Seeing God’s Wonders in Scientific Details

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction
— Prov 1:7, ESV

Right now I am reading an article (obtained from the online Britannica subscription service accessed through Community College of Philadelphia, where I currently attend) about the invertebrate phylum known as annelids, or segmented worms.  I have learned tons of neat facts about these critters, but for the sake of space (and relevance to the real point of this post), I will only mention a few very striking ones.

-Leeches, a class of annelids, known for their “medicinal” species used in centuries past by sucking blood, actually can be a source of a “real” (i.e., chemical) medicine!  Known as hirudin, it is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that might be a better natural alternative to popular prescription blood thinners like Xarelto and Pradaxa (claimed to cause serious risk, including that of death).  Maybe this natural remedy could be better, but since I’m not a medical doctor, who am I to compare?  But hey, it sure is practical and thought-provoking!

-Some “sedentary” members of a class of annelids known as polychaetes actually make tubes into the ocean floor.  Their skin secretes a substance, which may include components such as mucus and calcium carbonate (known in various common forms such as limestone, marble, and chalk), which binds to marine sediment.  Wow, this is a marriage of the inanimate with the animate!  (I now pronounce it tube and worm.)

-Wait!  You may think a “defecation dilemma” may result from this since the anus is trapped in the tube.  Guess what, no problem, a side groove is the way for the feces to be expelled into the waters.

-Finally, earthworms have minute, perhaps microscopic, eyes all over their body.  Yikes!

So much for the annelids.  Now, reflecting on the Scriptural heading, you really don’t know anything unless you know God.  If you fear God (i.e., worship and have awe for him, out of love, not terror), you will gradually increase in your intimacy with Him.  After all, God created nature, and science is simply its interpretation.  Science is to nature as theology is to Scripture.

Many readers think many substantial detail in scientific discussions can be overwhelming, trivial, technical, unnecessary, whatever.  Or as the old cliché goes, they could be “gory.”  (Quite a strong word, isn’t it?)  While I am by no means pushing memorization of the entire material (very few people have truly photographic memories, and I doubt, IMHO, I would even qualify).  But they shape a piece of writing (fact or fiction), and give substance to it.  And when detailed to a substantial (though often not excessive) degree, instead of dismissing the ins-and-outs, an interested reader should appreciate God’s creative power therein, to the best of his ability.  One’s awe and recognition for God will increase, regardless of the information’s practicality, or lack thereof.

Yes, atheist Stephen Hawking can go on and on about his knowledge and insights on astrophysics, but he (most likely) may just be hoarding knowledge to impress.  Or some other motive.  But as a fellow human, it’s not my prerogative to judge him.  Only God knows his motives.  Ditto for secular scientists dead and alive, like Darwin, Haeckel, Svante Arrhenius, Linus Pauling, Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins, the list goes on and on.

Incidentally, as for the second part of my verse, atheists, according to the Bible, are cited as “fools” (Ps 14:1).  Fools would rather act as “know-it-alls.”  Whether instructed directly by another person, or indirectly from written material (which can often be posthumous!), a believer will appreciate it more than an unbeliever.

So, no matter what your brain capacity or “tolerance” for details in a written work, make the most out of those that you can.  Always jump “in and out” of whatever you read!

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Examples of Focusing on the Main Points

While all facts are true (or at least should be), not all are relevant to all people.  Everyone has different emphases on what’s important to them.  Here are several examples:

  •  A very common example is emphasis of different details in a news story.  For instance, one may discuss a story with a friend about a crime near where they live.  One person may remember the exact location (for it is nearby a store he patronizes), the other may focus on the time (since it may have woken him up, given it was overnight.)  Both perspectives emphasize different elements, but the same core story.
  • Non-fiction books I read, including certain scientific (and other) books, e.g., the Scientific American Library series, have details that stand out from the rest of the content.  What these actually are depends on the individual.  These things are more worth keeping in mind, and therefore more likely to stick.  Depending on individual interest, understanding, etc., this can vary from person to person.
  • A little adaptation of this principle concerns fiction works, wherein all details can be eventually be rolled up into a main plot.

Also, one thing I resolve to do now is not to try to pick up all details when reading non-fiction.  After all, since when do people really want to “cram” things (except maybe before a test)?  Again, a book may very well serve its purpose in what it communicates, to any level of detail, as well as to many different audiences.

For example, recently, I bought a geomorphology text through Amazon.  While an interesting subject, certain topics, especially math-intensive ones, seemed quite specialized and not relevant (at least right now).  Textbooks of any kind work best under a professor’s instruction anyway.  The book was geared toward juniors and seniors in college, as well as graduate students, so it would have little relevance to me anyway right now.  (I did sell it, by the way, at a local used bookstore, probably with the best revenue ever).  Also, if possible, I might add a double major at the university (one year into enrollment) of geology to the primary biology major, but we’ll take it a step at a time.  Let’s just concentrate on finishing CCP first.  I have our finals for both courses this Monday.

You’re not a camera, so don’t strive for a photographic memory!

Dealing with Details Down and Dirty

An area I always struggled with before is what details actually “are.”  Well, eureka, it dawned on me, and here is your answer:  statements that answer questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how (much).  Therefore, giving more form, substance, and complexity to a question by answering these questions, and obviously giving them an answer.

However, details, both in their quality and quantity, can be a blessing or a curse.  (Of course, I enjoy the heavy stuff, but many others may not.)  Naturally, details on a topic are pursued by one who is genuinely interested.  If not, you wouldn’t do so.  And often, as they say, ignorance can be bliss.  (No wonder ads will say “see store for details” or websites say likewise “click link for details.”)

Heavy detail must be absorbed slowly, and only portions of what you learn are likely to stay.  Of course, though, if you need to know a particular fact that you may have forgotten, we have the Internet as a rich resource, as well as the more conventional library methods (which are slowly dying) and many other books as well, especially ones you may own.

Remember, in the end, learning is all about utility.  As they say, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it; but it may come back to you if you reviewed it.  Yet it’s not worth investing time into learning subjects (or even isolated facts) that are not relevant to what you would expect out of life.  Also, detail control is an art; it takes trial and error.

And like anything, information (at any level of detail), can be an idol.  Aside from Scripture, most information is secular and explains exactly that — worldly phenomena.

As 1 Cor 10:31 states, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And, since “all” means “all,” that includes research and choosing reading material.  Amen?

At least you can judge books now, regardless of their covers!