Observation ~ By Pastor Keith Shields

Because I have studied science most of my life, some people will confide in me that they wish they had studied more science. I usually tell them that it is never too late to start. The convenient thing about science is that one can begin studying at any time. Science, at its core, starts with observation and extrapolation. We have all previously observed that if the wind is coming out of the east then a flag on a flagpole will point to the west. So, we observe a flag and can draw conclusions about which way the wind is blowing. If we notice that a flag ten feet above the ground is pointing one direction and one on top of a 250 foot building is pointing another direction, we can draw some conclusions about the movement of air currents at different altitudes.The world is wide open for this type of observation and discovery. Great scientific breakthroughs happen because someone paid attention to their world. Take a look around you and see what lines of observation might be available to you. Many of us can see the moon rise and set from where we live. Have we really observed the moon? Can you answer this simple question? When the moon is waning, that is, going from full to new moon, which side of the moon is lit up? Left? Right? Another way to ask this question is, “When the moon is waning, does it take the shape of a ‘C’ or a ‘D’?” One should be able to answer this question after just a few nights of observation. If you get good at answering this question you will be able to make predictions about whether the moon will be brighter or dimmer the next evening. It will also allow you to make predictions about tides if you happen to live close to the ocean. The movement of tidal waters is another great source of scientific study. See what you can learn by noticing the direction boats turn in the water at any given time of the day and how high the water is on the shore. What can you learn from these simple descriptions?

Another lunar observation that is available to us relates to the direction in which the moon revolves around the earth. You can do some observation over the next few days or weeks and see if you can determine whether the rotation is clockwise or anti-clockwise relative to the a view from above the earth’s north pole. Here is a hint, you will need to observe where the moon rises in the sky (east, west, north, or south) and the time of moonrise over a few days. Is the time of moonrise the same every day or does it rise later or earlier each day? This was a query posed to me by a tenth grade physics teacher which set me off on a lifetime of observation and discovery. Try not to cheat and look up the answer on the internet. This is where much of present scientific study can falter. We get lazy and do not seek the answer ourselves. Instead, we trust someone else’s answer without even seeing the data that led them to their conclusion.

There is a group of crows that collect mussels from the seashore close to my house. They have learned how to do a sort of crowish “science.” Once the birds have collected the mussels they must find ways to break open the shells to get at the life-giving meat inside. This hunger and survival by eating is the huge motivator for their scientific study. If they drop the mussels from a height onto rocky places, some will break open; but often the mussels will catch too much air and flutter to the ground without making a significant impact with the ground. These crows have observed that if they drop them on the seawall, a walking and biking path along the shores of the ocean, there is a good chance that a human will step on the mussels or run them over with their bicycles. This nicely opens the shells and allows the crows to get their breakfast or dinner of mussels. These crows have become keen observers of human behaviour. They know when the paths are busy and how to use this tool to their advantage. They have also discovered that bicycles are much more likely to break open the shells than are footsteps. Cyclists race along the path and do not even notice that they are running over mussel shells whereas pedestrians tend to step around the shells to avoid the crunching underfoot. In places where the seawall is nicely divided into a cycling path on one side and a pedestrian path on the other side, one can observe approximately ten mussel shells on the bicycle side for every one mussel shell on the pedestrian side. Crows have learned probability. Presumably, the crows that do put the odd shell on the pedestrian side also know that occasionally the tourists do not pay attention to the segregation of bicycles and pedestrians and cyclists will sometimes ride on the pedestrian path.

Vancouver has massive murders of crows that fly through the air at predictable times. Every evening, about a half hour before sunset, they fly past the windows of my home. I am not sure how long it took me to come to this conclusion but it was a natural one as I noted the murders of crows, the time of day, and the amount of light at the time. They are expert at flight and use the currents of air to their great advantage. I am sure I could learn several things about the weather and bird behaviour if I took the time to chart things like wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, temperature, speed of the birds and altitude at which they fly. Science is very egalitarian. It makes itself available to all.

Euthanasia: A Response. By Jennie McLaurin

In his recent blog post on euthanasia, pastor Kerry Bender wrestles with the conflicting emotions he feels as he contemplates his father’s demise from Alzheimer’s. Kerry asserts that belief trumps feelings, even though he recognizes belief is shaped by both feelings and intellect. For him, belief in God, resurrection, and image-bearing stay any impulse to hasten his father’s death through human manipulation.

Bender goes farther than many when he decides to treat his father as if he were a person, even a parent, despite the loss of any relationship between them other than the historical. Even so, many people can treat their loved ones, and themselves, as a person and even an image-bearer, but still argue that euthanasia is a viable option (pun intended). Of course, there are different types of euthanasia, passive or active and involuntary or voluntary.

The laws in the US are concerned only with the permitting voluntary euthanasia, typically in an active form. That is, the person who is the patient must make a fully informed consent to die. Not only that, but someone must give assistance so that the death is actively hastened—pull the plug so to speak, or tender the poison.

What many anxious relatives don’t understand, whether they are from a faith-based worldview or not, is that human beings are endowed with mechanisms that soften and hasten death as suffering and demise reach critical levels. Many elderly patients will turn to a wall and refuse to eat or drink as they resign themselves to dying. Is this voluntary passive euthanasia? Technically, yes. Should we force the terminally ill, whether from dementia or cancer, to be fed and hydrated? Not when it actively suspends their natural dying. And yet, as more people spend their last days in institutional settings and fewer of us have witnessed an “ordinary” or “natural” death, we are increasingly uncertain of how to respond.

In the case of Kerry’s father, most physicians would find it reasonable to limit antibiotic use for infection or to avoid any invasive feeding such as intravenous or nasogastric. Certainly, “DNR” as Kerry mentioned, would be appropriate and not at all within the realm of euthanasia. There are lots of very good indications for deciding a DNR order is reasonable, including a proactive stance related to one’s own dementia.

Personally, I do not support any of the US euthanasia laws, mostly because the evidence used in creating the laws is simply unfounded. Supporters always cite pain and suffering as intractable concerns. But the data I’ve seen suggests that those who do choose suicide (self-death, ie: active voluntary euthanasia) typically have accent to decent pain management, adequate financial resources, and uncomplaining family members. In 100% of those taking their life under WA state law, autonomy was the reason recorded. The person did not want to lose their autonomy—even if that autonomy culminated in the ironic act of ending one’s life.

Autonomy is an odd concept and one that our society seems to think little about in any meaningful way. Autonomy is one of the four primary principles of Western bioethics. But what does it really mean? Certainly we support the patient’s right to choose their care, their participation in research and their informed knowledge of options in a context of justice and beneficence. The German Holocaust and American syphilis experiments are two horrible reminders of why autonomy has come to be prized. But today’s application of autonomy in cases of euthanasia far exceeds these initial ideas about protection of the weak or vulnerable.

Today, characteristics such as “strength” and “invulnerability” are regarded as near synonyms to autonomy. In this strange reversal, autonomy is used as a shield against human interdependence. Holding onto self-power, even if it destroys oneself, is lauded as better than accepting and yielding to the care of another, particularly in humiliating, bodily ways.

Sadly, this idolization of autonomy is in fact a deep cut in the fabric of what it means to be truly human, or—in the language of faith—what it means to be an image-bearer. Rescinding our finite bodily presence in all its manifestations, refusing community and the risk of being intimately known by others, rejecting brokenness and uncertainty and grief; this is in fact an abdication of what it means to live, even now, as a Trinity-bearer.

Who is most at risk with all this language of autonomy? It is still the weak and vulnerable. We haven’t really bettered their position in this new era. We have so little tolerance for what seems a prolonged disability or worse, a “futile” form of life. Our position on autonomy is a judgment on the worth of our society’s weakest members. And I believe—to use Kerry’s words—that it is only with a renewed sense of community, of humility, and of mystery that we might approach death with dignity.

 

“God in the Dock” (Part 1 of 3) by David Opderbeck

The courtroom is a powerful symbol in our popular culture.  The phrase “the verdict is in…” appears in settings ranging from advertising comparisons of different kinds of shampoo to opinion polls on political issues to arguments for and against God.  As a practicing lawyer, law professor, and theology student, I find this use of courtroom metaphors fascinating and sometimes troubling.  In particular, I worry that the popularity of courtroom apologetics, particularly in the conversation over faith and science, belies some deep theological and philosophical misconceptions, and that these theological and philosophical misconceptions can hinder both our joy in seeking God’s truth and our faithfulness in witnessing to that truth in the world.

Let me begin with a story.

Some years ago I appeared in the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey for a routine settlement conference in a contract dispute.  Both of the parties to the suit were small businesses.  My client had entered into a service contract with the plaintiff.  The plaintiff, according to my client, did not deliver all the services under the contract, and my client withheld payment.  The plaintiff alleged that it had, in fact, performed as required by the contract and that payment was due.  The amount at stake was about $250,000 – small potatoes for a Federal lawsuit, but significant to these small businesses.  State and Federal courts around the U.S. handle many thousands of similar cases every year.

In most Federal civil trial courts, settlement conferences are conducted by a Magistrate Judge.  Typically the Judge meets with counsel and the parties together in chambers to review the case.  Often the Judge will then meet with each party separately to conduct a kind of shuttle diplomacy.  Sometimes, while the Judge meets with one party in chambers, the other party waits in the empty courtroom, with subdued lighting, heavy drapery, and the great seal of the court positioned over the Judge’s bench.  There is an aspect of theatrical performance to this process.  The Judge tries to impress on the litigants the risks of litigation and the potential weaknesses in their respective cases in order to resolve the case and clear his or her docket.  Experienced counsel is wise to this game but tacitly participates in the ritual.  Trials are risky and clients sometimes harbor grossly unrealistic expectations about the results a trial might produce.

In the contract dispute I mentioned, the owner of the company I represented was shrewd businessman.  He and I both thought we had a good chance of winning at trial.  However, given the risks and costs, we were willing to offer about half of the claimed payment due in settlement.  We communicated this to the Judge during our private meeting, and the Judge agreed that this was a wise course of action.  The Judge had us leave chambers and called in the other party.  For an experienced litigator, this represents the moment when a case starts to move and settlement seems likely.

The owner of the plaintiff corporation, however, was not so objective.  For him, this litigation was about JUSTICE (he tended to speak about this in all caps).  He rejected our offer and insisted that he would take the case to trial and achieve justice, even if it took until his dying breath.

The Judge dismissed the plaintiff and called me and my client back into chambers.  He communicated to us the plaintiff’s position, and added the following astute judicial commentary:  “What a F—ing idiot!”   Some months later, after some costly and time-consuming discovery and motion practice, the case finally settled, at a value close to what we originally had offered.  Perhaps the plaintiff’s accountants realized the costs of justice.

I recount this story at the outset of this series because it illustrates the reality of the legal process.  In the popular imagination, the court room is the place in which lies are exposed and truth revealed.  Our iconic cultural moment for the judicial process comes from the movie “A Few Good Men,” where Tom Cruise cross-examines Jack Nicholson until Nicholson finally cracks and shouts “You want the truth?  You can’t handle the truth!” before admitting Cruise was right about everything all along.  The reality is that the judicial process is not set up to find the exhaustive and final truth of a matter.  It is set up to resolve disputes as pragmatically and efficiently as possible so that the business of society can keep moving on.

The rules of evidence and procedure that govern trials – in the very, very small percentage of cases that ever go to trial – reflect this pragmatic orientation.  Trials do not go on forever, the parties cannot call every conceivable witness or offer every possible scrap of evidence, and the standards of judgment are flexible.  In civil cases, the standard of proof typically is “a preponderance of evidence” – meaning that the scales must tip only ever so slightly to one side or the other.  Mistakes of law are often reviewable by appellate courts de novo – from the beginning, with fresh eyes – but alleged mistakes of fact are usually reviewable only for an abuse of discretion – a standard that is rarely met.  And very seldom does a witness utterly crumble under cross examination and admit the other side is completely right.  In fact, in most cases that don’t settle early on, the “right” outcome generally is ambiguous.  Both parties usually can make out a viable case under the existing law and available facts.

I think all of this makes the courtroom an inapt metaphor for Christian apologetics.  We imagine some sort of Tom Cruise meets Jack Nicholson moment in which the world crumbles on the stand and acknowledges that we Christians are right about everything after all.  Real court rooms don’t work that way, and neither does real, authentic witness to the Gospel.

It’s not just a matter of making the courtroom appear overly dramatic.  In litigation, the court is a neutral authority capable of making a binding decision about the merits of the dispute.  The settlement conference procedure I mentioned above tends to work in most cases because the parties come to realize that the process, at least as applied to their specific case, isn’t about “justice” in any absolute sense at all.  The process is about resolving disputes and moving on.  It’s entirely possible that the court might reach an unfavorable conclusion simply because of the inherent constraints intentionally built into the process.  In the broadest sense, the parties agree to a social contract in which the court, whether it turns out to be right or wrong, has authority to decide the case.  And the realization that the court could get it wrong, or simply that the process might drag on for long time and cost substantial legal fees, almost always eventually moves the parties to compromise.

We who are part of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus, however, could never enter into any such social contract concerning the truth of the Gospel.  As far as we’re concerned, there is no neutral third party, no judicial body, capable of adjudicating the claim that Jesus is Lord and that his peaceable Kingdom has come through his death and resurrection.  To submit the Lordship of Christ before any such judicial bar would constitute blasphemy.  We do not seek or even demand a verdict from anyone about this.  Rather, we proclaim that it is so, and announce that it judges all other presumptive authorities.

Yet, we do publicly proclaim that it is so.  A public proclamation is always a form of apologia.  It is a giving of reasons why we as the Church seek to live and worship in certain ways.  And it is an effort to describe as fully and richly as possible all the implications of what we proclaim.  Not the least of those implications is that the God who created the world created it good, that He imbued creation with His own beauty and reason, and that of all His creatures His love for humans is particularly shown in our share of that reason.  So our public proclamation, our apologia for this good news, includes our effort to express the coherence, explanatory power, aesthetics, and moral force – the fullness of reason – inherent in it.

Notice the priority in this order.  It is not that reason establishes the validity of the proclamation.  It is that the proclamation establishes the validity of reason.  The Gospel does not make sense in the light of reason.  Reason only finally makes sense in the light of the Gospel.

This sense of priority suggests an order of truth:  God, theology, proclamation, reason, and apologia.  From a Christian perspective, the first order of truth must always be God, and the second order must be theology.  Since God is in essence ineffable, our primary mode of speech about God’s truth must be theology.  Proclamation, reason, and apologia follow from theology.  Theology was once the “queen of the sciences.”  For Christians, theology must yet hold this title.  In my next post, I’ll begin to unpack this claim by exploring the relationship between faith and philosophy.

There and Back Again: An Evolutionist’s Tale

This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained-well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.

The quotes in this article are from J.R Tolkien’s classic tale, The Hobbit.  Tolkien insisted that his Ring stories were not to be read as allegory but I have to agree in with Picasso in that, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.” Even—I would add—the truth about ourselves.  I recognize that there are limits to the parallels between Bilbo’s journey and my own but there surely is truth and insight amidst the literary  brush strokes of such an incredible storyteller.

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up–probably somebody lighting a wood-fire-and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

Science was always intriguing to me. Science makes even the smallest of things incredible.  In Bio 101 I learned about the wonders of the biological world from the depth of the oceans to the tops of mountains and as close as my own backyard. What’s more is that I was seeing all of this within a year of finding faith in Jesus Christ.  I saw science as a passion to pursue, a career path to follow, and a calling to give praise for. And then these two wonderful worlds teetered on the brink of collapse when a professor paraphrased the title from Theodosius Dobzhansky famous essay. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”

He got up trembling. He had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away. Suddenly he found that the music and the singing had stopped, and they were all looking at him with eyes shining in the dark.

My emerging faith brought with it assumptions about the truths of the Bible and those assumptions did not harmonize with the claims of evolution.  As an infant Christian I was concerned with the corrupting forces of “the world” bearing down on my still fresh faith.  I knew this concern well because in previous days my skepticism was aimed at the Church, the born again, the saved.  I feared that in science I would be fighting the atheistic foes that had filled the vacuum left by my recent conversion.  I felt that I would be compelled to choose: science or faith. I feared the journey ahead. And yet something Tookish made me press through the fear (the Took’s were Bilbo’s adventurous side of the family) and set out into the unknown.

These parts are none too well known, and are too near the mountains. Travelers seldom come this way now. The old maps are no use: things have changed for the worse and the road is unguarded. They have seldom even heard of the king round here, and the less inquisitive you are as you go along, the less trouble you are likely to find.

In large part through the virtues of keeping my head down and my nose to the grindstone the journey continued into a second year of biology, a second year that can aptly share my favorite chapter heading from the Hobbit: Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire.

My convergence of faith formation and confrontation with evolution was a challenge but by the grace of God I survived the experience, wary but still moving onward. Surviving this challenge only provided a preamble for the fire that was to come.

Against all professor’s recommendations, personal achievements in common sense and fellow travelers’ cautionary tales, I enrolled in the unthinkable:  Four upper level courses with labs, a half credit research class (the “Fellowship of the Undergraduate Researchers,” if you will) and additional commitments to work in the research lab as a source of income alongside the other jobs I held in order to support my young family.  For all intents and purposes this was an incredibly dumb idea.  There was too much work to do and not enough time.  This was a prescription for burn out, or even worse, a major hit to my GPA.

In hindsight I can recognize that there were two major blessing in taking on this course load. The first is simple but the second was a powerful turning point that relied on the first. In this period I didn’t have much time for anything else but biology, including thinking too much about my science path’s implications for my faith. Sure the concern wasn’t completely gone, but there was always a project to write up or fruit flies to sort and count or lab dishes to clean.  In the tight bonds of my crazy schedule I was given the freedom to almost exclusively think about science.

It was an intense time and by mid semester the sum of the load seemed to be less than the total of its parts.  The semester began to take on a synergistic energy.   The lessons I learned in cell bio spoke to the lessons I learned in invertebrate anatomy; the lectures in in my plant class where echoed in the dissections of comparative vertebrate anatomy.  I was beginning to see that science was more than a set of cool facts, and instead a way to see the world around me more clearly.  This full immersion in science most importantly became a sort of “refiner’s fire,” burning away what I originally thought to be the mere “politics of evolution,” concentrating the revelatory nature of evolutionary theory’s ability to be THE unifying theory of everything in biology.  I was becoming an evolutionist.

Is that The Mountain?” asked Bilbo in a solemn voice, looking at it with round eyes. He had never seen a thing that looked so big before. “Of course not!” said Balin. “That is only the beginning of the Misty Mountains, and we have to get through, or over, or under those somehow, before we can come into Wilderland beyond. And it is a deal of a way even from the other side of them to the Lonely Mountain in the East Where Smaug lies on our treasure.”
“O!” said Bilbo, and just at that moment he felt more tired than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!

True, navigating college was not the end of a long journey, only the first steps of a continuing excursion.  Still questions remained unanswered.

Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.

And on I went, trotting along, unsure of what end I would meet and meeting joys and challenges on the way. The greatest joys came in finding allies in authors and a friend. One friend, who is also my pastor, came to the same road I was traveling on but from a different starting point. I taught him how science works and he taught me about how the Bible works. Through this journey I have not lost my faith but have fortified it.  Some has been lost, but now I see it was only the dross.

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be ‘queer’-except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders. I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.

By Benjamin Sonquist.  To read more about Ben, click here.

A Pastor’s Thoughts on Euthanasia by Kerry Bender

Like most kids, I once believed that my dad could beat up your dad.  My father was a strong and proud son of German immigrants.  He was a farmer and a man of faith – quiet, strong, and resilient.

For the last several years, however, he has been confined to a hospital bed or to a wheelchair unable to walk or to recognize the sight, sound, or touch of those who were once closest to him.  While his body slowly declines, his mind has been stolen already by Alzheimer’s.

This once proud man now needs assistance with the most basic – and base – of human functions.  It is a fate that I watched my grandmother suffer through; it is a fate that I now watch my father suffer through; and a fate, if I am honest with myself, that I too will likely face in the future.

I’m 38 now, but I told my wife that at 65 I am having my living will tattooed to my chest with a “Do NOT resuscitate” clause in all caps and bold letters.  Of course, I am kidding about the tattoo (well, most of the time I am); I believe that human life is precious and should be preserved.  There are times, however, that allowing one the right to die or assisted suicide feels like a viable option.  Voluntary euthanasia feels more compassionate, more loving, more…   Well, quite honestly, it feels more Christian at times.

How something feels, however, is not the only test for the morality of a particular issue.  Christianity demands that we feel deeply; Christ himself was moved with compassion on more than one occasion, but we must also be willing to think deeply – a balance must be struck between emotion and reason.  We recognize that our intellect is fallen, but we must also recognize that are our emotions are fallen as well.  Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to address the questions of the day – questions that push their way to the forefront of not only theological debate but also political debate.  We must be prepared to engage with these questions with great compassion and feeling, but we must also be prepared to answer them theologically and biblically.  “Right to die” laws or assisted suicide is just one example of issues that must be addressed by the Christian while engaging both feelings of compassion as well as theological thought.

As I ponder the condition of my father, a fate which I may share one day, it colors how I read about the debate over the current proposed “right to die” law in Massachusetts.  Proponents are hoping that Massachusetts will join other states like, Oregon, Washington, and Montana in allowing assisted suicide.  News stories surrounding this debate are filled with accounts of individuals and their families struggling with terminal illnesses – suffering unspeakable pain.

My heart goes out to them.  I feel for them, and my feelings cry out for their relief from pain and suffering as my heart cries out for my own father.  And yet I know, even believe, that human life is precious, that every human bears the image of their creator, and that God does not promise escape from suffering but that through the power of the resurrection He will redeem even the worst of human suffering.  This is the promise and the power of the cross and the resurrection.

Therefore, it is not my place to assess the value of any one human life – whether that of a stranger, my father, or even my own.  Rather, it is my responsibility as a believer in Jesus Christ and his resurrection to invest in that life because it is an image bearer of God.  It is not my place to determine whether or not the man in the hospital bed is or is no longer my father, whether his life has quality or not.  Rather, as a believer in Jesus Christ, it is my responsibility to treat him as father, and in doing this – in investing in that relationship as son – he is father, he bears the image of God, and his life has meaning and purpose.

I must admit that I do not always feel this way.  I feel as though it is unfair.  I feel afraid that this fate will strike me and all that I held dear will vanish into darkness.  But I believe.  I believe in the God whose image we bear.  I believe that we are to invest not to assess human life.  And I believe in the resurrection that is able to redeem the very worst of human pain and suffering.

I believe.

 

[Read Dr. Jennie McLaurin’s Response to Pastor Bender’s Blog here.]

 

Read more about Pastor Kerry Bender here.

 

Who Made The Moon? A Review of Sigmund Brouwer’s Book by Keith Shields

Sigmund Brouwer is better known for his children’s books than for serious books that wrestle with philosophical questions, so perhaps it is appropriate that Who Made the Moon? is addressed to his two young daughters. In fact one of the stated purposes of the book can be found in these words of praise for his daughters:

Your questions about where the moon, the dinosaurs, and people come from are good, important questions. Your curiosity is one of the special things about you. . . Only a really courageous person asks the big questions and dares to seek honest answers. . . . These big questions are ones that people throughout history have been asking.

You will discover that some people decide that there is no God because it sometimes seems like science and the Bible can’t both be right. If you keep looking, though, you’ll see He actually uses both science and the Bible to teach us special things about Himself and about the amazing world. He’s bigger than all our big questions, and if you and I search for the answers together, then we’ll be able to see more of the special things God wants to show us.[1]

For several years I have followed the career of Sigmund Brouwer. For a time, my wife and I used his children’s books, of which he has written more than 70, as bedtime stories for our three daughters. He has also turned his writing skills to novels, at least 18 of them, and to non-fiction books such as the present one under consideration and six others. Brouwer’s wife is Christian singer/songwriter Cindy Morgan who has had a successful career in Nashville. Brouwer, his wife and two daughters divide their time between homes in Nashville, Tennessee and Red Deer, Alberta. Brouwer was born in Red Deer in 1959 to a family of Dutch heritage in which he was steeped in the theological underpinnings of Christianity. The questions he encourages in his daughters seem to also have been lived out in his own life and one can see a progression of questions and a shifting of theological positions over the course of his years of writing.

Brouwer also wrote Who Made the Moon? to encourage scientists. He points out that

Many scientists do . . . acknowledge at least the possibility of a supernatural Creator. In fact, many scientists serve in their churches as well as in their laboratories, and I applaud their faithfulness in enduring criticism from both naturalistic colleagues and misguided Christians. I hope this book makes their lives easier as more believers learn how faith and science can find harmony in explaining origins.[2]

He notes that scientists and non-scientists alike struggle with questions regarding evil and suffering in the world, regarding how God has presented himself to humans, and regarding life after death. “Even if someone . . . is willing to accept a vague supernatural force in the universe, pride may prevent that person from accepting the God of Genesis, who clearly asserts His supremacy.”[3] Furthermore, “evidence may suggest a supernatural Creator, but nothing can . . . empirically prove His existence.”[4]

The book goes a long way in accomplishing the tasks Brouwer has set for himself. It is a book that I have already recommended or loaned to several who want to explore the interaction of science and theology. As the book is addressed to his daughters and written at a basic reading level, it is accessible to most anyone and is a great introduction for those who have not considered the interaction of faith and science or for those who still believe that the two could never be compatible. Within Christian circles, origins discussions can all too readily become heated debates. This book does much to set a gentler tone for honest questions and gracious dialogue.

The strongest argument of the book is that the author is seeking to protect his daughters and other believers from assaults on their faith that might otherwise cause them to reject their trust in a creator God. He notes that many things might make one wonder about God’s existence, his goodness, or his communication to humans. He points out that the reader must not give up on trying to make sense of both science and the God of the universe. Brouwer suggests that these are the most important questions of all and demand absolute intellectual honesty uncluttered by superstition or dogma from either science or theology. He concludes that God is bigger than all of our questions.

The book has few weaknesses but perhaps one is Brouwer’s largely unsupported depiction of Galileo Galilei. He tells us that he has a soft spot for Galileo. He then proceeds to paint a very gracious picture of Galileo Galilei, which even Brouwer admits may be “wishful thinking.”[5] He depicts Galileo as a man of faith who cared for his family, championed truth in the face of opposition from the church, and as someone who Brouwer would follow if he were alive today.

There is plenty of evidence that Brouwer’s depiction of Galileo does not truly represent the heart of the man. Many have pointed out that Galileo was a difficult man who spoke vehemently in favour of all of his theories. Many of his theories have indeed been found to be correct but several were also in error. I encourage the reader of this review to investigate Galileo for themselves but I will leave us with one quote which will suffice to summarize what others have discovered about the man.

In spite of all deficiency in his arguments, Galileo, profoundly assured of the truth of his cause, set himself with his habitual vehemence to convince others, and so contributed in no small degree to create the troubles which greatly embittered the latter part of his life.[6]

Who Made the Moon? does remind us that Galileo Galilei was the one person who pushed scientists of the day to combine experiment with calculation and philosophizing about science to successfully give us our present system of science. It is this same scientific approach and the rejection of superstition that Brouwer now recommends to his daughters and to other readers.

Those who have more deeply explored the relationship between science and theology will find that Brouwer could have gone further with many of the issues. However, this type of reader will also see the book’s value as a starting point for those who have not yet done so, but wish to faithfully explore our understanding of the universe through the words of God and through the discipline of science. Sigmund Brouwer has accomplished his goals and the book is worthy of wide readership. May it continue to prepare readers young and old for the assaults of a world that too readily wishes to discard the concept of a personal, creator, God.



[1] (Brouwer, Who Made the Moon? 2008, 19, Kindle location.)

[2] (Brouwer, Who Made the Moon? 2008, 1395, Kindle location.)

[3] (Brouwer, Who Made the Moon? 2008, 1399-1404, Kindle location.)

[4] (Brouwer, Who Made the Moon? 2008, 1395-1398, Kindle location.)

[5] See Kindle location 741.

[6] (Gerard 2012).

 

Works cited:

Brouwer, Sigmund. “Coolreading.com.” SigmundBrouwer.com. June 30, 2012. http://www.sigmundbrouwer.com/kids/ (accessed June 30, 2012).

—. Who Made the Moon? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Gerard, John. “Galileo Galilei.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. June 27, 2012. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06342b.htm (accessed June 30, 2012).

Wikipedia. “Sigmund Brouwer.” Wikipedia. May 9, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Brouwer#Non-fiction_Books (accessed June 30, 2012).

 

Even Galaxies Grow Old…

I’m feeling pretty small right now. Insignificant, in fact, and wonderfully so.

I just spent twenty minutes reading about the new image just released by NASA from the Hubble Space Telescope, dubbed the XDF or eXtra Deep Field. Hubble spent around 500 hours staring at this tiny sliver of the sky in order to produce this image.  In it there are something like 5,500 galaxies. GALAXIES–not stars. The oldest of which is about 13.2 billion years old, just 500 million years younger than the Universe itself.

Think for a moment about the sheer scale we’re talking about here.  These 5,500 galaxies are all visible within a tiny sliver of sky, thinner than the thickness of a dime held at arms length.  How many dimes would it take to stretch from East to West?  How many more to fill the space between North and South? Even that is only half the sky.

Psalm 8:4 came to mind as I stared–mouth gaping:  ”What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4, NLT).  If the author of this Psalm could pen this question from looking up at the night sky’s mere thousands of stars three millennia years ago, how much more urgent is the question on days like today when Hubble reminds us anew of how small we really are.

One sentence in particular in NASA’s description of this image caught my attention: “[the] red galaxies are the remnants of dramatic collisions between galaxies and are in their declining years.”

Even galaxies grow old and die. For all the limitless enormity of the Universe itself, death comes to even the most grandiose of things.

Yet again the psalmist’s words are wonderfully fitting: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Fitting, yes, but I can’t help but wonder if silence wouldn’t be a better response to such mystery.

 

(This blog was originally posted on MikeYankoski’s website.  You can find it at www.MikeYankoski.com)

John Van Sloten’s Sermon: The Hydrology of the Bow River; Finding God in the flow

Pastor John Van Sloten of New Hope Calgary preaches on the Hydrology of the Bow River.

The Hydrology of the Bow River; Finding God in the flow from New Hope Church Calgary on Vimeo.

Paul, Epigenetics, and the Body of Christ

These are thoughts and reflections from a recent sermon by Pastor Kerry Bender on 1Corinthians 12:12-31a, preached at Faith Baptist Church, 4350 Russell Ave N, Minneapolis, MN.  To listen to the sermon please visit www.faithmpls.org.  This post originally appeared on Pastor Bendor’s blog here.

Paul’s imagery of the Church being the body of Christ is beautiful.  To an individual from the first century, the body must have been a mysterious collaboration of different parts all working in unison.  Even today with our understanding of science and medicine, the body remains a beautiful mystery; we may have words to describe the process by which our bodies decide which cells will become feet and which will become hands, but that does not make the “miracle” of the body any less mysterious or beautiful.

In 1Corinthians 12:12-31a, Paul is pleading with the church in Corinth to maintain a healthy “body.”  The health of the Body of Christ, according to Paul is maintained by recognizing the necessary balance between unity and diversity.  Like in the human body, there are many parts; each part has a unique and necessary role to play.  So to in the Church, each person has been given gifts to be used to carry out the work of the Church — glorifying God and spreading the Good News.  If all of us were one part, it would be grotesque like a giant eye.  While we are all diverse with unique roles, we are still part of a single body.  If one is dissatisfied or if there is dissension in the Church and one decides to leave the Body of Christ, it is grotesque like a severed limb lying on the street, separated from its body, separated from the mysterious unity, separated from the beauty of the body.  For Paul, therefore, the health and beauty of the church resides in the balance between unity and diversity.  An important lesson for the church.

As I prepared for this sermon, and as I thought about the mystery and the beauty of the body and Paul’s use of it to describe the Church, a message that a colleague and friend, John Van Sloten in Calgary, gave kept coming to mind.  John’s main text for his message was the science of epigenetics, and while I disagree with John concerning the use of any other “text” than scripture as the main text for a Christian sermon, his insights concerning epigenetics are invaluable.  (To read my post explaining my concerns about using other “texts” — like epigenetics or creation — as a primary text for a sermon you can click here).

So what is epigenetics?  Briefly, my understanding is that portions of our DNA code are bundled together and remain unread until such a time as they are needed (In his sermon, John has a researcher from the University of Calgary, Dr. Carlo, explain this in much more detail and this alone makes it well worth listening to the message).  Not only does some of our DNA code lay dormant (the underlying code does not change but simply sits there until needed), this bundling of certain portions of our DNA is passed on to our children.  Dr. Carlo states, “It’s as if our parents gave us the book of life (our genes), but also highlighted the important passages and put a shade over the chapters that they didn’t need (assuming we won’t need them either).”  In other words, our environment and the choices we make in engaging that environment can have an affect on how our DNA is read and even how it is passed on to our children.  Scary, beautiful, and mysterious all at the same time!

Often one hears experts talking about the DNA of organizations — even churches.  This is the reason I kept thinking about John’s message as I prepared for mine.  The choices that we make as the Body of Christ can and will have lasting affects on the progeny of our church.  Our bickering, our dissension, our grand-standing will effect the DNA of our church for years to come.  The health or the unhealth that we live and promote will be highlighted in the DNA that we pass on to the Church we give to our children and our children’s children.  This truth seen in scripture (Exodus 20:4-6) is echoed and illustrated in the science of epigenetics.  It is a word of warning to each of us in the Church.  What kind of encoding are we highlighting and shadowing in the DNA of our church by the choices we make?

As we seek to build the Body of Christ, as we seek church health through recognizing the necessity of diversity with unity, it is not only for our benefit but for the benefit of generations to come.  The reality of this should change how we live, how we interact with our environment and those around us, and in so doing pass on a healthier and stronger Body for generations to come.

Pastor John Van Sloten’s Dream for the CRC

Pastor John Van Sloten, a past Cosmos cohort member and pastor of New Hope Calgary, wrote a profound proposal “for renewal in the Christian Reformed Church of North America” for the CRCNA.  Check it out here.

Two Books Redux: A Response by David Opderbeck

In a recent post on the Cosmos website, Pastor Kerry Bender expressed his misgivings about the “two books” metaphor often used in faith and science discussions.  I appreciate Pastor Bender’s comments because I, too, think the limits of this metaphor should be explored.  I think some of Pastor Bender’s  concerns, however, are somewhat misplaced.

For Pastor Bender, the primary issues are “authority … unity … and equality.”  He argues that “[s]cripture and creation do not always speak with a unified voice, and when necessary, the Church needs to choose the authoritative voice of Scripture over the voice of creation.”  Further, citing Karl Barth, he notes that the Church’s primary task is to proclaim the revelation it has received of Jesus Christ in scripture, and argues that the Church goes astray if it instead proclaims a revelation supposedly derived from creation.

There is much to unpack and untangle in the midst of Pastor Bender’s helpful observations.

It seems to me a serious mistake to pit the authority of scripture against the authority of creation.  Both the integrity of scripture and the integrity of creation derive from the integrity of God Himself.  Neither scripture nor creation possesses inherent authority in themselves; they both possess authority derived from God, the only and final source of all true authority – of all Truth.

If “creation” is the gift of the Triune God, and if “scripture” testifies to the same God, then it is impossible for creation and scripture to speak against each other.  Can the Son speak against the Father, or the Spirit against the Son?  Christian theology has traditionally spoken of God as “simple” – not meaning “simplistic,” but meaning undivided in being and will, without parts and without contradictions.  Both creation and scripture are gifts that flow from the loving, gracious life of God.  If God always acts as He is, then His acts both in creating the universe and in providing the scriptures are each parts of one seamless and beautiful gift.  “All Truth is God’s Truth,” to quote a clichéd but true phrase.

Indeed, it is problematic even to speak of “authority” without linking authority to “Truth.”  There is a kind of “authority” that is grounded only in will and power.  Chairman Mao once said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  He meant that the Communist Party possessed authority simply because it had the power to exert its will.  This sort of “authority” is the way of nihilism.  For Christian theology, authentic “authority” derives from the being of God.  For proper Christian theology, the being of God precedes the will of God.  God does not impose authority arbitrarily.  God proposes, discloses, and disposes always as He is.  For this reason, we can speak of “Truth” that is transcendent, of love and justice and wisdom and mercy that are real.  To suggest that creation and the scriptures could both have been given as gifts from God and yet could somehow exist over against one another is ultimately to deny that God is the Truth.

It is nevertheless true, of course, that creation and scripture do not speak in the same way.  Pastor Bender rightly notes that “[i]t is a mistake to read Scripture like a science text book.”  Scripture speaks to us in narratives, prophetic oracles, proverbs, parables, and various other ancient near eastern genres of human speech-acts; creation “speaks” primarily through physical phenomena that can be observed through human senses and modeled through empirical-mathematical tools, most of which have been developed only in the past centuries or decades.  Scripture witnesses directly to the crucified and risen Christ, and this is its primary message; creation witnesses obliquely to the majesty and power of God.  Creation and scripture each require different hermeneutical skills and toolkits in order to be “read” well.

Because creation and scripture do not speak in the same way, Pastor Bender is right to express concerns about blithely equating their theological content.  Creation witnesses to the power of some sort of creative intelligence, but we cannot learn from creation alone that this intelligence is the Triune God who called all things into being from nothing through the power of His Word.  Reading creation alone, we are likely to end up with,  say, the static Platonic “Ideal” or the emergent world-consciousness of the process theologians.  Likewise, creation witnesses to the Logos, but we cannot learn from creation alone about the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Without the incarnation of Christ and the scriptures that witness to Christ, the Logos remains hidden and “unknown” (cf. Acts 17:16-34).  Indeed, in our sin we “naturally” suppress the truth of Christ (see Romans 1).

This is why it is only when we encounter the risen Christ to whom scripture bears witness that we really can begin to “read” creation well.  The scriptures testify that Christ is the central principle of creation:  everything was made by him, is held together in him, and finds its true ends in him (cf. Col. 1:17).  Christ is the hermeneutical principle both of creation and of scripture because Christ is the Truth (cf. John 14:6).  Scientific materialism offers an impoverished epistemology because it cannot comment on “why” the universe exists.  Religions and philosophies that attempt to read creation apart from Christ will always go astray.  In this sense, I agree with Pastor Bender’s discomfort with the “two books” metaphor.  Creation and scripture are not so much “two” free-standing “books” as complementary redactional lines in one grand story.

Here I would circle back to Pastor Bender’s reference to Karl Barth’s theology of revelation.  Barth correctly observed that “revelation” is not a static concept.  This is in contrast to some of the scholastic Reformed theologies of revelation that have so influenced American Evangelicalism, particularly over the past century in the wake of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.   “Revelation,” for Barth, was not just words on a page.  Barth insisted that the event of revelation is the personal self-disclosure of Christ in and through the texts of scripture as they are read and received in the Church.  His Christo-centric theology of revelation surely is much closer to the Church Fathers than the 20th Century Reformed and Evangelical theologies of scripture that led to the Scopes trial and that underwrite the so-called “Creation Museum.”  We do well to take many of Barth’s observations about revelation to heart.

Nevertheless, we should ask whether Barth’s famous “nein” to “natural theology” really reflects the great Christian tradition of faith seeking understanding.  Is there a point at which Barth’s existentialism verges on a sort of entirely immanent fideism that is foreign both to the Church Fathers and to scripture?  Many interpreters of Barth’s legacy who have written about the natural sciences, such as Thomas Torrance and Alister McGrath, have said so, and I tend to agree.

To be fair, Barth’s nein to natural theology was not designed to oppose theological truth to the empirical truths of the natural sciences.  It was, rather, an effort to steer around the rationalistic scholastic Reformed thought of the periods following Luther and Calvin, the rationalistic Thomism of much of 19th and 20th Century Catholicism, and the equally rationalistic anti-supernaturalism of 19th and 20th Century Protestant Liberal theology.  Perhaps it is unfortunate that Barth didn’t learn more about nature and grace from his friend Hans Urs von Balthasar, the great Catholic theologian, and from others involved in the Catholic nouvelle théologie.  One can hardly do better on the relation between faith and reason – which after all is the root of this conversation – than Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio, a document underwritten by Vatican II’s nouvelle théologie-informed sensibilities.  As John Paul II notes, just as “faith” and “reason” are not properly opposed, neither are “nature” and “grace.”  “Creation” is already given as a gift – “nature” is already “grace.”  The corruption of authentic created human nature resulting from sin is not really “natural” at all.  If we misunderstand creation, or scripture, or any other truth, that is a kind of anti-creation, a false “nature.”

So perhaps Pastor Bender is right that we should speak less of “two books.”  Let’s speak instead of one story.  It’s the True Story of all stories:  the story of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one essence, who out of sheer love called the fecund and beautiful world forth from nothing; who out of the gift of grace entered into the world in the person of the Son and who in the humanity of the Son offered his own life and suffered along with the human creatures who had scorned creation and separated themselves from His life; and who in the power of his resurrection is uniting and will unite all creation to Himself until God in the fellowship of His person is all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-34).  There are no divisions here, no need to impose one “book” over against another.  There is only Truth, only Love, hazily understood in Faith, pursued in Hope, received as Gift.

A Tale of Two Books: Choosing the Right Text by Kerry Bender

Over the course of the last year, I have struggled with the metaphor of the “Two Books.” It is a metaphor that has become quite popular in certain Christian circles to describe the relationship between Scripture and creation — a way of recognizing that we hear the voice of God speaking not only through Scripture but also through His creation. There is much in this metaphor that commends itself to the Church. It opens up desperately needed avenues of conversation between theology and the other sciences; as well as, reflecting the theology present in the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture, that creation itself sings the praises of God. I am concerned, however, that the image conjured by the name of the metaphor is problematic – an image of authority, of unity, and of equality, and it is particularly problematic when considering the commission of the Church.

Early in his Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth gave this sage advice to the Church, “God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does” (CD 1.1, p. 55). Barth goes onto to explain, however, that there is a big difference between what God may do and what God has chosen to do. God has chosen to speak directly through His revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture, and He has commissioned His Church to proclaim this Word. “…the question what God can do is a very different one from that of the commission laid on us by the promise given to the Church” (CD 1.1, p. 55). It is God’s promise and commission to the Church that allows it to speak authoritatively as it proclaims the Gospel witnessed in Scripture. God does not make this same promise concerning creation. The text of creation does not carry with it the authority of God’s promise or commission to the Church. This is important to recognize when the book of creation and the book of Scripture appear to contradict one another.

Scripture and creation do not always speak with a unified voice, and when necessary, the Church needs to choose the authoritative voice of Scripture over the voice of creation. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing to ignore the physical sciences, or to deny evolutionary theory, or to hide under the hermeneutical rock of a previous decade, or century, or millennium. We need to recognize, however, that creation is fallen and groans as it waits for redemption. Because of this, the voice of creation will be muddled in a way that we do not believe Scripture is muddled. The voice of despair apparent within creation will at times contradict the voice of hope that permeates Scripture. Like John the Baptist in prison, there will be times that we look around at the falleness of creation – that we behold the irreconcilable differences between the way things ought to be and the way things are – and we will question is the Good News about Jesus true (Matthew 11:2-3). At these moments, we must choose the authoritative Word of hope found in scripture over the way things appear in the fallen book of creation around us.

The book of creation is invaluable. By studying it, humanity has discovered things that are on the very precipice of the miraculous. Its pages contain the healing powers of medicine, the beauty of galaxies, and the mysteries of things yet unseen. It is not, however, equal to Scripture when considering the promise and commission to the Church to proclaim Christ. God speaks with clarity in Scripture concerning who He is, who we are, and what He has planned for us in a way that outshines the brightest star, that is deeper than the deepest ocean, and that is more fragrant than most pungent rose. Can God speak through creation? Of course, He can, and when He does, we do well to listen to Him. It is not, however, an authoritative word on par with Scripture. In the same way, Scripture is not equal with the book of creation concerning how to stop the spread of mold or selectively breeding sheep for desired characteristics.

It is a mistake to read Scripture like a science text book. Many of us have been down that road, and it leads to frustration, confusion, and at times a conflict of faith so severe that it causes some to leave Christianity altogether. Why, then, do we want to make the same but inverse mistake with creation and try to read it like a theological text? This is the problem I believe with the name of the metaphor, “The Two Books.” Whether intentionally, or unintentionally, the name of this metaphor conjures up an image of two volumes in the same series, carrying the same authority, speaking in unity, and having equality concerning the same subjects. We have seen the damage that this has caused over the course of the last century and a half at the hands of fundamentalists who demanded that these two volumes be read as science, and I fear that in an attempt to correct this, we may inadvertently cause more damage by implying that they should be read as equal volumes in a series of theological texts.

Scripture does state that creation sings the praises of God. There is no doubt that the echoes of scripture are heard ringing off the mountains, whispering in the winds, and mirrored in the reflections of quiet waters. But they are echoes – powerful echoes, beautiful echoes, but echoes just the same. We must not mistake the beautiful echoes for the voice. They do not speak with the same clarity or authority, and when we find these echoes recorded in Scripture, they are primarily in the context of worship after the authoritative Word of God has already transformed the worshipper. The one possible exception to this is Romans 1:20 where creation seems to only stand in judgment against the unbeliever not to bring full knowledge of the Savior. Therefore, it is the Good News that allows the worshipper to hear the echoes of God through the voice of creation; as Paul states elsewhere in the same letter to the Romans, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15, NIV). This is the promise and the commission of the Church that God will go with us as we preach Christ crucified as revealed in the Scriptures.

The metaphor of a clear voice and an echo I believe is the metaphor that we find in Scripture – the metaphor of creation echoing the voice of God which is found in Scripture. Unfortunately, it is a metaphor that is difficult to capture in a three word name like “The Two Books.” So it is not as easy to remember, but I believe it is a more accurate metaphor, and one that would better serve honest dialogue between theology and the other sciences.

Read David Opderbeck’s Response: Two Books Redux

 

 

Space ~ by Keith Shields

I am continually amazed as I think about the nature of our world. We live in constant interaction with the molecules of the universe. We perceive things around us as solid objects: the keyboard on which I pound out these words, the desk on which my computer sits, and the dense mass of the mountains I can see out my window. We also perceive things in between the solid objects as empty space.

Yet, the space between the mountains and me, and my desk and me for that matter, is far from empty. That “space” is filled with molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon-dioxide. The “emptiness” also contains water vapour, trace amounts of household chemicals, vapours given off by plastics and electronics, particles of my own body as dead skin cells flake off and float on the air or bio-chemicals from my lungs are expelled into the atmosphere. (It is all of this stuff that our bodies are continually giving off that allows a good tracking dog to detect us and follow our trail through the woods.) The space between me and the mountains is also filled with dust and industrial particles from a major city, electrons sent out from the sun in a continuous solar wind, and photons of light. Physicists are still unclear on the best way to describe the elementary particle/wave that is a photon but we can see that they are there.

The things that seem solid are less solid than our perception would lead us to believe. The molecules which make up these solid items have a significant amount of space between them and the individual protons, in the nucleus of these atoms, associate with electrons that are far away from the proton itself. To get an idea of these subatomic distances, let us consider a thought experiment in which we scale up these protons and electrons to the size of things which we are used to handling.

Here, I must give a few disclaimers about how this thought experiment will work. It will not be strictly accurate. Whenever we try to describe such molecular and atomic interactions, words will fail us. Mathematics is a language better suited to describing such things and yet most of us do not have sufficient mathematical fluency to converse about these subjects. A mathematical physicist would look at my crude description of protons and electrons and find many flaws within it. So think of it as a metaphor that might poetically, not scientifically, explain some of the sizes and spaces between things.

Allow me to take your imagination on a journey down into atomic spaces. The size of a proton is approximately 0.8418 femtometres (fm)(1) or 0.8418 X 10-15 metres. A very simple atom is the hydrogen atom. It consists of one proton and one electron. The electron orbits around the proton and the average distance from proton to electron is called the Bohr Radius. This distance is approximately 5.29 X 10-11 metres.(2)

Thus, if we scale up the size of the proton to the size of a basketball, the electron would orbit around the proton at an average distance of 1.60 X 104 metres = 16000 metres = 16 km.3 If I held a basketball sized hydrogen proton in my living room, its associated electron would be somewhere around Richmond in the south, Burnaby to the east, the North Shore mountains to the north, or out over the Pacific Ocean to the west at any given moment.

This is the simplest of atomic models. The typical distance between two helium protons is 2.5 X 10-15 metres. In our scaled up model, this distance becomes about 0.755 metres. Thus our basketball model helium atom would have two basketballs separated by 75 cm in my living room in downtown Vancouver and two electrons whizzing around in an orbit which again would includ portions of Richmond and Burnaby.

The nuclear radius of Uranium is around 15 X 10-15 metres. This involves 92 protons interacting together in this nucleus. In the model we have been discussing, that is 92 basketballs in my living room taking up about 4.5 metres of space. The cloud of 92 electrons would be similarly scattered in orbits far beyond the protons themselves. By the way, electrons are small, but present science has not given us a very good idea of their actual diameter.

Even the massive granite of a mountain (like the Stawamus Chief monolith near Squamish BC) is a complex interaction of molecules in which individual atoms are linked together by molecular bonds and share electrons between atoms. There are spaces between the protons and electrons and the whole thing is a spinning, buzzing, hive of activity despite the fact that we see it as a lump of rock simply sitting there since the mountain range was formed.

What do we do with this sense of space and solid objects? It is beyond our comprehension. There is something beautiful, mystical, and spiritual about it. It fills me with awe. It causes me to praise a creator who could create all of this and understand all of its complexities.

He counts the stars
and calls them all by name.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
Psalm 147:4, 5 New Living Translation

References
1. http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2010/07/12/the-size-of-the-proton/

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr_radius or http://physics.nist.gov/cgi-bin/cuu/Value?bohrrada0|search_for=bohr+radius

3. Basketball model:
254 mm Basket ball = 2.54 X 10-1 metres
0.8418 X 10-15 metres proton
5.29 X 10-11 metres average proton/electron distance
(2.54 X 10-1 / 0.8418 X 10-15) X 5.29 X 10-11 metres
3.02 X 1014 X 5.29 X 10-11 metres
1.60 X 104 metres = 16000 metres = 16 km

CBC Radio Interview with Pastor John Van Sloten

Pastor John Van Sloten, a cohort member in 2010, is being featured on a five-part CBC radio interview about the intersection of Faith and Science in North American Culture.

Check it out here.

Epigenetics and the Love of God: A Sermon by John Van Sloten

2011 Pastoral Science member John Van Sloten of New Hope Church, Calgary, explores how Epigenetics, and what our gene’s expression reveals to us about the intimate love of God.

Epigenetics and the Love of God from New Hope Church Calgary on Vimeo.

Kerry Bender: Developing a Theology of Creation Care: It’s not just for fruits and nuts.

2011 Pastoral Science member Kerry Bender preaches a fantastic sermon about Creation Care from within a robustly Christian framework. You can download the audio here, or read this post on Kerry’s blog where he addresses quesitons received via text during the sermon from his congregation.

 

Plantinga on “Faith and Science.”

Cardus has posted a fascinating article by David Talcott regarding Alvin Plantinga’s thoughts on where the true “conflict” between Faith and Science really lies.

Check it out here.

Caring for Our Scientists: Some postures and practices of science-friendly churches by Phil Reinders

2011 Cohort Member Rev. Phil Reinders writes a headline article for The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church.

You can read it here.

Expert Call with Dr. Jeff Schloss

Our expert call with Dr. Jeffrey Schloss of Westmont College.

Download the Mp3 here.

Expert Call with Dr. Peter Enns

An fascinating expert call with Old Testament scholar Dr. Peter Enns, who is also a senior Biblical Fellow at the Biologos Foundation. In this call Dr. Enns explores the relationship between evolutionary theory and the implications for reading Genesis and Paul well.

Download MP3 here: PeterEnns-Final

Enjoy!