Monday, March 21, 2016

What Came Before

As a student I wondered if there was a beginning to time. I reasoned that every day must follow a preceding day. Therefore, time had always existed without a beginning. Likewise, I wondered about the end of space. If space had a hypothetical “end,” what was just on the other side of the “end barrier?” In my first several years of science teaching, I confess to being influenced by Fred Hoyle’s “steady state” theory. His theory was popular at the time, so I spent several dollars on a book by Hoyle for my classroom. In effect, Hoyle’s theory posited an eternal universe with no beginning. Persuasive evidence for the Big Bang Theory had not yet been proposed, although the expansion of the universe had been recognized. Msgr Georges Lemaitre conceived of a primeval atom or “cosmic egg” in 1927. Hoyle had named the “The Big Bang” theory in 1949 to distinguish it from his theory.

Hoyle’s Big Bang persisted as a neologism, notwithstanding the campaign of several respected scientists to generate a better scientific term for it during the 1990s. Evidence for the infinitesimal singularity which blossomed in a micro-moment of cosmic inflation, followed by slower expansion of the universe, has been steadily increasing since many laypersons were enamored by the Steady State theory around the mid-20th century.

Knowledge of sequential Big Bang events has not gripped the entire public. The reasons are clear. These events are esoteric—understood by a small number of scientists. While the Big Bang is sometimes derisively dubbed an “explosion,” cosmologists would prefer to express their knowledge of this event in more favorable terms. The events of the first few moments of universe existence followed by spectacular cosmic evolution continuing until our day inspire awe and wonder in the hearts of naturalistic scientists. The sentiments of theistic creationists, however, may be described as holy reverence. The Big Bang is God’s initial act of creation in our universe, they believe.

Did the Big Bang event, 13.7 billion years in the distant past, occur on a timeline where previous events occurred? Or did God’s creation of the universe occur in previously existing space? In our life experience, whatever exists has a starting point, caused by something or someone with a previous existence. Consequently, the reality of a creation event where our current dimension of time has no antecedent is unprecedented in our human experience. Likewise, the concept that our current dimensions of space—length, width, and height—has no antecedent is also unprecedented.

The Big Bang creation event was the origin of this universe’s time and space dimensions. Our universe was not implanted in a previously existing time dimension. The dimension of time was created at the Big Bang as were the dimensions of space. The universe is still expanding. The universe is not expanding into space. Rather, space itself is expanding. With ongoing one-dimensional time and expanding space, the universe is now estimated to extend to a diameter of 156 billion light years.

Many cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies recognize that time was created at the Big Bang event. Prior to that, time did not exist. They would agree that the dimensions of space were also created at the Big Bang event. God exists beyond our familiar dimensions of time and space, but these dimensions were created for our universe with humanity in mind. As humans living in our current dimensions of time and space, we tend to project these into our future visions of reality, perhaps even into our future anticipation of heaven—the New Creation described in the Book of Revelation. Our view is that without our familiar dimensions of time and space our experience in the heavenly realm cannot even be imagined on this side of eternity.

To review: Time began at the Big Bang creation event, as did the dimensions of space. The created universe was not formed within the already created dimensions of time and space. Rather, the universe was THE creation of time and space.

You may enjoy our previous post entitled “Before Time Began.” It speaks about God’s plan for humanity before the existence of our dimension of time:



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Gifted Einstein

The trio of gifted scientists beginning with Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell ends with Albert Einstein, the 20th century contributor to the revolutionary “field” concept. Einstein, who died in Princeton, NJ in 1955, contributed his theories of relativity, extending his reputation as one of the most brilliant scientists ever to tackle long unsolved problems in physics. Many science writers have speculated on how many members of humanity actually understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. Analysts point out the number is small. Non-scientists at some level realize these deep concepts have an important connection with the coherence of the universe even though the ideas are beyond their grasp.

People who do not understand proposals of this genius scientist may understand giftedness with reference to other talents we may easily comprehend. I illustrate with a personal story of my conversation with a former student after she performed a benefit piano concert at our school. The musically gifted girl was the winner of top keyboard competitions in many national venues. She performed several enormously demanding, lengthy compositions by memory to the delight of her audience. When I inquired how she memorized hundreds of pages of music and interpreted them flawlessly, she replied, “I see the pages.” That comment signaled her intuitive intellectual grasp of the total structure of the musical composition even more than an exercise in memorization. Her flawless performance further indicated comprehension of the composer’s musical concept.

Most concertgoers appreciate the beauty and significance of concert level music even though they may not grasp the nuances of music theory and performance. This analysis is analogous to the non-scientist’s appreciation of Einstein’s conception of physics: He may not understand the principles of special and general relativity and the mathematics bringing those principles into focus for the scientist, but he understands and appreciates the order and predictability of the universe.

We wonder at the progression of Einstein’s personal development as a young person. Some accounts describe him as “slow,” not a trait we would attribute to the manifestation of genius in later life. As a high school dropout he failed the entrance exam to the Polytechnic Institute at Zurich and was later judged “hopeless at physics.” But he was a deep thinker as a boy, having the ability to describe a complex problem in simple terms. He once speculated on the appearance of a beam of light if he rode a bicycle next to it at the speed of light. Perhaps this was a prelude to his later understanding of light-related topics.

Einstein’s vision of the connection among light, gravity, energy, and matter has come into renewed focus one hundred years after his general relativity theory was proposed. The theory provided that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time. The recently detected gravitational waves provided proof. Space and time were interwoven in the popular phrase “space-time continuum.” Graphic artists illustrate images of a “warped fabric” of space-time. Gravity results when objects with mass follow the curvature of this space-time fabric.

Recently Lauren Green, host of Spirited Debate on, interviewed Dr. Jeff Sweerink as a result of the publicity given to Albert Einstein and the recent detection of gravitational waves he predicted. Sweerink and Dr. Hugh Ross from the Reasons to Believe organization have been guests of Dr. John Ankerberg’s JAShow. Green asked Sweerink if the detection of gravitational waves proves the existence of God, noting that if the universe had a beginning, a Beginner was indicated. Sweerink responded that the universe has been found to be a dynamic place as evidenced by its observed, ongoing expansion. In addition, the relativity theory provides that the laws of physics are constant everywhere in the universe. God established constant physical laws by which the universe is governed—an apt metaphor for the reliability and constancy of the Creator. One of the strongest points in Sweerink’s analysis was evidence that the universe had a beginning and was created by God from outside, not inside our space-time dimensions.

The evidence points to a Creator who transcends our space-time dimensions and acts as the cause of all that exists. Our universe could not have “self-created.” God fashioned  a universe where life could exist. The presence of life in our space-time continuum is evidence of The Creator. Albert Einstein did not pinpoint the God of scripture as the designer of the space-time continuum but he expressed “rapturous amazement” at the harmony of natural law. Einstein used his giftedness to explain the reality and characteristics of space-time. For those gifts we are thankful.

We link a previous post dealing with Einstein:




Friday, March 11, 2016

Variety of Giftedness

The popular excitement generated by the detection of gravity waves (more accurately   gravitational waves) in February 2016 has inspired popular broadening of interest in science as it molds our visualization of reality in our creation. Our recent posts highlighted the concept of fields, in particular, gravitational fields. The recent gravitational wave publicity emphasized three scientists who conceived of fields such as electric, magnetic, electromagnetic, and gravitational fields. In the last 200 years Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein have illuminated the field concept. Let’s define a field this way: A region of space in which every point is affected by a force. The field concept was revolutionary in 19th century science. The three scientists mentioned above are acknowledged as the prime movers in scientific understanding of forces and fields. Faraday and Maxwell comprise the 19th century component of this trio. 

As young people, each scientist experienced a varied background which helped mold his mature scientific ability. Parental mentoring was important, but perhaps not as important as personal desire and initiative. In the case of Faraday and Maxwell, their strong Christian worldview undergirded them. All of these factors supplied fertile ground for the germination of scientific genius. We must realize, however, that achievement in science or any other endeavor is an example of giftedness. There is no guarantee that any young child will develop giftedness for science even if his parents follow a prescribed child-rearing formula.

Michael Faraday was born into a poor family and was essentially self-educated. He read many books as an outgrowth of his activity as an apprentice book-binder. “Faraday never lost his enthusiasm for natural beauty, especially such grandiose spectacles as a thunderstorm or an alpine waterfall,” according to the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Michael Faraday conceptualized intuitively. He observed and experimented with magnets and electric currents and visualized the relationships between them. My personal search of quotes from Faraday turned up one which epitomizes his discovery. “I happen to have discovered a direct relation between magnetism and light, also electricity and light, and the field it opens is so large and I think rich” he wrote in 1845. Regarding his Christian worldview, he said, “I cannot doubt that a glorious discovery in natural knowledge and the wisdom and power of God in the creation is awaiting our age.”

It remained for Maxwell not only to conceptualize intuitively as did Faraday, but also to express it in a burst of mathematical equations about the time of the American Civil War. Many sources have stressed Faraday knew hardly any formal mathematics. In contrast, Maxwell was one of the finest mathematicians of his time. However, the pioneering discoveries of Faraday which were not supported by advanced mathematical skills was not disparaged by Maxwell, who wrote, “I was aware that there was supposed to be a difference between Faraday’s way of conceiving of phenomena and that of the mathematicians so that neither he nor the mathematicians were satisfied with each others’ language…This discrepancy did not arise from either party being wrong.”

Maxwell’s giftedness was apparent from his early youth. Many accounts express his curiosity. For example, he produced reflections of sunlight across his parent’s faces with a tin plate given him by his father when he was two and a half years old. He said, “I got it in with the tin plate.” As a child he constantly asked, “What’s the go o’ that,” or, “What does it do,” and sometimes reiterated, “But what’s the particular go of it?” At six years old he was fascinated by watching the “violino primo’s” bowing at the community “barn ball” social rather than the dancers in order to discover “the go of that.” He wanted to have his parents tell him about a lapful of “curiosities” picked up on hikes through the woods with his nurse.

He was not always asking questions. Rather, he was frequently doing or making ingeniously. When he was eight years old during the final illness of his mother she counseled the young boy to “look up through Nature to Nature’s God.” That same year he was able to repeat Psalm 119 in its entirety and quote chapter and verse for almost any quotation in the Book of Psalms. His biographer, Rev. Lewis Campbell, co-author of The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882) produced a volume of nearly 700 pages largely composed of his personal letters. Many of them detailed the workings of his brilliant mind. His letters also contained profoundly deep Christian insights which he possessed and expressed until the premature end of his life at the age of 48. He is an eminent giant in the world of science, universally recognized for his contributions. I recommend the Campbell volume for its multifaceted insights into Maxwell’s giftedness.

We appropriate a measure of literary license in quoting verses from I Corinthians 12. This passage is meant to express the variety of spiritual giftedness in the church, but these verses may also apply across the spectrum of human experience to different types of gifts in any sphere. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” I Cor. 12:4-6 (ESV). We give thanks for the variety of giftedness in the field of science and in all human experience. 


Monday, March 7, 2016

Natural Born Scientists: Children

“Every child starts out as a natural born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”
Carl Sagan, famous scientist and popularizer of science for the public, shares authorship of this idea with many other commentators, especially science educators. I have observed the justification for this sentiment in many ways after observing many children, and recently, my youngest grandchildren in particular.

We begin with a generalized discussion of the traits of children, even in their first few months of life. Children enjoy discovering their environment by vision and by the sense of touch. These are the fundamental means for children to discover the qualities of their environment. The sense of sound is also important for realization. Vision and touch are the most important discovery techniques for a child. Children wish to discover their environment in more depth by looking and feeling. By touching nearby objects in various ways, children supply causes in the sequence of cause and effect. The practice of intensive observation and analysis of cause and effect phenomena are clearly scientific methods.

When parents and grandparents supervise young children, they usually take precautions that their household’s treasured fragile and/or attractive objects are placed out of reach in the first year or two of their exploratory phase. Perhaps a humorous story about our two and a half year old grandson would illustrate the presence of his tendency to be a natural-born scientist. On my office desk I have a small magnetic levitating globe. Properly positioned, this globe “floats” in the air about an inch above its base. With a few cents worth of monthly electric power, the magnets in the globe and base enable the levitating globe to remain suspended in air indefinitely. Readers may speculate on what happened next.

The levitating globe needs little handling to loudly drop from its floating position to its metal base. We did not react unfavorably to the loud pop indicating sudden loss of levitation. Instead, we located a bottle of ceramic disc magnets. Several dozen heavily magnetized discs supplied Grandpa and grandson with activities featuring elementary forces of magnetic attraction and repulsion for a while. At our house we prefer to avoid push button noise makers and motorized or blinking light games to inspire children. In their place, we have found magnifying glasses, binoculars, and observations of live birds and insects to be more fascinating. We acknowledge that applied science is used in animated electronic games. However, parents and teachers may have to work harder to ignore the 21st century entertainment aspect and recapture the age of discovery for our young scientists.

Several years ago our local newspaper front-paged an unusual story. In retrospect, we found it difficult to believe that the account distinguished this 13-year old boy from hundreds of other young people in his community. His activities were deemed unusual enough to highlight with a feature article. What was so unusual, we ask? His activities provided a sort of “kid magnet” for neighborhood boys. The boy spent every spare minute outdoors building a fort, riding a go-cart, organizing a ball game on the field he laid out, or creating a haunted forest. His achievements apparently included practiced observing, analyzing, building, testing, correcting, and revising in an effort to discover the best method. These are characteristics of scientists. It is clear that he was encouraged to develop these traits. “Anything that keeps him from staring at a video game screen,” his mother reported.    

In our video game culture it may be more difficult to develop and encourage young scientists. The video activities have been devised by the game creator. They serve primarily to entertain rather than to foster creativity. Individual initiative has been replaced by the clever skills of the manufacturer.               

The world of nature ranks high in opportunities for scientific observation, not only of living things but also of the physical laws controlling matter. The scientific gift of curiosity and problem solving is implanted in varying degrees in our children. We must not forget other scientific impulses such as specimen and data collecting and skills of organization and analysis. If a child is naturally gifted with similar skills, we must be careful not to “beat it out of them” as Carl Sagan has warned.

The gifts of Sagan’s “natural born scientists” must be nourished along with gifts of music, ability in sports, writing talent, creative imagination, and a host of other in-born skills in our young people. As we contemplate unique human skills we marvel at the Creator’s gifts to man. Surely they are included in the intention of the writer of Genesis, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…” (from Gen. 1:26-27).      

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Torrance's Scientific Theology

Brilliant theologian Thomas F. Torrance passed into eternity in 2007. We imagine that Torrance would have experienced exuberant enjoyment at the recent scientific detection of gravity waves. He related science and theology in unique ways, a gifted expositor within both disciplines. We quote a portion of the foreword from one of Thomas Torrance’s volumes: Reality and Scientific Theology: “There is being brought to light a hidden traffic between theological and scientific ideas of the most far-reaching significance for both theology and science…Theology and science are found to have deep mutual relations, and increasingly cry out for each other.”

Torrance was especially impacted by the work of brilliant scientists. In particular, he appreciated the work of Michael Faraday (1791-1867), James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). With respect to light, the subject of inquiry of these scientists, Torrance stated, “I believe that God created the universe in such a way that the invariance of light in its creaturely way is a reflection of his eternal invariance, his changeableness, and his faithfulness. If light were to wobble, the universe would be thrown into complete lawlessness. If God were to wobble, if God were not utterly faithful, the same yesterday, today, and forever, there would be an utterly chaotic state of affairs in space and time.”

The quote above indicates how enthusiastically Thomas Torrance championed the connection between God and his physical creation. Many modern scientists and laypersons have been indoctrinated by Carl Sagan’s famous opening statement to inaugurate the famous “Cosmos” television series broadcast in 1980. Sagan began with a lofty philosophical utterance which has reinforced the naturalistic “gospel.” He said, “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Torrance, instead, saw the reality of God, the Creator, acting both inside and outside the Cosmos, but demonstrating a unity between the Cosmos and the eternal realm of God beyond the Cosmos.

Famous early physicist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) seldom commented on theology. One quote attributed to him may have been more philosophical than faith-based. “The most elegant system of the sun, planets, and comets could not have arisen without the design and domain of an intelligent and powerful being,” he wrote. Torrance was uncomfortable with the dualism of Isaac Newton. The physical laws Newton expressed, such as the Law of Gravitation, were explainable in terms of themselves, not with respect to a supernatural entity. Newton conceived of a universe which functioned independently of the Creator. His theology could be described as unorthodox. The truths of nature posed challenges to the truths of organized religion according to Newton. Torrance was troubled that Newton’s dualism operated under the premise of disconnectedness between God and creation.

Torrance, the science-minded theologian, was far more pleased with the unity of forces expressed by brilliant scientists Faraday, Maxwell, and Einstein. Electricity and magnetism were unified in theory of electromagnetism by Faraday and Maxwell. A few decades later Albert Einstein enthusiastically lauded the intuitive insights of Faraday and the brilliant mathematical equations of Maxwell. Faraday and Maxwell were devout in their Christian faith. Einstein’s theories unified the dimensions of space and time. He sought for ways to combine electromagnetism with gravity in a single theory. He characterized his search as a quest to discover a “theory of everything.” In 1923 Einstein stated, “The intellect seeking after an integrated theory cannot rest content with the assumption that there exist two distinct fields totally independent of each other by their nature.” It is obvious that waves of electromagnetism in the form of light and other energy, and the recently detected gravity waves traveling through vast distances inhabit the same cosmic space.

How did Thomas Torrance incorporate his deep visions of orthodox Christian theology and science in his fruitful lifetime ministry? As a scientist and as a theologian he searched for the union of natural science and theological science. In Torrance’s voluminous writings and in commentaries about him, his deepest vision of unity is abundantly clear: The Son, Jesus Christ, was and is one in being with the Father and Spirit in eternity and with us by virtue of the incarnation. The connection between science and faith is most profound when we compare the mystery of unity of the universal forces of the natural world with the mystery of the unity of the Christian Trinity.