Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Startling Irony

Irony is defined as a state of affairs or an event that seems contrary to what one would expect. Our focus on the proliferation of data and the resultant increase in knowledge resulting from the recent Digital Revolution triggers a question concerning beliefs of professional scientists: With the exponential increase in scientific understanding of our world and their ability to rapidly expand the use of technology, how has belief in God as the Creator of all things and the fount of knowledge been affected?

Statistics point to a startling irony. In a 1998 survey of American Academy of Science members, only 7% possessed a personal belief in God. Other organizations report a smaller percentage of scientists possess a personal belief in God. Science professionals demonstrate far less belief in God as creator and sustainer than non-scientists. Scientists are familiar with fine tuned physical constants governing our universe as well as characteristics of matter and the laws of nature. They did not invent the constants, characteristics, and laws. Rather, they discovered and applied them. God created the matter, as well as the constants, characteristics, and laws. In effect, the Creator of all things instructs scientists, “Now, go to work. I have supplied the raw materials and your tool kit for discovery and application.”

Science is not an invention of men. It is God’s gift to men. Humanity is no more intelligent now than he was in the days when the Old Testament Book of Job was written, but we are currently awash in technological advances. The Scientific Revolution beginning in the 16th century was supported by the collective discovery of many gifted giants of scientific intellect. The Digital Revolution or Digital Age, often called the Information Age from mid-20th century to the present, was coincident with the population explosion of the last two centuries. It is a startling irony that belief in God has generally decreased among science professionals. 

We do not diminish the wondrous achievements of gifted human scientists including those who possess faith in God and those who do not. But we are troubled by the tendency of the vast majority to favor self-recognition and self-empowerment over a creative entity beyond themselves. If there is justifiable pride in their accomplishments, we commend them. We are saddened, however, by unbelief which prevents acknowledgement of the Creator governing and sustaining “all things.” Increased knowledge of science need not undermine belief in God. Instead, it should enhance belief.

A similar irony relates to the popular conception reported by Christianity Today that “Overall, people with high IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious.” CT cautioned against placing too much weight on these findings. There may be an implicit bias in their reporting. Sociologist Frank Furedi correctly questions the value of such a project where “science research turns into advocacy research.” Many argue that smart folks including scientists reject religion, but scripture disputes that statement: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10 NIV) 

The disbelief of the majority of secular scientists is troubling. In contrast, a famous Psalm 19 passage addresses an observable theological truth: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)



Friday, July 29, 2016

Message of the Medium

Marshall McCluhan (1911-1980) coined a amusing play on the title of his famous best seller, “The Medium Is the Message.” In humor, McCluhan once substituted “massage” for message. The Medium is the Massage recognized that visual or print media could “massage” human awareness and leave a profound impact on an individual’s perception of reality. The letter substitution was originally a printing error. Since McCluhan’s death in 1980, his work has received increased attention owing to the expanded impact of audio, visual, and printed media. In particular, we consider how modern media have been impacted by the overwhelming effects of the Digital Revolution. McCluhan’s thesis was prophetic long before the widespread results of the Digital Revolution became an overwhelming phenomenon of our modern life.

McCluhan stated, “New technologies have a gravitational effect on cognition.” He railed against print technology and media such as television almost a half-century ago. Wikipedia reports, Media…“plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the character of the medium itself.” We wonder how Marshall McCluhan would characterize today’s ubiquitous social interaction via e-mail, cell phones, texting, and instant on-demand entertainment available to contemporary young people and adults if he were yet alive.

As wonderful as the science of digital technology is, we must strive to balance its positives with its sometimes frightful negatives. Digital media supplies wonders such as our ability to be in instant audio and visual communication with our loved ones virtually anywhere in the world, to activate our GPS unit safely guiding us to our destination, to access stores of vital information, and to take advantage of distance learning, to name only a few. The negative consequences are at least worth contemplating with equal diligence. We wonder about influences on personal time allotment, cognition, comprehension, and thinking ability. What are the subtle effects of having the media embed itself in the message as McCluhan cautioned? 

The DuPont Corporation established a new slogan in 1999—“The Miracles of Science.” Surely we must acknowledge that the modern Digital Revolution qualifies as a “miracle of science.” It accomplishes the so-called miracle by utilizing digital wonders similar to the body’s neural systems and information codes in DNA in body cells. 

Other applications of the expression “The Medium Is the Message” exist in our past blog discussions of life origins and existence. For example, we may consider cell material containing DNA composed merely of ordinary atoms of elements and compounds the physical medium of all life. To the metaphysical naturalist, the medium of physical matter, atoms and molecules, comprises the ultimate message, since he sees physical matter as “all there is.” He believes spiritual entities such as God do not exist. Some scientists may acknowledge the existence of God, but as a practical matter, God may as well not exist. The philosophy of methodological naturalism (MN) is an epistemological protocol of the science profession in all of their investigations. In light of scientists’ metaphysical beliefs or philosophical epistemological protocols, therefore, the medium of self-created, self-existent, and self-sustaining matter is their ultimate message.

Creationists, in contrast, see the God of Judeo-Christian scripture as the ultimate executor of a dual message: God is (1) the creator of physical matter and (2) the author of DNA’s incredible ability to produce life embodied in physical matter. In short, God is the Creator of all things—the divine “Message of the Medium.” 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Creative Coding

The Digital Revolution has the imprint of codes wherever we look. Codes are languages and are evidence that an intelligent agent had substantial input into the digital coding process. Not often when we use a digital device do we consider the significance of the coding phenomenon. The phenomenon today is rather like breathing air. Our air breathing example, however, is remarkable in itself. All of its processes are a source of wonder. We must insure that our sense of wonder includes giving glory to God for sustaining mundane events.

As we research the phenomena of the Digital Revolution, we discover we must dig more deeply into examples of how intelligent agency makes digital technology possible. Examples may be readily explainable on a technical level, but we may be left wondering how digital technology is intelligently contrived.

In our past posts we have discussed how computers, CDs, smart phones, and a host of other devices utilize digital coding. Instead of the smooth modulations of frequency and amplitude by which our eyes and ears perceive sound and light energy, digital technology enables our devices to receive familiar sound and light signals as multiple digits of discrete binary signals represented by “ons” or “offs.” The simplest binary scheme represents the energy stimuli as 0s or 1s. An 8-digit binary code may appear as 01010011. In pre-Digital Revolution days, we may have wondered, “Could it be this simple?”

In a digital electronic series of bytes, eight consecutive ons or offs, or even bytes of sixteen or thirty-two ons or offs, the signals must be converted to the equivalent of analog—smooth modulations of frequency and amplitude for sound, and smooth modulations of color and brightness for vision in order to be meaningful for human senses. Our ears hear in analog, not digital; our eyes see in analog, not digital; our ability to read words occurs in analog, not digital.

Physical sound, changes of pitch and variations of intensity, are encoded as simple streams of binary digits. A 440, the tuning standard for musical pitch, represents 440 high pressure regions passing a given point per second. The digital readout represents these regions. In Media Essentials, A Brief Introduction, we read, “In digital audio recording, digital audio is directly recorded to a storage device as a stream of discrete numbers, representing the changes in air pressure for audio and chroma and luminance values for video through time.” Video coding is aided by a process using the same principle. It is termed gamma encoding. Written text is encoded to represent a repertoire of characters. It is the most straightforward and easily grasped form of encoding.

The process of assignment of eight digit bytes (or more) to represent air pressure, light waves, or characters and their subsequent translation is clearly a project of an intelligent mind. All codes originate with an entity possessing intellect. We cite two examples of physical codes operating in humans as well as in all living things. The principles of coding and its intelligent origin are even more incredible in their wonder-inspiring outcomes—the neural code and the DNA code.

Mechanical pressure waves striking the ear, electromagnetic energy impinging on the retina, the pressure of physical touch on the skin, and many other bodily sensations trigger “action potentials” in millions of neural conduits to the brain. Most simply, these are described as “spikes,” also called action potentials or nerve impulses—temporary reversals of electrical polarity rapidly traveling down the length of the nerve fibers. This “spike” may be compared with a switch which is either on or off, or digits 0 or 1 having only two values.

Electrical spikes traveling down millions of neurons is coded information. Our brain is able to decode the neural signals, making them intelligible as meaningful sound, vision, or other stimuli. How our conscious brain accomplishes this task is the subject of intense research in physiology. Scientists have learned much concerning the process, but many answers are shrouded in mystery, known only by the Creator of the Code.

The DNA code is arguably the most awe inspiring code governing living things on this earth. DNA is essentially a giant molecule possessing a digital code. Only two nucleotides, molecular assemblages in the DNA molecule known as base pairs, exist on the helical DNA molecule. These base pairs occur on the DNA ladder in a specific binary digital order. The occurrence of three specific nucleotides in a certain grouping signal that one of twenty amino acids should be produced and assembled into thousands of different proteins—building blocks of the human body. Scientists have discovered what happens in the production of a new living entity, but in their discoveries of how it happens they come up short. Many coding secrets have been revealed, but the secrets of life are multidimensional.

The DNA code is recognized by scientists as a language as are other codes. All languages come from a mind. Information theorist Perry Marshall has clearly articulated these proposals in the last few years. He poses the Atheist’s Riddle: “Show me a language that does not come from a mind.” Psalm 139:14 reveals additional truth: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (NIV).   



Friday, July 22, 2016

GPS and Digital Technology

Many 21st century residents are highly attuned to technology as an instructional tool to plumb previously unknown mysteries of how our God-created world works and how man has harnessed its working features. The modern world supplies ample opportunity to study scientific advances occurring at an ever accelerating pace. 

Recently our automobile trip to a family reunion in Georgia gave us reason to examine popular current and past technologies and how our reunion attendees utilize them. Of 28 reunion attendees, 12 were “middle aged” Gen Xers, born between 1966 and 1981. The Digital Revolution began just before most of these Gen Xers were born. Most of them barely recall the onset of compact disc (CD) technology in the early 1980s. It was always part of their lives. CD technology was an important turning point in the Digital Revolution which has revolutionized our lives in multiple ways.

One of the family reunion Gen Xers was our daughter. About ten years ago she informed us she had just purchased a GPS (Global Positioning System) for her car. She explained it was able to pinpoint her location with a moving visual graphic of her car superimposed on her local street at that moment, complete with instructions on how to arrive at her programmed destination. For me, a member of the Silent Generation, born 1925-1945, it was merely one more example of a novel technological “digital miracle.” The days of awkward unfolding of paper maps and squinting at the maps’ fine print were a thing of the past.

The Digital Revolution is barely a half-century old. Until then all transmission of voice, image, and data was analog. In contrast, today almost all such communication is digital. What does analog mean? Parents of today’s Gen Xers were raised on analog media. It simulated what occurred when we perceived audible sound varying in frequency (pitch) and amplitude (loudness) in a constant modulation. This means pitch and loudness gradually and constantly changed to produce our perception of sound. Likewise, visual images consisted of a constant modulation of light waves in their frequency (color) and amplitude (brightness). Several decades ago vinyl records reproduced sound with physical grooves on the record to physically match and reproduce the pattern of sound waves in air. Vinyl records were, therefore, a physical analog of actual sound, producing an analog sound recording. Video cameras also used analog technology until recently. The color hues and image brightness recorded on the video tape matched the natural modulation produced by the external object.

GPS technology is one of the “newest kids on the block,” joining the ongoing flow of the Digital Revolution. All family members used their smart phone GPS apps to arrive at Georgia’s Lake Lanier. One week later, barely 24 hours after their departure, family members from six states had arrived home, their GPS units at the ready. Although GPS signals from three different satellites arrive at Earth by electromagnetic microwave radiation, digital mapping technology has enriched the Digital Revolution to provide modern society with life saving benefits. Airborne digital camera systems capture images of terrain and create mosaics of the earth surface features using plentiful related information from other sources.

What does a digital camera system do? It breaks images into thousands of tiny individual portions of discrete information rather than reproducing the smooth, continuous flow of sound or light information from old fashioned analog recording devices. Each of the thousands of individual portions known as a byte is usually digitally represented as a series of eight binary digits, either 0s or 1s. In this manner, information is represented symbolically. Later it is translated to more familiar auditory and visual stimuli with little loss of fidelity. Most people cannot tell the difference between an analog reproduction and a digital reconstruction of the original sound or light stimulus.

The advantages of digital technology over analog are enormous. Computers digitally store far more information now than was ever possible several decades ago. Digital technology has enriched our lives beyond the wildest imagination of the five family seniors raised as members of the Silent Generation. Our younger reunion goers were not nearly as astonished. We now live in the Information Age, an outgrowth of the Digital Revolution. 

The prophetic Book of Daniel contains a passage referencing the knowledge explosion in end times of Earth existence. Recognizing that human knowledge has been on the increase for hundreds and thousands of years, we perceive the current explosion as extraordinary. The passage in Daniel 12:4 concerning the explosion of knowledge has been interpreted as a clear reference to the stress inherent in end times. It is worthy of contemplation in terms of the positives and negatives of the Digital Age, also known as  the Information Age: “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” (NIV). One might wonder if the proliferation of information and the increase of knowledge gives us cause for concern or for thankfulness. Perhaps it is a cause for both.            




Thursday, July 14, 2016

God's Positioning System

Our post title is a play on the popular term GPS—Global Positioning System. Summer is the active season for vacations and family reunions, sometimes in distant locales. Travel by automobile is not nearly the same challenge as decades ago. One travel accessory was the inevitable set of roadmaps and Trip-tiks. In our day many still feel secure with old fashioned folded road maps. These travel aids are still useful for supplying automobile occupants with the big picture of where they are going, how long the trip will take, and other calculable details. But the traditional reliable printed guides have been replaced by GPS screens on the dashboard. Even better, GPS I-phone apps provide incredible capabilities.

In 1978 our military launched their first GPS satellite powered mainly by solar energy. Currently there are 24 GPS satellites orbiting 11,000 nautical miles above earth. Each satellite orbits the earth at 18,000 mph. In order to pinpoint a precise three-dimensional spot on earth to 15 meter or better accuracy we must know the accurate, instantaneous distance to four different orbiting satellites.

The exact distance between the GPS satellite and the GPS receiver on the ground must be calculated. From 11,000 nautical miles a microwave signal travels between the GPS receiver and the satellite it is tracking. The microwave signal takes about 0.06 seconds to travel this distance. Microwaves travel at the known speed of light. The distance between the GPS satellite and the GPS receiver on the ground may then be calculated by multiplying the exact time taken for the signal to reach the ground times the speed of light, known to be 186,000 miles per sec. This supplies the distance between the two devices. Geometrical calculations take over in a process called trilateration.

The I-phone screen reveals its wonders each second of highway travel. A portion of the landscape, complete with in-scale graphics of local streets, roads, parks, and water bodies, scrolls down the screen along with a symbol of your vehicle moving forward along the highway at speeds matching your real speed. Each position of your vehicle on the screen represents your instantaneous position as calculated by the trilateration described above. Positioning information is renewed many times per second. In addition to display of instantaneous ground position, movement, speed, and projected arrival times, GPS technology has applications to agriculture, reconnaissance, guided missiles, emergency response, and many others.

Our omniscient God is aware of all physical locations in the universe at each moment. In addition, he knows the spiritual location of all humans. We must search for our spiritual location. God provides accessibility to himself. “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being…” Acts 17:27-28 (NIV).

In terms of our physical location modern humans now have instant access to this information. Through the wonders of the electromagnetic spectrum an unlimited array of different wavelengths is able to transfer energy and information from distant places at the speed of light. Through modern technology we have learned to harness electromagnetic energy such as microwaves and blend other scientific discoveries to produce the full scope benefits of our GPS devices. Alexander Graham Bell’s initial invention of the telegraph was demonstrated in 1844 in a light speed communication between Washington and Baltimore. The coded message was “What hath God wrought?” That message still remains appropriate today with increasing frequency.    



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Creation Care

Our Creator has designed a physical world demanding precision fine tuning of hundreds of systems to be comfortably and healthily habitable. These physical systems with all their cosmic and geological magnificence could be perceived as a work of grandeur even if humans did not exist. Creation’s purpose, however, would be unfulfilled without the presence of humanity as its crowning creative achievement. Considering earth’s millions of diverse species, none comes close to a conscious grasp of the beauty and complexity of the created order and how its systems function. No living creature possesses the ability to comprehend the workings of the physical environment. Living creatures respond to their environment by searching for physical satisfaction—food, comfort, and yielding to their instinctual drives. Any knowledge of ontology, the study of existent entities, and metaphysics, the study of being beyond the physical, are unknown to any creatures beneath man.

Humanity was in view in the mind of God before the sequence of creation events was initiated. Genesis 1:26 quotes God as saying “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” As an eternal and omniscient being, God, the Creator of heaven and earth, created the physical system of heavens and earth with its living plants and animals as a grand prelude to his ultimate creative goal—man. In the mind of the Creator even man’s ultimate spiritual redemption was conceived before the beginning of time (I Cor. 2:7, II Tim. 1:19, Tit. 1:2). Without man the purpose of creation would be unfulfilled. We imagine that God’s plan for the ultimate existence of man in his image and his joy in creating man would have been imperfect and incomplete. The physical systems of the cosmos and Planet Earth would have been magnificent, but there would have been no humans present to comprehend reality and appreciate the beauty of the systems.

As humans we are capable of determining the most opportune manner in which to alter our physical system in accord with God’s Genesis mandate to “subdue the earth.” Early man learned how to progress beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. He learned how to fashion tools, how to acquire complex building strategies, and in modern times, he discovered the use of digital technology based on physical realities such as ubiquitous natural and man-made electromagnetic radiation. With such advanced intellectual capability to fashion our environment have come both beneficial and detrimental changes to our environment. Never was the command to “subdue the earth” to be used more responsibly than in our modern times.

Several of our recent posts have centered on climate change. Our “subdue the earth” strategies have not all had desirable effects on our atmosphere. For example, in the last decades of the 20th century our population suffered several detrimental atmospheric events. Acid rain was the name given to the effect of release of oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, mainly gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of coal. These gases formed acidic reactions in the air and soil which were proved to harm some plants and fish, especially in the US northeast. Another effect was the depletion of atmospheric ozone composed of three chemically joined oxygen atoms. The natural atmospheric ozone shield prevented UVB radiation from passing through to earth’s surface. UVB could cause increased skin cancer, plant damage, and harm to the plankton population. Ozone was degraded by certain man-made aerosols such as refrigerants accumulating in the atmosphere. The good news is that these two problems have been partially remedied to repair this man-made atmospheric pollution by treatment of released gases and substitution of less harmful chemicals. We are on track to solving these problems more completely in the future. The cost has generally been less than anticipated.

By far the most difficult environmental issue is climate change. The issue is complex and overstated by a large contingent of commentators. The problem may not be solved by heeding alarmist pronouncements that we must spend literally trillions of dollars to find alternate energy sources in coming years. There is sharp disagreement that increased CO2 concentration will truly result in harmful warming of earth’s climate in view of thousands of climate subsystems—feedback mechanisms we still do not understand. Benefits of a slight warming of climate and slightly increased CO2 levels may be more beneficial than harmful in light of advantages of slightly elevated global warmth and enhanced growth of food crops. There is intense disagreement that imposing astronomical costs of fossil fuel substitutes will be effective in reducing global temperature even a small amount. Third world countries will suffer the most harm because they cannot afford to implement this unproven remediation scheme. It would drive these nations into increased poverty in the face of our desire to help the world’s poor. 

We must intensively study and pray over these issues for answers laden with wisdom from our Creator (James 1:5).