OK, longsuffering readers, here at last are my top four science and creation stories of 2016.
I'm not a physicist and don't fully understand why gravity waves are such a big deal, but I know a big story when I see it. The observation of gravity waves was hailed as the breakthrough of the year by Science. The story as I understand it goes like this: Einstein's theory of gravity, general relativity, suggested that waves of gravity (just like waves of water) might exist. Einstein himself was evidently undecided about whether they could be discovered, since it would take massive gravity sources in orbit of each other to observe them. In February, physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory spotted waves coming from two black holes. This discovery was a big confirmation of Einstein's general relativity and might just launch a whole new science of studying gravity waves. That's no small accomplishment.
Magnified by the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America made headlines all over the world when scientists discovered a link between the virus and microcephaly birth defects. Zika was first discovered in Africa in 1947, and there had been very few reported cases of any disease caused by the virus. In 2014, cases of a weird fever began appearing in Brazil, and they were eventually discovered to be caused by Zika. Researchers suggested that the virus arrived in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. In January of 2016, increasing evidence of a link between Zika infection and brain abnormalities in newborns prompted the CDC to issue a travel advisory for Brazil. This virus reminds me of two important lessons: First, the living world is not a static, unchanging thing. Living things are in a constant state of change, most of which goes unnoticed until something like Zika happens. Second, the world is broken. God's good creation now contains the heartbreak of microcephaly and birth defects. We can look forward to a new creation in Jesus Christ where the grief of such pain is a thing of the past.
What else could be in the number two spot on the list but the new Ark Encounter theme park? The park opened this summer to jeers and cheers from around the world, as critics lamented that this was yet another hindrance to science literacy in the United States and supporters rejoiced at the wonder of it all. I keep running into people who have been to the Ark, and they've all been enthusiastic to share their thoughts and photos. Attendance is reportedly exceeding outside predictions but seems to be right on what AIG expected. What will this Ark do for the future of creationism? I honestly have no idea. This theme park is not like a book or an argument or a research breakthrough. This is something entirely different, and I can't think of anything analogous to this. Visitors certainly love it, whatever it means for the future.
I chose the election of President-Elect Donald Trump as my top science and creation story of the year for two reasons. First, it was a fascinating look into the bias of the media and the failure to be self critical when examining poll numbers. Reporters seemed so sure Trump would fail, but it was such an obvious case of confirmation bias, I'm surprised no one else noticed it coming. On the one hand, polls in the week before the election indicated that Clinton enjoyed a 3 point lead among likely voters, which sounded pretty clear. But the actual polls had the split as 46% for Clinton and 43% for Trump. That left a whopping 11% of the electorate either voting third party or simply undecided. That was more than enough to tip the vote towards Trump. On the other hand, looking at the state-by-state polls, there were at least 171 electoral votes up for grabs in states with polls too close to call just before the election. Those toss up states included the big prizes of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, all of which ended up voting for Trump. I think the lesson we should learn is, "Stop accepting evidence just because it agrees with what you already think." Think critically, especially about the research that seems to affirm your biases.
The second reason I chose President-Elect Trump as my top story of the year was his relationship to climate science. So many climate scientists are worried about the president-elect that they've begun downloading climate data from government servers, for fear that the Trump administration may remove it from the public domain. Are their fears warranted? Once again, I really don't know. The president-elect has said a lot of things that he's cooled on since winning the election ("throw her in jail" among the most obvious examples), so maybe people are overreacting. But maybe not. The president-elect is nothing if not unpredictable. No matter our position on climate science, I hope we can all agree that the loss of raw data would be a terrible blow to science.
What should we do about this? Pray and be bold in following God's calling on your life. Don't let fear win.
So there you have it. My first top twelve list. Now let's pray for 2017 to be another year of wonders as we explore God's creation.
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