Monday, January 14, 2019

Science in the Book of Job

The Book of Job is a masterpiece of literary excellence. Coming from a Israelite author, it expresses a monotheistic worldview. The epic story of righteous Job seemingly unjustly permitted by God to suffer material, family, and personal loss is the core of the book’s narrative. It is introduced by a dialogue between Satan and God in which Satan was permitted to deprive Job of his wealth of livestock, the life of his servants, and even his children. Finally, his own health failed but his life was spared. He “cursed the day of his birth” but “did not sin in what he said.” Later, Job wondered if God was oppressing him due to some fault or sin.

Job’s three friends proposed that Job was suffering retribution for sin. Late in the book, Elihu enters the story with disdain for the error of Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz. Wikipedia’s article on Elihu states, “He draws instances of benignity from, for example, the constant wonders of creation and of the seasons.” A reading of the statements of Job, Elihu, and God Himself are filled with scientific description. We reiterate as stated in past posts—Scripture is not a scientific textbook. However, when writers describe mighty weather events on the spectrum of gentle to powerful, they identify with current observational sciences of meteorology and climatology. Elihu, for example, gives an accurate account of the water cycle in Job 36:27-28: “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind.” While Elihu did not possess terms for evaporation and condensation in his ancient language, it is clear that he understood water traveled in vapor form from earth’s surface to the clouds, later to “distill” to liquid rain water and become “abundant showers” falling on mankind.

Snow, waters hard as stone on the frozen surface, intense heat, hail, lightning, rumbling thunder, mighty downpours, tempests, sweltering heat, torrents of rain, frost, floods…..Elihu had exceptional observational skills. He acknowledges these events as manifestations of a mighty and awesome God, powerful and firm in His purpose. On a higher level, they were manifestations of complex weather systems. Elihu may not have understood how weather systems operate but his observations inspired a strong sense of devotion to God, “exalted in His power” (Job 36:22). The operations of weather systems have been explained in our modern day. The consistent physical laws under which weather systems operate are indicators of coherent orderliness in the natural world.

In Job 38 the Lord speaks. Many of the verses refer to creation events long past. Elihu would be unable to offer commentary on the event described in Job 38:8-9. God is speaking of His works…“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt.’” Scientists have determined that initial planetary conditions included pervasive darkness on a surface covered by water and swathed in dark clouds. Later conditions on Earth provided plentiful water existing in three phases—gas, solid, and liquid. Our planet was, and continues to be, a water world.

Other scripture passages describe conditions on the primeval Planet Earth. “You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.” (Psalm 104:6.) Earth’s surface was completely water covered and enshrouded by thick clouds. Genesis 1:2 tells us that “…darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. It is known that the first earth life was bacterial—morphologically simple but bio-chemically complex bacteria. Perhaps this was the result of God’s Spirit “hovering” over the early water world.

The three scripture passages cited above were written in pre-scientific days. No author of scripture had modern discovery methods for describing early planetary conditions. Contemporary scientists do not rely on divine revelation as did the writers of Scripture. Rather, they utilize reliable modern methods of scientific discovery. Nonetheless, ancient authors of scripture and modern scientists are in agreement on these significant areas of science. Christians hold the Canon of Scripture to be the authoritative word of God. It expresses the essence of our Christian faith. We note that writers of Scripture were skilled analytical observers of their environment as well as beneficiaries of supernatural divine revelation.   



Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Well-ordered Systems

Successful human activities are said to be well-ordered and systematic. Our post title may imply there are systems which are not well-ordered. Generally, however, systems are ordered or else they do not qualify as systems. We must first introduce the concept of a system. Various definitions of a system may be found, including, “a set of entities that through their interactions, relationships, or dependencies, form a unified whole.” Another definition is similar: A system is “a group of interacting, interrelated, or inter-dependent elements forming a complex whole.” These cerebral definitions may be more difficult to analyze and understand than our intuitive grasp of the term system. Many different spheres can be cited to illustrate the essence of a system. 

Even young children have ability to understand rudimentary behavioral systems in their lives. They must rise from bed when called or when the alarm clock rings. They must wash, brush, dress, restore their room to a semblance of order, and proceed to the breakfast table before hopping on the school bus. This exemplifies a simple behavioral pattern. Of course, there are dozens of other categories governing human behavior—systems of social relationships beyond family domestic networks, systems of government and politics ranging from local to national, systems of economics, and systems of infrastructure which preserve our ordered lives, to name a few.

Returning to our example of young children, early in their educational experience they study various subjects, including science. Our focus in this blog is the relationship of science and faith. I have asked my grandchildren several times, “What are you studying in science? Do you like science?” These are leading questions, of course. My own adult children answered the same questions before they entered college and even later!

Science is a study of the physical world, including the workings of its physical systems in various fields of study. Our universe may be described as a system of interacting systems. God is the Creator of the Universe and the Author of its thousands of physical systems. Each system, according to the definitions we offered in our opening paragraph, comprises a unified or complex whole. “Unity” and “complexity” are interesting concepts, especially when applied to the wonders of our physical world. Well-ordered, unified or complex systems are coherent manifestations of the characteristics of our Creator. 

In our public, private, or home schools we take advantage of students’ intrinsic curiosity in science and other subjects. In the absence of natural curiosity, teachers are challenged to help create curiosity in their students. In churches we treasure lessons from teachers or pastors who present fascinating working physical systems as demonstrations of God’s work in the physical creation. We speak about the “Theology of Creation.” Our previous post with this title is instructive:

The Book of Job, recognized as the earliest divinely inspired literary work in scripture, is not only a commentary on how Job dealt with a horrific family tragedy, but is also a book of powerful statements about creation events and a record of God’s involvement in shaping the characteristics of our world and its living creatures. This book is a source of information on how the Creator ordered the working systems of our cosmos.