Christian Response to a Crisis

Christian Response to a Crisis

One of the great evidences for the validity of the Christian way of living as taught by Jesus Christ is the effect it has on the way people treat other people. In Acts 4:31-37, we see the first century Church sharing their possessions and looking after one another. When there was a famine in Jerusalem, churches in other parts of the Roman empire raised funds to feed the Jerusalem Christians. Christianity, when practiced, stood out as a positive force, continually meeting the needs of others. That is the Christian response to a crisis such as COVID-19 or Y2K.

During the Y2K scare
, “experts” said that the financial systems of the world might collapse. The response was that people stockpiled food and essential commodities. Many people not only locked away supplies, but they set up military-like defenses to keep others out. The government maintained that there was no cause for alarm, but people didn’t trust the government, and they enlisted other ways of protecting their money and property.

Now we have a similar crisis, except this one is a biological problem. How have people reacted? We not only see people stockpiling things they consider important for their survival, but also using the crisis to make money. We have seen people buying massive amounts of toilet paper or hand sanitizer and then trying to sell them for vastly inflated prices. People have made substantial amounts of money by selling “cures” that don’t work and even testing kits, masks, and ventilators that were unreliable. Gun stores have seen a rush on guns and ammunition. Survival of the fittest has been the message of the COVID-19 catastrophe.

Those are the worst-case situations. At the same time, some people have made sacrifices to help others survive. Many individuals and Christians have operated food banks and cared for the ill. Most of them did so as islands of Christian compassion in a world of selfishness and greed. The Christian response to a crisis is entirely different from the selfish response.

Watching these emergencies argues strongly for the need to see God working in the lives of people today. The statement of Jesus, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few,” has 21st-century relevance. (See Matthew 9:37.)

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!

This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.

There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.

The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.

As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!! Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Faith of the Wealthy?

Faith of the Wealthy?

One of the constant accusations of atheists and skeptics is that Christians oppress those who are poor. Nearly every week, we read about a well-known preacher who has gotten very wealthy by his preaching, or a religious leader who has made a fortune by merchandising his or her faith. Is Christianity a faith of the wealthy?

There is no question that some people use Christianity to benefit themselves. But that is not Christianity. It is a perversion of what Jesus taught and what the Christian faith is about. In Matthew 23, Jesus describes this kind of religious leader. He says they “bind heavy burdens .. and lay them on men’s shoulders; but that they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” He talks about them wanting praise and devouring widows’ houses and points out their hypocrisy. Throughout His ministry, Jesus and His followers helped people.

In Matthew 11:2-11, John the Baptist sent his disciples to determine if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus responded by telling John and his disciples to look at who Jesus ministered to – the blind, the crippled, the lepers, the deaf, and the poor. He then asks the crowds, “What did you go to see in John, a man in fancy clothing? Those people are in King’s houses.. but come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden…” In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus tells his hometown crowd that He came to preach to the poor, the broken-hearted, the blind, and the captives. In Luke 6:20-38, Jesus tells the poor that they are the kingdom of God. Jesus condemned the rich, not because they were rich, but because of how they used their wealth. (See Luke 11:39-46.) Christianity is not a faith of the wealthy oppressing the poor.

In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus ate with the outcasts of society, and the religious leaders asked: “Why?” Jesus said, “I did not come to call the virtuous people but the outcasts.” The ministry of Paul was to the poor, including those who rejected Judaism. Galatians 2:10 finds Paul talking about “giving thought to the poor.” The passage goes on to talk about Peter struggling with this, and Paul reprimanding him (verses 11-18). The early Church was all about supporting the weak. (See Acts 20:35, Romans 15:1, I Corinthians 9:22-23, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14). James even condemned congregations who gave deference to the wealthy in James 2:2-8.

There is too much need around us for any Christian to be wallowing in self-serving wealth. Skeptics and atheists are correct in condemning those who claim to be Christians but have not found the joy of giving. Those they condemn do not represent what Christianity is all about and how real Christians try to live. Christianity is not a faith of the wealthy, but a faith of caring for the needs of all.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Third Law of Thermodynamics

Third Law of Thermodynamics

For the past two days, we have been examining the Laws of Thermodynamics. As I said before, In 41 years of teaching high school physics, I learned that the hard part of teaching is getting kids to want to understand physics concepts. The concepts are easy if the students can see some application to their daily lives. But if they don’t understand the relevance of the subject, they won’t try to understand it. To get their attention, I called the unit on thermodynamics “Break the Thermo law and You Don’t Survive!” The three laws of thermodynamics are fundamental truths that apply to all of science, and we would not be alive without them. Today, we look at the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

THIRD LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: Absolute Zero is a Limit that, Like the Speed of Light, Can Be Approached but Not Reached.

This statement of the Third Law is called the Nernst heat theorem, and, like the other two laws, it just makes sense. If matter were to reach absolute zero, then all atomic motion would stop. If electrons stopped orbiting around the positive nucleus of atoms, what would happen? Opposites attract, and the electrons would be pulled in by the protons in the nucleus. Matter would simply dissolve!

Interestingly, the Bible says that at the end of time, matter will dissolve (2 Peter 3:10). If you stop time and all motion that depends upon time, the Third Law of Thermodynamics tells us that all matter would dissolve. The design of the cosmos shows wisdom and purpose.

The laws of thermodynamics and the multiplicity of other laws that are known to science, all show that the creation is logical and open to understanding. We can see the evidence for the existence of a Creator of the cosmos through the things He has made (Romans 1:19-22). Understanding what God has done and something about how He has done it is what science is all about. Studying God’s creation is a wonderful, useful, and practical way to grow intellectually and spiritually.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

Second Law of Thermodynamics

Second Law of Thermodynamics

Yesterday we looked at the First Law of Thermodynamics. I said that in my 41 years of teaching high school physics, the hardest part was getting students to see how the subject applied to their lives. If they understood that life is not possible without the laws of thermodynamics, they would realize the importance of the topic and find it easier to understand. As with the First Law, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is essential to our existence.

THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: In Any Energy Conversion, Some Energy is Lost in the Form of Heat, Which Cannot be Recovered as Useful Energy.

This statement of the Second Law is known as the Clausius statement. What it describes is heat death. In any closed system, things tend to move toward a condition of disorder. We call that disorder “entropy.” The law does not say that energy is destroyed, because that would violate the First Law. It merely states that there is always some energy that cannot be recovered in any physical process. Things always move toward a condition of disorder.

To help students understand the Second Law, I would have a student put a spoon on the desk. While I was talking to the class, one end of the spoon would get hot and start to smoke. I would deny it was hot by picking it up at the other end and then putting it back right where I found it. There it would continue to get hotter and hotter on one end. The class would go ballistic, and I would ask them, “What’s the problem?” After a barrage of nutty answers (it’s haunted, it’s an illusion, etc.), I would point out that they had faith in the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Common sense tells them that order (the cold end) cannot exist at the same time as disorder (the hot end). I had an induction coil under the desk-top that was heating the spoon, but we all know that one end cannot remain hot, and the other end cold. Gases diffuse, things fall apart, and people get old because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

My favorite example is a teenager’s room, which becomes more and more disordered with time in conformance to the Second Law. It is essential to understand that all of these examples assume that no one is improving the order from the outside. If Mother comes along and makes you clean up your room, then the room is no longer a closed system. Organizing energy is added from the outside. The Second Law applies to systems in which no external organizing energy is added to the system. The induction coil made the spoon an open system.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has enormous implications for cosmology. It says that, like us, all stars and all galaxies will eventually die. The cosmos is not eternal. There had to be a specific point at which the cosmos had no unusable energy. At that point, there was no entropy. The biblical statement that there was a beginning is strongly attested to by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

We must point out that it is incorrect to apply the Second Law to planet Earth or to anything on Earth. Some creationists have attempted to attack evolution based on the Second Law, but Earth is not a closed system. Photosynthesis works because the Sun is adding energy to the Earth. Biological systems can have energy added to them by any number of methods such as light, radiation, heat, or thermal vents. The added energy improves order, reducing entropy. Although the Second Law verifies many biblical statements, it is not a tool to attack evolution.

Tomorrow we will examine the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

Laws of Thermodynamics

Laws of Thermodynamics

In 41 years of teaching high school physics, I learned that the hard part of teaching is getting kids to work on understanding concepts. The concepts are easy if the students can see some application to their daily lives. But if they did not understand the relevance of the subject, they were not going to work on understanding. To that end, I titled the unit on thermodynamics “Break the Thermo law and You Don’t Survive!” The three laws of thermodynamics are fundamental truths that apply to all of science, and theories that break those laws do not survive.

The laws of thermodynamics have a great deal to do with cosmology and questions about creation. We want to state these laws and try to point out their application to issues related to life, death, and how we live our lives.

THE FIRST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: The Total Increase in Thermal Energy of a System is the Sum of the Work Done on It and the Heat Added to It.

I used to tell my classes that this law says, “You don’t get something for nothing.” What does it take to run your car? One student said, “$2.00 a gallon.” They had learned how to calculate how much energy a gallon of gasoline produces, so I would show them how to calculate how far you ought to be able to drive your car on a gallon of gas. The answer usually came out to be something close to 1,000 miles. “He can’t get that crate of his out of the parking lot on a gallon of gas,” another student volunteered.

“What’s the inconsistency?” I would ask. Then I answered my own question by screaming, “The First Law of Thermodynamics!” The point is that the total thermal energy added to the car (the burning gasoline) will never be equal to the work done by the engine. There will always be energy lost to heating the engine, to friction, to incomplete combustion, and a variety of other energy-consuming problems.

This principle is simply a thermal statement of the Law of Conservation of Energy, and it applies to everything in life. We will never have cars, motors, or heating systems that are 100 percent efficient. Perpetual motion will never happen. There is always a price to pay for any energy that you use. Planet Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and in fact, the cosmos all operate in conformance to the First Law.

If the cosmos started with a massive singularity of energy, then that total energy is equal to the work that has been done in the cosmos and the energy that still exists within it. Proposing that something can “pop into existence out of nothing” is not a possibility. Energy systems can change, but the First Law will still apply. Quantum mechanics may show us new ways in which energy systems change, but the total energy of the cosmos has not changed even in quantum reactions. The fact that there are newly understood mechanisms of change does not invalidate the First Law. They change how the laws of thermodynamics are applied, sometimes in remarkable ways, but you still do not get something from nothing.

In the beginning, an incredible concentration of energy was created at the point when time and space were created. We know from Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 that this energy can appear as mass. Those of us who believe in God believe that “God is light” applies to this situation. God just took some of his own essence and produced the singularity that led to the cosmos. Those who reject God’s existence have to believe that some extra-dimensional entity did the same thing, but without wisdom, intelligence, or design.

While we can argue about what that entity is. We cannot argue about the laws of thermodynamics that describe how that initial singularity became the physical world in which we live–and became us as well. The first law of thermodynamics profoundly describes that, and it gives our world order, function, and predictability.

Tomorrow we will look at the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

Many people misunderstand what it means to be created in the image of God. If you think that God is an “old man in the sky,” then you probably believe that God looks like you. I have a whole shelf of children’s books that portray God as a caucasian, male, old white-bearded man in the sky. I have a few that show God as a man of color. I have one that shows Him as an oriental. All of these are dead wrong and can lead a child to misunderstand an essential concept that we are created in the spiritual image of God. God is not any racial, ethnic, sexual, or aged physical being (John 4:24). We know this is true because we see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 70-73) carried an interesting article by Kateb Wong titled “The First Story.” She begins a report on new archeological discoveries by saying, “Homo sapiens is the only species known to make figurative art, engage in spiritual thinking, and convey fictional tales through imagery.” We suggest that this is true because humans are the only life-form created in the image of God. We see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality. We don’t see this ability developing gradually over a long period of evolutionary change. The article reports on cave paintings discovered by archaeologists on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

What the paintings describe is a hunt. Six hunters using ropes or spears confront a large buffalo. Nearby more hunters are attacking other buffalos and pigs. One of the hunters is a therianthrope, meaning a spiritual leader and similar to the minotaur of Greek mythology. The researchers suggest that the scene shows a communal hunting strategy or game drive in which prey are flushed from cover and driven toward other hunters. These paintings are high up in hard to reach caves, and they appear to be made for cultural and symbolic use.

These are the oldest artworks anthropologists have ever found that depict a story. They show the uniqueness of humans from their earliest days on Earth. When God excluded humans from the “Garden,” they left with no experience, tools, or data. They had to start at the very beginning of the learning curve, but their desire for self-expression artistically and spiritually was in full operation. These ancient drawings display God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Leap Day Arrives Today!

Leap Day Arrives!

This is Leap Day. We all seem to know that Leap Day arrives every four years, but not everyone is aware of why or what message is involved. NASA gave the following explanation on the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” at apod.nasa.gov.

“In 46 BC Julius Caesar reformed the calendar system. Based on advice by astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria, the Julian calendar included one leap day every four years to account for the fact that an Earth year is slightly more than 365 days long. In modern terms, the time it takes for the planet to orbit the Sun once is 365.24219 mean solar days. So if calendar years contained exactly 365 days, they would drift from the Earth’s year by about one day every four years, and eventually, July (named for Julius Caesar himself) would occur during the northern hemisphere winter. By adopting a leap year with an extra day every four years, the Julian calendar year would drift much less. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII provided the further fine-tuning that leap days should not occur in years ending in 00, unless divisible by 400. This Gregorian Calendar system is the one in wide use today. Of course, tidal friction in the Earth-Moon system slows Earth’s rotation and gradually lengthens the day by about 14 milliseconds per century. That means that leap days like today will not be necessary … about 4 million years from now.”

As Leap Day arrives, the message is that Earth’s position, mass, stability, and motion are not just happy accidents. They are carefully designed, precise, and secure. Genesis 1:14 tells us, “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” The Hebrew word translated “seasons” in this verse is “moed” which means “an appointed time.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). Leap Day is a gentle reminder of what a special place God has given us to live and how important it is for us to take care of it.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Solar System Design

Solar System Design

The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 10-11) carried an interesting interview with well-known astronomer Dr. Mike Brown. One of the issues raised is the uniqueness of our solar system compared to other known planetary systems in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, and the evidence shows that our solar system design is not typical.

Dr. Brown points out that we are finding giant planets that are closer to their suns than our planet Mercury. We also find stars with eight very small planets that are also inside the orbital distance of Mercury. We don’t see a planet as small as Earth located as far from the parent star as we are anywhere else in the Milky Way. That makes the chances of having a planet in the “Goldilocks Zone” (where water could exist as a liquid) very low. It also means that the masses of the giant planets close to their parent stars must be enormous, and the speed of their orbits must be astronomical.

The process of solar system formation is subject to debate. However, the new observations make it difficult to find any explanation that works. The extra-solar discoveries just add more evidence to the fact that our solar system design is a unique product of engineering.

Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” speaking, and she says in verses 22-27, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His work before the Earth ever was … when he prepared the heavens, I was there.” The production of our planet was an incredible work of design, not an accident. That certainly urges us to care for what God has created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Dark Matter Mystery Deepens

Dark Matter Mystery Deepens

As we have explained before, scientists understand that a vast percentage of the matter in the creation is something they call dark matter. The simplest way to understand dark matter is to realize that when something is spinning around a core, there must be a force to keep the spinning mass from flying away because of centrifugal force. The dark matter mystery is the unknown quantity preventing spiral galaxies like the Milky Way from flying apart.

If you spin a child around so fast that their feet come off the ground, you must hold their hands tightly. If you let go, they would fly off away from you. Stars going around the center of a galaxy also have to be held by some force. The stars move so quickly that no known force could keep them where they are. That means there is a gravitational force we can’t see holding the stars in their position. We refer to the mass that exerts that gravitational force as dark matter.

Astrophysicist Peter van Dokkum of Yale University has announced the discovery of a galaxy known as DF2, which has stars and star clusters moving at a very slow pace around the core of the galaxy. In all other galaxies having stars at the same distance as stars in DF2, the stars are moving three times as fast as the stars in DF2. That can only mean that there is less dark matter in DF2.

This discovery increases the dark matter mystery because it appears that dark matter is not constant in the cosmos. The amount of dark matter in a galaxy depends on what is needed to keep everything moving at a speed that produces stability in the galactic system. There is a great deal of debate about this discovery, but it appears that the design of galaxies has a new variable that is critical to their existence. That critical factor is how much dark matter has been supplied to keep the system stable. God has tools affecting the creation that we are just beginning to understand. The role of dark matter is only one of those.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Astronomy magazine, March 2020 page 45-51.