Interviewing Steven Gollmer, PhD

The Creation Science Fellowship recently held its Eighth International Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from July 29th to August 1st, 2018. During the conference, Dr. Steven Gollmer, professor of physics at Cedarville University in Ohio, spoke on two fascinating subjects. In his presentation titled “Man, Machine, Scientific Models and Creation Science,” Dr. Gollmer discussed how innate analytical power of computerized simulations and machine learning will never override our God-given human insight to carefully discern between proper and improper computational outputs. Moreover, in the paper that accompanied his talk, Dr. Gollmer noted that “with a proper understanding of the nature of man, creation scientists are well suited to evaluate the unique role human investigators play in the choice, guidance and interpretation of that which is processed by the machine.”

In his second presentation called “Effect of Aerosol Distributions on Precipitation Patterns Needed for a Rapid Ice Age,” Dr. Gollmer updated conference attendees on the status of his efforts in developing a global-scale computational model for post-Flood Ice Age precipitation. Because Dr. Gollmer is using software developed by NASA, a completed climate model of this sort would be recognized and welcomed by many climate scientists and graduate students as a benchmark model. In addition, secular and creation scientists who specialize in local weather patterns could then use the model to customize their own locality-based models to gain a clearer picture of localized post-Flood Ice Age effects. Furthermore, apart from the obvious benefit of obtaining a benchmark model within the field of climatology, the intrinsic features of the model would be of added value within the creation science literature to help archeologists, for example, better understand the post-Flood movements of humankind around the globe.

Collected as part of the Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, both of Dr. Gollmer’s papers are available as free downloads. Please click on the aforementioned presentation titles to connect to the associated paper.

Editorial note: To carry out his work on Ice Age precipitation patterns following the Global Flood, Dr. Gollmer is using state-of-the-art computational software for climate modeling developed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). This software is called GISS Model E2. Moreover, Dr. Gollmer is operating the project using the most current version of GISS Model E2 — known as AR5. (Please click here to learn more about the GISS global climate modeling project.)

Our interview with Dr. Gollmer

In light of a busy conference schedule, we at Ashland Creation Colloquium were delighted that Dr. Gollmer agreed to be interviewed. It is our hope that students will be encouraged by what Dr. Gollmer had to say with respect to his worldview, as well as motivated through his work at Cedarville University concerning the study of origins, specifically post-Flood Ice Age climate modeling.
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Kevin Wininger from Ashland Creation Colloquium conducted the interview.

Kevin: Thank you for your time and agreeing to our interview. I know we’ve each had exciting conference schedules.
Dr. Gollmer: You’re welcome. It’s been a very interesting conference thus far.
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Kevin: Let’s start with the topic of origins. How do you think life began?
Dr. Gollmer: I think life is a special creation of God — in that God made the universe, the earth, and life. I believe God made all life, including human beings as a special creation.
Kevin: Very concisely stated. I like that. So let’s dive a little deeper and talk a little bit about the idea of the beginning of consciousness, particularly comparing and contrasting the idea of consciousness against the evolutionary construct of the “primordial soup.” Do you think that such a construct can adequately, or even ultimately, describe the beginning of consciousness?
Dr. Gollmer: That’s a great question. Let me answer it by taking a broad brush stroke that accounts for ideas associated with materialism, emergence (or vitalism), and Christian theism. For materialists, if we first understand there is no evidence for spontaneous generation (transition from non-life to life) within their primordial soup model, then I think such a model likewise cannot explain the beginning of consciousness. At best they would have to ultimately find it extremely improbable. Now, for those who hold to the philosophies of vitalism, which basically say there is a unifying life principle in the things around us, they might subscribe to the idea that as the dynamic complexity of a system increases it becomes ordered and ultimately generates consciousness. Instead of being highly improbable, consciousness is seen as being inevitable with enough complexity. However, the theistic Christian turns to a personal Creator, that is, a creator who is not distant. The theistic Christian knows that consciousness is possible because one of the many attributes of God is consciousness.
Kevin: I appreciate the thoughtfulness in your response. Now, what about finding meaning in life, do you think life has any meaning?
Dr. Gollmer: Yes, as a Christian, my purpose is to know the Creator, and from there discover what His purpose is for me. However, to the materialist, sadly, life has no meaning except for meaning defined by an individual or group in the context of the present environment, but clearly they have no ultimate meaning of life. In the view of the vitalist, we are just predestined, so for them meaning is defined by connecting one’s self with the so-called “cosmic essence.” However, this is somewhat ironic, since a Buddhist, as just one example of a vitalist, seeks to divest the self. For my own ultimate purpose, however, again it is to know God better and to trust what His ultimate purpose is for me. From there I get to discover how I can fit that role.
Kevin: Well put, and again, I appreciate your thoughtful answer. So if we think about morality, how can we know what is right and wrong, or can’t we?
Dr. Gollmer: Both right and wrong can be known because God has revealed Himself to His creation through the Bible (the Scriptures), which tells us God exists and shows us how He communicates with us.
Kevin: Do you think our conscience plays a role?
Dr. Gollmer: Yes, because we were created in the image of God, and thus, even in man’s fallen state there is a knowledge of God. Let me offer an example from the Bible. In the Bible we find discussion, in the first chapter of Romans, in the twentieth verse, about God’s eternal power and divine nature. It says that both of these attributes have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, and therefore we have no excuse, or right, claiming a lack of conscience. Also, in the second chapter of Romans, in verses fourteen and fifteen, we read that the law (what we may call today “right and wrong”) is written on our hearts, and that it is none other than our conscience that bears witness of this. However, given this knowing, or knowledge, unfortunately people sometimes work at training their conscience to do, or periodically accommodate, bad or wrong things, telling themselves that such things aren’t bad or wrong because it works for them in some pressing moment.
Kevin: Thank you for each and every one of your thorough replies. As we round out this part of the interview, let’s talk about our destiny. What are your thoughts on what happens to us when we die?
Dr. Gollmer: When we die we face our Creator. The Bible says in the Book of Hebrews, in chapter nine and verse twenty-seven, that it is once appointed for man to die, and then judgment after that. This judgment for those without Christ is a judgment of condemnation, but for those in Christ, of works. By “works” I mean evidence of salvation. Salvation is a free gift, a gift that when I accepted, I became part of God’s family, at which point I found myself striving to seek out things pleasing to Him, and, in turn, pleasing to me too.
Kevin: Has there ever been a time in your life when you thought hard about any of these questions?
Dr. Gollmer: I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was eight years old. However, with respect to origins, in high school I regrettably put up my hand when the teacher asked if anyone believed the earth was old (simply for fear of ridicule), while my friend put up his hand when the teacher asked if anyone believed the earth was young. Sometime afterwards, I read Dr. Henry Morris’s book The Bible and Modern Science, and I was able to reconcile and sharpen my understanding that there was no conflict between a young earth creation and science.
Editorial note: The 1951 book The Bible and Modern Science by Henry M. Morris was revised and updated in 1979, and that revision included a new title, Science and the Bible. (Please click here for an online preview of a 1986 publication of the 1979 title.)
Kevin: And when reflecting upon your life experiences, have any of your views or beliefs concerning these questions ever changed?
Dr. Gollmer: Although within the larger framework of biblical creation my beliefs haven’t changed, my responses to the details inherent to questions about origins have been sorted out. For instance, I’ve learned the incredible importance of not throwing out pat answers, but rather the importance of engaging someone in a thorough and well-meaning discussion (Morris’s book played a role in that).
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Kevin: Thank you again Dr. Gollmer for your straight answers about your worldview. I find it very encouraging and appreciate this time. Let’s now zero in on some of the exciting science you are involved in. To start out, have you always been interested in climate modeling?
Dr. Gollmer: No, but I’ve always been interested in science and math. I started out as a geology major at the University of Illinois, but as it turned out I wasn’t as interested in geology as I thought. For my second semester during my freshman year I transferred to Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota, and studied education. Specifically, I concentrated on a science and math track within the education major, and earned a bachelor’s degree. I also found out I really liked this career path when I started my student teaching requirements at the high school level. But, I wanted to go on to graduate school so I could eventually teach at a Christian college. Because physics teachers always seem to be in demand, and physics combines both science and math, I decided to focus on physics. So, from there I went to Northern Illinois University and obtained a second bachelor’s degree, but this time in physics. After that I went back to the University of Illinois to earn a master’s degree in physics and was involved in research at the university’s nuclear physics laboratory. This research was heavily weighted in theory and I learned that my interests were more aligned with applied physics. I should add that although very valuable, physics at the very small scale is heavily laden with theory. Mathematical models generated by theoreticians are validated by experimental data collected by particle detectors and analyzed for statistical significance. From there I taught at a Christian high school for a year while I looked for a graduate program. After a number of applications, serious thought and prayer, I attended Purdue University, where I eventually earned a doctorate degree in atmospheric science.
Also, and this is important, my previous work in physics prepared me well for my graduate program and led to my work in climate modeling. There was a class project during my doctorate degree that provided an opportunity to run and analyze data from a climate model. This ultimately provided the experience I needed when I began modeling the post-Flood Ice Age climate.
I think finally I would say that my first freshman semester at the University of Illinois was a pivotal moment in my life. I realized I needed to seek God’s purpose for my life and I could achieve that much better at a Christian college. God used those impressions from that semester at the U. of I., and the fact that my sister and friends were attending Pillsbury, to help direct me to Pillsbury Baptist Bible College.
Kevin: And what about now? Please talk about the role and emphasis of the physics courses and the physics program at Cedarville University.
Dr. Gollmer: My class load includes teaching first year calculus-based physics to engineering students mixed together with teaching several upper-level physics courses. Overall, I try to impress upon my students how to do physics, and how they can best prepare for success in physics in graduate school, if that is the direction of their life. The emphasis is on how physics works and how God ordered the creation. Importantly, given my academic environment there are plenty of opportunities to talk about young earth creation, faith in Christ, and how Christ created the world.
Kevin: Excellent! So what do you think is the biggest challenge, such as the biggest barrier or the biggest limit, currently in your area of study? In other words, what is the next big thing?
Dr. Gollmer: As far as the biggest challenge, there is simply more to do than there is time to do it. And although I like having multiple brands in the fire, I’ve learned to set priorities. I like the challenge of a project and the ‘start’ of it, that is, all of the research that goes into establishing the foundation of the project. It is both exciting and engaging. I can envision working on post-Flood climate, such as my post-Flood Ice Age precipitation project, for another five years. I anticipate this will bring to a conclusion my current research questions and provide a benchmark scenario, which can be passed on to the upcoming generation of creation scientists. I would then like to pursue data science or so-called “big data,” such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. I would like to help establish and facilitate this sort of program at Cedarville. I think data science, particularly machine learning, will be one of the next big things.
Kevin: Your talk on man, machine, and creation science was indeed interesting and very well received, as was your talk on post-Flood climate modeling of the Ice Age. Do you have any advice for high school or college-aged young people interested in physics or meteorology?
Dr. Gollmer: My advice for high school students is to learn math, and to learn math well. There is a certain perception in high school about what math is and it is not always positive. So I would like to say dig in and understand math because physics really is applied mathematics — applying physics to real world situations. Learn to especially appreciate math word problems. They were a struggle for me at first, but I’m convinced that each of us can find a way to navigate through them.
Kevin: That’s sound advice, especially since I too have always liked mathematics, but may have also struggled with it at times. What would be your advice for high school or college-aged young people seeking higher education in general?
Dr. Gollmer: Work on learning for life. Don’t waste classes in high school in order to ‘just’ get by. In English class, for example, work hard at what communication and communicating is. In history class, learn your history and know the context of the time and place in which you live. Let the learning be your goal: make that your intention, and challenge yourself to do your best.
Kevin: Very, very usable advice, and also very insightful!
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Kevin: Okay, so we have time for one last question. Given that all of God’s Word is important for our daily lives, is there a part of the Bible that resonates with you more strongly or speaks the most to you?
Dr. Gollmer: I’ve found that I have developed a strong appreciation for the Book of James. Many people refer to it as the Proverbs of the New Testament. For a Christian, I find James contains many pertinent verses that speak directly to me, and on the whole James touches upon many relevant and practical aspects of life and faith.
As far as my work and career as a teacher, I strive to exhibit patience in helping students with their perspectives on things, perhaps much in the same way that Moses might have done when leading the children of Israel in the wilderness. So let me also add there’s much we can learn when thinking about Moses as a leader. While we call Moses the most meek man, I sometimes wonder if Moses had to struggle with his own pride given his position of high esteem in his early life, and then with his audacity and disobedience in striking the second rock for water rather than speaking to it as God had directed. The take-home message is that we should strive daily to hear God and His purpose for our lives, and this can be accomplished through listening to what God has to tell us when we read Scripture — God’s revelation to us as Creator and through Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Editorial note: In the Bible, Moses is referenced as the meekest man in his time in the twelfth chapter and third verse of the Book of Numbers.
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Kevin: Dr. Gollmer, I want to thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and talk with me. I greatly appreciate hearing your views, and learning about your work as a teacher and your contributions to creation science research. I think your testimony and the work of your colleagues both at Cedarville and here at the conference will serve to mentor future generations. Thank you again.
Dr. Gollmer: Thank you, and it’s been my pleasure.

Could you imagine yourself in a role that helps us better understand the relation between the heating and cooling of the planet?

Starting out now in your own discovery of the intricacies concerning God’s creation through scientific study might very well help you in discerning what path you should take in the future. Christian scholarship extending into a variety of professional roles, such as physicists, mathematicians, meteorologists, engineers, teachers, historians, and archeologists, is sincerely needed in education and culture.

hurricane-francesPath of Hurricane Frances (2004)

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Perhaps our writing prompt on climatology and oceanography was developed specifically for you!

We invite you to explore the writing prompts and entry rules/guidelines for our creation science writing contest (see the essay contests web page, and please feel free to download the page’s printer friendly version). Look specifically for the selected question on climatology and oceanography, and then download “On the Study of Climate and Oceanography.” Students choosing this topic will discuss the heating and cooling of the planet in a fun and challenging way.