Optimum Martian Viewing

Optimum Martian Viewing
Recently there has been much talk about Mars in the media. NASA and private firms such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX are working on plans to send people to Mars and eventually build a colony there. For the past month, a planet-wide dust storm has blocked sunlight from reaching the planet’ surface and caused NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover to shut down. In addition, Mars is now in “opposition” to Earth and at its closest point to us since 2003. The current position of Mars gives us optimum Martian viewing.

When astronomers say that Mars is in perihelic opposition to Earth, that means the Sun, Earth, and Mars are in a line with Earth in the middle. That makes the apparent luminosity of Mars the brightest that it is at any time. Also, it means that Mars rises each night as the Sun sets and Mars sets each morning as the Sun rises. So Mars is visible in the sky all night long, and it is two times brighter than Jupiter, which usually outshines it. In addition to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus are also visible at this time in an east-west arc across the sky after sunset. You can distinguish Mars by its red color, and it will continue to be bright through August for the optimum Martian viewing opportunity.

On July 26, NASA announced, “It’s the beginning of the end for the planet-encircling dust storm on Mars.” However, it may be weeks or even months before the Martian atmosphere clears enough for the Opportunity to have enough sunlight to recharge its batteries and return to life. NASA hopes that the batteries will recharge before Opportunity freezes to death. The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 Celsius). That is not very hospitable to machinery, or humans.

In addition to the previous factors, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth today, July 31, 2018. It will be only 35.8 million miles (57.6 million km) away from us. Mars is at its closest point about every two years. When Mars is on the other side of the Sun, it is about 250 million miles (401 million km) away. For that reason, any mission to Mars will have to be precisely timed to reach our neighboring planet in the shortest time, but it will still take months to make the journey.

With all of the challenges of reaching and perhaps colonizing Mars, the work goes on to achieve that goal. Some, such as Elon Musk, are suggesting “terraforming” Mars. That is, modifying the climate to make it hospitable to earthlings. That would require raising the climate temperature, thickening the thin atmosphere, and having a stable supply of liquid water, among other things. Elon Musk suggested a method of doing that which involves bombing the polar ice caps with explosives. It sounds like science fiction, and a new report from two leading scientists, Bruce Jakosky of NASA and Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University suggest that it is. Their study published in Nature Astronomy concludes that “with current technology, we just don’t see that there are any viable options” for terraforming Mars.

What we need to remember as we consider all of this, is that God has given us a planet that has all of the right conditions for us to live on and enjoy. He has already “terraformed” it for us, and we need to protect that gift and use it wisely. In the meantime, we can enjoy the optimum Martian viewing opportunity He provided for us to see the “red planet” right now.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Liem’s Paradox and God’s Design

Liem's Paradox and God's Design
People who believe in naturalism face some interesting problems. One of them is the fact that what evolution predicts should happen doesn’t always happen. This phenomenon is known as Liem’s paradox. Let me explain it.

I am reminded of a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago when I was in a teacher-training program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The leader gave us a demonstration of natural selection that was so easy to understand that it could we could use it in teaching low-level biology students the basics of evolution. Three small fish were introduced into a tank containing a northern pike that had not eaten for several days. One was very healthy, one was slightly impaired with several fins missing, and one was severely impaired with most of its fins missing.

We were asked to predict what the pike would do. We all agreed the pike would eat the impaired fish immediately and then the slightly impaired fish and the healthy fish would probably not be eaten. What happened was that the pike chased the healthy fish around and around the tank as we watched for over an hour. The pike never could catch the healthy fish and never ate the other two. There were all kinds of theoretical explanations for what we observed.

Animals are adapted to eat certain foods. Dr. Karel Liem of Harvard University did a study of a fish in Mexico called Minckley’s cichlid. Those fish have highly specialized pebblelike teeth which are perfect for eating the hard-shell snails that are plentiful in their native environment. What Liem discovered was that these fish would swim right past the snails if they could find softer food. They seemed to avoid the food that their bodies had become adapted to eating.

This evolutionary paradox is called Liem’s paradox, and it is seen over and over in nature. Gorillas will walk miles past copious supplies of stems and leaves which is their typical diet, to get soft sugary fruits that are harder to reach and require long walks. Gorillas in captivity will avoid fibrous foods like celery if they are offered sugary, fleshy fruits, even though those fruits are harder to digest and not good for them.

Liem’s paradox is not hard to understand if we believe that God designed animals to live in specific habitats. The design of animals is always to meet the most austere conditions in their environments. In the case of Minckley’s cichlid the fish will always have the snails to fall back on in hard times, but by being diverse in their diet, they save the snails for times when food is not readily available.

In Uganda’s Kibale National Park there are two different species of monkeys–the mangabey monkeys and the red-tailed guenon monkeys. The mangabey monkeys have flat, thickly enameled molars that allow them to crush hard, brittle foods. The red-tailed guenon monkeys have thinner teeth but have come to share the environment with the mangabey monkeys. Both species of monkeys eat the soft fruits and fleshy young leaves that are around them. In 1997 there was a severe drought, and the soft fruit and leaves were no longer available. The mangabey monkeys survived because they could crack seeds and get at hard foodstuffs which they did not eat until they had to. Animals are designed to get through the hard times but will pass up their special adaptions designed for survival so they can eat preferred foods.

We humans do the same thing. There are times when we eat something we may not like in order to survive, but unlike most animals, our bodies are designed to eat just about anything. We need to remember, “I will praise thee, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14) when we look at the diversity of stuff to eat in our local supermarket. We are reminded that Liem’s Paradox is only a paradox to those who are committed to naturalism.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Know the Meaning of Life

Know the Meaning of Life
It was a study using scientific methods to determine what category of people are the most content with life. The research involved compiling the results of five different psychological studies of more than 50,000 individuals completed between 1981 and 2017. The journal Social Psychological and Personality Science published a report of the final result in June 2018. The happiest group are those who know the meaning of life.

A team of psychologists from the University of Southern California conducted the study. They concentrated on the political views of the test subjects, looking to see whether they were liberal or conservative. The conservatives consistently were the happiest, and they more often claimed to know the meaning of life. The media reported this as a “happiness gap” between liberals and conservative.

This study concentrated on political viewpoints, but when the researchers adjusted their model to remove “religious attendance” from the equation, the conservatives were still happier and found more purpose in life than liberals did. However, they found that the people who were pro-life and did not support same-sex marriage (which would include most conservative Christians) were more likely to believe that life has meaning and purpose. (After all, why would someone who believes there is a purpose in life not be pro-life?)

The author of the new study, David Newman, said, “Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be and that there is a sense of order. If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful.”

Christians believe that there is order because God created an orderly universe. We believe that chaos is the result of sin. We also believe that God created us for a purpose and no matter what happens in this life, God loves us and has something better waiting for us. Our hope is in Christ, and nothing in this life can take away the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The scientists attempted to remove the God factor by taking “religious attendance” out of the equation. Perhaps they didn’t realize that attendance at some kind of religious gathering is not what makes a person a true Christian. The accurate measure of a Christian life is allowing Jesus Christ to be Lord. When Christ is at the center of our being, and we live by faith, we will have contentment, and we will know the meaning of life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Immune System – The Seventh Sense?

Immune System - The Seventh Sense?
The cover story in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American is titled “The Seventh Sense.” Jonathan Kipnis wrote the article with the subtitle “Long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”

The article reports on new studies of how the brain and the immune system interact. Not only does the immune system help an injured brain, but it also plays a role in helping the brain deal with stress and informs it of microorganisms in and around the body. When I was in college the brain and the immune system were viewed as independent of one another. The central nervous system controls all the body’s functions, and this new study shows that the brain is connected to this system in such a way that the immune system is an integral part of both.

We have five senses–smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. The sense of position and movement is usually referred to as a sixth sense. These senses report to the brain about our external and internal environments. The brain computes the activity needed for our protection. Microorganisms are present in all of these environments, and the ability to sense them and provide a way to defend against them is necessary. It appears that our immune system is hardwired into the brain, and if that is the case, it is the seventh sense.

In the modern world, we have so many things that attack our bodies that we need to find new treatments based on a better understanding of how the immune system works. New studies are in the works that will expand our knowledge. One thing is clear–the system is highly complex, and we are just beginning to understand how it works and how to deal with the new challenges brought on by the world in which we live.

Psalms 139:14 says it well: “I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.” (King James Translation.) “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous.” (Taylor translation.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Believing in Uniformitarianism Raises Questions

Believing in Uniformitarianism Raises Questions
Evolution makes a very large number of assumptions. One of those assumptions called uniformitarianism is the belief that no process has ever operated in the past that is not going on today. Believing in uniformitarianism gives some answers, but it raises many questions.

Today we know how glaciers work and how volcanoes form and shape the land. We are aware of all of the various forms of erosion and the chemical processes that alter materials of the Earth. When we look at something like the Grand Canyon, we assume that those same processes deposited the rocks and shaped the canyon. There are places high in the canyon where there are beach deposits that look like the beaches we see along the shores of Lake Michigan. That leads us to believe that at one time there was a lake in what is now the canyon. When we look at the Coconino sandstone in the Grand Canyon, we see the remains of sand dunes that look like the ones I see out the window of my house. The angles of the dune faces, the frosting of the sand grains, and the footprints of lizards that sink deep into the dune faces all cause us to rule out a flood as the cause of the Coconino sandstone.

At the same time, processes going on today don’t explain catastrophic events that seem to have happened in the past. In the 1980s scientists found evidence suggesting that an asteroid struck the Earth and altered the history of our planet. Some scientists expressed strong resistance to the asteroid proposal and gave all kinds of alternative explanations. If an astronomical event of that magnitude took place wiping out a majority of land species, the evolutionary theories of that day would have to be modified or discarded. This gave support for proposals like punctuated equilibrium, but it also caused many people in the scientific community to reject the asteroid as a possible cause. Those believing in uniformitarianism and naturalism resisted any attempt to suggest that catastrophic events may have shaped the Earth’s history.

From a biblical standpoint, we see that there have been catastrophic events in the past that are not happening today. The flood of Noah, the crossing of the Red Sea, the deaths of the firstborn in Egypt, and all the miracles the Bible describes are not happening today and thus are not uniformitarian. These, however, are rare and are the exception to what happens on a daily basis.

New evidence shows that believing in uniformitarianism as the single cause of the Earth’s history is not valid. Evidence shows that about 12,800 years ago there was a very rapid cooling of the Earth called the Younger Dryas. One proposal is that a massive pulse of cold freshwater from glaciers flooded the ocean cooling the planet. Another suggestion is that a comet exploded in the atmosphere triggering wildfires which produced enough soot to block the Sun and cool the planet. In 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, an event like that occurred when a meteoroid exploded producing as much energy as 1000 Hiroshima bombs and gave support to the idea that astronomical catastrophes caused some structures on Earth.

Scientific literature is full of current research reports supporting catastrophic change in the Earth’s history. Scientists will continue this debate, and new finds will establish support for various theories. It remains clear that believing in uniformitarianism and naturalism to explain the total history of our planet is on shaky ground.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News, July 7, 2018, P 18.

Longest Blood Moon

Longest Blood Moon
It will be the longest blood moon of the twenty-first century. There have been books and articles about “blood moons” in recent years relating them to prophecies of various kinds. However, this event will not be a miraculous sign of some impending doom or destruction. It will not be a sign of the second coming of Christ. This lunar eclipse is an entirely natural phenomenon.

A so-called “blood moon” is actually an eclipse of the Moon. Most of the time, we see the light of the Sun reflected from the Moon. When Earth, Moon, and Sun are perfectly aligned with our planet in the middle, the Moon becomes covered by Earth’s shadow. Since Earth is much larger than the Moon, it can throw a shadow across the entire Moon. That is what will happen at 4:21 p.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time on July 27. However, it will not be visible in the United States. A partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, and it will be total in Africa, the Middle East, and part of Asia.

Why does the Moon appear red or orange during a lunar eclipse giving it the name “blood moon?” That’s because as the Sun’s light passes through Earth’s atmosphere, it is filtered and bent so that a small amount of light reaches the Moon’s surface. We see the effect of our atmosphere on sunlight when we watch the red-orange colors of a sunrise or sunset. If you were on the surface of the Moon, you would see that sunset effect as a halo around the Earth. Looking at the Moon from Earth, we see the reflection of that sunrise/sunset glow reflected back to us. The Moon takes on an eerie, but faint blood-red glow.

This lunar eclipse will be the longest blood moon of the century because of a near-perfect alignment of Earth between the Sun and Moon. From beginning to end, this eclipse will last almost four hours. The period of totality will be an hour and 43 minutes. The next lunar eclipse visible in North America will be on January 21, 2019, and it will last only an hour and two minutes. How do we know these statistics? We can know when lunar (and solar) eclipses will occur because we know how they happen. We know that our solar system is very orderly and predictable because it is well designed.

In ancient times eclipses caused people to panic. People in ancient Mesopotamia thought an eclipse was an attack by demons. The Inca people in fifteenth-century South America would shake spears and make noise to scare away what they believed was a jaguar attacking the Moon. There is a story that Christopher Columbus and his men were stranded for six months on the island now known as Jamaica. The indigenous Arawak people became less than generous in sharing food. Columbus knew from an almanac that a total lunar eclipse was about to happen. He told the local people that his God was angry and would take away the Moon in three days. When Columbus’ prediction seemed to come true, the Arawaks were terrified. They gave Columbus’ crew whatever they wanted to bring the Moon back. Amazingly, the Moon returned to normal, and everyone was happy.

So as the longest blood moon of the century comes and goes, don’t let anyone try to tell you it is some kind of miraculous sign. After all, we can’t predict miracles. The only miracle that was clearly (and repeatedly) predicted in advance and which actually happened was the resurrection of Jesus.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Quantum Mechanics Bumps Into God

Quantum Mechanics Bumps Into God
New ideas and concepts in quantum mechanics come out so frequently that it is hard to keep up with them, much less understand them. “Quantum Collapse” seems to be at the forefront of the most recent theories and proposals, and new experiments are appearing in the literature that seem to confirm at least some parts of modern quantum mechanics. At some point, quantum mechanics bumps into God.

The biggest challenge seems to be connecting classical physics and quantum mechanics. What seems to work in understanding quantum mechanics applications to electrons and atoms doesn’t work when applied to larger objects like the moon.

Dr. Steven Adler at Princeton University says, “Newtonian mechanics was believed to be exact for 200 years, and now it is not. Most theories have a domain in which they work, and then there’s a domain beyond which they don’t work and where a broader theory is needed.” Nobel Laureate Stephen Weinberg says, “It’s a problem of failing to satisfy the reactionary philosophical preconceptions of people like me.” Weinberg has taken atheistic stances on a variety of issues, but the bottom line is that rejecting God as the creator leaves enormous incompleteness in a person’s worldview.

Quantum mechanics offers an understanding of the creation that those of us trained in Newtonian mechanics view as strange. Dr. Angelo Bassi, a leading theoretical physicist says, “Some people will tell you quantum mechanics has taught us that the world is strange, so we have to accept it, but I say if something is strange, we have to understand it better.” Tim Folger writing in Scientific American (July 2018, page 30) says, “Where does the quantum world end and the so-called classical world of Newtonian physics begin? Is there a rift in reality, a scale beyond which quantum effects simply cease? Or does quantum mechanics reign everywhere and we are somehow blind to it?”

Bible readers may recall Paul’s discussion of reality in Acts 17:28: “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” The Bible frequently states that the real world we live in was caused by forces we cannot see. Hebrews 11:3 tells us “…that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The Bible’s message is that the creation came from God, not from eternally-existing matter, so quantum mechanics bumps into God.

Quantum mechanics is telling us more and more about the complex wisdom and planning that God used in creating time, space, electric charge and all that makes up the physical world. In Proverbs 8:22 “Wisdom” speaks saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.” That wisdom and planning shine through the creation everywhere we look, even when quantum mechanics bumps into God.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs
One of the most amazing things we see in the natural world is the ability of some living things to make incredible migrations. In the past, we have described the monarch butterfly’s migrations from wintering areas in Mexico to northern parts of the United States covering a round trip of about 10,000 kilometers. However, we see that painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs.

Scientists have studied how the monarchs navigate such incredible distances with formidable obstacles in their way. Biologists have proposed a variety of models as to how these fragile butterflies could acquire such an ability. However, in the case of the monarchs, the journey is not made by a single butterfly but by a succession of generations.

Science News for July 21, 2018 (page 4) told about a study of another butterfly with an amazing migration. It has the scientific name Vanessa cardui and is commonly known as the painted lady butterfly. These butterflies live in Southern Europe and migrate to Africa in the fall–a distance of 12,000 km. That’s 2000 kilometers farther than the monarchs, and the journey involves crossing the Sahara Desert. As with the monarchs, scientists had believed that the migration involved several generations. New techniques allowed researchers to put markers on the painted ladies when they were caterpillars. We now know that at least some of the butterflies make this incredible journey in one lifetime.

When you look at the barriers to this migration including changes in wind direction, mountains, desert, and storms it is difficult not to be impressed with how the painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs. Trying to construct a possible model based on chance processes involves so many assumptions that it is hard to accept that this ability can have an evolutionary explanation. Believing that God’s creation included building a DNA set of instructions that allows the painted ladies and monarchs to migrate is not just an assumption, but the weight of the evidence supports it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
In 1960 radio astronomer Frank Drake began research to find alien civilizations in deep space by aiming an 85-foot radio telescope at some sun-like stars. He found nothing, but it was the beginning of a program known as SETI – Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

The SETI program has continued through the years with many radio telescopes aimed at every area of space. In 1971 NASA funded a study that involved Frank Drake. They issued a report proposing Project Cyclops. That project would require the construction of 1,500 radio telescopes at the cost of ten-billion dollars. That project was never completed for obvious reasons. However, the concept of the report was used to continue the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence to this day with funding from various sources. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars have been spent with a net result of zero. No radio signals containing any intelligence have been detected–only noise.

Now there is “active SETI” in which scientists are sending radio signals toward distant stars. Frank Drake admitted that in 1974 he transmitted an encoded message toward a star cluster 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Hercules. Naturally, that message will arrive at its target in 25,000 years. If any intelligent being gets the message and responds immediately, it will take 25,000 years for the return message. Drake will not be here to receive that message in 50,000 years, and neither will anyone reading this.

As the search for extraterrestrial intelligence continues, is it possible that there really is an intelligent Being out there who is listening and waiting to hear from us? Is it possible that this Being is not limited by time and space? Is it possible that this Being is our Creator who has already communicated with us by becoming one of us? Is it possible that we are not listening?
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Autonomic Nervous System at Work

Autonomic Nervous System at Work
I know you have many things to think about. However, there are many more critical things that you don’t have to think about because your autonomic nervous system is at work.

Just take a moment to think about all of the things you don’t have to think about. I mean you breathe without having to think about it—even in your sleep! Humans and animals have what is called an autonomic nervous system, and we could not live without it. It’s an amazing system in the hypothalamus of our brains that allows our bodies to perform functions without our having to think about them.

The autonomic system not only keeps us breathing while we sleep, but it also causes our heart to beat, our stomach to digest food, our pupils to adjust to changing light levels, our body to sweat when overheated, and many other things we don’t have to think about. Without the autonomic nervous system, anything we tried to swallow would get stuck in our throat because the esophagus would not push it down to the stomach. The stomach would not digest our food, and the intestines and colon would not send nutrition to our bloodstream and remove waste. Your liver and pancreas will do their jobs even if you don’t give them a thought. This amazing system allows our internal organs function without our having to think about it.

Essential functions of life just happen without our thinking about them, and sometimes without our knowing about them. But that presents some big questions. Did the autonomic nervous system just happen, or was it designed? How could this system just happen to start working at the right time with the correct program to control these complex machines which are our bodies? I suggest that this system requires a Designer who is also an excellent Engineer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018