Saturday, December 23, 2017

Buoyant Backyard Birds

Our neighborhood in autumn is often full of riveting excitement. When we moved to this area in 2002, I pronounced it “bird heaven.” This judgment has not changed.   This morning as I took pen in hand to begin this post, I experienced a reprise of the rousing action in our back yard several weeks ago. Five or six robins were recapturing their earlier excitement. 

Our sun room overlooks a small valley several hundred feet to the northwest. When we first occupied our home fifteen years ago, our daughter observed that our home resembled a tree house. The valley was more clearly visible than today. In that time, the red cedar trees have grown taller and obscured much of the valley view. Close to our sunroom window are a chokecherry tree and several mulberry trees.

In late summer we noticed, for the first time in our residency, that many bunches of small purple wild grapes had developed on the grapevines which had utilized the chokecherry tree as a climbing venue. The vines were almost 40’ above the ground. When fall arrived, we estimated there were one or two bushels of miniature wild grape bunches.

When we spotted one or two robins in the tree in early November, we noticed that they seemed quite tentative with their grape consumption. Soon that hesitance ended. Over a few days, multitudes of mixed flock birds began to fly in and out, inspecting and eagerly consuming the newfound food source. The grapes provided not only nourishment but also inspired high energy social interaction among local flocks of single species as well as mixed species. The groups came often during a few weeks in November and early December. The birds satisfied their collective appetite for five or ten minutes, then quickly disappeared, only to suddenly reappear later. As the grapes aged, they became sweeter and tastier to our feathered friends. Red cedar “berries” were sometimes consumed for variety or perhaps as dessert.

Before an early December cold spell brought a sudden end to their fascinating back yard communal feeding exuberance, we observed visits from red-bellied woodpeckers, flickers, and chickadees as members of the collective feeding groups. Cedar waxwings and robins, however, were the main participants in the cooperative feeding mayhem. Blue jays watched from afar but did not participate in the vine feast. One flashy visitor—a pileated woodpecker—visited several times alone. This crow-sized, red-crested black and white beauty characterized by strong, slow wingbeats in flight was an eye-catching sight perched in our chokecherry tree.

In our tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior, some of our observations might border on speculation. Some behaviors may be related to group survival. Or perhaps the birds actually enjoy each other’s company. In the case of our backyard birds, we have noted the existence of this cooperative seasonal support dynamic is more apparent in birds than mammals, especially in autumn when the reproductive season has concluded. The formal, objective study of animal behavior in their natural environment is termed ethology. Our observations were informal but valuable, nonetheless. We enjoyed noting that cedar waxwings and robins often share affinity with each other, not only for our neighborhood wild grape harvest season, but at other times as well. Our current post is an extension of the phenomenon we highlighted in two earlier posts:

The Bible’s poetic books contain exultations of the writers with respect to how events in the natural world give glory to the Creator. As observers we may offer conscious personal worship of the Creator. The difference is that humans are blessed with a high level of conscious awareness of the divine. Nevertheless, even inanimate matter offers its own sort of “worship.” The consciousness of animals exists on a higher plane. Their level of consciousness does not include awareness of God, but they were created with sensory awareness, various degrees of intelligence, and even a sense of humor.

In personal devotional moments we may muse about the various degrees of praise to God offered by different categories of created things. We close with the NLT translation of Psalm 66:4: “Everything on earth will worship you; they will sing your praises, shouting your name in glorious songs.”  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Modern Climate Stability

Most college students were required to enroll in introductory courses such as Western Civilization. More recently these introductory courses have transitioned to World History, sometimes combined with Ancient Civilization. A study of syllabuses of these courses reveals few topics concerning pre-civilization people and cultures. This indicates the paucity of knowledge about the lives of our human ancestors in the day before writing was invented. Yet as we study archaeological evidence produced by these progenitors, we are struck with their robust humanity. Writers of early chapters on human history deduce their hypotheses concerning the experiences of these early human residents. Written accounts from these people do not exist.

Earth scientists have highlighted the monumental effects of glaciers on a planet whose land masses were formerly significantly swathed in ice. Earth was emerging from the Wisconsin Glaciation epoch roughly 12-13,000 years ago. This widespread glaciation left behind thousands of features on Earth. It is difficult to comprehend the  past and present effects of Wisconsin glaciation and how recently this event occurred. In former years I lived in regions where we could climb distinctive neighborhood hills called drumlins, drive upon highways built on eskers in Adirondack State Park, observe kettle holes during walks in the woods, visit unique rocks called erratics in Pyramid Mountain County Park near Morristown, NJ, and hike in the Great Swamp, the “last gasp” of glacial Lake Passaic which covered 300 square miles only 11,000 years ago in the heart of today’s densely populated Northern New Jersey.

In preparing this post I reviewed the impact of the recent glacial conditions in my current home state of Illinois. We reside in extreme northwest Illinois in a region called the Driftless Area. Most of the Driftless area is located in Wisconsin. The region remained curiously unglaciated during the Wisconsin glaciation event. Therefore, the topography has not been smoothed by the effects of ice as have many areas surrounding our region. To our south and east two Illinois state parks including Starved Rock State Park and Kankakee River State Park manifest the mighty impacts of the Kankakee Torrent. Glacial Lake Chicago was breached as huge volumes of Wisconsin ice were melting. The sudden torrent of meltwater cut scenic canyons which remain for us to enjoy today.    

Full humanity existed on this planet about 120,000 years ago. By full humanity we mean “behaviorally and anatomically human.” At that time earth residents were experiencing a relatively brief interglacial following the previous Illinoisan glacial period. The warmest stages may have occurred about 10,000 years prior to the onset of the harsh Wisconsin Ice Age. The prolonged Wisconsin ice age was not a period of physical comfort for humanity. We believe that the earliest behaviorally and anatomically human beings created in the Image of God may date to the Sangamonian interglacial roughly 120,000-130,000 years ago.

The demise of Wisconsin glaciation and the simultaneous climate warming corresponds with the Agricultural Revolution beginning 10,000-12,000 years ago. Agriculture was a boon to the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, China, Mesoamerica, and South America. Without agriculture it is doubtful that civilization, with its complex society, specialized labor, social hierarchy, and existence of cities, could have formed. Culture is a less formal term to indicate how humans believe, behave, and value. Modern behaviorally and anatomically human beings have possessed cultures for tens of thousands of years. By these standards humans did not produce civilizations prior to about 7,000 years ago.

Let us relate the explosive growth of our civilized human population to the unique Holocene Interglacial period in which we now live. We repeat, once again, two quotes from Dr. Hugh Ross in his recent volume Improbable Planet, Baker Books, 2016: 

“The melting away of the great ice sheets—except those over Antarctica, Greenland, and the North Pole—helped to stabilize global mean temperatures. Until then, climate variability prevented widespread enduring agricultural and manufacturing specialization, trade, and construction of towns, roads, and ships. The climate from 120,000 to 12,000 years ago varied so radically as to render the launch of extensive cultivation and global civilization impossible.

“Then, for reasons still unknown, (emphasis mine) the climate suddenly entered a stable phase shortly after the beginning of the last warm interglacial period. Within a brief period, large scale agriculture emerged, as did sophisticated expressions of human ingenuity and cooperation, for example towns, specialization of industry, and organized trade. These factors, in turn, made possible the exponential expansion of civilization, technology, and human population.”

We live in a time of unusual moderate temperature stability. Global conditions are neither too hot nor too cold. Previous interglacials experienced no such stability. The long term line graph of world temperatures since the end of Wisconsin Glaciation is remarkably close to flat. The Sangamonian (sometimes called Eemian) Interglacial period preceding the Wisconsin Glacial experienced temperatures several degrees Celsius warmer than today—perhaps 3-5ºC warmer or even more. This information comes from temperature proxy results since direct readings did not exist. We are thankful for reliable scientific results such as oxygen isotope readings which provide temperature proxy readings up to 800,000 years into past Earth history. The ages of Earth quoted in our posts have been scientifically verified in dozens of different ways, all in agreement with one another.

Our view is that our stable planetary temperature of the past 12,000-14,000 years is but a small dimension of many God-authored transformational miracles to support our current technological society and feed Earth’s 7.5 billion humans. The Creator of all things still watches over Planet Earth and the humans He created to inhabit it, sustaining them from moment to moment.         

Friday, December 8, 2017

Extended Creation Events

Do creation miracles still occur? We have discussed infrequent, spectacular transcendent creation miracles, fascinating transformative creation miracles, and constantly occurring sustaining creation miracles. According to this scheme we may select a sequence of historical events from the origin of time/space/matter/energy to the events of this present moment. These creation events may be considered a series of miraculous events. We propose that miraculous creation events have been ongoing and continue even in our day.

Some may remind us that Genesis 2:2-3 indicates that God rested from all the work of creating that he had done. On God’s time scale we do not know how long he rested or exactly when and how he created additional species. During the countless eons of Genesis days (time periods) of creation events described in Genesis 1, there were many recurring geological phenomena which caused extinctions of previously created life. Following these extinctions, they were replaced by new species. For example, paleontologists have precisely dated the sudden demise of dinosaurs at 66 million years ago. They have also described the rapid appearances of new mammal species which replaced them. Historical geologists call these appearances an “explosion” of mammalian diversity.

We posit that rapid appearances of new replacement species in the fossil record are instances of additional creation events. Due to their suddenness, we believe they are examples of transcendent creation miracles. An oft-cited example in our blog archive is the sudden appearance of many new phyla of animals at the onset of the Cambrian Explosion about 540 million years ago.

When we study the many astronomical, atmospheric, hydrological, geochemical, and tectonic conditions which have changed over the course of our Solar System’s long history, we could easily make a strong case for dozens of transformational miracles. We provide three brief examples of conditions resulting from complex, ancient transformations. (1) In early Earth history a brightening sun and volcanic release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases provided enough warmth to prevent Earth’s liquid water from freezing. (2) Earth underwent the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE). Limited for billions of years, the planet’s atmospheric oxygen composition underwent a large spike when the Cambrian Explosion began. Oxygen had been produced from phytoplankton such as marine algae and cyanobacteria. In our day we enjoy “just right” oxygen levels. (3) In more recent times numerous glaciation episodes produced diverse, rich, heavily productive agricultural soils in regions such as the US Midwest. In the “corn belt” where our family resides, glacial soils produce wonderful agricultural bounty. These examples are but a few of hundreds of transformational miracles producing the conditions we enjoy today.

Perhaps the most comprehensible and common miracles are the sustaining miracles provided by the forces, energy, and matter surrounding us each moment of our lives. Matter in our surroundings is literally held together. The characteristics of atoms, molecules and compounds remain orderly and coherent—characteristics that seem unlikely in view of a tendency toward chaos and deterioration in the physical systems humans produce. (Think of our children’s playrooms. Objects in them become disordered unless heroic “ordering” efforts are scrupulously applied. What if the components of atoms, molecules, and compounds which compose the children’s toys possessed no physical order? An orderly children’s playroom is not even conceivable!) If we grant that we are surrounded by invisible forces and energy holding our physical system together, we may also express our worship of the Creator of all things—the enabling God of the Bible. We also sense that the framework of our physical life is connected with an indescribable consciousness connecting us with God because we are created “In His Image.” We may not understand the full meaning of “In His Image.” We understand, however, that in God all things consist (Colossians 1:17 KJV). Many other translations use “hold together.”

Our English language is rich with multiple meanings of words. One example is creation, create, or creative. Our present post attempts to expand the meaning of creation as well as the related concept of miracle. It is our perception that we worship the Biblical God of creation miracles, past and present. In our devotional experience, these truths bring us closer to a more meaningful worship of the Creator.           


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Full Humanity

Details concerning early human history often center on the period of “The Rise of Civilization” which commenced about 7,000 BC. In our previous post we highlighted the important transformational miracle which occurred at the conclusion of the Wisconsin Ice Age: 

Had the Wisconsin Ice Age not ended, we may still be living in the Paleolithic Period—the Stone Age. The Rise of Civilization provided modern man with archeological evidence of its features. Compared with our contemporary Information Age, our knowledge about the beginnings of civilization and how it progressed is but a soft whisper contrasted with an amplified shout. Civilization, the manner in which society is organized and developed, progressed for thousands of years before man learned to write and before anyone developed the idea of the wheel as a work and time saving mode of transportation. These two important hallmarks of civilization appeared between 3500 and 3000 BC. Human civilization had become established long before, mainly owing to the growth of agriculture.

The Rise of Civilization coincided with man’s development of modern agriculture, including his discovery of how to domesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revolution brought about great changes in society. The subsequent invention of writing and the technological innovation of the wheel became a virtual necessity if civilization would continue to thrive. Historians have documented the relatively recent flourishing of civilization. Our use of the term recent is relative. More accurately, we must use the term Holocene for the current geological epoch beginning 11,700 years before the present. The Holocene epoch corresponds to the Rise of Civilization.

Long before the Rise of Civilization there is plentiful evidence that humanity was “fully behaviorally and anatomically human.” Estimates of dates for the presence of fully human populations on Earth have been extended tens of thousands of years into the past by archeological research. Secular scientists take pains to promote the theory of evolution with respect to development of Earth’s hominids. This promotion occurs in deference to evolutionary theory with its emphasis on sequential development from the common ancestor. Gradual hypothetical branching of the tree of life concept is more idealistic than realistic. The onset of full humanity occurs quite rapidly in the archaeological record. Humanity is distinct from lower categories of hominids—cognitively superior to them by a large margin. 

A startling statement appeared in the New York Times Science Section a few years ago. “The earliest Homo sapiens probably had the cognitive ability to invent Sputnik,” said Dr. Sally McBrearty, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut. “But they didn’t have the history of invention or a need for those things.”            

No written accounts of humanity’s earliest civilized achievements in language or intellect exist. Archaeologists, however, have uncovered artifacts of their hunting technology, art, musical instruments, jewelry, and evidence of burial rituals. There is little argument that these artifacts were evidence of full humanity. Uncivilized and virtually uncontacted primitive human tribes still exist in many remote jungle locations around the world in our day. They live primitively as humans lived in pre-civilized days. Several hundred tribes exist, mainly in South America, Central Africa, and New Guinea. An exact count of their populations is difficult but probably numbers in the thousands. Most tribe members resist all contact with the outside world. One example of a resistant uncivilized tribe is the Sentinelese on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal. It is speculated that they may have been there for 60,000 years. They are a pre-neolithic society of hunter-gatherers, living in the manner of human hunter-gatherers prior to the Agricultural Revolution and the Rise of Civilization. They are pre-civilized and hostile, but they are fully human.

During the Wisconsin Ice Age which ended 11,700 years ago, humans were confined to lower latitude regions of the world. Today’s agriculture did not exist at those latitudes, so it is easy to understand that hunter-gathering was the main mode of subsistence. With so much of the world’s water trapped in thick ice caps in polar regions, sea level was several hundred feet lower than today. The Sentinelese people, therefore, migrated on dry land to their new abode—a distance of 400 miles. Native Americans arrived in North America via the Bering land bridge and later settled in South America. Native Americans and Sentinelese peoples were paleolithic (Stone Age) residents of Planet Earth. Their original creation venue was near the Persian Gulf. They were always “fully behaviorally and anatomically human.” They were created in the image of God, even though they were uncivilized hunter-gatherers.

After many different episodes of transformational creation miracles extending back millions of years 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; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:26-28 NIV) This original mandate of God is still being fulfilled. 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Transformational Creation Miracles

Viewed from outer space our home on this planet appears considerably different than it would have appeared at the glacial maximum of the Wisconsin Ice Age 22,000 years ago. Imagine we are traveling toward Earth on a spacecraft 22 millennia ago. Ice caps covered Canada entirely, a large part of northern United States, and substantial portions of Northern Europe and Asia as well as high elevation locations at lower latitudes. 

A famous photograph dubbed The Blue Marble was taken by astronauts in December 1972 from 18,000 miles as they traveled toward the Moon. Earth appeared as a blue marble—a mostly water-covered, blue planet. The Apollo 17 journey was the last scientific human effort to reach and walk on the Moon. It was also a unique photographic opportunity to see Planet Earth without ice caps which recently covered large portions of the planet. Ice caps two miles thick shrouded land areas of Earth a mere geological instant ago when we were in the grip of the last deep ice age, called the Wisconsin glaciation. We say a geological instant because the last glacial maximum, the Wisconsin, persisted for a brief moment compared with the total geological time frame since the Cambrian Explosion, a burst of creation marked by the sudden appearance of nearly 100 novel phyla and thousands of individual species. The CE suddenly commenced 541 million years ago.         

The Wisconsin glaciation is only one of eight distinct worldwide glacial episodes to occur in the past 800,000 years. Each glacial advance occurred on a cycle of 100,000 years. These beneficial cycles have appeared only during the last 0.017 percent of Earth’s history. The Wisconsin glaciation was one of many glacial periods beginning in the so-called Quaternary Period which began 2.59 million years ago, but its effects are significant in terms of successful Earth life in our time. Going back farther in time to the beginning of the Quaternary, many shorter ice ages occurred on a cycle of 41,000 years. There have been hundreds of ups and downs in Earth’s average temperature generally superimposed on Earth’s climate. Climate proxies such as ancient ice core data or tree ring records leave their telltale record. The Quaternary period of the last 2.59 million years is a period when glaciation of the planet occurred repeatedly.

The geological history of Earth tells the story of many unique preparations for the eventual arrival of modern humanity. We might call these preparations divine transformational miracles. Much of that history is related to changes taking place in the Quaternary Ice Age. In particular, the most recent manifestation of a well-known geological event, the Wisconsin event, evokes the thought that our Creator initiated abundant transformational miracles to prepare Earth for humans created in the Image of God.  

If we consider only the recent Wisconsin glaciation we determine that its conclusion heralded the warm interglacial we enjoy today. In future posts we will discuss other transformational miracles. For example, about 12,000 years ago, the rapid change in climate from the hostile cold ice age to advancing global warmth enabled the birth of civilization with its eventual agricultural revolution. While fully modern humans existed in warmer areas of the planet for many thousands of years they were basically hunter-gatherers living a harsh life. They left artifacts of their primitive culture. Their agriculture was virtually non-existent. No writing system existed. The wheel had not yet been invented. Life in Paleolithic times, in contrast with the civilizations which arose after 12,000 years ago in the so-called Fertile Crescent, was difficult. Population density was very low, but even secular paleontologists pronounced the population “fully behaviorally and anatomically human.” Humanity had not yet begun to “subdue the earth.” 

The current interglacial warm period was fully underway 12,000 years ago and sparked a population explosion as agriculture replaced hunter-gathering. The explosion paralleled new central political structures. The end of Wisconsin glaciation ushered in a period of climate stability. We are still technically in an ice age and benefit from an unusual period of climate stability—neither too hot nor too cold. Temperature graphs demonstrate this leveling off of world temperature in the most recent 10,000 or 12,000 years in contrast with earlier spikes and sudden temperature drops in the previous million years.

Our recent posts have only begun to suggest that God performed many environmental transformational miracles for specific purposes. These miracles are included in God’s ultimate plan. They do not occur instantaneously as do many less frequent transcendent miracles such as the original creation of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A biblical expression “for such a time as this” from the Book of Esther could apply to the many transformational miracles which shaped and prepared our planetary home for today’s teeming billions of residents. This type of miracle is initiated by the timeless God of Creation, who creates all things according to His timeless schedule.



Monday, November 13, 2017

Our Miracle Immersed Planet

We observe our planetary home’s beauty and functionality with awe and wonder. We consider how this world came to be with its many complex interlocking systems. Our planet functions for the benefit of humanity and all life forms as a marvelously dynamic machine. Older generations hark back to early Sunday School flannel graph visual lessons where teachers informed us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” As children, perhaps we did not thoroughly understand the meaning of create, but we embraced the lessons with simple childlike faith. In later years teachers taught us about miracles in connection with God’s creative work in the production of our home planet. God’s act of creating the world and its living things was a miracle, our teachers stated.

Sometime between teens and adulthood we experienced a discussion of miracles. Did this term always refer to the physical production of something which did not previously exist? or the change in molecular structure of organs of sight to permit a blind person to see? or even the immediate healing of some other bodily ailment unaccompanied by any time-dependent healing process? In Christian theology Jesus was resurrected from the dead—the ultimate miracle. We frequently hear acquaintances proclaiming that certain events indicate the occurrence of a miracle. Belief or disbelief in miracles may relate to belief or disbelief in the existence of God. Our understanding of the multidimensional meanings of the term miracle, however, is often inadequate.

We introduced the topic of existence of different sorts of miracles in a recent post:  We listed three types of miracles from Hugh Ross’s volume More Than a Theory. Below we quote  additional defining passages from that work:

  1. Transcendent miracles involve acts God performed outside or beyond the limitations imposed by the laws of physics and the space-time dimensions of the universe.
  2. Transformational miracles involve God’s direct actions to refashion a particular aspect of his created realm to produce something of much higher complexity and functionality. These miracles took place within the laws of physics and space-time dimensions of the universe.
  3. Sustaining miracles involve God’s continuous work throughout history to ensure that everything in the universe maintains the just-right delicately balanced conditions necessary to support human life.

In the history of Earth God has performed relatively few transcendent or transformational miracles. Our analysis proposes that transcendent miracles are rare. Transformational miracles are unusual events often resulting in extraordinary results. Finally, Sustaining miracles occur every moment of our lives. The Apostle Paul may have had this truth in mind when he penned Colossians 1:16-17: “For by him (Christ) all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…and in him all things hold together.” In a theological sense the truth of this passage holds and its scientific application extends to the framework of our physical existence. 

Each instant we are sustained by coherent natural laws affecting every aspect of our physical lives. These are principles governing the behavior of atomic matter surrounding us moment by moment. For example, there are forces by which charged particles in the nucleus of every atom consistently and predictably hold together. Charged nuclear particles are constantly moving, bathing the cosmos in unlimited quantities of electromagnetic radiation. We are governed by hundreds of physical laws such as the force of gravity. The Creator established these working forces and laws when He created the heavens and the earth—forces and laws which exist constantly and unalterably. We are describing inherently present sustaining miracles. They need not be renewed each moment.

Sustaining miracles undergird our physical existence. Such miracles are not less impressive than more spectacular transforming and transcendent miracles, but the latter two types of miracles reap more public attention. This may be explained by their relative rarity.

A favorite scripture we have quoted many times is Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being…” The Apostle Paul presented this truth as an apologetic for the very existence of God, the Creator, to the men of Athens who worshipped “AN UNKNOWN GOD.” The writer of Hebrews states, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV). Knowledge of sustaining miracles is an important foundation of our daily worship and devotional experience. Moreover, the knowledge of these different types of miracles serves as personal affirmation for God’s existence as Creator and Designer. We encourage discussion in our churches concerning the nature of miracles. 





Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Humanity's Home Preparation

Skillful preparation of a residential homesite is a complex process. There are many layers of preparation sequences as a home is constructed in anticipation of owner occupancy. Many families have documented the steps of building their new home. This includes the initial search for a physical site, architectural planning, financial accountability, ground breaking, and step by step physical construction. Builders and owners check to insure all correct steps are carefully implemented. When the home is completed and the new owners take possession, there is a feeling of pride and excitement. Our family experienced the beginning to end home building process on two occasions. The building lot was initially selected. We devoted several months to observing and “supervising.” We preserved the historical process with paperwork and photography. Now that we have lived in our home many years these records compose a valuable family historical archive.

Earth, humanity’s home, preserves a record of its construction process. Our planet was not prepared for human habitation with a metaphorical snap of God’s finger. God could have created Earth with all its millions of species, thick sequences of rock layers, and a functioning atmospheric and hydrological system in one millisecond, a virtual timeless instant. He is the creator of everything, including dozens of physical constants and thousands of laws of nature. Physical constants and laws of nature join to comprise our temporal reality. He supervises the production of our world in cause and effect manifestations over the extended time frames He also created. Many believers in creation feel endorsing long time periods over which God has worked somehow diminishes God’s creative activity. This is not so! Instantaneous creation would be considered a transcendent miracle. The Creator could have worked that way. More often God works in Earth history through transformational miracles. Such miracles are not instantaneous events. Nevertheless, they manifest works of God, who created ALL things, including physical constants working hand in hand with physical cause and effect laws.

Planet Earth is currently humanity’s home. In the past 200 years geologists have discovered plentiful information about Earth’s historic building processes. Several generations of earth scientists have discovered a valuable human family historical archive revealing how the Earth has been prepared to support the current 7.5 billion person throng of human residents. Ice Ages—their advance and periodic retreat, have played a major role in the building process.

Cutting through the current politically correct vocalizations of climate change, aka global warming, is the scientific truth that the Earth has experienced numerous ups and downs of temperature and atmospheric composition from natural causes throughout its exceedingly long history. While not denying that some current warming may be related to increased CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, we counsel that a detailed look at Earth’s climate history in the last 2.8 million years (the Quaternary era) should dampen enthusiasm for the current cause célèbre of dreaded climate change in connection with nearly every current weather event. It is certainly true that many of Earth’s glaciers are melting. They have been melting ever since the Little Ice Age came to a close about 1850. More important, early glacial melting since the end of the Wisconsin glaciation event makes our present glacial melting appear almost insignificant by comparison. It is true that sea level has been rising since 1900—a total of about 8”. Historically, sea level from the Cambrian Period until today was much higher. During the greatest extent of global glaciation during the Wisconsin Ice Age of the last 100,000 years, sea level was hundreds of feet lower than today. This occurred only 20,000 years ago.

Presently we exist in what is termed an interglacial period. In the past 800,000 or 900,000 years there have been eight glacial periods during which ice covered large portions of the globe. They were separated by interglacial periods such as the one in which we presently exist. There is evidence that fully human beings likely lived in the warm climates of the previous interglacial. Their lives were difficult. Their existence was even harsher during the last extended Ice Age. The onset of civilized humanity began with the conclusion of the Wisconsin Ice Age about 12,000 years ago and continues to the present.

Our current interglacial is unusual in the history of interglacials of the past million years. Most interglacials have produced a rapid temperature spike of 5-7ºF higher than world temperatures occurring in our day. Had such a temperature spike occurred, our modern globally distributed, technologically advanced human population would be impossible. The Earth’s last glacial period from 120,000 to 12,000 years ago was one of the most intense of all known glacial periods of the past million years. It peaked at maximum ice volume about 21,000 years ago when sea levels were an incredible 410’ below the present level. 

Our current interglacial beginning about 12,000 years ago enabled significant population growth, but nothing like we have experienced from 1800 to the present when human population expanded almost eight-fold. We are historically privileged to live in an unusually stable interglacial period. No previous interglacial has ever been appropriate for the thriving of a large, human population. We envision our unique planetary home in the current stable interglacial period as a special God-ordained provision for the benefit of humanity.     




Friday, November 3, 2017

What Sort of Miracle?

Miracle is a term with many meanings in different contexts. When the term is used in connection with radical or unexplained improvement in one’s medical condition—miracle is frequently applied. Seldom do people comment on what type of miracle has occurred. Most people tacitly understand and approve characterizations of such events as miraculous. For example, recently a local newspaper reported on the startling recovery of a young boy from over a half dozen separate serious injuries suffered when he dashed across the road without first looking for oncoming traffic. We concur with this use of the term miracle with the caveat that the term has multidimensional meanings.

When God fashioned the Earth with its present functionality we could apply many instances in which miracle describes a series of highly remarkable events. We launch our discussion by referring to our previous post on the cause of Earth’s distinct seasons. The tilt of our planet’s axis, currently 23.4º from a right angle relationship to Earth’s orbital plane, is theorized to result from the collision of Earth with another planetary body shortly after our satellite became a solid body. The hypothetical collision caused an orbital deflection which resulted in our planet’s seasonal characteristics even to this day. Most Solar System planets have seasons related to the period of their orbits, (length of time for one revolution) but the presence of life on any of them is not evident.

The presence of warm and cold seasons on our planet is the cause for speculation: Are Earth’s seasons a miracle? or are seasons merely the result of one of many natural “occurrences?” Earth’s seasons have given rise to a multitude of unique planetary characteristics. For starters, scientists acknowledge that the existence of 7 1/2 billion Earth residents on an Earth without seasons could not be sustained. Contrasting seasons have supported and continue to support a diverse and expanding human population! Is the presence of seasons and numerous other life-enabling features of our planet a miracle? If so, we ask, what sort of miracle?

In common public perception, a miracle is sometimes described as highly remarkable, wonderful, unlikely, or coincidental to a high degree. Recovery from an illness described medically as “terminal” causes us to speculate on the possibility of a miracle. The birth of a baby, given the occurrence of a multitude of wondrous circumstances immediately following conception followed by incredible prenatal events in the womb, inspires many to exult in the manifestation of a miracle as described in Psalm 139:13-16. We frequently meditate on the wondrous Old Testament Book of Job, especially chapters 36-41 where Job was questioned whether he appreciated the many works of Almighty God as manifest in the natural world. Many events described in these Book of Job chapters could be described as miracles.

Hugh Ross, in More Than a Theory, (Baker Books, 2009) describes three different kinds of miracles. Generally, his scheme for outlining miracles matches distinctions among miracles made by other authors. These miracles are Transcendent miracles, Transformational miracles, and Sustaining miracles. Ross’s categories range from events truly above and beyond ordinary physical laws contrasted with ordinary physical events events but considered unusual or noteworthy. We contemplate additional posts to help define miracles of different types.   

In the writings of Scripture and in the world of nature we experience many different examples of events which could be described as miracles. Secular scientists attribute natural explanations for every phenomenon they investigate. They resist using the term miracle in any context in their fields of investigation. In contrast, for Christians who believe in the supernatural God of Creation, many phenomena may be considered miraculous. Our blog has discussed many topics dealing with God’s actions which may be described as miraculous. The subject of miracles has many dimensions in the related topics of science and faith.          


Friday, October 27, 2017

Earth without Seasons

Planet Earth’s annual sequence of seasons is a defining characteristic. Weather and climate manifestations are intricately related to conditions generated by our seasons. As we travel north or south from equatorial regions, seasonal variety becomes an all-important factor in describing earth’s weather and climate. Mid-latitudes between 30º and 60º have well defined periods of gradual spring warming or progressive autumn cooling. Sandwiched between these intervals are more or less consistent warm summer or cold winter conditions for several months. Much of our world’s population is embedded in mid-latitude seasonal variety. 

High latitude regions and equatorial regions have less seasonal variety. In the Arctic and Antarctic seasonal variety exists, but cold frozen conditions predominate all year. Weather at low latitudes is generally warm continually. In contrast, seasonal changes in mid-latitudes are more spectacular and fascinating. Temperatures alternate above and below freezing. Mid-latitude weather idiomatically packs a lot of wallop related to the presence of seasons.

What would Earth without seasons be like? We know that the current 23.4º  tilt of the earth’s axis with respect to the plane of our planet’s orbit is the cause of seasons. If the axis were not tilted at all there would be no seasons. A greater tilt would result in more extreme seasons; with a smaller tilt seasonal effects would be less extreme. Planet Earth without seasons would be unable to support the seven billion population of Earth. Conclusions of scientists are based on observations of currently operating weather and climate systems.

Without seasons every latitude would experience only one set of weather conditions all year long. Those who currently abide permanently in warm climates such as southern Florida may relish their lifestyle with little need for an overcoat and plentiful opportunities for outdoor bathing all year long. The benefits of mid-latitude seasons with alternating seasonal periods separating cold and warm, however, should not be overlooked by residents of year-round warm regions such as southern Florida. Even low latitude locations have a modicum of seasonal variation in their weather conditions on our planet. This variation diminishes as we approach the equator. For example, the average daily high temperature fluctuates by over 50 degrees F from warmest to coldest months at typical mid-latitudes. We cite our personal experience living in northwest Illinois. In southern Florida the typical average daily high temperature varies only about 20 degrees F from warmest to coldest months. Statisticians have supplied weather “junkies” with an almost unlimited set of detailed information on variable conditions at multiple locations to describe effects of the healthy grip of Earth’s seasons. We resolve to counsel our southern Florida relatives to appreciate the cold winter regions to their north. We invite them to pay a mid-summer visit to mid-latitude agricultural states such as Illinois and Iowa to observe the extensive fields of lush cornfields, prolific soybean plots, and numerous other crops thriving in alternating seasons of summer heat and winter cold.

Research into the outcome of loss of seasonal variations in Earth’s climate, especially in mid-latitude regions, yields interesting results. Mainly, food production would be significantly reduced. Many of the world’s essential food crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, oats, and barley, grow far better where cool or cold winters persist. Humanity learned to innovate agriculturally at the close of the Ice Age. This occurred roughly 10,000 BC, the beginning of the Neolithic period—“Antiquity’s Agricultural Revolution.” Man learned to domesticate plants, working within warm/cold seasonal cycles which intensified as the Ice Age waned. It was an exciting time in the history of humanity.

In a world without seasons, ecological anthropologist Don Atwood claims, “Humans would probably never have advanced past a stage of living in small, scattered settlements, scrounging for survival and often dying of horrific insect-born diseases.” Remove Earth’s seasons and Atwood asserts humanity world suffer in a sorry state. It is certain that our Earth’s population would not have burgeoned from one billion to over seven billion in the past 200 years.

The catastrophic effects of removing Earth’s seasons is hypothetical. We will never be able to test the hypothesis. Earth’s axis tilt is not about to change significantly. Astronomer/climatologist Milutin Milankovitch (1879-1958) has proposed that three earth motions change and affect climate over long periods of time. Axial tilt is one feature which changes slightly—from 22.1º to 24.5º—over a period of 41,000 years. The other two features are eccentricity (elongation of orbit) and axial precession (a “wobble” of the axis similar to the wobble of a toy top). Both of the latter conditions vary over long time periods. These factors affect long term climatic conditions, but axis tilt has the greatest effect on seasons year to year. Currently the tilt of our planet’s axis is very slowly decreasing within the above range of change without significantly affecting conditions on earth.

We briefly address a few other environmental conditions inherent in a hypothetical “Earth without seasons.” The habits of animals and plants would change. There would likely be altered reproductive habits, no hibernation, changed adaptive responses, and minimal migration of animals or insects. Living things would change in their ability to cope with a non-changing environment. Tree rings would not exist. There would be no deciduous plants. Mid-latitude weather would differ considerably. Changing seasons produce mixing of moving air masses on a seasonal basis. Seasonal hurricanes, thunderstorms, and snowstorms may not form. Instead of blessings, these changes may result in less precipitation, perhaps even droughts. Some scientists propose that thick ice caps would form at the north and south poles, lowering sea level around the world. These scenarios are not all testable but inspire thoughtful speculation.

Why do we have axial tilt and why do we have seasons? A sound theory is that the Earth’s Moon was formed by a giant impactor, a protoplanet which collided with Earth early in the history of the Solar System. The impact of the smaller protoplanet imparted a tilt to Earth’s axis. Debris from the monstrous collision later became the Moon. Currently our companion Moon stabilizes the axial tilt of the Earth. Without the Moon, chaotic forces would disrupt Earth’s consistent axial tilt to the detriment of Earth’s population.

The timeless God of Creation created all things In the Beginning. Hundreds of physical constants and laws of nature, present from the initial creation, have fashioned our universe according to His divine plan for this created sphere. The presence of Earth’s seasons is the result of a transformational miracle. We delay detailed discussion of this type of miracle for another post. Scripture records dozens of environmental events and conditions on Earth such as rain, snow, thunder, wind, cold, and heat. These events are intricately connected with the presence of seasons which characterize our planet. Hundreds of beneficial yet awesome seasonal events have the unmistakeable handiwork of God’s intelligent agency.   




Friday, October 20, 2017

Sustained by Seasons

The seasons of Planet Earth sustain humanity in several ways, including supplying emotional needs. Seasonal changes are enjoyable to many Earth residents, especially those who choose to live in regions where changes are more pronounced. We revel in delightful seasonal variety. 

Seasons are welcomed by some and scorned by others. For example, springtime is generally a time of enjoyment and optimism as is autumn. Complaints about oppressive summer heat or bitter winter cold tend to balance the ledger for some mid-latitude residents. Of course, every season possesses unique appeal. Although autumn is a time of astronomical decline and cessation of plant growth, most people enjoy the refreshment of slowly declining temperatures. In select geographic regions autumn is graced by splashes of color around the countryside. Fall hues enhance decorations for parties and social gatherings. Harvest of pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, vegetables, fruits, and grains communicate a reality statement: Summer is over; harvest has arrived. It is a time for joy and thanksgiving.

During autumn, the weather shifts slowly from summer heat to winter cold. In extreme northwest Illinois, the average daily high temperature declines from early July (82ºF) to early February (27ºF), a drop of 55º. Average daily low temperature declines a similar amount from the warmest to coldest months. Sunrise times slowly become earlier from December to June while sunset times slowly become later during that six month time frame. From June to December the situation is reversed. Sunrise times become later; sunset times become earlier. In December and June sunrise and sunset times change hardly at all for a few weeks. Hours of daylight slowly increase from winter to summer. From summer to winter hours of daylight slowly decrease. In northwest Illinois summer has 15 hours of daylight and 9 hours of darkness. In winter the situation reverses—we receive 9 hours of daylight and 15 hours of darkness. Sun rays strike Earth at a much lower angle in winter, spreading themselves out over a much greater land area. Therefore, we receive less heat. In summer, of course, we receive more heat because sun rays strike Earth more directly. In addition, northwest Illinois receives six more hours of intense sun rays.

We cited extreme northwest Illinois by way of illustration. At higher latitudes to the north seasonal effects are even more extreme. In mid-summer we recall walking on the streets of Fairbanks AK at 10:30 PM in daylight. At lower latitudes to our south the effects are less extreme. Near the equator the amount of daytime heat and length of daylight vs darkness is not very significant from one time of year to another compared with latitudes farther north or south. By coincidence, the five US locations where this blog author has lived were each located at approximately 41ºN latitude. Seasonal changes described in the above paragraph were embedded in personal experiences throughout my life. When our family visited Fairbanks AK in the summer or Aruba in the winter differences in the effects of seasons depending on latitude became apparent.

Thriving, healthy animal and plant populations and their unique adaptive behaviors depend in large part on Earth’s phenomenon of seasonal changes. If Earth were not tilted on its axis there would be no seasons.  Our planet’s life forms, including human life, and their current population levels would be impossible to sustain. Environmental scientists have explained in detail why this would be true. In future posts we will deal more extensively with the beneficial consequences of our changing seasons.

We close with one well known example of the reward of seasonal changes. We are created with emotional and psychological needs and the means to satisfy them. Our Creator supplies the sensory and intellectual ability to identify wonders of nature and its design features. Many readers may remember our teachers and science texts touting the presence of chlorophyll, a green chemical pigment to aid plants in using the energy of sunlight to synthesize their own food from water and carbon dioxide. When the autumn season descends on our countryside, the reduced intensity of light is not sufficient for plants to continue to produce or retain green chlorophyll. As a result, many leaves lose their green color and display other colors formerly visually masked by the plentiful presence of chlorophyll. Eventually, the lifeless plant leaves drop away, giving up food synthesizing until new leaves are produced the following spring. Many motorists flock to regions where autumn leaf colors are most vivid.

Changing seasons supply multiple opportunities to discover wonder-producing processes of our environment. Together, awareness and intellectual understanding of these processes nourish our sense of wonder. God has given us “all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Spectrum of Weather Events

Our focus in recent weeks has been the destructive impact of hurricanes in the southeast quadrant of the United States. Hurricanes form when sufficiently warm oceans join with steering prevailing winds and other meteorological factors to produce just-right conditions for cyclone formation. Billions of Earth residents never experience hurricanes, including populations in South America, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia.

Tornadoes are even more violent than hurricanes. They occur over a much smaller area. Most form when large, cold air masses from the north collide with warm southern air masses already in place. Many prerequisites must be favorable for tornado formation. A tornado is one of Earth’s most awesome meteorological events. The likelihood of a tornado striking a given town in any specific year is small. Residents in tornado prone areas should keep a “weather eye” on forecasts. The United States is more vulnerable to tornadoes than any country in the world. A large area of the midwestern US is known as “tornado alley.” Many regions of the world never experience a tornado.

Thunderstorms, droughts, floods, and blizzards are part of the plethora of weather events. Over long periods these events comprise the elements of climate. We devour media reporting of both gentle and harsh weather events. Climate change is the topic du jour among many journalists who relentlessly link out of the ordinary contemporary weather events to this enormously complex topic, especially when they are unusual or destructive. Our Earth experiences harsh meteorological events to balance beautiful and beneficial weather events over the decades, centuries, and millennia of man’s sojourn. Our blog message has offered weather and climate issues in a balanced perspective in order to understand the world God created. He created our climate system with a purpose. When destructive storms destroy property and even human life on occasion, some attribute the events to God’s higher purpose.

The Creator has provided our physical Earth with its climate system as an abode for humanity. It is a wonderful home for over seven billion souls. The climate system is a product of God’s higher purpose, not only when weather disasters occur, but also when the weather and climate conditions supply bountiful food and joie de vivre. We are thankful that scientists have uncovered new knowledge of how Planet Earth has been geologically prepared for bountiful life and how its weather and climate system supports our planetary array of life. The causes of some nuances of weather and climate cycles remain unclear. We must search for wisdom and understanding of divine higher purposes from our heavenly Father.

Matching the profound deadly impact of the four recent landfalling hurricanes of 2017 was the tragic tornado super outbreak of 2011 primarily in Alabama and Mississippi on April 25-27. Those tornadoes took the lives of 348 people, second only to the deadly tornado outbreak of 1925 which killed 747. In contrast, the four recent US hurricanes cost 177 lives. Monetary damages from the hurricanes exceeded property damage costs of the tornadoes by multiples, but deaths from the 2011 tornado outbreak were double those from the hurricanes. Damage from the tornadoes totaled $11 billion while hurricane damage from this year’s hurricanes may total upwards of $300 billion.

When the tornado super outbreak occurred we were moved to submit serial commentary about weather events, both destructive and beneficial. We have attempted to analyze the issue of weather and climate with a balanced perspective. Weather events, both beneficial and harsh, are opportunities to revel in both the goodness and power of the Almighty God of creation. Our planet remains “a place to thrive” despite recurring inauspicious weather events.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Coping with Problems and Tragedy

Humans propose diverse rationale for believing or not believing in the the existence and actions of an omnipotent Creator. One of the most common reasons is personal belief that God, loving, powerful, and all-knowing, would not or should not permit evil to exist in this created sphere. This includes natural evil such as the three recent hurricanes generated in the South Atlantic which have devastated Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Moral evil is on a different causal plane. Degenerate, depraved, deviant, and debauched seem inadequate terms to describe the actions of a mass killer who murdered 59 souls and injured hundreds at the Las Vegas country music festival. ISIS killers reinforce their hate for divergent ideologies with senseless brutality. There are myriad examples. Moral evil has been a feature of human experience since Adam’s original sin.

Moral evil may be easier to explain than natural evil. It is caused by sinful actions of conscious human beings. Our response to both outcomes of “evil” is often similar. It is tempting to ask, “Why does God permit these events to happen, regardless of the cause?” The outcomes of moral evil relate to freedom of choice with which God created humanity. Man may accept or reject the tenets of natural law—the intuitive moral perception of right and wrong. Worse, he may deliberately disobey the Creator’s explicit commands.  

The outcomes of natural evil result from a different sort of freedom. Tragic meteorological or geological events are examples of natural evil inflicting hardship and loss of human life. Such events cannot be blamed on moral failures of any human or group of humans. Our physical system functions according to laws of nature—scientific principles under which our universe operates. For instance, the Second Law of Thermodynamics controls the flow of heat energy driving events during prime hurricane and tornado generating seasons. Planet Earth is “free” to manifest the sometimes violent results of energy flow in the production of its destructive hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards. The results of this freedom are sometimes unpleasant and destructive. More often the outcomes of energy flow and energy conversion are highly beneficial in distributing water resources and heat energy. One example: Remnants of the latest 2017 Atlantic hurricane, Nate, quickly moved up the east coast to deliver beneficial rainfall to the dry northeast after striking the Gulf Coast. 

The Creator of all things is fully capable of installing “stop signs” to prevent moral and natural evil. He originated the created order with its current conditions. He designed a “very good” world but it was not “perfect” according to some human standards of perfection. Many define perfection to include no pain, no inconvenience, and no concerns—perhaps a work-free set of conditions. Scripture does not indicate the Garden of Eden was a work-free zone.  

Our planet’s early Eden Garden residents were instructed to “work it and take care of it.” After the Fall they were expelled from the unique Garden location and thrust into the hazards of Planet Earth in the outside world. The Fall resulted in a “sea change” in human nature, but not in different manifestations of the Law of Decay. Scripture does not instruct us as to the length of their Garden sojourn prior to the Fall. We imagine that events of the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden may have occurred quickly. Scripture is not explicit concerning time frames.

What motivates our questions about Law of Decay events? Many of these events are actually beneficial to life on Earth. For example, we could not exist without consumption of fuels to supply energy, including the benefits of consumption and digestion of our food and heat energy flows which drive beneficial weather events.     Virtually every human activity is dependent on the Second Law. We “…live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28) who “made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). Some events, however, cause human grief and pain in varying degrees. Second Law events could be placed on a spectrum of expected events—the beautiful and beneficial events at one end of the spectrum, the painful and destructive events at the opposite end, with many other events of varying impact distributed along the spectrum.

Human problem-solving and work-related events have been established by God as strengthening and beneficial. Harsh and difficult events serve an even greater strengthening role. The Apostle Paul frequently referenced hardships, including physical hardships, as factors in personal strengthening. He writes, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Acts 12:10). Tragic or fatal events call our attention to God’s wisdom or “God’s higher purpose.” No mortal is able to discover or understand the depth of “God’s higher purpose” with respect to tragic events. Some individuals use this human inability to “discover” as an excuse to reject the wisdom or even the existence of the Creator.

Some of the deepest theological concepts related to human reaction to tragedy in our sphere of existence and how we deal with it are cited by Job, the ancient Old Testament figure. From a human standpoint we cannot explain Job’s statement after his unspeakable family and personal loss: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). At the conclusion of the Book of Job, both Elihu and God comment on the omnipotent, omniscient God of Creation in chapters 35-41. Finally, Job exclaims, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:2-6.