light years distant. The event occurred, therefore, 1.3 billion years ago! The objects were moving at almost half the speed of light when they merged, momentarily releasing energy of the most powerful event ever observed. Only an event of this magnitude could generate detectable ripples in our space-time fabric.

The minuscule strength of the detected LIGO gravitational waves is only powerful enough to warp space a tiny amount—one ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton in experiments such as LIGO. Scientists predict man may explore the universe in a completely new way in the future.

Colossians 1:16-17 is offered as a devotional passage rather than a scientific proof-text: “For by him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (ESV). Creationists recall similar passages that were authored primarily as spiritual commentary. Our worship is enabled by spiritual blessings as well as our knowledge of the magnificent physical creation.   



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Healthy Revolutions for Multiplying Population

“Be fruitful and multiply” has multiple implications. The scripture mandate of Genesis 1:28 does not list detailed concomitants of healthy population multiplication. Our knowledge of the intellectual abilities gifted to the human population by our Creator, however, implies that healthy population multiplication accompanies wise human stewardship of human lives and our environment. The Genesis 2:16 passage instructs Adam to “work” his environment and “take care of it.” 

We marvel that the world’s population explosion occurred so late in human history. In tens of thousands of years since the creation of humanity the population multiplied significantly, but not explosively. Human population remained well below a billion souls for many thousands of years. Now, in the recent moments of human history, in just over 200 years the population has multiplied over sevenfold. One may wonder why certain revolutions did not occur earlier on the timeline of human history. First, we define revolution as a term of interest to scientists. The term signifies a sudden, marked change in thinking and practice. In the world of science, we often revise or change our thinking. For instance, with respect to the welfare of humanity, knowledge of how to acquire adequate water, food, and shelter is crucial. Of course, human health is a vital overlay of our quest for these physical necessities.

The human population throughout history has been limited by concerns about water, food, shelter, health, and the resources needed to acquire them. Sometimes famine and disease plagued human existence. At other times war was waged to help nations acquire what they desired. War, famine, and disease still afflict planetary residents, in spite of the population explosion of the last two centuries. The physical condition of  the human population, however, has substantially improved. We credit the improvement, at least in part, to four revolutions: the Scientific Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Sanitary Revolution.

The Scientific Revolution of the last four or five centuries was an epistemological revolution. Mankind revised the way he acquired knowledge. The philosophy of Aristotle ruled prior to the Scientific Revolution. Modern residents would not recognize the “natural philosophy” of that age as “science.” It was based on the doctrines of the ancient philosopher Aristotle and followed rationalist procedures: man’s reason was the chief source of knowledge. Modern science, with its emphasis on empiricism, observation, experiment, hypothesis formation, prediction, and testing, did not exist. William Whewell (1794-1866), a scientist of many interests, defined the Scientific Revolution as, “a transition from an implicit trust in the internal powers of men’s mind to a professed dependence on external observation” and was the first to coin the term “scientist.” This advance from the philosophy of Aristotle to the methods of modern science laid the groundwork for other revolutions to follow.

The Agricultural Revolution from 1750 to the 19th century, especially in Britain, resulted in increased land productivity. Crop rotation, equipment innovation, land ownership, marketing, and transportation reforms, land reclamation, and selective livestock breeding increased yields and allowed for more labor to be diverted to an urban workforce. This, in turn, helped drive the benefits of the looming Industrial Revolution.

What schoolchild has not become aware of the Industrial Revolution from 1760 to the early 19th century? In this revolution, manufacturing and materials innovations became dominant. Machine production replaced production by hand. New power sources were developed to drive the more advanced machines. Living standards increased and life improved in many ways as industrialization spread worldwide. Many authors have written about this famous revolution, followed by the Second Industrial Revolution beginning later in the 19th century.

The last revolution we speak of is less publicized as a well-known revolution. It is the Urban Sanitary Revolution. Its primary author was Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) who campaigned for clean water and sewage disposal in Britain in the early 19th century. Chadwick strove to reform the British “Poor Laws” which dealt with problems of ever-present indigent people of Britain in that day. Indigent people have historically been present in every political jurisdiction in every age, even today. They may be most impacted by poor water and deficient sanitation. Edwin Chadwick championed sanitary reform, to his honor.

Reforms in science, agriculture, industry, and sanitation have contributed mightily to the human population explosion our planet has experienced. We view the human population explosion as a topic of interest and concern for every Christian in our day.  We repeat the instruction of scripture from Genesis 1:28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)

The population explosion of the past two centuries describes not only how our human population has multiplied, but also how the expanded human population interacts with our environment and every living creature. We are stewards of the blessings and challenges presented by the multiplication of our population.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Population Concerns

One look at the world’s population explosion in the last two centuries provokes concern. Over seven billion souls inhabit the planet, six billion more than the world population at the beginning of the 19th century. The problem is not physical overcrowding. The capacity of the Earth is ample, but every location does not appeal to Earth inhabitants as desirable or even adequate. In many places, particularly in the “third world,” personal survival supersedes desirability.

In our current world, developing nations account for over three-quarters of the world’s population and are largely responsible for the ongoing population increase. The increase occurs in tandem with high fertility rate, high poverty levels, low economic development, poor utilization of natural resources, and heavy dependence on industrialized nations for financing. These economically poor nations have high rates of illiteracy and disease and are technologically less advanced. For some autocratic and otherwise unstable nations, an abundance of natural resources is actually detrimental to solving their problems—some national leaders use their abundant resources to indulge their worst instincts. We do not assign blame to the average citizens of these countries. We note, instead, existing problems inherent in those countries.

A few nations, notably China, have implemented unique responses in their attempt to limit their population. Their birth rate has declined, but so has their mortality rate. Births have been declining owing to forced abortion and other undesirable practices. Their actions have contributed to an aging population and an imbalance in the ratio of males to females. China and India are the two most populous nations in the world, comprising 36% of all Earth residents. India will surpass China’s population in 2028, making up the 126 million by which they currently trail China.

Least developed and less developed countries in the world will contribute virtually all the world population increase projected until the year 2050. This increase is projected to be approximately two billion more residents than at present. These countries comprise approximately 85% of total world population. More developed countries, which includes the US and Western Europe, will contribute much less to the population increase in the next 35 years. These countries currently comprise approximately 15% of total world population.

Shining through the welter of population and demographic statistics is the question of how humanity adheres to the mandate of Genesis 1:28. Did God have in mind a planned, measured, coherent population growth plan for mankind? Does the population explosion from one billion to 7.2 billion in the past 200 years conform to the will of God? Do we have divine guidelines for human population trends? These are difficult questions without clear answers.

Our ability to pursue knowledge is a gift of the Creator. Our quest for individual and collective wisdom in matters of human habitation of our planet is also a gift of the Creator, according to Scripture (James 1:5). Christians are also guided by the Scripture mandate of Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV) Our world’s teeming billions are a source of concern calling for wise responses to the challenges they face.