Science in Christian Perspective


The View from Shepherd's Knoll ...


"On Rocks, Questions,
and Creations"

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 52 (June 2000): 81.

Recently on Shepherd's Knoll, my wife Elva and I spent the best part of three days laying up a stone wall (about one meter high and fifteen meters long) to border one side of a new vegetable garden. Many of the foundation and "topper" rocks were of the 50-150 pound variety and were maneuverable only with the use of a tractor and loader. We found that rock wall construction requires the integrative experiences of geology, physics, and philosophy. Since I am a biologist and my wife is an optometrist, our forays into the aforementioned disciplines of science were only amateur in nature.

Initially, we spent a lot of time as amateur geologists selecting and tearing out rocks that were "suitable" for wall construction. "Suitable" rocks translated into rocks that had two relatively flat sides. Since many of our rock selections were less than ideal and stretched relativity to the breaking point, the difficulty of our construction task was compounded! Shepherd's Knoll, a rocky hill covered by a mature oak forest, contains primarily two types of rocks scattered throughout our pastures and woodlands. Predominantly, we have sedimentary limestone impregnated with various minerals and concretions and also another chert-like sedimentary rock that is rough in texture, "puckered" with small holes and crevices, and occasionally contains shell-like fossils. Geologists claim that chert may have been formed from the remains of ancient sea sponges or other ocean animals that have been fossilized.

During the wall construction phase, we dug into the ground to lay foundation rocks, and applied principles of physics (non-calculus-based version) as we attempted to lay other rocks on top of the foundation to create an attractive, functional wall that would be straight and strong. Finding the right rocks to fit the available spaces was a challenge akin to assembling a 1000 or more-piece picture puzzle with multiple missing pieces! The difficulty was accentuated when we attempted to turn and position a rock weighing 200 pounds. Using levers and a hydraulic hoist helped considerably. When the last rock was raised into place topping off our wall, we were pleased with our efforts and thought it looked pretty good for a couple of amateurs. We trust time, with the changing of the seasons, will be kind to our wall.

We could not build our wall without being philosophic about the entire enterprise. As amateur philosophers, we wondered why we were exerting all this effort? We remained puzzled about our fossils. Why are they here? Where did they come from? What forces formed the fossils? How old are they? Were they created by divine fiat, a catastrophic flood, or by the pressing influence of time? In its geological past, did Shepherd's Knoll erupt out of a valley floor? Why are some of our rocks on Shepherd's Knoll so different from the rest of the rocks in the Shenandoah Valley? Questions of origin and purpose quickly translate into questions of values and destiny. Will our work endure? Does this work have eternal consequences? Is building a rock wall simply a trivial pursuit?

Come to think about it, many of these questions are applicable to many of our activities. Solomon wrote: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven ... a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them ... a time to tear down and a time to build ..." (Eccles. 3, NIV). May God give us wisdom in the timing of our choices for building and tearing down.

Roman J. Miller, Editor