Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God's Nature in the Mundane

Mundane is a word with an interesting and varied meaning. Usually it connotes earthly, everyday, or commonplace as opposed to spiritual or heavenly. Sometimes it carries the meaning “not interesting.” Many, perhaps most, physical events surrounding us may be described as mundane. It is incumbent on us to see God’s work in the usual, unusual, and even the less common extraordinary in our mundane experience. 

Since our blog has a goal of being inspirational while focusing on science and its relation to faith, bear with us as we chronicle events which may be described as both common and uncommon. We have selected several mundane astronomical events to highlight. There is danger in losing sight of the wonder provided by mundane events.

Astronomy provides a glimpse of divine order and coherence. Celestial events visible from Earth can be foretold centuries in advance to the accuracy of seconds. In like manner, astronomers pinpoint precise times of past events to the accuracy of seconds. This is possible because motions such as planetary revolution and rotation are known with incredible precision. Slight changes in Earth’s orbit over long time frames are also known with virtually complete accuracy.

Annual repeating cycles of change in sunrise and sunset times as well as seasonal beginnings and endings resulting in progressive gradual changes in temperature may be perceived as mundane changes. Even the daily changes from day to night may be considered ordinary unless we permit ourselves to be fascinated by the onset and retreat of light as the sun apparently revolves around us 360º due to the real 360º rotation of our planet. Nothing is more mundane than the approach of the daily bath of sunlight spreading over the planet and receding into darkness each evening.

As we write in late August, daylight length at our latitude has decreased almost two hours. Before the shortest Northern Hemisphere day arrives in December, daylight will decrease by an additional four hours. In our lifetimes we experience many predictable cyclical changes in lengths of light and darkness. Seasonal changes are related to these interesting transitions. Life sustaining agriculture interlocks with repeating cyclical events. Humanity is gifted with ability to adapt to changes at many levels of experience.

Science enthusiasts may be more interested in basic mundane science facts such as the astronomical details we described above. The mundane may point to the miraculous depending on how we define our terms. God’s glory is manifest in mundane events. There is no paucity of usual, unusual, and occasionally extraordinary events. Ours is the special world God created particularly for us. Divine blessings are evident at each event level. Apart from the plan of redemption the counsel of Scripture deals primarily with mundane events and how we most prudently cope with them. Truly transcendent miracles rarely occur.

“This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). This verse, along with Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being” highlights goals for our devotional view of mundane events.    



Saturday, August 18, 2018

Understanding the Nature of God

What do we mean by “The Nature of God?” Do we clarify the meaning of God’s nature by studying and uttering esoteric, philosophical, academic, theological statements? Or may we understand the nature of God and get a grip on the notion with simpler, mundane observations? And what is the minimum age limit for teaching children a reasonable concept of the nature of God? Could pre-schoolers understand the concept? Primary or middle schoolers? Must our understanding wait until high school when our children have acquired more intellectual maturity?

With the arrival our children and grandchildren we have been able to hone our skills in order to introduce them to the nature of God concept. It is a notion to be approached with reverence, making the concept accessible to young developing minds. At the same time, we must stretch our children’s minds in an effort teach important concepts “…talking of them when you are sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19 NAS)

The following incidents took place with our grandchildren during their preschool years. Our grandson asked his mother about the reality of God even though we can’t see Him. The discussion about God’s invisibility provoked discussion about the reality of God notwithstanding His invisibility. The boy understood that many events have effects even though many causes of the effects are invisible. Examples are gravity, magnetism, sound, and many types of electromagnetic waves. In each case we see or feel obvious effects of invisible power and/or force. His understanding relates to analogies he is able to apply even at his level of comprehension.

A novelty levitating globe on my office desk supplies lessons about invisible forces. Magnetic repulsion forces keep the levitating globe suspended in air. Other activities are supplied by attraction and repulsion activities with inexpensive ceramic magnetic discs. Our grandchildren were cautioned against racing down our steeply sloping driveway with the warning, “Watch out, gravity will get you!” They realize they are able to leap only one or two feet into the air before they are pulled back to the ground. The invisible force of gravity pulls them back down. This explanation affirms the existence of an invisible force even if it doesn’t explain it at a technical level.      

Young children are sometimes capable of relatively advanced thinking. Many are especially fascinated with insects and animals. When our granddaughter admired the intricate design and behavior of several neighborhood insects, we reminded her that they did not acquire those traits by accident. “The Designer, God, had great ideas,” we proposed. He builds the bodies of these animals just as you and your friends design and build your own houses out of blocks or Legos. Possibilities for design and function are limitless. The difference is that animal bodies possess far more complexity and functionality. Young people understand the design process when encouraged think about it. The intelligent design inference is difficult to deny.

Concepts such as “The Image of God” and “The Nature of God” may be difficult even for an adult. The Image of God refers to humanity, created with the ability to grasp ultimate, spiritual reality. We are, therefore, able to commune with our Maker. The nature of God may have a somewhat different meaning. Our planet with its magnificent physical constants, its coherent physical operating system, and the beauty of its living things, may be said to display the nature of God. Various sources blend the nature of God with the concept of the force, effect, and manifestation of His being.

Our description of the world’s living creatures and its physical operating systems helps reinforce the concept of the nature of God. His works of creation are coherent and beautiful. He manifests strength, power, and perfection. His many works are purposefully interrelated. Beyond the physical creation God also gifted humanity with free will and redemption which he had in mind before the beginning of time. By the special revelation of Holy Scripture, the Creator combines knowledge of the physical and the spiritual.

Whether we focus only on the glory of a few dozen special animals and plants in our own backyards, or the wonders of weather and astronomy only in our own community, the results still manifest the glory of the nature of God. We marvel at our personal inventory of wonderful events supplied by our local animals, weather, and our backyard astronomy, to name a few. Our readers may anticipate more accounts of wonders pointing the way to our understanding of the Nature of God.        





Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Birds--A Special Class

Fantasize with us: If visitors from a faraway planet were to visit our Solar System, what would be their impression of our planet ? If our visitors have sensory systems similar to ours, they would be impacted by the enormous multitude of life forms. To comprehend and catalog even a small part of Earth’s life forms, our visitors would need many years of Earth time. There are 1.2 million animal species already catalogued by scientists. Over eight million species of animals are known. Many remaining species may never be catalogued. The task would be overwhelming.

In biological science, living things are classified according to special systems. Various classification schemes have been offered to students of biology. The most recent widely accepted system was formalized in 1990 in which three domains of life were proposed: archaea, bacteria, and eukaryota. Animals are eukaryotes. Older classification systems listed five kingdoms of Earth life—Monerans, Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals. According to the most recent system, there exist 35 phyla (major body plans) of animals under eukaryota (animals). There are 14 plant and 8 fungi phyla. Classification systems have changed as more information became available.

Earth dwellers are most interested in animal and plant phyla. Let us illustrate by referencing the 35 different animal phyla. Of 35 major body plans, by far the two most numerous are arthropods and chordates. Arthropods include about 90% of all animals. Chordates comprise approximately 75,000 catalogued species—a distant second to arthropods. A sub-phylum of chordates is vertebrates, backboned animals with which we are most familiar. For example, birds belong to this sub-phylum. More specifically, they are also included in the next category—the class aves (birds). They are represented by over 10,000 species worldwide.

How does Wikipedia describe class aves? Birds are “…a group of endothermic vertebrates characterized by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a chambered heart, and a strong yet light weight skeleton.”

On a recent walk I encountered a neighbor who thought he had not observed as many birds this year as in previous years. After considering his observation, I stated that our neighborhood bird census varies from year to year. There may be reasons for this variation. It is, however, a normal phenomenon. We must not think that our favorite birds will favor us with command performances all year, every year. For example, we have not heard great horned or barred owls calling for several months. 

A substantial majority of the roughly 5-6 dozen birds we commonly observe in our “Driftless Area” neighborhood have appeared this year, as if “on cue.” (The Driftless Area is a unique geological region of the upper midwest related to an anomaly of the last Ice Age.) One neighbor informed me that she has observed 153 different bird species during her residency in this area. The official list of different bird sightings in the entire state of Illinois is 444. This number includes nearly 50 different warblers, 30 sparrows, and 50 diverse waterfowl which do not frequent our neighborhood. A confession is in order: I counted “warbler” and “sparrow” in my personal list but once.

The incredible physical and behavioral variety of our northwest Illinois birds inspires praise and thankfulness to our Maker. No doubt readers could affirm the same degree of inspiration for their personal place of abode. Many times I have expressed to our children and grandchildren that, “God had great ideas.” We acknowledge Him, “…who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (I Tim. 6:17 NLT).

In examining the list of several dozen birds we have personally sighted in our immediate neighborhood, it is apparent that a significant number of them merit detailed description in terms of size, physical appearance, diet, nesting habits, song, flying characteristics, and other unique behavioral categories. If we assign the number of identifications at 60, we are dealing with only 0.6% of the 10,000 worldwide bird species. In the phylum, class, order, family, genus, species scheme of biological classification, class aves broadens to many thousands of species as we descend through the classification system of living things. Our hypothetical visitors from a faraway planet could barely scratch the surface attempting to describe the magnificent profusion of life on Planet Earth on a visit of several months or years.  

We close with links to two past posts. They describe a single species, a favorite, tiny, colorful Driftless Area bird. The enjoyment indigo buntings supply is remarkable visually, auditorily, and behaviorally. When almost all birds have given their avian vocal cords leave by late afternoon, this summer our avian dynamo continued to sing  mightily. I suspect these birds may be descendants of an indigo bunting which sang from the same dead branch several years running early in the current decade after annually returning from a migration route of thousands of miles.