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 3-5ÂșC 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.