Education doesn’t always have a positive effect:
What do you get when you educate sinners? The answer is simple enough—clever sinners. Knowledge, by itself, does not make people better; it may make them worse. —Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning
Education can be social engineering of the worst sort—think of education under the Nazis or the communists. But even in the Christian classroom, I need to be aware that I, a sinner, am teaching students who are sinners, and I need to constantly be in prayer (I need to work on this) and to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5 NIV).
Grace and Peace
The Astronomy Picture of the Day for April 27th is about the tremendous energy that is released when matter falls into a black hole. This situation is incredibly efficient at producing energy; even more so than nuclear reactions. How about a black hole power plant in the future? If I remember right, the science fiction novel Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke had a space ship powered by a microscopic black hole suspended somehow in the engine. A stream of hydrogen passing over the black hole was converted into the thrust for the space ship.
I imagine the congressional hearings for building the first black hole power plant in the 23rd century will be rather dramatic, with “unlimited clean energy” pitted against “if this gets loose, it will consume the entire solar system.”
Grace and Peace
The second article posted today by Christianity Today on origins is The Other ID Opponents. The first ID (Intelligent Design) opponents are, obviously, the evolutionists. The other ID opponents are the young-earth creationists, and the article is about the relationship between ID and these groups, such as Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis.
Some good points made by the article include:
- Intelligent Design is not creationism. Most who are reading my blog understand this, the media doesn’t. ID doesn’t, in general, invoke the Bible in its arguments; in fact some of its advocates are not even Christians.
- Young-earth creationists are wary of the ID movement, looking at it as seriously compromising when it comes to the Bible. Most ID-ers are willing to accept billions of years of earth history and that the fossil record presents a history of life on earth.
- Despite this, most efforts to place ID in public school science classes come from young-earth creationists who are willing to settle for ID, being that they cannot legally get their own viewpoints taught.
Here are my observations:
- Intelligent Design, like science, is limited in nature. ID will not, in itself, bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ. Science is part of natural revelation—God’s revelation of himself to all people—but they need the special revelation of Christ in the Scriptures to really know God.
- ID fits well with Romans 1:18-20 (no one has any excuse for not believing in a powerful, caring Creator to whom we are morally responsible) and Psalm 19:1 (The heavens declare the glory of God).
- What has happened all too often is that a scientist will look at the evidence in nature, “convert” to theism or deism, and go no further. This is, I think, one of the young-earth creationists’ most significant concerns about ID.
- So, perhaps ID doesn’t go far enough. More about that some other time.
Grace and Peace
Christianity Today has a couple of articles on ID and creationism that they posted on the web today. The first of these is called Science in Wonderland. It is a wide-ranging article, with sections on the teaching of evolution in public schools, elephant pheromones, and the extinctions that occurred at the end of the Permian Period.
The interesting part to me was a section on string theory. (String theory: molecules are made of atoms, atoms are made of electrons, protons, and neutrons; protons and neutrons are made of quarks, quarks are perhaps made of tiny “strings” of energy). Why is it that wild speculations about string theory—such as the untestable idea that we might live in one of 10500 parallel universes—can make the cover of science magazines, but anything that suggests that the universe was created is “not science?” The parallel universe idea is an attempt to explain how we could be in a universe that looks so perfectly fine-tuned for intelligent life without invoking the need for a Creator. This is based on faith even more than anything in the ID or creationism movements; a faith in naturalism that says, there must be an explanation for the universe apart from a divine Creator, no matter what the evidence in this universe says.
I thought that this universe was the one that scientists study.
Grace and Peace
There are a number of good mapping and imagery sites on the internet. One of my favorites is Terraserver-USA, which has aerial photography of virtually the entire 48 contiguous states. Over large urban areas, the site has high-detail color imagery (good enough to see cars and in some cases the shadows of individuals on the sidewalk), and the rest of the area is covered by black and white images that still have sufficient detail to identify your house.
The old Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Gateway Arch, St. Louis
B-52s in the desert, Arizona
Other than being really cool, these types of images have numerous applications in the sciences: in geology, agriculture, forestry, biology, hydrology, and other areas.
Grace and Peace
A good internet article summarizing a Christian perspective on the environment is Christian Environmentalism by Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries. Here are some quotes from the article:
What we fail to realize is that Christians have a sacred responsibility to the earth and the creatures within it. The earth is being affected by humans in an unprecedented manner, and we do not know what the short or long term effects will be.
But while pantheism elevates nature, it simultaneously degrades man and will ultimately degrade nature as well.
A true Christian environmental ethic differs from the naturalistic and pantheistic ethics in that it is based on the reality of God as Creator and man as his image-bearer and steward. God is the Creator of nature, not part of nature.
Nature has value in and of itself because God created it.
But a responsibility goes along with bearing the image of God. In its proper sense, man’s rule and dominion over the earth is that of a steward or a caretaker, not a reckless exploiter. Man is not sovereign over the lower orders of creation. Ownership is in the hands of the Lord.
An effective steward understands that which he oversees, and science can help us discover the intricacies of nature. Technology puts the creation to man’s use, but unnecessary waste and pollution degrades it and spoils the creation’s ability to give glorify to its creator. I think it is helpful to realize that we are to exercise dominion over nature not as though we are entitled to exploit it but as something borrowed or held in trust.
The source of our ecological crisis lies in man’s fallen nature and the abuse of his dominion.
Our often uncontrolled greed and haste have led to the deterioration of the environment.
We have spoken out loudly against the materialism of science as expressed in the issues of abortion, human dignity, evolution, and genetic engineering, but have shown ourselves to be little more than materialists in our technological orientation towards nature.
By failing to fulfill our responsibilities to the earth, we are losing a great evangelistic opportunity. Many in our society are seeking an improved environment, yet they think that most Christians don’t care about ecological issues and that most churches offer no opportunity for involvement.
Grace and Peace
Christians often don’t know what to make of Earth Day, which is celebrated on April 22nd, or at least on a weekend close to that date. Increasingly, believers in Christ are aware of environmental issues, but something like “Earth Day” is viewed as being for new agers, tree huggers, pro-abortion people, and theological liberals. I’ve never been to an Earth Day celebration, but a look at the St. Louis Earth Day brochure tells me that I can visit booths of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Planned Parenthood, and the Soul-Esteem Center. I can eat food from the Maharashi World Peace-Vedic Organic booth, or watch yoga demonstrations. The event is sponsored by large companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Monsanto, and Toyota. There are, however, Christian organizations present as well: the Christian Vegetarian Association (I have no idea where they are at theologically) and the Concordia Seminary Students in Mission (theologically conservative).
An excellent book for getting a handle on a Christian response to environmentalism is Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer and Udo Middelmann. This book was written in response to an influential essay which appeared in Science magazine entitled The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, by history professor Lynn White. In this article, White blames Christianity and the Bible for many of the world’s woes. He held that the Christian view of human dominion over nature based on Genesis 1:26-28 has led to exploitation of nature and the present ecological crisis, and many in the environmental movement have accepted this portrayal.
As I said, Schaeffer and Middelmann wrote Pollution and the Death of Man in response to White, as well as to others in the environmental movement with an anti-Christian perspective. Because the Christian world view is being blamed for environmental problems, the authors argue that it is important for Christians to pay close attention to environmental issues. They analyze various responses to the environment, and demonstrate that it is possible to have a Biblically-informed view of stewardship that respects both humans and nature. The pantheistic or naturalistic world views that dominate the environmental movement lack this balance that only Christians can supply.
I highly recommend Schaeffer and Middelmann’s book as a starting point on environmental issues. It is about the philosophy of creation care, rather than about specific environmental issues, and it lays a good foundation for our moral responsibility to be good stewards of what God has given us. My hope is that Christians will become more aware of both the theological and scientific aspects of ecological issues. Until this happens, our options are to continue to ignore issues that could have significant effects for generations to come, or to blindly follow “experts” on either the right or the left.
Grace and Peace
A quote from a letter by Benjamin Vaughan to Benjamin Franklin, 1783:
Influence upon the private character, late in life, is not only an influence late in life, but a weak influence. It is in youth that we plant our chief habits and prejudices; it is in youth that we take our party as to profession, pursuits and matrimony. In youth, therefore, the turn is given; in youth the education even of the next generation is given; in youth the private and public character is determined; and the term of life extending but from youth to age, life ought to begin well from youth, and more especially before we take our party as to our principle objects.
From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, pp. 56-57.
Since today is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake…
“There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Matthew 24:7,8 ESV
A common “fact” proclaimed in Bible end-times prophecy books (Hal Lindsey and others), radio broadcasts, and on numerous web sites is that the number of severe earthquakes is increasing, and that this is a sign that Christ will soon return.
Now, I believe that Christ is returning, and that it could be at any time. However, as a geologist I always questioned the validity of these reports, but never had the time to look into it for myself. Fortunately, others have done the research for me. Steven Austin, of the Institute for Creation Research, and Mark Strauss, of Bethel Seminary San Diego, wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal in 1999 called “Are Earthquakes Signs of the End Times?: A Geological and Biblical Response to an Urban Legend” (CRJ, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 30-39). I don’t think that article is available online, but a longer version is on the internet: Earthquakes and the End Times: A Geological and Biblical Perspective.
To summarize their arguments:
- The prominent end-times authors have been very sloppy in referencing their data sources. They will often make broad statements like, “According to the USGS…” rather than citing specific sources.
- Since 1898, there has been a worldwide network of seismographs capable of detecting any earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater. According to earthquake data from the USGS, there were more large earthquakes in the first half of the 20th century than in the last half. There has been no increase in the frequency of large earthquakes.
- Christ’s prediction in Matthew 24 can be interpreted in more than one way. Many premillenialists interpret the passage as referring to a period of time within the seven-year tribulation, and therefore not applicable to the present time. Others, and I favor this view, look at the passage as referring to events that occur throughout the time from Christ’s ascension to his return. We will have wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes throughout history until Christ returns in glory.
Grace and Peace
Today is the centennial of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, which killed at least 700 (perhaps many more), and was one of the first earthquakes to be the subject of intense scientific study. The San Andreas fault had displacement along 477 km of its length, compared to the 40 km displacement zone that caused the 1989 Loma Prieta “World Series” earthquake. The magnitude of the earthquake is estimated to have been between 7.7 and 8.3.
2.5 m horizontal displacement along the San Andreas fault in April, 1906. How this magnitude of horizontal displacement could have occurred was not understood until the advent of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s. Image from the USGS.
Map comparing the portion of the San Andreas fault affected by the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, also from the USGS. The portion of the San Andreas fault extending southward past Los Angeles to the Gulf of California was unaffected by these earthquakes.
Louis Agassiz was the founder of the science of glacial geology, but his statue at Stanford University did not fare too well in the earthquake.
It’s time to update my lecture notes.
Based on information from probably about ten years ago, my PowerPoint presentation for the Physical Science unit on asteroids says that there are a total of about 6000 asteroids. I’m off by a whole bunch. According to the Wikipedia article on asteroids, they are now being discovered at a rate of about 5000 per month (thanks to automated sky searches) and the total is up to over 330,000. It is estimated that there may be between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 asteroids with diameters of over 1 km.
One of the really interesting things about asteroids is their names. They ran out of names from Greek and Roman mythology (Ceres, Pallas, Icarus, etc…) a long time ago, and the discoverers now have a considerable amount of freedom in naming asteroids. The official names include numbers indicating the order of discovery: 1 Ceres was the first discovered; 1896 Beer was the 1896th discovered, and so on. Most asteroids only have numbers, as only about 13,000 have official, approved names.
Some interesting asteroid names: Bach, Beatles (as well as Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Harrison), Beer, Beethoven, Bonhoeffer, Cheshirecat, Confucius, Einstein, James Bond, Karl Marx, Martin Luther, Montana, and Mr. Spock. Many more are named after the discovers, or their wives, children, pets, and so on.
I usually stay away from articles from the “soft science” fields of sociology and psychology, but How to Make Your Wife Happy at LiveScience.com got my attention. “The key ingredient to a woman’s marital bliss is her husband’s emotional commitment, suggests a new study based on a survey of 5,000 couples across the country.” Commitment is a good word. Emotional commitment implies that I highly value her, and that this is expressed through spending meaningful time with her, making it clear for all to see that she is the only woman for me, and being sensitive to her needs.
Ephesians 5:25-28 — “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” (ESV)
Aside from knowing God through Jesus Christ, being married to Shirley is the greatest joy in my life.
A quote from C.S. Lewis which applies to many areas of life:
All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.
From Perelandra, p. 218 in my edition.
Does nature point to a Creator? The Scriptures teach that we should expect it to:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3 NIV)
“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV)
Last year, prominent atheist philosopher Antony Flew “converted” to to theism. His reasons for doing so? He was convinced by the arguments put forth by advocates of Intelligent Design (ID). Specifically, he found two ID arguments to be compelling:
- The argument that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life. There are long lists of physical constants (such as the relative strengths of the four fundamental forces, the ratio of the masses of electrons and protons, and so on) which have the exact values they need to have for life to exist in the universe. How did nature end up so perfectly tuned?
- The argument that it is impossible that life could have originated by natural means. Flew seemed especially concerned about the complexity of the DNA-based inheritance system shared by almost all organisms.
I have seen a number of reports that dismiss ID as interesting philosophy, but not science. I reply that it is impossible to separate science from the philosophy that undergirds it, and that here is at least one example of a deep-thinker who was convinced by the evidence from creation.
Antony Flew has not converted to Christianity. At best he can be described as a deist—one who believes that the Creator set things in motion but takes a hands-off approach to what has been created. Let’s pray that he would come to faith in Christ.
Grace and Peace
The greatest put-down in today’s postmodern society is to accuse someone of intolerance or exclusivity. Because of this, any person who states that Christianity is the only true religion is accused of bigotry. So how do I respond if someone accuses me of being judgmental, intolerant, and narrow for saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to God?
First of all, it wasn’t my idea. It is Jesus himself who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV). Their main problem, therefore, isn’t with me, it is with Jesus Christ.
Christianity is an exclusive religion. I am not ashamed of this. There is only one way to God, and that is salvation by grace through faith in Christ. But—and this is extremely important—Christianity is at the same time the most inclusive religion on Earth. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV). The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for every person on Earth: those “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9 ESV). None will be turned away who come to him. Christianity is a religion of inclusive exclusivity.
Hopefully there is no need to tell you, but wild stories circulate on the internet—on web pages and via email. My web site of the week is Snopes.com, which is devoted to uncovering the truthfulness or falsehood of these “urban legends”. What would make one suspect that a story received in one of those emails from a well-meaning friend might be, well, not quite true? These stories often have vague details (A missionary in Africa, a little girl in Alabama, an executive with a major oil company, etc.) and no references to credible sites. It is always best to do some investigation before accepting or forwarding stories that are questionable; this is especially important for us as Christians.
One of my favorite stories that turns out to be true is the one about the balloon man, who tied weather balloons to his lawn chair and quickly rose to 16,000 feet!
A story that is false that is widely circulated in the Christian world is “NASA Confirms That Sun Stood Still.” I’ve received this story by email a number of times, such as from a student who wrote, “Mr. Nelstead, look at this wonderful confirmation of the Bible!” I believe the Bible, but stories like this one do more damage than good.
Grace and Peace
I have been working on selecting a new textbook for high school Biology for next year, and I have chosen Prentice Hall Biology by Miller and Levine. When asked why I chose this book over others, including books from Christian publishers, I gave the following reasons:
- Most Christian textbooks include what I consider to be weak apologetics presented dogmatically as the foundation for Christian faith. If we raise our kids on weak apologetics, we can expect a crisis of faith in some when they discover that foundation isn’t solid; and we can expect ineffective witness in others.
- Most Christian textbooks are written from a strongly anti-environmental standpoint that I do not share.
- Some Christian textbooks get the concept of Biblical integration all wrong. For instance, I don’t think it is helpful to have to bring the blood of Jesus into the discussion of the circulatory system. Good Biblical integration helps the students to see the interaction of a Christian worldview with science on topics such as ethics and origins.
- I find it easier to undo bad science and philosophy taught out of a secular textbook than to undo bad science and philosophy taught out of a Christian textbook.
- I know of other Christian schools who use this book.
- The Miller and Levine book is well-written by scientists, not by editors. Yes, I will have to elaborate from time to time on issues such as evolution, but this is the best I can do right now.
The Christian science textbook publishers I am most familiar with are Abeka, Bob Jones, and Apologia. I found each one to be deficient or seriously deficient.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you know of other textbooks written from a Christian perspective?
A couple news items have come to my attention lately regarding perspectives on the value of human life:
Earlier this year, a street dog in Bucharest, Romania bit a Japanese businessman in the leg. The bite broke an artery, and the man quickly bled to death. The city government has once again begun a program to exterminate the wild dogs—of which the city has between 100,000 and 200,000—only to be met by the protests of animal rights protesters from the West, led by actress Brigitte Bardot. They have gone as far as to hire an expensive attorney to defend the dog believed to be the one who bit the man.
A friend forwarded a story about an ecology professor at the University of Texas who believes the Earth would be better off if 90% of we humans died of a plague, such as ebola. In a speech before the Texas Academy of Sciences, Dr. Eric Pianka stated, “We’re no better than bacteria!” According to this report, Pianka said that when a neighbor asked him what good are the lizards that he studied, Pianka replied by asking, “What good are you?”
These two viewpoints share one thing in common: the false assumption that human life is no more valuable than animal life. In the case of animal rights extremists (as in Bucharest), the end result is not the elevating of animal life, but the degrading of the value of human life. It is dangerous, in my mind, to say that the life of the dog is as valuable as the life of the man. In the case of the ecology professor, when humans are compared to bacteria growing in a Petri dish or a cancer that needs to be eradicated—well, I worry about the directions we could go as a society.
We need to stand firmly for the idea that human life is inherently of a different value than that of animals; humans are the only ones who are described in Scripture as being made in the image of God. I certainly am concerned when animals are mistreated, but this anti-human worldview is common in the extreme elements of the environmental movement.
For the web site of the week, I have chosen Igneous rocks in thin section. In order to identify minerals and interpret the history of a rock, geologists will often make a thin section. A thin section is made by slicing and polishing a rock until it is only about 30 micrometers thick (human hair is typically 40-120 micrometers thick). This rock slice is mounted on a glass microscope slide, and viewed using a petrographic microscope, which is a light microscope with a rotating stage. The geologist can then view the slice of rock with either ordinary light or polarized light.
The image here is of a rock called diorite using polarized light. Diorite is similar to granite, but it has less quartz. The prominent mineral grain in the center is plagioclase, which appears whitish in ordinary light, but displays this distinct black and white banding when viewed with polarized light. As the geologist rotates the stage of the microscope, the bands change back and forth between black and white. The angles at which they do so can be used to estimate the sodium and calcium content of the mineral, which varies depending on the chemical composition of the source magma and the history of the rock.
As an undergraduate and graduate student in geology, these thin sections kept me mesmerized for hours. More of the beauty of God’s creation, to be enjoyed like a landscape or sunset.
Grace and Peace
I had a couple of Scriptural insights into yesterday’s post and article regarding the scientific study of prayer.
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:1-4 ESV)
When Herod saw Jesus [at His trial], he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. (Luke 23:8-11 ESV)
In these cases, God didn’t perform for unbelievers who were looking for miraculous signs. Perhaps the same thing has happened here. I don’t know the hearts of those who ran the “experiment”.
Grace and Peace