Exoplanets and Life in the Universe

Exoplanets and Life in the Universe
Artist’s Conception of Alien Planets

“Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and other movies and television shows featuring space travel and alien life have fascinated people for decades. Yesterday, we examined how intergalactic travel would not be anything like what the movies depict. Other galaxies are many light-years away, and the laws of physics will not allow us to travel even one percent of light speed. Nevertheless, people are still concerned about exoplanets and life in the universe.

Regardless of whether we can go to other galaxies far, far away, or even solar systems within our own galaxy, astronomers are searching for “exoplanets.” An exoplanet is any planet outside of our solar system, and scientists are trying to find one that could support life. (We have dealt before with the question of why the universe is so large.)

Scientists look for planets orbiting stars that are so far away we can’t even see the stars with our unaided eyes. How is it possible to find planets that we can’t see, even with our best telescopes? They use at least three methods. When a planet transits in front of a star, it blocks a small amount of the star’s light. Very sensitive instruments detect that change. A star may wobble slightly because of orbiting planets, causing a detectable color shift due to the Doppler effect. Finally, astronomers sometimes use gravitational lensing to detect an orbiting planet if it causes bending of the light from a distant star.

Those are some methods astronomers use, hoping to find exoplanets and life elsewhere in the universe. However, unlike in the movies, the stars and their planets are so far away that we could never go there. Even sending a radio signal to those possible planets would take thousands or even millions of years, traveling at the speed of light. Getting a message back would take an equal amount of time.

There are so many requirements for life that the chances of any of those planets supporting advanced life would be almost infinitely small. If there is some form of life on any of them, how will we ever know? God could have created life elsewhere in the universe, but we have no evidence one way or the other. The Bible doesn’t tell us, and science can only look and hope for a clue. Whether or not life exists on other planets or moons, we believe the fine-tuning of Earth for life is evidence for God’s existence.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Space-Travel Adventure Movies

Space-Travel Adventure Movies

Space-travel adventure movies and novels may be fascinating, but they are not very realistic. Traveling through space poses many hazards to humans beyond equipment failures. There is also the danger of radiation exposure when a person leaves Earth’s protective atmosphere and magnetic field. And perhaps the most significant of all is the issue of time.

Travel to the Moon will take days. Traveling to Mars will take months. A space-travel adventure to any planet outside of our solar system would take multiple lifetimes. Astronomers have toyed with the idea of traveling to a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to us. That planet, Proxima Centauri b, is 42 light-years from Earth. Unless someone could find a way to travel through a wormhole, if such a thing exists, it would take 6,300 years to make the journey with present technology.

We are considering the present technology to be the speed of the Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018, which is 430,000 miles (690,000 km) per hour, or about .064 percent of light speed. According to Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross, the laws of physics would limit the top speed of a spaceship to about one percent of light speed, but we are far from achieving that. Also, a factor to consider would be a way to slow down on approaching the destination to avoid going right past it or crashing into it.

So, if we sent out a space-travel adventure crew to Proxima Centauri b, it would take many generations to arrive. That means people would have to reproduce many times on the way. Factors to be considered would have to include having enough crew members and genetic diversity to have a healthy crew on arrival at the destination. Using computer modeling, scientists have determined that the minimum team required would be 49 males and 49 females. Ninety-eight crew members would need a large ship. In addition, there would have to be facilities for recreation and to grow food.

The vast majority of the travelers on this spacecraft would never see Earth or the destination planet. Exposure of many generations to the radiation of outer space could cause physical or mental deformities that we can’t imagine. What if this small community just couldn’t get along together in cramped quarters? Avoiding a mutiny or rebellion would be a significant challenge. Keeping hundreds of generations focused on the same mission would be impossible. Putting the crew into a cryogenic state for thousands of years to avoid the multi-generation problem does not seem to be realistic. (Remember the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey?”) 

Producing food and recycling water would be essential for such a space-travel adventure. However, taking and preserving all equipment and materials needed for the crew to survive in a hostile environment on arrival at the alien planet would be impossible to plan or predict.

We may enjoy science fiction such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” or “Lost in Space,” but none of them are even remotely realistic. God has given us a beautiful planet with everything we need to survive and thrive. What we must do is take care of it. That means using resources wisely, protecting the environment, and protecting the animals that share the planet with us. Stewardship of God’s gifts was a command from the beginning. (See Genesis 2:15.)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: TechnogyReview.com, Space.com, and Why the Universe is the Way it Is by Hugh Ross.

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

What is the connection between tonight’s lunar eclipse and the Bible? Before we answer that, let’s consider the eclipse.

Lunar eclipses occur twice a year on average when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. Every 29 and a half days, the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in line with the Earth in the middle. When that happens, we see a full moon. However, a couple of times a year, the alignment is so precise that our planet momentarily blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. When Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon, we call it an eclipse. Sometimes the shadow completely blocks the Moon, giving us a total eclipse. This eclipse will be 97%.

The eclipse will occur in the early hours of Thursday, November 19, and it will be the longest partial eclipse in 580 years. The reason for the length is that the Moon is at apogee, meaning it is at its farthest point away from Earth in its somewhat elliptical orbit. Because of that, the Moon will be moving at its slowest speed in its orbit. (That’s a little bit of high school physics.) This eclipse is occurring during what some refer to as the Beaver full moon because it was the opening of the beaver-trapping season. In this case, it is the Micro Beaver because the Moon is farther away and will appear a little smaller.

This eclipse will be visible from all 50 of the United States at different areas of the sky, depending on your geographic location. The peak will be at around 4 a.m. EST (9 a.m. UTC), but it will stretch over almost three and a half hours. You can see a world map of the areas where the eclipse will be visible, check the exact beginning and end times for your location, and even watch a live stream of the eclipse at the timeanddate.com website. You may have to resort to the live stream if your area is overcast, or you don’t want to go outside early in the morning.

Now, back to the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. The point is that we can accurately predict the exact times and dates of lunar and solar eclipses many years in advance. We can also precisely know the time for sunrise and sunset anywhere on Earth. We can also launch a rocket to Mars, knowing exactly where the planet will be in space when the rocket arrives. How is that possible? Because God is faithful.

The ancients believed in many gods with human failings, acting capriciously. It was Christian faith in an omnipotent and never-changing God that made science possible. We have often said that we can know God from the things He has made. Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from has been made…” The book of scripture and the book of nature were both written by God, so they must agree. Even though we learn more details about God and His plan from scripture, we can know much about Him from nature. That is the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. One thing the creation teaches us is that God is faithful, just as we see in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.”

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Earth Is Spinning on its Axis

Earth Is Spinning on its Axis

Earth is spinning on its axis, and we can be thankful that it’s spinning at the right speed for life to exist.

If the Earth turned too slowly, surface temperatures would warm too much during the day and cool too much at night. Under those conditions, plants could not survive the long periods of darkness. If plants didn’t survive, animals and humans could not survive either.

If Earth rotated too fast, the temperature would go through wild extremes. Furthermore, a faster spin rate would create strong and dangerous cyclonic winds because of the Coriolis force. Jupiter spins nearly three times as fast as Earth, and astronomers can observe severe tornado and hurricane-like disturbances on its surface.

Earth’s spin rate is slowing and will continue to do so just as a spinning top slows down. However, there is no need to worry because the slowing is very gradual, lengthening the day by less than two milliseconds in a hundred years.

It’s the rotation of Earth on its axis that gives us day and night. In Genesis 1:14, we read about God moving away the clouds of darkness to reveal the Sun, Moon, and stars, which He had created in verse 1. Genesis 1:2 tells us that darkness covered the planet, and in Job 38:9, God tells us that the darkness was because of a garment of clouds. We need daylight for activities of life and night as a time of rest. Every animal, even insects, needs sleep. To thrive, plants also need a daily period of darkness.

Earth is spinning on its axis, and our day and night cycle is one of the many factors that make Earth the “Goldilocks” place–“just right” for humans to live. The chance of all those factors coming together by accident is beyond the realm of probability. Therefore, we suggest that this planet is not an accident but part of a divine design requiring a Designer.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

October Meteor Showers

Jupiter Comet Shield and October Meteor Showers
Jupiter Struck by Shoemaker-Levy 9

October is the month for two meteor showers—Draconid and Orionid. They get their names from the constellations closest to the places in the night sky where they seem to originate. The truth is that they have no connection to those constellations. Instead, these October meteor showers come from comets.

Meteor showers result from Earth passing through dust trails left by comets. The Draconids peaked this year on the night between October 8 and 9. They originate from debris left by comet 21P/Giaconini-Zinner that makes a revolution around the Sun every 6.6 years. Every October, when Earth passes through the dirty dust trail, the bits of debris burn up from friction as they enter the atmosphere at extremely high speed, and we see them as “shooting stars.”

The Orionid meteors are the result of Halley’s Comet. That comet makes a complete orbit around the Sun every 76 years, but Earth passes through the left-over debris twice a year in May and October. This year’s Orionid shower will peak on the night between October 20 and 21. However, a few of them may be visible even tonight as the October meteor showers almost overlap.

Unlike asteroids, which can be very large and cause severe damage, comet dust is beautiful but harmless. The Chixculub asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was 6.2 miles (10 km) in diameter. The impact was like a 100 million megaton bomb blast, and it wiped out three-fourths of all plant and animal life on Earth.

What if a whole comet struck planet Earth? The result would be catastrophic. We can find comfort in the fact that our solar system was designed with comet sweepers to prevent that from happening. The comet sweepers are named Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and the main one–Jupiter. Those giant outer planets all travel in the same plane, or ecliptic, as our planet. Comets come from outside the solar system, and because those outer planets are much larger, they have much more gravity. Since they are in line with Earth’s plane, they pull in the comets before they can reach our home planet.

The picture from NASA shows some fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 being pulled into Jupiter after the planet’s gravity ripped it into 21 pieces in July 1994. Those pieces were up to 1.2 miles in diameter and traveling at 134,000 miles per hour. Imagine what would have happened if that comet, or even one of those pieces, had hit the Earth! That is something to think about while watching the beauty of the October meteor showers. There is a reason why God designed the solar system the way He did. It was not an accident–and neither are we.

— Roland Earnst © 2021
Click HERE for information about viewing the Orionid Meteor Shower.

Enjoy the Beauty of a Sunset

Enjoy the Beauty of a Sunset

We were riding through the Arizona desert shortly before sunset on a Does God Exist? canyonlands field trip. We saw a storm in the distance, and it quickly surrounded us. Then, the storm lifted to reveal the sunset. We couldn’t stop gazing out of the bus window to enjoy the beauty of it all.

This incident reminded us that God sends the sunshine, and the rain, even in the desert. It also reminded us that God created a beautiful world and gave us the ability to enjoy that beauty. I think that ability is evidence that God created us in His image. God must enjoy beauty because He has created a universe of beautiful things that humans will never even see. We are aware of some of them only because our telescopes or space probes sometimes give us small glimpses of the beauty normally hidden from our eyes.

Even on our planet, there are beautiful things to be seen in locations where few people ever go. After scaling mountain peaks, a few of us enjoy the beauty of the valley below. While on the mountain, we look down and see beautiful flowers that grow in the rocky soil and cold air. Colorful plants and animals live and grow in the ocean, where only the most adventurous humans can enjoy their beauty. God sees all of the beauty, wherever it may be.

Are there any creatures other than humans that will stop to enjoy the beauty of a sunset? Thankfully, God has gifted humans with that ability. However, we often fail to do so because we think we are too busy. However, if we pause long enough to enjoy the beauty, we might be compelled to give thanks not only for the beauty but also for the ability to enjoy it.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Some Form Of Life Can Exist Anywhere?

Some Form Of Life Can Exist Anywhere?
Mount Shackleton in Antarctica

We read the media reports about efforts to find life on Mars, on various moons in our solar system, or planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. These reports often give the impression that some form of life can exist anywhere we look in the cosmos. For example, on Earth, we find life in sea vents on the ocean floor and geysers in Yellowstone National Park, leading people to suggest that some form of life can exist anywhere. Add to that the presence of organic molecules in asteroids, and they say that life is out there if we just look in the right places and in the right way.

Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences published a study of 204 soil samples taken from mountains near the Shackleton Glacier in Antarctica. Scientists had predicted that this soil would contain microbes, as is true of soil samples all over the Earth. Instead, they found that 20% of the soil samples, those taken from the higher and dryer locations, had no detectable microbial life. The study seems to indicate that extreme cold and dry conditions can render an area devoid of life. Noah Fierer, one of the scientists involved with the study, said that this might be the first time scientists have found soils that did not support microbial life anywhere on Earth.

The idea that some form of life can exist anywhere in every kind of environment is an evolutionary assumption that is apparently incorrect. We know that extreme cold and dry conditions exist on Mars and many moons in our solar system. Assuming there is life elsewhere because it is so abundant on Earth and some bacteria do well in extreme conditions does not mean there is no limit to where life can exist. 

We have said many times that there might be life elsewhere in the cosmos, but if there is, God created it. This is not a biblical or apologetic issue, but these new discoveries indicate that there are limits to the environments where life can survive. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Science News for August 28, 2021, and Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences

Making the Right Assumptions

Making the Right Assumptions about Life in Space

In my first college course in statistics, the professor made the following statement: “You can prove anything by statistics as long as you make the right assumptions.” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I have seen the truth of that statement over the years. People decide what they believe, and then they manipulate statistics to prove that they are correct. Another way of saying it is, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” This is true of religious people and atheists alike, and it’s a difficult mistake to avoid. Making the right assumptions to prove your point is usually possible.

There are some things we need to know about any statistical claim. The first is whether there are unconsidered variables in the calculations. For example, recent COVID death statistics failed to include other conditions that affected the mortality of people with the disease. Mortality rates for terminally ill people in nursing homes are not the same as those for college students.

People who claim that statistics indicate there must be inhabited planets with people like us base their claim on limited variables. In 1961, Astronomer Frank Drake formulated what is known as the Drake Equation to compute the probability of life on other planets. Drake used seven variables, with each assigned a probability factor. They are:

R∗ = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space


It should be evident that none of these variables are based on observations but on making the right assumptions. In addition, since 1961, science has added a vast number of new variables. For example, we need to consider black holes, star distribution, planetary chemical makeup, and asteroid bombardment. Added to that list are a host of physical constants and geologic processes we have learned through space exploration.

Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross has refined and expanded the list to include 322 variables. Even assigning modest values for each of those parameters would mean that the probability of all 322 occurring together (as they have on Earth) would be 10-388. That number is beyond impossible. Making the right assumptions involves considering all of the variables.

Whether life exists on any other planet
is not a biblical question and has nothing to do with the existence of God. However, tomorrow we will examine some other statistical issues involving God’s existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Is it True that the Earth Really Orbits the Sun?

Is it True that the Earth Really Orbits the Sun?

Is it true that the Earth really orbits the Sun, or does the Sun orbit the Earth? That may sound like a dumb question to people living in the 21st century, but there are passages in the Bible that say the Earth is fixed and others that say the Sun moves. Consider these examples:

Ecclesiastes 1:5– “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.”
1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalms 93:1– “…the world is established; it shall never be moved.”
Psalms 104:5– “He set the earth on its foundations so that it should never be moved.”
See also Psalms 19:4-6 and 1 Samuel 2:8. Remember that Joshua told the Sun to stand still, not the Earth.


Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the Catholic Church all viewed the Bible as saying the Earth was fixed in space. Some of the attacks on Copernicus in 1543 and Galileo in 1632 involved resistance to the idea that the Earth really orbits the Sun.

One of my favorite activities with my high school students was to ask them how they knew the Earth orbits the Sun. While I wasn’t allowed to quote the Bible, I would use the same ideas involved in the above verses. Everyone knows that the Sun rises and sets. If the Earth orbited the Sun, wouldn’t it fly off into outer space? I even used a demonstration using a ball on a string and swinging it around my head. The purpose was to show that massive objects (like a planet) orbiting around a center would obey centrifugal force and fly off. During PTA night, I even had one parent say that he knew the Earth didn’t orbit the Sun.

The lesson here (as we have mentioned before) is failing to take the Bible literally. When you read the Bible, you have to look at who wrote it, to whom they were writing, why they wrote it, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it. You have to realize what Jesus means when He says in John 6:48, “I am the bread of life,” or John 10:9, where He says He is “the door.” Obviously, that question is answered if we look at the context of the statement.

Saying the Sun rises is very similar, and we do it all the time. The frame of reference is the observer, and the Bible passage is not explaining astronomy. The evidence is clear that the Earth is moving, but it wasn’t until 1725 that accepted evidence proved it. The Earth really orbits the Sun.

Those who use the Bible to justify their denominational belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old are not taking the Bible literally. Ignoring evidence or failing to use common sense is not taking it literally. The Earth isn’t fixed in space, and it is not 6,000 years old.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Complexity of the Cosmos

The Complexity of the Cosmos

The complexity of the cosmos is so incredible that it baffles the best scientific minds of our day. Scientists have employed elaborate machines to try to understand more of the nature of the creation.

When I was a high school student, we learned that the cosmos is made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. All of chemistry and physics could be explained by the measurements of these three particles. When I took my first college course in nuclear science, I began to work in the cyclotron, assisting graduate Ph.D. candidates. I realized the creation was not as simple as it appears. As an atheist, this was distressing because I could see that human knowledge of the complexity of the cosmos was, at best, incomplete.

As a graduate student, I was privileged to work with equipment that could smash protons to see what was inside. “Fundamental particles” was a term that began to show up in the scientific literature, and gradually another “simple explanation of everything” began to emerge. It was called “The Standard Model of particle physics.” It consisted of leptons (such as the electron), and quarks which made up protons and neutrons.

This model also required force particles called bosons to hold things together. With larger and more powerful accelerators, scientists discovered still more particles which were the glue holding everything together. These particles were part of the structure of matter called gluons and the Higgs boson. The complexity of the cosmos was becoming more impressive.

Despite all of this work by literally thousands of physicists worldwide, they were still seeing things that didn’t fit all of the models. Galaxies were spinning too fast to hold together unless some unknown and unseen force was counteracting the centrifugal force of the rotation. The latest measurements show that 68.3% of the creation is made up of energy we can’t detect by any existing instrumentation. We can measure the mass of the cosmos, but 26.8% of the mass we know must be there because of gravitational fields is missing. Scientists now refer to the two missing quantities as “dark energy” and “dark matter.”

The complexity of the cosmos causes us to wonder at the intelligence that created all of this. We will examine this topic more tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton © 2021