Jesus is for geologists (and other scientists)

I’ve always known that Jesus is for geologists, as well as for biologists, chemists, physicists, archeologists, astronomers, and all other sorts of scientists.

There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.

Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.

The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:

Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.

As the review says, this would be a great book for

  • Professional scientists
  • Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • High school teachers and students
  • Members of the general public.

Buy this book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Religious belief among scientists

Here are some results of a PEW Research Center study on the religious and political beliefs of scientists:

Statistic #1
42% — Scientists ages 18-34 who say they believe in God.
28% — Scientists 65 and older who say this.

What does this mean? Does it mean that an increasing number of scientists believe in God? Or does it mean that young scientists give up their faith as they grow older? Unfortunately, this study is just a snapshot in time. It would be helpful to see the results of similar surveys done over time, or the results of studies that follow the same scientists throughout their careers.

Statistic #2
3% — Percentage of scientists who are “white evangelicals”.
19% — Percentage of Americans who are “white evangelicals”.

What does this mean? Either we evangelicals are doing a pitiful job of preparing and motivating our young people to enter the sciences, or they fall away from faith once they do enter the sciences. I place part of the blame for both of these possibilities on the dominance of young-Earth creationism in our Christian educational system, whether in our private schools, home schools, or churches. Students are either scared away from the sciences because of the perceived warfare between science and faith, or they are ill-equipped to see God’s world as it is, especially in terms of Earth history. There are likely to be a number of other factors as well.

Statistic #3
Field Believe in God
Believe in higher power
Believe in neither
Biology and medicine 32 19 41
Chemistry 41 14 39
Geosciences 30 20 47
Physics and astronomy 29 14 46

There is not as much of a difference between the different fields of science as I had been led to believe by some other studies. I had thought that astronomers were more likely to believe in God or some sort of a higher power than other scientists, but according to this study this isn’t the case.

In the geosciences, 47% of scientists are in the “believe in neither” category: atheists and agnostics. But at 30%, we theists are not all that far behind, and I find this encouraging.

One more item from the study that I found interesting, though it related to politics rather than religious beliefs:

Statistic #4 — Party affiliation among scientists

All scientists 6 55 32

Some questions:

  • Is there a trend towards increasing faith among scientists, as indicated by statistic #1, or will these young scientists lose faith as they grow older?
  • Why are only 3% of scientists evangelical Christians? What can we evangelicals do about it?
  • Is there any significance to the differences between the various fields of science? Are chemists most likely to believe in God because their science doesn’t have as direct of a relationship to the issue of origins?
  • Why do only 6% of scientists identify themselves as Republican? What can be done about it?

HT: Christianity Today

Grace and Peace

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

In Physics, we just finished a unit on Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Relativity is counterintuitive at first, but most high school seniors can grasp the basic concepts once some groundwork is laid. After going through time dilation, length contraction, the twin paradox, and E=mc2, we took three days to watch “The Elegant Universe,” a PBS/NOVA episode on string theory (available online here).

String theory is an attempt to explain how gravity relates to the other fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force. In its current form, it requires that there be eleven dimensions (the three of space we are familiar with, time, and seven hidden dimensions), plus alternative universes that parallel our own. It is highly speculative and difficult (or impossible in some respects) to test by experiment.

We watched the movie (which is very well done and entertaining) and then discussed it. My students didn’t have a problem with there being extra dimensions (nor do I), but expressed skepticism about the possibility of parallel universes (as do I). Perhaps the reason some physicists are so willing to accept this whole theory is that it attempts to explain the big bang (origin of the universe) without a creator. But, of course, even if string theory could explain what caused the big bang to occur, it still hasn’t answered the big questions:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Where did the laws come from that govern the universe?

Because of the whole multiple parallel universe thing, many Christians have problems with string theory. An alternative to string theory has recently appeared, proposed by a surfer/snowboarder physics PhD named Garrett Lisi. His model is based on an elaborate geometric model called E8. Its math is way beyond most of us, but is simpler than the math that goes into string theory. It has received positive reception within the physics community, but has not yet been thoroughly evaluated.

New Scientist has an article on Lisi’s proposal here: Is mathematical pattern the theory of everything?

Lisi’s paper is posted online: An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything (609 kb pdf). I look at the math in this paper and am amazed that anyone can follow it, but I guess that’s why God made physicists. And this is simple compared to string theory!

In the 1500s and 1600s, the reason that heliocentrism was accepted by scientists over geocentrism was because the mathematics of planetary motion was much simpler if one placed the sun at the center of the solar system rather than the Earth. If E8 (or whatever it ends up being called) passes initial scrutiny, it could replace string theory as the “theory of everything” that physicists seek.

Thanks to: Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle.

The E8 system, with each point corresponding to a particle, some of which have not yet been observed:


Grace and Peace

Physics Egg Drop 2007

My high school physics class at Bucharest Christian Academy is doing a unit on momentum and energy. When a fast-moving object hits another object, its fate depends on how long it takes for it to come to a complete stop. A skydiver whose parachute fails to open might survive if they hit a haystack or a sewage sludge pond instead of bare ground. The front end of a car is designed to crumple when it hits a wall or tree, extending the amount of time it takes for the passengers to go from 30 km/h to a complete stop and perhaps saving their lives.

In order to gain a better understanding of how cushioning a sudden stop can save lives, the students had to design a container that would protect a raw egg so it would not break when dropped from the patio on the roof of BCA, three stories up (as Americans count stories). Two of the students’ eggs survived, and two didn’t.








More pictures can be found at BCA’s The Virtual Refrigerator.

Grace and Peace

Give her physics

“Ah, the poor child! My Lord, we do wrong to keep our guests standing. Quick, some of you! Take them away. Give them food and wine and baths. Comfort the little girl. Give her lollipops, give her dolls, give her physics, give her all you can think of–possets and comfits and caraways and lullabies and toys. Don’t cry, little girl, or you won’t be good for anything when the feast comes.”

From C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, chapter 8: “The House of Harfang”

A great thought for a child who has been out in the cold: “Give her physics.” However, C.S. Lewis’s grasp of English was obviously better than mine. I didn’t know this, but the word Lewis uses here is the plural of “physic” not “physics.” A physic is:

1 a: the art or practice of healing disease b: the practice or profession of medicine2: a medicinal agent or preparation (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary).

I still like to think that the giants in The Silver Chair knew that somehow a good dose of Newton and Einstein would be good for Jill and her companions.

Grace and Peace

The great train wreck

Here’s a great photo for a physics lesson on inertia or kinetic energy:

And here’s the description of this accident from Wikipedia:

On October 22, 1895, the Granville–Paris Express train overran the buffer stop at Gare Montparnasse station. The engine careened across almost 30 metres (100 feet) of the station concourse, crashed through a 60 centimetre thick wall, shot across a terrace and sailed out of the station, plummeting onto the Place de Rennes 10 metres (30 feet) below where it stood on its nose. While all of the passengers on board the train survived, one woman on the street below was killed by falling masonry.

Photo credit: Studio Lévy and Sons

Grace and Peace

Science Videos #1

Thermite reaction – a chemical reaction that generates enough heat to melt iron.

Alkali metal reactions – I’ve put sodium in water for a science demonstration, but that seems rather tame compared to rubidium or cesium in water!

Tacoma Narrows Bridge – the ultimate engineering mishap. Concrete and steel are flexible!

Liquid metal – watch the ball bounce, and bounce, and bounce…

Grace and Peace