Physics Helps You Understand the Mysteries of Christianity

Dr. John Charlton Polkinghorne was a theoretical physicist whose work was important enough to earn him election as a fellow in the longest-lived scientific organization in the world, the Royal Society. However, after 25 years of contributing to our knowledge of God’s creation, he decided that his best work in physics was behind him, so he began training to become an Anglican priest. After being ordained, he served in the Anglican Church for 14 years before retiring.

Obviously, Dr. Polkinghorne’s education and life experiences make him an authoritative voice when it comes to the relationship between Christianity and Science. He wrote a lot about the subject, and while I often disagree with him, I have read and appreciated much of what he has written. In 2009, he and one of his students (Nicholas Beale) wrote a book entitled, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief. I read it quite a while ago, and I reacted as I usually did – agreeing with some parts of the book and disagreeing with others. However, I was thumbing through it to find a quote I wanted to use, and the Foreword caught my eye. I don’t think I read it when I read the book, so I decided to take a look at it.

It was written by Nobel Laureate Dr. Antony Hewish, who was an astronomer and a devout Christian. In less than two pages, he makes one of the most interesting arguments I have ever heard regarding the relationship between science and Christianity. He first makes the point, which I make over and over again when I teach science, that science does not follow common-sense thinking. Aristotle used common-sense thinking to come to the conclusion that all objects have a natural state of being at rest, and you have to force them out of that state to get them to move. Galileo and Newton followed experiments rather than common sense, and they demonstrated that an object has no preferred state of motion. It remains in its current state until it is acted on by an outside force. That non-common-sense notion is now called Newton’s First Law of Motion.

Of course, since Dr. Hewish is well-versed in physics, he gives a better example of how physics doesn’t follow common-sense thinking and then makes a conclusion from this fact:

For example, the simplest piece of matter, a hydrogen atom, cannot be accurately described without including the effects caused by the cloud of virtual particles with which it is surrounded. There is no such thing as truly empty space. Quantum theory predicts that even a perfect vacuum is filled with a multitude of particles that flash into and out of existence much too rapidly to be caught by any detector. Yet their existence modifies the motion of electrons orbiting protons in a calculable way that has been verified by direct observation. The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is nonintuitive for those unacquainted with physics. Religious belief in God, and Christian belief that God became man around two thousand years ago, may seem strange to common-sense thinking. But when the most elementary physical things behave in this way, we should be prepared to accept that the deepest aspects of our existence go beyond our common-sense intuitions.

(John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Bealexii, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief, (Presbyterian Publishing 2009), p. xii)

In the end, Dr. Hewish is making the case that understanding modern physics should make you more inclined to be a Christian (or at least more inclined to be religious), since it conditions you to believe that the universe is based on mysterious processes that cannot be directly observed.

I have to say that this has happened in my own life, even though I was not aware of it. I went from being an atheist to believing in some kind of Creator because science showed me that the universe was obviously the result of design. I eventually became a Christian because after reading extensively on world religions, by grace I saw that Christianity is supported by the most evidence. I was initially very uncomfortable with the mysteries that are inherently a part of Christianity, but as I grew older, I became more and more comfortable with them. I thought that this was because I had grown accustomed to them. However, after reading Dr. Hewish’s foreword, I noticed that my level of comfort with the mysteries of Christianity coincided with my increasing knowledge of quantum mechanics.

Dr. Hewish seems to have hit the nail on the head, at least when it comes to how modern physics has helped me grow in my faith.

The Heavens Tell of the Glory of God

Astronomer Johannes Kepler (left) and Astronaut James Irwin on the moon (right)

As I wrote previously, one of the reasons I took a break from blogging was so that I could concentrate on teaching a Master’s Class at Memoria College this year. In that class, we read the great natural philosophers of the past, from Archimedes to Darwin. Many of the students remarked on how often God was mentioned in these works, especially the works of astronomy. For example, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the brilliant astronomer who figured out that planets orbit the sun in ellipses, not circles, described the sphere of the universe this way:

For in the sphere, which is the image of God the Creator and the Archetype of the world-as was proved in Book 1-there are three regions, symbols of the three persons of the Holy Trinity – the center, a symbol of the Father; the surface, of the Son; and the intermediate space, of the Holy Ghost.
(Johannes Kepler, Epitome of Copernican Astronomy – Book IV, First Book on the Doctrine of the Schemata [436])


In other words, he saw the Trinity in his model of the universe. The sun represented God the Father, the outer edge of the universe (where he thought all the stars resided) represented God the Son, and the area in between represented God the Holy Spirit.

I find it refreshing that scientists like Kepler were comfortable relating their science to their faith. Nowadays, that kind of language is censored from the scientific literature, but for most of history, it wasn’t. That’s one of the many benefits of reading scientific works from the past. It allows you to see the incredibly strong, positive impact Christianity had on science.

I asked the class why Kepler viewed the universe the way he did. One student (a pastor) gave a Bible verse as his answer:

The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.
(Psalm 19:1-2, NASB)


In this student’s opinion (with which I agree), a person must strongly compartmentalize his or her thinking in order to study the universe and deny that God’s power and majesty are reflected in it.

In support of that idea, another student mentioned Astronaut James Irwin. After coming home from walking on the moon, he wrote a book entitled More than Earthlings. In it, he explained how his trip to the moon inspired him to take his Christian faith more seriously:

Being on the moon had a profound spiritual impact upon my life. Before I entered space with the Apollo 15 mission in July of 1971, I was a lukewarm Christian, to say the least! I was even a silent Christian, but I feel the Lord sent me to the moon so I could return to the earth and share his Son, Jesus Christ. The entire space achievement is put in proper perspective when one realizes that God walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon. I believe that God walked on the earth 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ.

As a result, he started the High Flight Foundation, which works “…hand in hand with leaders serving the Nations and the people as they discover God’s destiny for their lives and Nation.”

Johannes Kepler and James Irwin are just two of the many scientists who recognize that the heavens do, indeed, tell of the glory of God. In fact, that is the most important reason students should study science. The more you learn about science, the more you should be in awe of the power and majesty of God!

Scientific American Is Diametrically Opposed to Its Founder’s Vision

Rufus Porter, founder of Scientific American.
The man on the left is Rufus Porter. You’ve probably never heard of him, but during the middle of the 19th century, he was well known in certain circles. He was a professional painter, specializing in painting directly on the walls of homes to decorate them. Throughout his career, he painted murals in more than 160 homes. He was also a prolific inventor, designing things like passenger blimps, windmills, and rotary engines. He even designed a “revolving rifle,” which was purchased by Samuel Colt but never put into production. Finally, he was a promotor of science, which culminated in him founding Scientific American, the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States. It contains the works of many important scientists, including Albert Einstein.

While most people who are trying to keep up with the latest scientific advances probably know about Porter’s magazine, they probably don’t know about his vision for science. That’s because Scientific American has abandoned it, despite the fact that it is clearly stated in the very first issue. Here is how Porter put it:

First, then, let us, as rational creatures, be ever ready to acknowledge God as our Creator and daily Preserver; and that we are each of us individually dependant on his special care and good will towards us, in supporting the wonderful action of nature which constitutes our existence; and in preserving us from the casualties, to which our complicated and delicate structure is liable. Let us also, knowing our entire dependence on Divine Benevolence, as rational creatures, do ourselves the honor to express personally and frequently, our thanks to him for his goodness; and to present our petitions to Him for the favours which we constantly require. This course is rational, even without the aid of revelation: but being specially invited to this course, by the divine word, and assured of the readiness of our Creator to answer our prayers and recognize our thanks, it is truly surprising that any rational being, who has ever read the inspired writings should willingly forego this privilege, or should be ashamed to be seen engaged in this rational employment, or to have it known that he practices it. (R. Porter, “Rational Religion,” Scientific American 1: 1845)

Notice what the founder of Scientific American says at the end. He says it is “surprising” that any rational being who has read the Bible would avoid giving the Creator His due or be ashamed about doing so. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Scientific American is doing today. It gleefully promotes an atheistic worldview and even refuses to hire those who have the same vision as its founder.

While it’s sad to see what used to be an incredible magazine reject the vision of its founder, the fact is that science as a whole has been trying to do the same thing. The modern scientific method is a direct result of the Christian church, and most of the truly influential scientists of the past engaged in science because of their Christianity (see here, here, and here, for example). Nevertheless, the High Priests of the scientific community are diametrically opposed to the very faith that gave us modern science.

Thank God there are a few holdouts who honor the vision of those who founded modern science. I pray that they can do something to turn this truly unfortunate situation around.

Another Dinosaur Soft Tissue Discovery by Mark Armitage

A nerve from a chicken (left) compared to one isolated from a dinosaur fossil (right). (Images by DSTRI, click for originals)

In several previous articles (here, here, here, here, and here), I have been highlighting the groundbreaking work of Mark Armitage at the Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute (DSTRI). If you haven’t heard about the amazing work he has been doing, you should read every link given above. If you have been following Armitage’s cutting-edge original research, then you will be pleased to learn that he has published yet another article with yet another first in the field of paleontology.

The article is entitled, “First Report of Peripheral Nerves in Bone from Triceratops horridus Occipital Condyle,” and even if you get lost in the terminology, the pictures are well worth perusing. Essentially, Armitage does a microscopic analysis of nerves from a chicken (like the one pictured on the left above) and compares them to nerves that were isolated from the condyle (the rounded end of a horn) of a Triceratops fossil (like the one pictured in the right above). He shows that the structures from the fossil have all the physical characteristics of the chicken nerves, which indicates that they really are nerves from a vertebrate animal. That means they are not contaminants. They came from the dinosaur.

Look, for example, at the pictures above. The white bars tell you the scale in micrometers (millionths of a meter). Notice the pattern of dark lines wrapping around the chicken nerve on the left. That is characteristic of a sheath that wraps around the bundle of fibers which makes up the nerve. As you can see, the same pattern appears in the structure that was isolated from the Triceratops fossil, which is shown on the right. Two even more stunning photographs appear on page 5 of the article. In Figures 12 and 13, you can actually see deatils of the sheaths themselves. They are extremely thin and delicate, and yet they were found in a bone that is supposed to be 65 million years old!

It is important to note that these aren’t stiff, petrified structures. Armitage removed the minerals that had preserved the bone (he “decalcified” it), leaving soft tissues behind. As he says in the article:

The flexibility of individual decalcified nerves was astonishing. Nerves held at each end with fine needle forceps only broke into two pieces after repeated tugging. An example of the flexibility of these nerves is seen in Figure 15 where the fascicle rotates through a gentle, unbroken loop and descends into other curvatures before terminating to a point.

Those who are forced by their preconceptions to believe that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old are still scrambling to find any way in which delicate, soft tissues can avoid decomposition for millions of years. The original discoverer of soft tissue in dinosaur bones, Dr. Mary Schweitzer, published an attempted explanation a while ago, but Armitage himself has shown that it isn’t consistent with the data. Chemists have also shown that the explanation isn’t consistent with what we know about chemistry.

Those who are forced to believe in an ancient earth will, no doubt, come up with more special pleading to try to explain how soft tissue can avoid decomposition for millions of years. But for those who are willing to actually follow the data, it is clear that the most reasonable explanation is that the bones are not millions of years old.

A Different Kind of Blog

Upper Waterton Lake in Alberta, Canada. (Photo copyright Kathleen J. Wile)

My wife and I felt led to leave the church we had been attending for 25+ years, and after a lot of searching and praying, we found a wonderful new church. There are lots of ways to serve in this church, and one of them is to contribute to the church’s blog. I will be doing that on a regular basis. My contributions to the blog will come under the heading “Amazed by Him,” because that’s the way I feel when I study Him. As a scientist, I am amazed by His creation, and as a Christian, I am amazed by Him. If you would like, you can read my first article, which was published today:

Amazed by His Goodness

Is Religion on the Decline in America?

Ruins of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was destroyed by earthquakes (click for credit)

The secularization thesis holds that the advance of science and modernization leads to a decline in religion. As a result, the more scientifically and technologically advanced a society becomes, the less religious it becomes. One of the strong proponents of this view was Dr. Charles Wright Mills. In his book, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford University Press, 1959), he wrote:

Once the world was filled with the sacred – in thought, practice, and institutional form. After the Reformation and the Renaissance, the forces of modernization swept across the globe and secularization, a corollary historical process, loosened the dominance of the sacred. In due course, the sacred shall disappear altogether except, possibly, in the private realm. (pp. 32-33)

There are many people who believe this, and they think that Europe provides a great example of how it happens. There are huge, magnificent cathedrals in Europe, which are a testimony to how influential Christianity once was. Today, however, many of those cathedrals do not serve as houses of worship. Instead, they are museums of history. Even the ones that are still functioning as houses of worship have tiny congregations that are dwindling year by year.

Despite what happened across Europe, I have always been skeptical of the secularization thesis. Mostly, that’s because science convinced me that there must be a Creator God, which then led me to Christianity. The more I teach science and do scientific research, the more I see the Hand of God in nature. In my mind, advances in science and technology strongly support Christianity. As a result, the secularization thesis makes no sense to me.

I was recently made aware of an article from two years ago that argues against the secularization thesis in the United States. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think that it applies to the world as a whole.

Continue reading “Is Religion on the Decline in America?”

A Frustrating Book, But A Good First Step

A new, honest book about the creation/evolution controversy with the church.
When the creation/evolution controversy comes up in Christian circles, it is often accompanied by a lot of strife. Some Christians think that evolution comes straight from the Devil, while others think that when Christians refuse to accept the fact of evolution, they are harming the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, most of the major Christian organizations that focus on the subject fuel this acrimony. As a result, when I heard that the Colossian Forum had convinced Dr. Todd Wood (a young-earth creationist) and Dr. Darrel R. Falk (a theistic evolutionist) to write a book about the subject, I was intrigued. I actually pre-ordered a copy of the Kindle version, but later was happy to find that the publisher had sent me a free paperback copy to review.

The book, entitled The Fool and the Heretic, is made up of chapters written by Dr. Wood (the “fool”), chapters written by Dr. Falk (the “heretic”), and short interludes written by Rob Barrett of the Colossian Forum. There are also discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Drs. Wood and Falk are diametrically opposed when it comes to the question of origins, and that becomes clear right up front. Indeed, the first chapter (written by Wood) is entitled “Why Darrel is Wrong and Why It Matters,” and the next chapter (written by Falk) is “Why Todd is Wrong and Why It Matters.” Because of those titles, I almost named this review, “Why Todd, Darrel, and Rob are all wrong and why it matters,” because that’s the main conclusion I was left with when I finished the book.

Both initial chapters present the standard view from each camp. Dr. Wood says that Dr. Falk is wrong because when you try to interpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be anything other than historical narrative, you end up doing great theological damage to the rest of the Bible. Dr. Falk says that Dr. Wood is wrong because the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and when Christians reject that evidence in order to hang on to an outdated view of Scripture, it ends up causing great damage, especially to those who are interested in pursuing the truth. They will eventually encounter this overwhelming evidence, and it will produce a crisis of faith, which sometimes results in leaving the faith. Of course, neither of those assertions is new, and in my view, neither of them is correct.

Continue reading “A Frustrating Book, But A Good First Step”

C.S. Lewis’s Stepson at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Me and Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’s stepson. The cross he is wearing was made by his daughter, a professional jeweler. It has Aslan at the center of the cross.

I travel to a lot of different places and meet a lot of different people. I also hear a lot of different speakers. After a while, most of those experiences become a blur in my mind. However, a few stand out as truly extraordinary, and last weekend was one of those. I spoke at the Texas Homeschool Convention, and while I was there, I got a chance to meet with Douglas Gresham, a man I had corresponded with a few years ago and interviewed a few weeks ago. We had a lovely lunch, over which Mr. Gresham shared some of his memories of C.S. Lewis, who he refers to as “Jack.”

As I listened to Mr. Gresham’s stories, I was struck by Dr. Lewis’s humor. This is not something I had noticed by reading his books and essays, and it is not something I recall any biographer discussing. Nevertheless, nearly every tale I heard was either charmingly witty or downright hilarious. For example, Mr. Gresham was discussing a time at the dinner table where his mother, Joy, asked C.S. Lewis about a task that she had reminded him of but was afraid he had forgotten. He said:

My mother asked, “Jack, did you take care of that matter?” Jack replied, “Yes, of course I did. What do you take me for, a fool?” She replied, “No, I took you for better or for worse.”

I also learned that Mr. Gresham was responsible for a bumper sticker that was popular a while ago. As I mentioned in my previous article, Mr. Gresham has become an advocate for homeschooling. Apparently, someone was interviewing him about education, and in his typical witty way, Mr. Gresham said:

Schools are for fish.

Later on, the interviewer contacted him and asked for his permission to turn that phrase into a bumper sticker. I remember seeing a couple of them at past homeschool conventions.

Continue reading “C.S. Lewis’s Stepson at the Texas Homeschool Convention”

Tori Miller, Homeschool Graduate and Elementary Education Major

Tori Miller, a homeschool graduate I have in one of my university courses.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I first learned about home education when I found out that my top students at Ball State University were graduates of homeschooling. After taking a long hiatus from academic life to write textbooks designed for homeschoolers, I am once again “dabbling” in academia as an adjunct professor of chemistry and physics at Anderson University. I am once again teaching homeschool graduates in my university classes, and I continue to be impressed by them.

As a part of a new series on this blog, I decided to interview one of my current students, Tori Miller, who is in a physics class I am co-teaching. Entitled “Teaching STEM in the Elementary Classroom,” it gives future teachers specific tools that they can use to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into their lesson plans. While you might find it odd that a homeschool graduate is studying to be a school teacher, I think it is awesome!

Tori was homeschooled K-12, and although she has only been at Anderson University for two years, she is technically near the end of her junior year because of all the college credits she has earned. Initially, she was thinking about studying accounting so she could help her father in a family business, but she decided she wanted to work more directly with people. If you meet Tori in person, you will see why. She is friendly, outgoing, and always willing to lend a helping hand.

Once she decided that she wanted to work with people, she gravitated towards professions where she could help make the world a better place. She considered nursing, but says that science is not her strong suit, although you wouldn’t know that from her performance in my class. She settled on education because she thinks that she can do a lot of good there, and she hopes that she can bring the values that she learned through homeschooling to the classroom.

I asked Tori about how she thinks homeschooling prepared her for university life. She says it produced a good work ethic in her, and it also taught her about taking responsibilities seriously and having respect for authority figures. She also says that homeschooling gave her a desire to pursue a higher education, since she was taught to appreciate learning and was also encouraged to make life better for those around her.

Continue reading “Tori Miller, Homeschool Graduate and Elementary Education Major”

Death and Transformation

From left to right, Robert Kaufmann, JJ Brannon, yours truly, and John Ashmead.

I have to warn you. This post is different from the normal fare you will find on this site. It represents more of an unfinished thought than an argument or an analysis. However, I want to share this unfinished thought with you, because I can’t help but think that it might be important, at least in some way.

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service and wake for a man who was taken from this earth far too soon: James Jerald (JJ) Brannon. I met JJ at a science fiction convention that I speak at nearly every year. He was the cousin and dear friend of the man who invited me to participate in the conference, and he was also a speaker at the conference. In fact, we did several panel discussions together over the years, such as the one pictured above. That particular panel was about the diseases we might expect to see in the 21st century.

JJ was, in a word, unique. He had many awesome qualities, but he was, quite frankly, incredibly difficult to deal with. He often portrayed himself as an expert on subjects about which he was not well-educated, and unless you worked hard to hold him in check, he would monopolize any conversation he was a part of. He also went on and on and on and on and on when a subject was very important to him.

Now don’t get me wrong. JJ was incredibly difficult to deal with, but he was also an amazing friend. I genuinely enjoyed seeing him, and I was truly fond of him. Also, he loved me and his other friends (and his family) fiercely. However, after spending a lot of time with him, I often found myself getting annoyed with him. His cousin (the friend who introduced us) often felt the same way. One thing he would often complain about is that when JJ called, it was never a short conversation. As I said, JJ could go on and on and on, especially when a subject really interested him.

When I went to his memorial service, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What would people say about this wonderful but annoying man?

Continue reading “Death and Transformation”