The Never-Ending Excitement of Scientific Discovery

Spotted salamander

Connie and I are in bliss staying in a cabin of a dear friend on Lookout Mountain in NE Alabama.  We are both hard at work (yes, that is bliss!) proofing the transcripts and creating study guides for the audio series we launched in December last year: "The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith."  

But we take time every day to hike a trail that Connie brushed out last fall on the property here, and we look for signs of spring. Yesterday we discovered salamander eggs in the ephemeral pond.  They had been laid the night before, following a heavy rain. We knew the exact timing because we've been watching for them — and because Connie had tossed in a few fallen tree branches two days earlier, telling me, "Salamanders like to lay their eggs in clumps wrapped around branches." We know they are Spotted Salamanders, too, because the previous day we discovered several adults still ensconced under rotting logs.

Well, there they were!  Bluish-gray blobs of spotted jelly — grapefruit size — wrapped around some of the thinner branchlets.

Now here's where the excitement of science comes in. . .

Connie went online this morning to look up the geographic range of the Spotted Salamader (since she also delighted in them as a kid in her native Michigan).  Well!  The Wikipedia entry for this species has a link right at the top to a 2010 news article in one of the top science journals, titled "Solar Salamander: Photosynthetic Algae Found Inside the Cells of a Vertebrate for the First Time."

Connie shared her excitement with me, calling out the good news as I made the coffee this morning. Line by line, she read aloud the story — a story that reveals the power of symbiotic relationships in the evolutionary impulse, a story that reveals, too, just how foolish it would be for the religions of the world to fail to incorporate — indeed highlight — the wonders of the world ongoingly being expanded upon, thanks to the worldwide collective enterprise known as science.  As I wrote in my book, Thank God for Evolution . . . 

Private revelations, as subjective claims for which no evidence for or against would be universally compelling, can only be believed or not believed. Private revelations, thus, cannot be known. In contrast, the arena of public revelation offers opportunities for us to learn ever more about the nature of reality — and to recognize and revise mistaken notions. People of all philosophical and religious backgrounds can therein come to agree on the same basic understandings, regardless of differences in how those shared understandings will be interpreted. All religions and worldviews already contribute some of their most inquisitive, capable, and devoted citizens to the now-planetary effort of public revelation — otherwise known as the scientific endeavor.

The mindset that welcomes public revelation is marked not only by openness and curiosity. Such a mindset is grounded in a trust so solid that nothing that might be revealed would shake its foundation.

Thanks to the scientific method, assisted by the wonders of modern technologies (themselves a gift of the scientific enterprise), public revelation emerges when claims about the nature of reality are based on measurable data and can be tested and modified in light of evidence and concerted attempts to disprove such claims. This process typically results in understandings so distinct from belief and so removed from cultural contexts that they can be regarded, for all practical purposes, as factual. From this perspective, the history of humanity is a fascinating and universally relevant story of how Reality has progressively revealed itself to human beings, which is tied to how we acquire, share, store, and reconsider knowledge.