1048) How Did Dogs Get So Smart?

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A Canine’s Understanding of Physics

By John R. Erickson posted at http://www.worldmag.com February 20, 2016

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     In high school I didn’t do well in math and science.  Part of the reason was that I had an artistic temperament and no aptitude for numbers.  I was also a lazy student, cared little about grades, and rarely cracked a book at home.  In geometry, algebra, and chemistry, I walked the edge.

     At the University of Texas, I pursued a degree in liberal arts.  There, a student could hide from the harsh demands of math and science.  Or so I thought.  In my senior year I had to take a course in physics— the section for poets and dreamers.

     The professor was a serious man of science and would have been happy working in a lab crammed with wires, tubes, flashing monitors, and no human beings.  He could hardly disguise his fury that the dean had dumped this class of ninnies into the middle of his busy career.

     I sat in silence most of the semester but finally worked up the courage to ask one question:  “Sir, if you went to the far end of the universe and stuck your finger through the edge, where would it be?”  His eyes bulged.  He filled his lungs with fresh oxygen and roared, “Science has made enormous progress, precisely because we don’t ask ridiculous questions!”

     I didn’t trouble him with any more liberal arts nonsense.  I did my homework and escaped with a ‘C’ but can’t say I learned much about physics.

     Years later I awoke to the fact that, after six years of college, I remained an ignoramus about science.  I didn’t expect to do the work of engineers but did regret I had squandered opportunities to absorb some of the ideas thrown off by scientific theories— for example, the difference between the universe described by Newtonian physics and the one described by Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and the other pioneers of quantum mechanics.

     For several years I made this the focus of my reading, starting with a layman’s guide to Einstein’s work on relativity.  The footnotes in one book led to others.  I read dozens of books on the new physics, underlined passages, and made notes in the margins.  After finishing a book, I wondered if I understood any of it.

     I drew some comfort from a statement made by a prominent theoretical physicist who said, “We don’t understand it either.”  Apparently, the strange events predicted by quantum mechanics occur at speeds and locations that humans can access only through mathematics or thought experiments.  The world we experience every day is overwhelmingly Newtonian.

     Several weeks ago I was throwing a ball so that our dog could chase it, then bring it back and nag me into throwing it again.  Her name is Dixie.  She is a ranch dog, a blue heeler, a breed that is adapted to working with livestock.  She is also a fanatic about chasing balls.  I have never known a dog that was so obsessed.

     Most of the time, I submit.  I throw balls and kick balls to satisfy her neurotic compulsion.  But one day it occurred to me, in a flash, that this dog was operating with a highly developed understanding of Newtonian physics.

     Example 1.  Dixie has several toys in her inventory:  a tennis ball, a ball made of hard rubber, a ball made of soft rubber, a rubber bone, and, in an emergency, a stick.  When I throw one of these objects, it follows an arc back to the earth, but on hitting the ground, each responds in its own unique manner.  The hard rubber ball is made of a material that causes it to bounce higher than a tennis ball.  The soft rubber ball gives a modest bounce, and the stick and rubber bone don’t bounce at all.

     As I recall from my physics class, the height of the bounce is an expression of “collision phenomenon,” and is determined by gravity, velocity, the shape of the object, and the density of the material it’s made of.  An engineer with a laptop can enter numbers into an equation that will predict the height of the first, second, and third bounces.

     Dixie does it without equations or a laptop.  She might miscalculate on the first bounce, but after that, she’s got it down.

     Example 2.  My writing office has a screened porch, and during a writing session of four hours, I will walk out on the porch to stretch my legs.  If Dixie is with me, she always has a toy.  She drops it at my feet, locks me in her gaze, and waits for me to give it a kick.  In the small area of the porch, a ball will make contact with a wooden wall, bounce, hit another wall, and bounce again.  The composition of the ball either amplifies or diminishes the bounce.

     This dog is a genius at calculating a collision phenomenon in a closed area, making adjustments for each of the balls in her inventory.  In a split second, she predicts the ball’s path and snaps it out of the air.

     Example 3.  When I loft a high fly ball and send Dixie on a chase, the ball sometimes eludes her and rolls to a stop in weeds.  She won’t rest until she finds it.  It took me a while to see the significance of this.  She never assumes that the ball melted into the earth, went into orbit, was stolen by a troll, or disappeared into another dimension of time and space.

     During the Middle Ages, a human being who lost a ball might have explained it as the work of elves, the devil, or bad fairies.  Dixie is utterly convinced that if the ball rolled into a patch of weeds, it will remain there until she finds it.  That is the outcome predicted by Newtonian mechanics.  She is hard-wired into that view of the universe, and she will find the ball, even if it takes her an hour of sniffing…

     How does a dog acquire an understanding of physics?

     Did dogs have knowledge of Newtonian mechanics before Newton?  Where did it come from?

     How does a dog make those dozens of calculations about a collision phenomenon, in an instant, then make the calculations for leaping, opening and positioning its mouth, and snagging the ball out of the air?

     And most vexing, if Dixie mastered these disciplines without attending classes or reading a stack of books, how can I defend the position that I’m smarter than my dog? Somehow, that’s important.

     My old physics professor would have dismissed these questions as ridiculous, but I suspect that Sir Isaac Newton would have been amused.  He might have said, “I refer you to Genesis 1:1.  It’s only one sentence, but it explains a lot of things.

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 139:14  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 104:24  —  How many are your works, Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

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He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

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All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright …

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright …

All Things Bright and Beautiful, verses 1, 2, 7; From Hymns for Little Children (1848), by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)

See and hear at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2l0BP1DM4U

924) Random Mutation or Intelligent Design?

From The Information Enigma, October 21, 2015 blog by Eric Metaxas, at http://www.breakpoint.org

     What’s the greatest discovery in the history of biology?  If you said “seedless watermelons,” you’re close.  Actually, it’s probably the discovery of DNA.

     It’s hard to imagine in this age of genetic engineering, but scientists in Darwin’s time saw life as quite simple.  Cells were thought to be blobs of primitive chemicals called “protoplasm.”  But as technology advanced and scientists were able to peer inside the cell, they discovered something amazing:  Every living thing actually contains intricate, microscopic machines, performing functions without which life would not be possible.

     The real breakthrough, came in 1953 when Watson and Crick uncovered the structure and function of DNA— the molecule that programs and regulates cells.  It revolutionized our understanding of life.  And it stretched Darwin’s theory to the breaking point.

     DNA is essentially a form of incredibly efficient digital code, uniquely suited for storing the blueprints of living things.  And for something microscopic, it’s huge.  The human genome contains over a gigabyte of data!  Of course, like digital code on a hard drive, DNA can be corrupted.  The most recent iteration of Darwin’s theory claims that these corruptions— called mutations— are the engines of evolution.  But here’s the problem:  We don’t have a single example of a mutation resulting in a net gain of information.  Not one.

     As intelligent design theorists have pointed out, unguided, natural processes always degrade information— they never increase it.  If life at its most fundamental level is a digital code, then mutations are glitches that, if they accumulate, will eventually kill the organism.

     Information is at the heart of life, and our uniform and repeated experience tells us that matter, by itself, never produces information.  The only known source capable of producing information is a mind.

     Okay, fine, you say, but how do I explain this over the dinner table?  One great place to start is a new video from the Discovery Institute that condenses the main argument for Intelligent Design to a snappy 20 minutes.  It’s called “The Information Enigma,” and features noted ID authors Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Douglas Axe.

     Here are the basics:  Using an analogy from Dr. Meyers’ book, “Darwin’s Doubt,” the video compares DNA with a bicycle lock.

     “The reason a bike lock works,” explains Meyer, “is that there are vastly more ways of arranging those numeric characters that will keep the lock closed than there are that will open the lock.”

     Most bicycle locks have four dials with ten digits.  So for a thief to steal the bike, he would have to guess correctly from among 10,000 possible combinations.  No easy task.

     But what about DNA?  Well, in experiments Axe conducted at Cambridge, he found that for a DNA sequence generating a short protein just 150 amino acids in length, for every 1 workable arrangement of amino acids, there are 10 to the 77th possible unworkable amino acid arrangements.  Using the bicycle lock analogy, that’s a lock with 77 dials, each containing 10 digits.

     Thus, as the film states, it is overwhelmingly unlikely that a random mutational search would produce even one new functional protein in the entire history of life on earth.  In other words, random mutation is not driving the biological bicycle.

See:   The Information Enigma Center for Science and Culture | The Discovery Institute | October 2015

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“When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA.  Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram.  A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the Library of Congress and have plenty of room to spare.  All of this has been mostly theoretical—until now.  In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA—one trillionth of a gram.

–John Bohannon at:

http://news.sciencemag.org/math/2012/08/dna-ultimate-hard-drive

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:31a  —  And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Romans 1:20  —  Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

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 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Refrain

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!

–Carl Boberg  (1859-1940)

726) Questions

     Job was a good man who was tested by a time of unimaginable suffering, as described in the first two chapters of the Old Testament book of Job.  The next thirty-five chapters of the book describe a debate between Job and some friends as Job questions the goodness and justice of God.  In chapters 36-41 God has a few questions for Job.  Randy Alcorn describes how God uses these questions to open Job’s eyes to a much larger perspective (from Alcorn’s June 16, 2014 bolg at http://www.epm.org): 

When I need a point-of-view adjustment, I read the last five chapters of Job.  That’s where the focus shifts from Job’s questions about his suffering– and his friends’ proposed answers– to God’s majesty.  Job had a better basis for complaint than nearly any of us ever will.  Yet after listening to Job’s grievances, God finally speaks to him:  “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).

God is saying, “You are unhappy with me, Job.  You have questioned me.  You assume you know far more than you do.  Now it’s my turn to ask you some questions.”  God never faults Job for being finite, only for failing to recognize that he has no right to pass judgment on the wisdom and goodness of an infinite Creator.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!”  (verses 4–5).

God has always been; Job just showed up.  In Hebrew culture, wisdom came with old age.  God is eternally old, Job ridiculously young.

God says, “Tell me, if you understand.”  Job doesn’t and can’t.

We lack God’s omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, holiness, justice, and goodness.  If we insist we have the right, or even assume we have the capacity, to understand the hidden purposes of God, we forfeit the comfort and perspective we could have had in kneeling before his vastly superior wisdom.

While this doesn’t answer the question of evil and suffering, it does suggest God’s answer is beyond our understanding.  One day we’ll know far better than now; but even in eternity, God will still be infinite, and we’ll still be finite.

Job finally says to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.…  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 5–6).

     Charles Spurgeon stated, “He who demands a reason from God is not in a fit state to receive one.”  It is when Job surrenders himself to God that he at last, at the end of himself, finds comfort.

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The writer of Psalm 8 already had that wider perspective, so he has a different kind of question.  His understanding of the greatness of this God of all creation makes him wonder why God even pays attention to something so small as mere person, and then offers his praise for God’s care of us.

PSALM 8:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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Father, thank you for both inviting us to ask questions and instructing us to listen carefully to your answers.  Help us rely on you even when we don’t understand.  As a loving Father, you want us to trust you rather than blame and resent you.  After all you’ve done for us as Creator and Redeemer, how could we do less?

–Randy Alcorn

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Psalm 8:2 speaks of the praise of ‘infants and children.’  Listen to this two year-old’s enthusiastic praise of God as she sings The Lord’s Prayer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR4PQ30VkBk

703) He Made the Stars Also

By Randy Alcorn, Blog posted March 13, 2015 at:  www.epm.org

     From childhood I’ve loved astronomy.  Night after night I would gaze at the stars, clueless about a Creator, but longing for something more.  I yearned for something bigger than myself.

     One night I discovered the great galaxy of Andromeda, with its trillion stars, 2.5 million light years away.  I was filled with awe.  I longed to go there and explore its wonders, and lose myself in something greater than I was.

     My wonder was trumped by an unbearable sense of loneliness and separation.  I wanted to worship, but I didn’t know who.  I wept because I felt so incredibly small.  Unknown to me, God was using the wonders of the universe to draw me to Himself.  As Romans 1 says, I was seeing in what He had made “his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature.”

     One night several years later, I opened a Bible and saw these words for the first time:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  And then I read verse 16, the greatest understatement ever:  “He made the stars also.”  A universe one hundred billion light years across, containing countless trillions of stars, and the Bible makes them sound like a casual add-on!

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209 Incredible Seconds to Humble You:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L36sy90dJ0

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Genesis 1:1  —   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:16  —  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars.

Psalm 19:1-2  —  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 reveal knowledge.

Psalm 147:3-5  —  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.

Romans 1:18-20  —  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

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A few more seconds to give hope to a humble heart:

PSALM 8:1, 3-6, 9:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens…

 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

 What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

  You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet…

 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations (and universes)— these are mortal; and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  –C. S. Lewis

Isaiah 51:6  —  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.  But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

559) An Agnostic Scientist Discovers the Creator

     

     Robert Jastow (1925-2008) was an American astronomer and physicist.  He was a leading NASA scientist, popular author, and futurist.  He said that although he was an agnostic and not a believer, he believed the accepted scientific theory of the big bang origin of the universe supported the Biblical view of a creation by something beyond nature as we know it.  He knew that was an unpopular view in the scientific community, but he had the courage to proclaim that inevitable conclusion to which the evidence pointed.  Below are some quotes by Robert Jastrow.

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“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth.  And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover.  That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.

–“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths,” An interview in Christianity Today, August 6, 1982

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“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world.  The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same:  the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

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“There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions [of scientists to evidence that the universe had a sudden beginning].  They come from the heart whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain.  Why?  I think part of the answer is that scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money.  There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe.  Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause, there is no First Cause…  This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover.  When that happens, the scientist has lost control.  If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized.”

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“Consider the enormity of the problem.  Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment.  It asks:  What cause produced this effect?  Who or what put the matter or energy into the universe?  And science cannot answer these questions, because, according to the astronomers, in the first moments of its existence the Universe was compressed to an extraordinary degree, and consumed by the heat of a fire beyond human imagination.  The shock of that instant must have destroyed every particle of evidence that could have yielded a clue to the cause of the great explosion.”

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“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation.  For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

–Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, (1981), p. 19.

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 8:1…3-4  —  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

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I thank you, my Creator and Lord, that you have given me these joys in your creation, this ecstasy over the deeds of your hands.  I have made known the glory of your deeds to people as far as my finite spirit was able to understand your infinity.  If I have said anything unworthy of you, or have aspired after my own glory, graciously forgive me.  

–Johannes Kepler  (1571-1630), German mathematician and astronomer; a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution; best known for his laws of planetary motion

Johannes Kepler 1610.jpg

413) The Creation

by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938); From God’s Trombones, 1927;

based on 19th century African-American preaching

For a great video of this poem by Wintley go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-h4_VPXdoY

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely–
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down–
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas–
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed–
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled–
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.  Amen.

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Genesis 1:1-3  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 

Genesis 1:31a  —  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

Genesis 2:7  —  The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 

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A PRAYER OF THANKFULNESS FOR CREATION  by Walter Rauschenbusch:
O God, we thank you for this universe, our great home; for its vastness and its riches, and for the abundance of the life which teems upon it and of which we are part.  We praise thee for the arching sky and the blessed winds, for the driving clouds and the stars on high.  We praise thee for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills, for the trees, and for the grass under our feet.  We thank you for our senses by which we can see the splendor of the morning, hear the jubilant songs of love, and smell the breath of the springtime.  Grant us, we pray, a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty.  Save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thorn bush by the wayside is aflame with the glory of God.  AMEN.

362) A Poem for Spring

Faded, crumpled, shriveled seeds which now seem dead, will soon, under ‘June’s magic kiss,’ burst forth into beautiful flowers and gardens.  In the last line the poet has us imagine how we are able to hold in our hand the seeds that could grow a whole forest– ‘in my hand a forest lies asleep.’  The miracle of creation is repeated every Spring, as life arises out of death.

THE SEED SHOP  by Muriel Stuart (1885-1967)

Here, in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shriveled, scentless, dry–
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,
Sleepers to stir beneath June’s magic kiss,
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee suck here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams,
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells a million trees leap;
Here I can grow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
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I Corinthians 15:35-38  —  But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body will they come?”  How foolish!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
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The whole creation speaks Thy praise… that so our soul rises out of its mortal weariness unto Thee, helped upward by the things Thou hast made, and passing beyond them unto Thee who hast wonderfully made them:  and there refreshment is and strength unfailing.  –St. Augustine

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Genesis 1:11, 12  —  Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation:  seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And it was so…  And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:31… 2:1  —  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…  Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

Job 37:14  —  …Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.

Revelation 4:11  —  You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. 

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Almighty God, we thank you for making the earth fruitful, so that it might produce what is needed for life.  Bless those who work in the fields; give us seasonable weather; and grant that we may all share in the fruits of the earth, rejoicing in your goodness.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

356) Who Pulled the Trigger for the Big Bang?

A recent scientific discovery is being called the “smoking gun” of the Big Bang Theory.  But if there was a gun and a bang, Who pulled the trigger?  Today’s meditation is adapted from the April 1, 2014 blog by John Stonestreet at   www.breakpoint.org 

     You’ve likely heard of the Big Bang theory.  But you may not have known that until last week, we had no direct evidence of it.

     Maybe now we do. As reported in Discovery News, “Scientists found… a key polarization, or orientation, of the microwaves caused by gravitational waves… miniature ripples in the fabric of space.”

     The presence of such ripples, they explain, is exactly what we’d expect if the universe had begun with a Big Bang.  And the key word is “begun.”  You know, as in, “In the beginning…”

     As recently as the mid-twentieth century, the scientific consensus on the universe’s beginning was that it had no beginning.  The reigning theory, called “Steady State,” held that the cosmos had always existed and always would.  This theory was abandoned in the 1940s and 50s when exposed to new evidence, such as cosmic microwave background radiation.

     This suggested an explosive beginning, in which the universe as we know it expanded suddenly from an infinitely tiny point of matter and energy called a “singularity.”  The nickname “Big Bang” quickly stuck, and most astronomers and physicists have been referring to it as a matter of fact ever since.

     So what existed before the Big Bang?  Well, scientists tell us that’s a nonsensical question, because the Big Bang didn’t just give birth to the material universe, but to time and space themselves.  Not only was there no “what,” “why,” and “how” logically prior to this event; there was neither “when,” nor “where.”

     But what if there was a “Who“?  That’s the question Leslie A. Wickman raises in a piece entitled, Does the Big Bang Breakthrough Offer Proof of God?   “This new evidence,” she writes, “strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.  If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent– separate and apart from the effect– that caused it.  That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me…”  (See * below for more of the article)

     The late NASA astrophysicist, Robert Jastrow, put it still more eloquently.  Taking evidence for the Big Bang as a given, he remarked in a 1982 interview with Christianity Today that, “Astronomers… have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth.  And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover.  That there are supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”

     Whether this new evidence will bolster that conclusion remains to be seen.  After all, humans demonstrate incredible capacity to explain away evidence in service of their prejudices (such as, the common prejudice against belief in the existence of God).  And Christians should remember that this isn’t definitive proof for the God of the Bible.  It’s still a leap from admitting the universe had a beginning to trusting in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to forgive your sins through His Son, Jesus Christ.  But we can conclude two important things.

     First, naturalism isn’t enough.  By definition, natural science can only experiment and draw conclusions within the realm of physical reality.  When scientists try to push beyond this reality into the emptiness before time and physics, they’re literally dealing with the supernatural (that is, a force above and beyond nature, also known as God).

     Second, it shows that scientific consensuses can and do change.  With “Steady State” theory as extinct as the dinosaurs, many have had to admit that Christianity was right all along on the supernatural origin of the universe.  As Jastrow writes in his book, The Enchanted Loom:

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

     In the Big Bang, science meets its limits, but so does the materialist worldview.  Happily, it is no difficulty to those who know the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega.

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     We already knew the Big Bang pointed to something outside of our boundaries of knowledge.  It doesn’t take a physicist to wonder what made the Big Bang “bang,” or, “If nothing existed before the Big Bang, then where did the stuff that got banged come from?”  As Alan Guth once noted, even if you could come up with a theory that would account for the creation of something from nothing through the laws of physics, you’d still have to account for the origin of the laws of physics.   –Dr. James Emery White in a blog titled “The Big Banger” (3-20-2014)

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I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.  — C. S. Lewis The Weight of Glory

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

Psalms 19:1-2  —  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 reveal knowledge.

Revelation 22:13  —  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Revelation 1:8  —  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

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Lord God, through the light of nature you have aroused in us a longing for the light of grace.  To you I give thanks, Creator and Lord, that you have allowed me to rejoice in your deeds.  Praise the Lord, you heavenly harmonies, and you who know the revealed harmonies.  For from Him, through Him, and in Him, are all things perceptible and spiritual; that which we know and that which we do not know, for there is still much to learn.  Amen.

–Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), German astronomer, mathematician, inventor, and Lutheran. 

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If you want to read a bit more from Lisa Wickman:

   * …This latest discovery is good news for us believers, as it adds scientific support to the idea that the universe was caused– or created– by something or someone outside it and not dependent on it.

      Atheist-turned-agnostic astronomer Fred Hoyle, who coined the term “Big Bang,” famously stated, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.”  As Hoyle saw it, the Big Bang was not a chaotic explosion, but rather a very highly ordered event – one that could not have occurred by random chance.

     We also need to remember that God reveals himself both through scripture and creation.  The challenge is in seeing how they fit together.  A better understanding of each can inform our understanding of the other.

     It’s not just about cracking open the Bible and reading whatever we find there from a 21st-century American perspective.  We have to study the context, the culture, the genre, the authorship and the original audience to understand the intent.

     The creation message in Genesis tells us that God created a special place for humans to live and thrive and be in communion with him; that God wants a relationship with us, and makes provisions for us to have fellowship with him, even after we turn away from him.  So, we know that Genesis was never intended to be a detailed scientific handbook, describing how God created the universe.  It imparts a theological, not a scientific, message.  (Imagine how confusing messages about gravity waves and dark matter would have been to ancient Hebrew readers.)

     As a modern believer and a scientist, when I look up at the sky on a clear starry night, I am reminded that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).  I am in awe of the complexity of the physical world, and how all of its pieces fit together so perfectly.

     In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah (33:25), the writer tells us that God “established (his) covenant with day and night, and with the fixed laws of heaven and earth.”  These physical laws established by God to govern interactions between matter and energy result in a finely tuned universe that provides the ideal conditions for life on our planet.

     As we observe the complexity of the cosmos, from subatomic particles to dark matter and dark energy, we quickly conclude that there must be a more satisfying explanation than random chance.  Properly practiced, science can be an act of worship in looking at God’s revelation of himself in nature.  If God is truly the creator, then he will reveal himself through what he’s created, and science is a tool we can use to uncover those wonders.

     Leslie Wickman is director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University.  Wickman has also been an engineer for Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, where she worked on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station programs.   The full article can be seen at: 

 http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/20/does-the-big-bang-breakthrough-offer-proof-of-god/ 

116) How God Feeds His Creatures

One more from Phil Robertson, in Happy, Happy, Happy, pages 165-168, Copyright, 2013.  

(For more on Phil Robertson see Blog #113) 

      …We can make as many improvements as we want to our duck blinds, but they’ll never be as good as the ancestral holes.  Some of the land next to mine used to be a swamp, but the owners leveled it in the 1960s and turned it into rice fields.  Some guys got in a duck blind over there and noticed that ducks kept flying to one particular spot on the field.  They asked the farmer why ducks were sitting there, and he told them it’s where a lake used to be.  The trees and the water are gone, but the ducks are still flying there because it was where the lake once was.  It’s in their genetic makeup to fly there.

     It’s one of the phenomena of Mother Nature that can’t be explained through science.  There are a lot of them, and the only explanation I can come up with is that God is in charge and has a blueprint for how everything works.  Take, for instance, the Arctic tern, a medium-sized bird, which is famous for flying from its Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctica and back every year, covering more than 43,000 miles round-trip.  The terns travel down the coast of Brazil or Africa to get to their wintering ground every year.  Some evolutionists want us to believe that the reason they fly to Antarctica every year is because once upon a time one tern found its way there, told some terns about it, and then they all started going there.  Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

     I, for one, believe the terns were born knowing they had to fly to Antarctica every winter to survive.  To prove the point, researchers once robbed a tern’s nest and raised the little birds away from their mother.  Then they banded them when they were old enough to fly.  The terns had never seen Antarctica and had never been around another tern to tell them to fly there.  So when it was time for the terns to fly south, the researchers flew over the Arctic Ocean and dropped them from an airplane.  The terns made one circle and then flew south, arriving in Antarctica a few weeks later.

Arctic tern and its migration route

     Arctic Tern migration route, from the National Wildlife Federation Website

     Why would they do that?  Because there were about twenty different life forms that relied on the terns to survive.  The Arctic fox couldn’t survive without its eggs, arid certain plants and worms couldn’t live without its droppings.  Hawks couldn’t survive without feeding on the birds.  The terns were part of the food cycle in both the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica.

     The ducks that fly south from Canada each year and winter throughout Florida, Louisiana, Texas, parts of Central America, and beyond are the same way.  Everything from alligators to snapping turtles to skunks rob ducks’ nests and eat their eggs.  Foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey eat their babies when they’re young.  Humans hunt ducks, too, and they put meat on our tables.  It’s the Almighty sending literally millions and millions of pounds of protein from one end of a continent to the other end, feeding all of these things along the way.

     It’s like the mayfly on the river.  A mayfly starts out as a larva in the water and looks like nothing more than a little maggot.  When the water level rises, the larvae crawl up the trees on the riverbank.  They build cocoons that look like spider webs and then emerge as flying creatures.  You see mayflies flying all over the river and they live only long enough to drop their eggs into the water.  Why?  Because when they die and fall into the water, fish come up and eat them.  Mayflies are fish food!  It’s a cycle:  mayflies drop their eggs and then they die, fish eat them, the larvae climb up the trees, and then it starts all over again.  Who’s feeding the fish?  The Almighty is feeding the fish.  God is feeding everything, including you and me…

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Psalm 145:15-17  —  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.  The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.

Psalm 104:21  —  The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.

Psalm 104:27-30  —  All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.  When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.  When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

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Give us Lord, a bit o’ sun,
A bit o’ work and a bit o’ fun;
Give us all in the struggle and sputter
Our daily bread and a bit o’ butter.

–On the wall of an old inn, Lancaster, England