Look Through a Telescope

Look Through a Telescope

Modern technology has given all of us a chance to look through a telescope and see what is in outer space. In the “old days” the only people that could look outside our solar system were astronomers who had access to powerful telescopes. Now all of us can look out and see what lies beyond our solar system without buying a telescope because the pictures are available to us on the web. If you go to apod.nasa.gov you can see pictures taken through the world’s largest telescopes. The picture for August 7, 2020, is of the Pipe Nebula. As I stare at the picture, I am awestruck by the number of stars in the cosmos.

Why are there so many? Why is the cosmos so big? If you believe that God created it all, why did He create billions of stars in billions of galaxies? If Earth is the only place with life, why are there other planets, other stars, other solar systems? Why is space full of matter like the Pipe Nebula? Obviously no one knows the answers to all these questions. Anyone who gives a dogmatic answer that invalidates the existence of God is claiming to have more knowledge than the rest of us. Those who claim the pictures are fakes or artistic works have not taken the trouble to go to an observatory and look through a telescope. Most observatories have arrangements that allow the general public to do that. We have no excuse for doubting the credibility of the pictures.

Whether you are an atheist or a religious fundamentalist, your viewpoint makes massive assumptions. Here are a few things you should know, that may make you uncomfortable:

No observation made has ever challenged the basic biblical claim that there was a beginning and that it was caused. You can argue about what the cause was, but attempting to deny that there was a beginning, puts you at odds with the observations and the laws of physics–even at a quantum level.

There is no support for the assumption that planet Earth is the only place in the universe where life exists. If there is life elsewhere, God created it, and the Bible does not say the Earth is the only place where God created life. However, the distances are so huge that we will never know if this is the only place–at least not in our lifetimes. Many years ago, I debated an atheist on a talk show with Larry King. A listener called in and asked the atheist and me “What would you two do if a space ship landed in plain sight and a little green man got out and asked, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” That raises all kinds of issues, but it makes the point. By the way, the atheist’s answer was, “Punt.”

As we look through a telescope we are looking into the distant past light-years ago. No one knows what the distant future holds. Could it be that God wants humans to colonize the cosmos? Perhaps our vision of God’s kingdom is too small. Every time I look at one of those pictures of star fields or look through a telescope, I am reminded of Psalms 8:3-4 “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained: What is man, that you are mindful of him?”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Spreading Life Throughout the Earth

Spreading Life Throughout the Earth - Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

An amazing fact is that the creation is designed for continually spreading life throughout the Earth. That isn’t always a good thing for humans.

Several years ago, a friend of mine built a large pond on his farm. He planned to stock the pond with desirable fish, avoiding carp and sunfish, which he considered to be trash fish. He stocked it with largemouth bass, and some minnows used as food for the bass. Later, when I was visiting him, I decided to do a little fishing in his pond. The first fish I caught was a large carp, and a whole school of sunfish converged on a grasshopper or worm I used as bait.

My friend was horrified and promptly wanted to accuse an enemy of putting trash fish in his pond. I noticed a great blue heron wading through the shallows of the pond picking off minnows, and immediately I knew how the sunfish got there. Herons wade through areas where fish have built nests of eggs during their spawn. The eggs are sticky and adhere to the Heron’s legs. When the Heron goes to another pond, it carries the fish eggs along.

Recent research has discovered another way in which fish are designed to spread from place to place. A study in Hungary has shown that some fish eggs can pass through the digestive system of a duck, and a small percentage of the eggs have baby fish still alive inside.

The wisdom of this system in the natural world is apparent. A new body of water will usually be sterile. To get a functional ecological system going, the bottom of the food chain must be established quickly. Birds are facilitators in getting a fish population in operation, and now we know of at least two ways they do it.

The implications for humans are significant. Biologists trying to keep a species of carp out of the Great Lakes have a huge problem. The design of fish and birds makes it almost impossible to keep any fish population isolated. God has created many designs for spreading life throughout the Earth, even into sterile places.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News, August 1, 2020 page 13.

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics
Burning a Rainforest to Plant a Palm Oil Plantation

One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.

The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.

Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.

Humans have brought on most of our major disease issues by allowing greed and “survival of the fittest” mentality to govern our decisions about how we use the environment. We waste between 30 and 40% of the food we produce. Poor agricultural techniques and mismanagement of water prevent efficient use of what God has given us. Deforestation and disease go together. Now we are contaminating our atmosphere and filling our lakes, rivers, and oceans with waste.

The title of the Scientific American article is “To Stop Pandemics, Stop Deforestation.” God gave us the “garden” and the tools to manage it. We can’t continue to mismanage it and not see more consequences such as pandemics, global warming, and diseases produced by our failure to do what God called us to do in the beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Planetary Atmosphere Variations

Planetary Atmosphere Variations - Earth

The dominant theory for the origin of the planets in our solar system assumes that they all evolved from a single mass or nebula. Several factors support that idea. Those factors include the fact that the planets lie roughly in one plane, that they all revolve around the Sun in the same direction, and that there is mathematical predictability to their location. Most of the irregularities that might indicate against a common source, such as variations in planetary tilt, have reasonable explanations. However, new planetary atmosphere variations are difficult to explain.

Recent studies of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets have shown wide variations. Our atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, but nitrogen on Venus is 4%, and on Mars, it is 2.7%. Both Mars and Venus have atmospheres that are 95% carbon dioxide, while Earth is 0.1%, and Mercury has none. Earth and Mercury have oxygen in their atmospheres, 21% and 42% respectively, but Venus and Mars have less than 1%.

Astronomers theorize that they can explain these planetary atmosphere variations.
They suggest that the atmospheres are not original to the planets, but were produced by processes that took place after the formation of the planets. The best guess now is that impacts and outgassing formed the atmospheres. This is not a trivial matter because life is not possible without the proper combination of atmospheric gases.

The Genesis account describes the production of Earth’s structure in a sequence. Genesis 1:6-9 indicates separate creations of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The new data support the idea that once Earth was created, continued activity prepared it for life. Once again, we find the scientific evidence in support of the Bible’s description.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Astronomy magazine, August 2020, page 12.

Life in a Lava Tube on Mars

Life in a Lava Tube
Lava River Cave, Arizona

Lava tubes on Earth are dark and cold places. It’s unclear what they may be like on Mars, but perhaps someone will find out. Future Martian explorers may experience life in a lava tube.

Camping out on Mars is not a good idea. There is no breathable atmosphere, and the radiation is deadly. Without much of an atmosphere, the temperature on Mars varies extremely. On a summer day near the equator, the temperature may reach a comfortable 70 degrees F (20 degrees C). However, without the thermal blanket of an atmosphere, the night-time temperature can drop to minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C). At the poles, the temperature can get down to minus 195 F (minus 125 C). The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees F (minus 60 C).

Transporting materials to build a suitable shelter on Mars would be difficult. Any structure would have to be small and still might not give adequate protection from radiation. The surface of Mars receives unfiltered solar radiation, cosmic rays, and ionized particles from the solar wind. With the lack of an atmosphere or a magnetosphere, which we have on Earth, there is nothing to block the dangerous radiation. The amount of radiation is many times what astronauts experience in the International Space Station (ISS). NASA limits astronaut exposures in the ISS to months. Explorers might have to spend years on Mars. Just getting there will take about seven months.

What does this have to do with life in a lava tube, and what are lava tubes anyway? During a volcanic eruption, molten lava can bore its way through the ground and run out into the open. When the molten lava exits, it often leaves behind a cave-like underground tube. I explored the Lava River Cave (bottom picture) in Arizona, located in the Coconino National Forest. The walls are black basalt, which the lava left behind, and there is no light except at the entrance. The temperature remains constant at around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). In most places, the ceiling is high enough that I could stand up, but in other areas, I had to crouch down or get on my hands and knees. The top picture shows a larger lava tube in Iceland.

Researchers have detected what appears to be lava tubes on Mars near Hadriacus Mons, which is a volcanic mountain formed long ago when the Martian interior was hot. They suggest that those lava tubes would be the best location for a Martian outpost. The lava tubes would give protection from the radiation, and it might even be possible to seal one off, pressurize it with oxygen, and heat it. They tested the radiation protection concept in some lava tubes on Earth, including the Lava River Cave in Arizona.

All of this drives home how blessed we are to have a home on planet Earth. I can step outside on a beautiful day, breathe the oxygen, feel the filtered rays of sun on my face, enjoy the pleasant temperature, and thank God for the blessings. Stepping out of the lava tube on Mars without the protection of a super-spacesuit would mean instant death. Even though I enjoyed exploring the lava tube in Arizona, I wouldn’t want to live there. Life in a lava tube does not interest me. I enjoy living on this planet, which God designed to give us everything we need if we will just take care of it.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Wandering Stars in the Sky

"Wandering Stars" in the Sky

The ancient Greeks saw the five visible planets and called them “wandering stars” because they moved randomly across the sky instead of staying in fixed positions like the stars. The word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”

We have known for many centuries that the planets are not stars. They appear to wander because they orbit the Sun, just like our planet Earth. They orbit at different speeds, making them appear to wander in the sky. For astronomers to classify a celestial body as a planet, it must meet three requirements:

  1. It must have enough mass for gravity to cause it to become spherical, unlike an asteroid.
  2. It must not have enough mass to cause thermonuclear fusion, which would make it a star.
  3. It must have cleared the area of debris known as planetesimals.

We have five planets that are visible without the aid of telescopes or even binoculars. Two of the visible planets are called inferior planets, not because of importance but because their orbit is inside Earth’s orbit. They are Mercury and Venus. The other three are known as the superior planets since they are beyond Earth’s orbit. They are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

There is one essential thing the ancient Greeks did not understand about the solar system. They did not know that it is orderly. The Greeks saw a pantheon of gods controlling various aspects of the Earth and skies. Each of their gods had all of the bad traits of humans struggling with each other. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of one almighty and wise creator God who created an orderly system that led to the scientific understanding of the cosmos.

Today, we can study and understand the wisdom of God in creation. Because of that, we can know where the planets and stars, as well as solar and lunar eclipses, will be visible at any given time and from any location on Earth. Those “wandering stars” are not wandering after all.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:

Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.

The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.

The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.

The cosmos is much larger than most of us can imagine. The light we see from some of those stars left the stars hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measuring the distance to stars gives new meaning to passages like Isaiah 40:22: “He stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in.”

If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Tools to Counteract Greenhouse Gases

Tools to Counteract Greenhouse Gases - Diatoms

People have paid much attention to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere because they play a significant role in global warming. The main culprit in the greenhouse gas list is carbon dioxide. Not only do we exhale this gas, but fires of all kinds produce it. With the recent major fires in Australia, there is even more concern about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But God has given the Earth some tools to counteract greenhouse gases.

The most efficient tool built into the Earth is a microscopic plant called a diatom. There are 12,000 species of diatoms in Earth’s lakes and oceans. Unlike phytoplankton, diatoms are encased in porous, intricately structured silica shells. Examined under a microscope, these silica shells are beautiful, and they are very resistant to change in shape. That means that the spaces between the shells can collect particulate material. So diatoms are used as filtering agents to filter water for swimming pools and as fillers for aerating soils in yards. The shells are used as diatomaceous earth, which is familiar to most of us, especially those who raise roses or tomatoes.

Diatoms can also absorb gases. In the oceans, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up in the ocean’s depths. Diatoms capture as much carbon dioxide as all the trees, grasses, and other land plants combined. The fancy latticework of the diatom is not just for humans to admire. Because of the twists and turns of their shells, the surface area of diatoms is much greater than that of smooth shells. The increased surface area maximizes photosynthesis and allows the diatoms greater energy for growth and reproduction.

The life expectancy of a diatom is about six days. Because the silicon is heavy, the diatom at death sinks to the ocean floor or lake, taking carbon with it. One solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide is to catalyze the growth of diatoms. Iron nutrients can do that, and seeding the oceans with iron might be a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Diatoms are one more example of the design built into Earth’s structure to allow the planet to exist over the long haul. While diatoms are not apparent to the human eye, they are tools to counteract greenhouse gases and a possible solution to a modern problem.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Why Do Birds Fly North in Spring?

Why Do Birds Fly North in Spring?

We all understand why birds of the Northern Hemisphere fly south in the fall. When the temperatures drop in Michigan, and the lakes are covered with ice, most birds have found a warmer place in the south. Michigan has many so-called “snowbirds” in the human population who leave us in November to go to Florida’s sunny shores. They come back in the spring to enjoy Michigan summers and because they have family here. The question is, why do birds fly north in spring? Couldn’t they save a lot of trouble by just staying in the south all year?

The answer to that question is food. The fact is that tropical areas simply don’t have enough insects to provide the protein that birds need to feed their chicks. When birds are in the south, they survive by eating berries, fruits, and nectar. None of those foods provide much protein. The time when birds return to the north coincides with the explosion of insects in the spring. They can enjoy less competition and longer days while dining on insects in the north.

The question remains as to how the birds know this? How do they know that they can benefit by traveling hundreds or thousands of miles in the spring? Why do the birds have the urge to fly north at the time that benefits them as well as the ecological systems they help to support? In other words, why do birds fly north in spring? The answer is that it’s built into their genes.

God’s view of Earth and the systems that make it work is far greater than ours. We are beginning to understand how many things, such as bird migration, must happen for the system of life to exist. It also speaks to us about how important it is that we take care of what God has given us.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Smithsonian magazine, May 2020, page 88.

Water Cycle and Life

Water Cycle and Life

Many passages in the Bible seem to be of little significance, yet they are incredibly important. Here is one of them about the water cycle.

“All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” Ecclesiastes 1:7.

It is believed that Solomon wrote those words in 977 BC. What did people understand about the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle, at that time? The answer, of course, is “very little.” Meteorologist Dr. Joseph Scott Greeson says about this passage, “Without using modern words – like ‘evaporation,’ ‘condensation,’ and ‘precipitation,’ this passage describes the results of those processes in these words… My twentieth-century scientific mind recognized that the writer of that passage must have had quite an understanding of the interaction between water on earth and water in the sky.”

There is a delicate balance of processes in the hydrologic cycle that allow us to have water even far from a lake or ocean. Many years ago, I had a friend who was involved in seeding clouds with silver iodide to stimulate them to produce rain. I knew that he was involved in this project and that he had many stories about how the seeding of clouds worked. I also knew he got out of that business, and I asked him why? His response was, “We were doing okay in getting rain started, but we were doing very poorly in knowing how to stop it.”

Global warming is bringing water to places that previously were deserts. We know that temperature controls how much water is lifted into the air by evaporation. A one-inch rainfall over a square mile of land involves the lifting of 72,483.84 tons of water. (Do the math. Water is 62.4 lbs per cubic foot. An inch is 1/12th of a foot, so the volume of water in a square mile of land would be 5280 feet/mile x 5280 x 1/12th or 2,323,200 cubic feet.) How many square miles of land receive an inch of rain in a typical spring storm? This is the start of the water cycle.

As the water flows into streams and rivers, it nourishes everything in its path, ultimately returning to the sea from which it evaporated. The system that powers the hydrologic cycle is massive, and all of life depends on it. God used the water cycle to impress upon Job that he “darkens counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). After talking about the creation, God takes the hydrologic cycle as the first evidence of His knowledge, design, and power. “Who provides a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the storm to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass. Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew…” (See verses 22-30).

Be thankful for the rain that brings life to us and for the water cycle that God designed so that, if properly managed, we all have enough to drink and to grow our food.

— John N. Clayton ©

Greeson quote from Scientists Who Believe page 64, Moody Press ISBN 0-8024-7634-1.