Mark Swint

Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Miracles and Such

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, God, miracles, Moses, Nationjal Geographic, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology, weather on September 24, 2008 at 8:07 am

 

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

             Time was, once, that miracles were commonly accepted and believed in as an integral component of life and living. The rough definition of a miracle was anything that was inexplicable by the existing body of knowledge of the day. In the 80’s the movie “The Gods must be Crazy” capitalized on this idea with a charming story of an African tribesman who finds a glass bottle ejected from a small airplane flying overhead. Having never seen a glass bottle before, the man and his fellow tribesmen quickly determined that the bottle was a sacred icon dropped from heaven by God. A whole story revolves around this event and the movie was very successful.

If any of us were to go back in time just 200 years and take with us the things we commonly use, almost everything we have and do would appear miraculous to the people of the day. For example, an Ipod would be a truly astounding device. Everything about it would cause awe and wonder. The display screen of a video Ipod would seem miraculous just by the glow and the menu. Imagine the awe as a picture from your photo collection appeared. Think of the surprise as that photo peeled away to reveal another photo, and another and another! Then imagine the shock as you played a video selection of “The Office” that you had downloaded from Itunes. We haven’t even plugged in the ear phones yet but everything about that would be even more miraculous. The earphones themselves would seem foreign on so many levels. The plastic from which they are made would cause wonder; the sound emanating from within these tiny devices would be remarkable. If we were to then play a music selection from Metallica or ACDC the listener would hear sounds from instruments they had never heard before. The whole technology of electronic and amplified music and the sounds from the electric guitars would seem otherworldly.

Well, you get the point; almost everything about our modern life would seem miraculous to someone removed from us by only a few generations. Sadly, this means that as we grow smarter miracles become less and less frequent. Today miracles seem so rare that we dispute the very existence of them, or alternatively, we have shifted the meaning of the word to imply something really really great as in “the miraculous power of a home PC” computer. Of course the PC is fully explainable, just not by most of us, but we know that there are smart people that can explain a computer and do know how to make one.

We don’t really believe in miracles anymore. We have replaced that awe with the belief that, with enough money and time, anything can be developed and made. We have somehow decided that real miracles are only those things that can’t be explained by reason, logic or science and, if anything can be explained, it is certainly not miraculous.

The implications of this way of thinking imply that if there were a God, and if he did interact with us, He would certainly not do so in any way that employed or used any natural process or science. Someone has told us, and we have believed, that God is God specifically because He is not bound by the laws of the universe i.e. physics, chemistry, astrophysics etc. and that He can do anything He wants without regard to any physical reality. Where does it say this? Who defined God this way? Is God an anarchist? Does He operate without any regard for order or structure or form? This is not only foolishness; it is contradicted by scripture and by the proclamations of prophets.

I submit that a true miracle is not a miracle because it unravels or ignores the universal laws that govern our existence. Often it is the timing of an event rather than the action that defines the miracle. Let me give an example; Moses’ parting the Red Sea is a miracle emblazoned in all of our memories because of Cecil B. Demille’s great movie “The Ten Commandments.” We all remember how he stood before the waters and, lifting his arms high in the air, commanded the waters to part. Immediately, in some type of Bellagio water show way, the sea parted and the waters mysteriously began shooting upward and outward, leaving a nice water lined passageway for the Israelites. This recounting of the story was certainly dramatic and it adequately conveyed the miraculous nature of the event. Just one problem, that’s not how it happened and the bible does not even claim that is how it happened. The account in Exodus 14 and 15 says essentially that the wind blew and it was this that both drove the water away and allowed it to return when the Egyptian armies were in pursuit.

Exodus 15:8 And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

Exodus 15:10 Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Other ancient writings state that the Lord caused the winds to blow for three days before the waters parted.

Some years ago the National Geographic did a feature on the Red Sea. The story recounted the account in Exodus and explained that this strong wind pattern was a rather common weather phenomenon that frequently occurs in the area. The article stated that the winds had on occasion been so strong as to actually drive the water back so that the Red Sea had literally parted at least 7 times in recorded history. The implication was that the Biblical account wasn’t really a miracle after all – just a fortuitous weather event. This attitude presupposes, once again, that God can’t use natural things to bring about his purposes. I posit that the miracle of the Red Sea wasn’t the parting of the waters but rather the TIMING of the parting.

If we look to the serendipitous timing of many events and acknowledge that perhaps that is the miracle then we can once again say that there are miracles all the time in all the world. After all, aren’t we all comfortable with, and often use, the common phrase “By the grace of God”?

 

Is There Any Common Ground?

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, Isaac Newton, Moses, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology on September 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

Welcome to this, the first post of my new Blog “Science and Religion.” I have imported a previous post from my other blog that dealt with this subject and as I pondered the matter I began to believe that there were and are some very important and legitimate issues to be explored with a dedicated blog to this subject.

I guess you deserve to know the general thrust of my feelings and motivations for writing this so let me share. I am highly trained in technical and scientific disciplines and, though it may seem a bit geeky, I am absolutely passionate about physics. I work in a technical field where my life literally hangs on the infallibility of the laws of physics and I trust them completely.

Having said all that let me also state for the record that I believe in God. I understand and respect those of you who do not and I will try to be fair and open to your replies. My intent is not to preach religion or to berate, criticize or otherwise mock any of you with opposing views who are kind enough to read and hopefully comment on the thoughts expressed here. I truly hope we can enter into a stimulating and refreshing dialogue.

I believe that there is a middle ground that allows for the belief in a Deity as well as a recognition that the efforts of people throughout the centuries to understand this world and the manner of its creation are valid. I think the present day conflict is the result of some pretty egregious errors on the part of theologians and the arrogance and hubris of some academicians.

My reasoning goes something like this; There is an erroneous assumption that the edicts and declarations of one particular religious leader or church, if that church is large enough, are the declarations of religion in general. This is not true. In fact there are many differing thoughts among many different religious people and no one doctrine or dogma speaks for them all. More importantly, truth is truth and it exists independently of the declarations of well meaning but perhaps mis-informed theologians. Similarly, the laws of the universe, i.e. the sciences, are also inviolate though scientists may not understand them completely and may act on partial understandings or upon completely erroneous assumptions. History is rife with examples and perhaps they are best left for discussions which will hopefully follow.

I do not maintain the arrogance to suppose that I have all the answers but as one who loves and respects the sciences but who also devotes as much time to pondering things of a spiritual nature, I believe I am in a unique position to comment. Over the coming weeks and months I will endeavor to address areas of apparent conflict between science and religion and see if there is any common ground. I think you will be entertained. I hope you will be entertained. My promise to you is that I will not preach nor attempt to convert. I will strive to demonstrate the idea that these two great and important fields are not mutually exclusive and have and can peacefully co-exist and actually enhance one another. After all, truth is the ultimate holy grail. However, unlike the golden challis of the Monty Python quest, this holy grail – Truth – is out there.

Science and Religion

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, Isaac Newton, Moses, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology on September 18, 2008 at 2:05 am

           

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

I am intrigued by the element of human nature that makes us prone to the idea that most issues are ” either – or” propositions. We seem all too willing to accept the notion that there are only two sides to everything. Often, two sides are just the extremes of any position and a third “middle ground” may exist. I guess you could say there could be three (or more) sides to everything.

I take for example the argument, nay, the battle, between Science and Religion. The basic assumption is that one either accepts science and the scientific method, OR religion, and the almost mythological accounts it posits, ut not both, for the existence and purpose of everything. In this I think we err.

First, those most arrogantly supportive of the cleverness of men over anything thing else greater than ourselves, make very erroneous assumptions about the claims of ‘religion’ on the subjects of creation and existence. I put the word religion in brackets because to categorize religion as one single entity is wrong. There are myriad viewpoints that support a religious world view, just as there are myriad viewpoints about different aspects of science.

“But wait!” you say. Science is pure, refined and perfectly unified in its theory. Not so my good friends, not so. I point you to the tale of Sir Issac Newton, arguably one of the most brilliant men in history. When he presented his ideas about motion and introduced the concepts of ‘Newtonian Physics’ to the Royal Academy he was nearly run out of England. He incurred such wrath that the august scientist Robert Hook – himself a brilliant researcher ‘ swore in his indignation that he would destroy Isaac Newton. All this because Isaac dared to contradict the 2000 year old assumptions of Aristotle. Newton was so distressed by his rebuff that he retreated to his country home and hid out for several years. Today we have researchers at great odds with one another over the truth or error of String Theory. And in case you have missed it in the mainstream media, the whole “Global warming is human caused” thing is very far from being universally accepted by scientists. If you think I am stretching the truth hear just Google “Solar Flux” and learn how Mars has been warming concurrently with Earth. (I wonder how we did that?)

The point is, “Religion” and Religious theory” cannot be categorized into one single viewpoint. The fact that certain vocal fundamentalists decide to interpret one element of creation in the most literal sense i.e. that God create the world in 6 days , does not mean that every good Christian, Muslim or Jew must believe the same thing or lose the faith.

I point to the creation story as found in Genesis as an example. Scientists (rightly, I think) laugh at the notion that the Earth was created in just 6 Solar periods or just 144 hours. But I ask, is this really what the Bible says? Oh yes, the word ‘day’ is used but does that mean 24 hours. The term ‘day’ is used throughout the Bible in various ways. In fact, in the story of Adam and Eve the Lord says ‘In the day that ye eat thereof you shall surely die!” Yet we read that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and, rather than die that very day, as the literalist would insist, they were expelled from the garden and thrust into the dark and dreary world. In this case the word day was used to mean ‘event that’ or ‘once this is done’. Actually, it is consistent that once they ate of the forbidden fruit, their lives changed and they were expelled from the Garden. According to the account, they changed from immortal to mortal and they did eventually die. So it could correctly be said that on the day they ate of the fruit circumstances were changed and it became sure that they would eventually die.

When we say that the earth was made in 6 days we can all think back to the countless times when our parents and grandparents  related to us accounts of their youth and said “in my day” or as Archie and Edith Bunker said in the opening song of the T.V. series ‘All in the Family’ “Those were the days.” Using the word Day to refer to a creative period in the Bible is the same as the use of the term Age to refer to an anthropological period such as the Bronze Age, the Stone Age, the Neolithic Age. We must remember that Moses, the writer of Genesis was not a scientist, He was a goat herder. He claims to have seem a vision of the creation of the world and he was then left with the task of describing what he saw in words he had at his command.

I believe Science and Religion can peacefully co-exist. They may disagree on the fine points but the idea that you must choose between science or religion to live your life is just silly. Let me show you how easy this can really be. PLATE TECTONICS is the accepted theory of land mass formation and the creation of Seas and Continents. It states (simply) that chunks of the Earth’s Crust float on the mantle and move about. As one chunk crashes into another one is driven downward and the other is lifted up and over, this creates high places and low places. Any GEOLOGY 101 class will teach you that at the beginning the surface of the Earth was smooth and featureless. They go on by saying that as the plates began to move, the water, which covered the Earth completely and evenly, began to gather to the deep spots leaving dry earth to appear, slowly at first, and then as islands and continents.

Now let’s look at Genesis and the words of a simple goat herder trying to describe what he saw in a vision.

Genesis 1:2 And the Earth was  without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep (Water?) And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

So far there is no disagreement with Tectonic theory.

Genesis 1:9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

Again, no disagreement! If we allow that Moses did not know the term Plate Tectonics (A Greek term) and simply used words at his disposal to describe a process that he did not understand we can then say that the Bible and Geological Science have common ground. It should be pointed out here that Tectonic theory did not come about until 1965, thus it can be rightly argued that the Bible had it right well before Science figured it out. What the scientists did was give process and explanation to an account that was just a simple observation.

My point is, where there are two diametrically opposed positions at work there can be, and usually is, a third position that might include both.

It is my firm belief that I and many other scientifically minded people can  hold to a religious belief while using science to explain the things  that are observed and recorded in books of scripture.