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How Astrobiology and Faith Came to be Woven together in Carl's Life

Page history last edited by pinkhamc@... 8 years, 1 month ago

Ever since he can remember, Carl has loved God's creation.  The beauty and wonder of butterflies and beetles and other insects, birds, flowers, trees, seashells, and minerals, all called to him to learn and love biology.  Visits to the zoo, parks, and seashore were his favorite form of recreation.  Since this was in the late 40's and early 50's, he could hardly learn biology without reading extensively on the modern evolutionary synthesis (Neo-Darwinian Evolution) and quickly became convinced by the weight of the evidence that evolution by natural selection explained the wonderful diversity of life he enjoyed.  At the same time, he understood God was behind evolution.


Then, when he was 15, he read the book by Julian Huxley, "Man in the Modern World."  In one of the themes in this book, over about 45 pages, Dr. Huxley carefully showed why each major taxon of organism that had ever existed on earth lacked one or more vital characteristics needed for intelligence to evolve except one: the great apes and more specifically, the hominids.  This was Carl's "Aha" moment.  It was at this point that he realized that not only was God behind natural selection and evolution, but that He left clues to this in His Creation.  Thus began his lifelong pursuit of these clues.


His first major step in this pursuit was to study biology at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.  His first courses were two semesters of Biology for Biology Majors taken during the summer prior to his enrollment.  These courses convinced him he was capable of succeeding and four years later, in 1965, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Norwich University with a BS in biology.  Although he, like his classmates, had a two-year active duty obligation, he was given a deferment to obtain his doctorate.  There was a catch though; he had to do this in four years, the maximum time allowed for such a deferment.   He applied to the three top graduate schools that at the time offered a PhD in evolution: Harvard University, the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and the University of California, Los Angeles.  He was accepted at all three and all three offered him a fellowship.  Having grown up in Northfield, Vermont, the home of Norwich University, he wanted to go further away than Boston, MA, but not so far his parents would not be able to visit.  Hence, he settled on the U of I.  There, he completed his MS thesis on the evolution of two members of the family of new world mice using Pleistocene fossils from Florida.  He then went on to complete his doctoral thesis on the evolution of leaping in the kangaroo rat.  In that thesis, he solved a long-standing problem in morphological integration and published one of the first papers on the now scientifically accepted evo-devo concept, that developmental processes are often the clay upon which evolution works.  While at the UI, he distinguished himself by winning NSF scholarships, NIH fellowships and the University of Illinois Fellowship, awarded to only the top 20 graduate students.  As the fourth year approached, it became apparent that he was not going to finish in four years, so he opted for the latest possible time to report to active duty, which would give him essentially another year.  On Wednesday evening of that final year, he defended his thesis successfully and early the next morning boarded the plane for Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to report to Medical Service Corps’ Officers’ Basic School, with the rank of Captain.


Following Officers’ Basic, he reported to the Biomedical Laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal Maryland.  Because he was granted a transfer from Armor, his commissioning branch, to Medical Service Corps conditional upon the successful completion of his doctorate, his active duty obligation was extended to four years, not two.  That extension would give him the time he needed to become firmly grounded in his MOS.  Fortunately he quickly found out that as a result of the unilateral decision by President Nixon to ban open-air testing of biological and chemical agents and the shift to defensive testing exclusively, the Army’s first ecological research office was being formed at the Biomedical Laboratory to determine if the prior open air testing had caused any detectable, adverse impacts.  Since his doctorate involved ample courses in ecology and population biology, he applied for and won the opening for the chief of terrestrial investigations.  The fellow officer who lived across the hall in the military family apartments, Gareth Pearson, was the chief of the aquatic investigations.  Together, in response to a need to reliably compare reference and exposed sites, they developed the Pinkham-Pearson index of biotic similarity, now regarded by many as one of the more powerful tools for comparing community structure.   At approximately the same time as his unilateral moratorium on open-air testing, Nixon wrote the executive order that established the National Environmental Policy Act and signed into law the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.  In response to these broader directives, the mission of the Ecology Branch of the Biomedical Lab quickly expanded to deal with the implications of the environmental impacts of activities on military installations.  Thus CPT pinkham entered the Army Environmental movement at its inception.


Following his 4-year obligation at Edgewood, Dr. Pinkham took a civilian job with the sister organization to the Ecology Branch, Baker Lab, located at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.  At DPG, he continued to work on environmental issues and was the coauthor of four volumes and co-editor of three others, in the seven-volume, Handbook for Evaluating Ecological Effects of Pollution at DARCOM Installations. 


He also continued to serve in the US Army Reserves as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee, assigned first to Edgewood Arsenal, then to Dugway Proving Ground, Natick R&D Center, MA, Fort Hood, and Fort Sam Houston, TX.  The latter was in the Office of the Surgeon General.  As a result of that assignment, he served his last five years as the Career Consultant for Reserve and National Guard Preventive Medicine Science Officers and founder and editor of the weekly, Reserve Component Preventive Medicine Science Officers’ Newsletter, which went out to over 700 Reserve and National Guard Preventive Medicine Science Officers world-wide.  He retired from the Army at age 60 with the rank of COL.


It was at Dugway that Carl first encountered serious proselytizing.  When newcomers arrive in Utah, Mormons, who are earnest about their belief system, aggressively court them.  Carl and his wife, Chris, were no exceptions.  Mormons are wonderful, sincere, people.  However, Chris and Carl’s spirits felt something was not quite right, so Chris started attending chapel.  Since DPG is a remote installation, civilians lived on post.  It turned out that at that time a new chaplain had just arrived, Gale Wilson.  Chris came home after her first Chapel service and excitedly informed Carl that he had to go listen because Chaplain Wilson was talking about scientific arguments for belief.  Of course he was hooked, and he started attending, certain he would find this theologian’s grasp of science deficient.  Much to his surprise, it wasn’t.   And thus began his journey as a skeptical scientist investigating God’s claims by attending Chapel, adult Bible studies, reading the Bible, praying for understanding about who this Jesus really is and much to his surprise, having those prayers answered.  After a year and a half of this journey (during which he was being prayed for by the Women of the Chapel-thus securing his fate), he had amassed such a substantial mass of evidence, that he could no longer arrogantly ignore it.  Thus with great trepidation, being by now fully aware of the implications of what he was about to do, he accepted God’s gift of faith; one moment, struggling with lingering doubts about His reality, the next with all those doubts obliterated as the Holy Spirit took up residence in Carl’s unworthy self.  With the Holy Spirit came a hunger for God’s Word that has not been satiated to this day.  Also shortly thereafter, Officers’ Christian Fellowship arrived at DPG and Carl began to see a ministry emerging.


After about seven years at DPG, during which Carl was being groomed for higher responsibilities, Carl and Chris received word that Chris’s mom had Alzheimer’s and her dad was not able to deal with it as well as he would like.  He needed Chris’ help.  Chris and Carl met in the 8th grade when Carl’s family had moved to Northfield so his Dad could assume a professorship at Norwich.  Thus both parents lived in Northfield.  Carl’s parents were about twenty years older than Chris’s and since Carl and Chris had spent so many years away from Northfield, their three sons were practically strangers to their grandparents.  After much prayer seeking the Lord’s will and advice from believers and non-believers, it became apparent that Chris and Carl were being called back to Northfield.  Thus they made the momentous decision to leave a promising career in the Federal government for who knows what in Northfield, believing they were being called to trust in the Lord’s promise in the 5th Commandment that those who honored their fathers and mothers would live long and prosper.


Thus began the final? chapter in Carl’s career.  To make a long story with two parallel-running threads short, Carl started teaching human anatomy and physiology in summer school.  Slowly, semester-by-semester, this job expanded and he eventually became a full-time, non-tenure track professor of Biology at Norwich University.  In 2009, at age 66, after 27 years of teaching, he retired from that role.  In the second thread, shortly after his returning to his alma mater,  Carl and a student, with the undeniable help of the Holy Spirit working through them, founded Norwich Christian Fellowship as the Officers’ Christian Fellowship presence at Norwich University.  This year, with the founding student in attendance, NCF celebrated its 30th year.


Although Carl had envisioned a research-teaching career in evolution, it is clear from the above that God had a different path in mind.  However, Carl never lost his love of evolution and his suspicion, at age 14, that God had used evolution to create us.  He continued to read extensively on the subject of evolution and look for evidence that pointed to a Creator.  Much to his surprise, although he was well-versed in the evidence at the population level and above, he was amazed to find ample evidence emerging from his teaching at the organism level and below.  Very few people knew of this continuing interest and discoveries, in fact, for all practical purposes, only Carl and God knew.  Then, in late 2005, out of nowhere, Carl received a letter from Oxford University, inviting him to participate in a week-long Oxford Round Table on “Faith and Science, the Great Matter.”  Sensing this as a call from God, Carl accepted and in the next few months, prepared a paper (Evolution is not the Enemy and Intelligent Design is Not the Solution)" that became the starting point for the presentation he gave at the American Scientific Affiliation and to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Officers' Christian Fellowship Group on the November 2nd, 2012 (Eight Phenomena Which Recur Often in Cosmological, Chemical, and Biological Evolution That Suggest a Creator).



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