Anniversary of a Star Explosion – SN 1987A

Anniversary of a Star Explosion – SN 1987A

Today is the thirty-fourth anniversary of a significant astronomical event. It’s the anniversary of a star explosion. On February 23, 1987, astronomers and other observers on Earth witnessed the explosion of a star with a mass about twenty times that of our Sun. They called it supernova SN 1987A.

The explosion was bright enough to see with the naked eye. While Earth observers saw it in 1987, the explosion happened long before that. Since the star was located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy 160,000 light-years from Earth, we witnessed an event that occurred 160,000 years in the past.

There have been other supernovas, but SN 1987A was the brightest supernova observed since the telescope’s invention. It was also the brightest since Chinese astronomers observed a star exploding in A.D. 1054. For the past thirty-four years, astronomers have studied the ring of fire as it expands outward from that explosion. The picture showing the remnant of the explosion is a composite image from 2014. It combines visible light from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and x-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

What do we learn from our study of the stars, supernovas, nebulae, and everything else we can see in the universe? We learn the processes God used to create the universe, our galaxy, and our planet. As we examine supernovas, we understand that God used them to forge the heavier elements that make up our planet and our bodies.

Studying the creation process also shows us the incredible precision required to make the universe possible and create life on this planet. On this thirty-fourth anniversary of a star explosion, we are reminded of the words of an ancient psalm, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Counting Birds for Science

Counting Birds for Science

How many bird species can you identify? There are over 10,000 known species of birds in the world, and I am sure you could not identify them all. But God can. More than that, He sees each one individually (Matthew 10:29). That staggers my mind. Sometimes I can’t keep up with counting birds at my backyard bird feeders.

We often feature birds in our daily Facebook postings, and many times we have talked about birds on this website. (For example, HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Birds are fascinating, beautiful, and intelligent creatures. Birds, like mammals, can be trained to do things and respond to humans in various ways. We see that as a purposeful design by our Creator to allow us to bond with these animals.

Watching birds fly through the air and listening to their beautiful songs are fascinating and enjoyable activities. Since the beginning, humans have longed for the ability to fly and see the world from our feathered friends’ perspective. Sometimes, people have been careless in causing harm or even extinction to bird species. When we see the many ways birds benefit life on Earth, we must recognize that we should be good stewards of what God has given us.

An annual worldwide event known as The Great Backyard Bird Count is now in progress. It’s a science project that you can get involved in no matter who you are or where you live. This year, from February 12-15 people worldwide will be counting birds in their vicinity. By doing that, they are helping to compile a database of birds. All you have to do is take at least one period of 15 minutes or more and make a list of all the birds you see in your backyard, in a local park, outside your apartment window, or anywhere else that’s convenient. Just record your location, start and end times, and the number and types of birds you see.

Of course, you can spend more than 15 minutes, or you can do it on each of the four days, or even multiple times per day. As in past years, the statistics from bird watchers worldwide will be tabulated by scientists to get a better picture of the world bird population and health. To help you identify birds, you can consult websites such as WhatBird.com and AllAboutBirds.org, which are free to use.

Counting birds is a science project that anyone can do. To learn the details of how you can get involved in this worldwide project, sign up for free at www.birdcount.org. We think that learning more about God’s creation helps us see our Creator’s wisdom and love. (Matthew 6:26)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Financial Management and Debt in the Bible

Financial Management and Debt in the Bible

There are many teachings of Christianity that offer solutions to the problems we all face in the 21st century. The claims of skeptics that the Bible is an ancient book of myths that have no relevance to life in the modern era is false. The practical value of Christ’s teaching speak to its inspiration by God and validate the Christian life. No area of life shows this more clearly than financial management and debt.

In the days of Christ, many people had difficulty managing their money. The common people would get themselves in debt to a money lender–sometimes just to buy the necessities of life. Many of Christ’s parables address the issues of getting into debt and settling debts. One option for debtors in those days was to sell themselves into slavery to the person who loaned them the money. The Old Testament law said that the maximum length of servitude was seven years. There were even special times when all debts were forgiven.

People still have trouble with financial management and debt. In today’s world, instead of a person lending the money it is a credit card company. Many people become slaves to them. One option today is to declare bankruptcy. It is interesting that bad credit can be resolved in the same time period as the old Jewish law–seven years.

The teachings of Christ and the early Church revolved around avoiding servitude. The key phrase in the teachings of Christianity is “being content.” In Luke 3:14, Christ told soldiers to “be content with your wages.” Hebrews 13:5-6 tells Christians “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said ‘Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid of what man can do to me.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, stated this principle clearly in Matthew 6:19-34. That passage warns against “laying up treasures on Earth.” It points out that we can’t always change our station in life, but that Christ’s followers should trust God for our needs.

In 1 Timothy 6:8-9, Paul tells Christians to be content if they have food and clothing and that “foolish and harmful desires …plunge men into ruin and destruction.” How much grief, mental anguish, and frustration has credit card debt brought on people today? Later in that passage Paul talks about the uncertainty of wealth (verses 17-21). In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul says, “I have learned to be content.” For Christians, the Church is the security blanket to provide basic support, and Matthew 25:34-46 tells Christians how to find what really brings contentment.

The Bible’s wisdom is a great testimony to its divine origin, and gives practical lessons for financial management and debt. Wealthy Christians are told not to be arrogant or to put their hope in wealth. The Bible tells all Christians to put their hope in God, whether they are rich or poor so they can “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).

— John N. Clayton © 2021

What Color Is Your River?

What Color Is Your River?

In my lifetime I have spent a lot of time on rivers. Living in Canada, I became acquainted with beautiful blue water with a clarity that allowed you to see the river’s bottom even at 20 feet. When my family moved to Bloomington, Indiana, I became involved with the White River, which was anything but white or blue. What color is your river?

In our 12 trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I saw changes in the water from time to time. The river was sometimes brown and other times crystal blue depending on how much upstream water was being released from the Glen Canyon Dam. I now live on the Saint Joseph River in southern Michigan. I have read the notes of the first explorers who came through this area in which they tell of being able to see the bottom of the river through 20 feet of water. Now you can only see about a foot down. There has been a massive change in Americas’ rivers through the years.

In 1984, Satellites started taking pictures of rivers in the United States. Over 230,000 images have been taken and analyzed by the University of Pittsburgh, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University. The data shows that only five percent of Americas’ rivers are still blue. Twenty-eight percent are green, which in most cases is caused by algae. The remainder are yellow, with 11,629 miles of rivers having become distinctly greener since 1984.

As rivers change from blue to yellow to green, what can live in the rivers also changes. In the Saint Joseph River, where we live in Michigan, the kind of fish that live in the river today are far different from the native trout seen by the early settlers of this area. Today the river has large numbers of suckers and carp. There are some bass and panfish, and we do have salmon from Lake Michigan migrating up the river to spawn. Transplanted fish like walleye are popular, but the whole ecological makeup has changed.

What color is your river? More important is the question of what is causing the rivers to change color? The causes, according to the studies, are farm fertilizer runoff, dams, sewage, and global warming, which has raised the temperature so that cold-water fish cannot live in the river. This is more than the loss of recreational use of waterways. Numerous diseases, including cancer, are related to what is in the water we drink, bathe in, and provide to our animals.

The question of what color is your river leads to asking what you can do about it. Christians need to be vocal in encouraging our culture to initiate significant efforts to turn our waterways blue again. It is interesting that in Revelation 22:1-2, when the inspired writer wanted to portray some of the properties of heaven to mortal humans, he describes “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.” In ancient times, when people wanted to worship and get away from the hassle of human activity, they went to a river. (See Acts 16:13.) Today most of our rivers are not that attractive.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Associated Press article by Seth Borenstein, January 9, 2021.

What Do You Worship?

What Do You Worship?

What do you worship? Notice that I didn’t ask “if” but “what.” Webster defines worship as “homage paid to something bigger than you are.” The word “homage” means reverence. 

We live on a river, and every Sunday morning, we see boats going by containing people paying homage. The worship of salmon, pike, and perch is as far as some people go in paying homage. On our way to the church building, we see multiple cars and trucks pulling boats, most of which are headed for Lake Michigan. At the lake itself, we can see people who worship the lake by spending massive amounts of money on elaborate yachts.

For those of us who aren’t blessed with massive amounts of money to spend on material luxuries, there is still a need to be careful about what we worship. There are eight different Greek words in the New Testament used to describe worship in a negative framework. 

Doxa – Luke 14:10 – Worship to gain honor from human beings

Eusebeo – Acts 17:23 – Objects made by humans to show a person is pious.

Therapeuo – Acts 17:25 – To fulfill an ego need of God, not for our benefit.

Threskeia – Colossians 2:18 – Ceremonial use of angels, spirits, visions, etc.

Latreuo – Acts 7:42 – Astrology – Worshiping celestial objects.

Proskuneo – Matthew 2:2, 4:9, 8:2, 28:17, etc. (59 times) – “To kiss the hand forward.” Worship of the physical Jesus here on Earth.

Sebazomai – Romans 1:25 – Worship of nature or animals.

Sebomai – Matthew 15:8-9, Acts 19:27 – Preacher worship, reverence for a spiritual teacher. (See also Acts 8:9-11.)

James 1:27 and Matthew 25:31-40 describe what God wants. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s. What do you worship? The materialist is continually struggling for more until either their resources run out or death comes no matter how much they spend. Acts 2:42-27 describes the activities of the ordinary people in worship. They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, unity, prayer, and communion. They met daily for spiritual growth and addressed the needs of others. 

Worship brings the joy of sharing and giving and knowing that we have nothing to fear at death because a better existence awaits us. Worship is not for show or because God needs us. It is a personal time with just us and God – not angels or objects. It is a daily activity seen in what we do, not what is done to us. It is a way of life that blesses those with whom we come in contact. 

What do you worship? Worship God today and here and now. God will open doors for you to give and to bless, and life will be full of contentment. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Squid Communication by Bioluminescence

Squid Communication by Bioluminescence

Several Bible passages encourage us to look at the creation around us and know there is a God by what He has made. Romans 1:20 says, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” We can see the power and nature of God by looking at the things in the natural world all around us. One of those things is squid communication by bioluminescence.

Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) living 1500 feet (457 m) below the ocean’s surface in total darkness hunt for food in groups. These are big animals averaging six feet (1.8 m) long, but they don’t bump into each other. Recent research has shown that Humboldt squid use squid communication by bioluminescence. The squid have small light-producing organs in their muscle tissue, and they can convey information by changing the pigmentation pattern.

Scientists from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute say that what these squid do is similar to humans using turn signals in traffic. But even more than that, they can use changes in pigmentation patterns in a way similar to how humans arrange words in a sentence. Ben Buford of Stanford says that this is an example of a complicated form of animal communication never seen before in deep-sea creatures.

The more we learn about creation, the more we see complexity and design that speaks of a Creator who built into every animal the tools for survival. Squid communication by bioluminescence is just one more evidence of design. Indeed we can know there is a God through the things He has made.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, February/March 2021, page 8.

Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

The ancient Israelites’ diet consisted of very little meat, and most of that came from animals they raised. That was not true in the rest of the world. For many people in China and Africa, survival meant hunting animals and using them for food. We now know that many of the animals people ate were intermediate hosts for viruses. A virus can exist for many generations in a wild animal and mutate until it can jump to human populations, creating zoonotic diseases. The list of viral and bacterial diseases that have originated in wildlife grows constantly. A partial list includes SARS, MERS, Ebola, AIDS, Zika, Lyme Disease, rabies, swine flu, and COVID-19.

Wet markets, common in parts of Asia and Africa, are a significant source of zoonotic diseases. There animals, including rats, snakes, birds, bats, and monkeys, are kept in cages and killed when people purchase them for food. The filthy environment allows saliva, urine, and feces to become mixed with the blood of animals slaughtered on the spot. Experts say 376 wildlife species are known hosts to zoonotic pathogens, and at least 700,000 different viruses have the potential to jump to human populations. Christian Walzer, executive director of health for the Wildlife Conservation Society, calls wet markets “cauldrons of contagion.”

In Old Testament times, the Jews had very strict rules about what meat they could eat and how to prepare it. One of the priest’s jobs was to inspect the meat that people consumed to make sure it conformed to specific rules preventing zoonotic diseases. That was the world in which Christianity began, and early Christians benefitted from the rules they inherited. The instruction of the apostles was not to eat blood or animals that had been strangled. (See Acts 15:20,29 and Acts 21:25.)

In Acts 10:11-16, we read the account of God telling Peter, “What God has cleansed you should not call common.” The message was that all people are precious to God, but it also implied that there was no longer religious significance to eating the meat of various animals. The dietary laws that God gave Israel centuries before were “nailed to the cross” of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). However, what is religiously acceptable is not always biologically advisable.

It seems that the battle of the 21st century may be zoonotic diseases caused by eating animals that carry viruses to which humans are not immune. There were good hygienic reasons for the instructions God gave to ancient Israel.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March, 2021 pages 22–29.

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

One of the ecological issues of recent years has been the role of invasive species and how they affect local birds and mammals. Recent studies show that berries produced by native plants are best for birds. Besides that, the birds prefer local varieties over the fruits of introduced species.

Studies of native bayberries have shown that they contain more fats, carbohydrates, and nutrients that birds need to survive. Amanda Gallinat of Utah State University said that invasive fruits are usually nutrient-poor. For people who enjoy watching birds, that is something to keep in mind when choosing plants for their yards.

Viburnums such as arrow-wood viburnum produce berries that are high in fats and carbohydrates, which help birds prepare for making long migration flights. For birds that stay around in the cold weather, another factor that favors native plants is how long they hang on to their berries. Winterberry is a native holly that can hold its berries well into the cold months.

When you talk about the design built into the migrations and lives of birds, it is not just the birds’ design but also the design of the nutritional system that supports them. Native plants are best for birds because they often give the birds better nutritional support than species brought in from other areas of the world.

God’s design for life is best, but humans often introduce non-native plants and animals that sometimes become invasive species. People may introduce non-native species with good intentions, or perhaps invasive species arrive by accident with foreign cargo. Either way, we must learn to be better stewards of the planet over which God gave us dominion. (See Genesis 1:28.)

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife, February-March 2021, page 12.

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

We humans don’t always like the winter snow for its inconvenience and sometimes safety threat. For many animals, the snow-cover makes winter the best time of year. Scientists who study life in this seasonal microenvironment under the snow call it the subnivium ecosystem. It allows many species of plants and animals to exist that could not survive without snow.

The first scientific writings about the subnivium world were circulated by a lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) named Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov was investigating butterflies whose caterpillars eat plants known as blue lupines. These butterflies lay their eggs on the stems of the lupines a few inches above the ground. When snow covers the area, the eggs are protected from the very low temperatures of the mountains where the butterflies live. Scientists conducted a study of those same butterflies in 2019 when there was a significant decrease in the snow cover. They found a 43% decrease in the number of butterflies produced.

This is just one example of life in the subnivium ecosystem. Ruffed grouse burrow into the snow at night and stay in an igloo-like area that can be 50 degrees warmer than the outside air. In wintertime, a surprising number of animals live in the warmer subnivium ecosystem. Wolverines, martens, voles, mice, shrews, red squirrels, and even bears take advantage of heavy snow cover. The protection of snow allows abundant life at high elevations and in polar areas.

Every part of Earth is home to living things because of the design of the animals and plants and the design of water that gives snow thermodynamic properties. It is easy to overlook the statement God made to Job about “the treasures of the snow” (Job 38:22). The simplicity of those words describes a whole world of life in the subnivium ecosystem and the treasure of water stored on snow-covered mountains. The treasure house of snow speaks of the intelligence built into every corner of creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March 2021.

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

One of the things that has entered the debate about life in space has been the presence of water. Astronomers have found methane, ethane, and other compounds in oceans on other planets and moons in our solar system. Unlike water, they are not polar molecules. The polar structure of water makes it an apparent necessity for life. Scientists have debated about whether water has existed or does now exist on Mars, our Moon, or one of the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now there is evidence of massive amounts of water in our solar system.

We have posted before about NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website (apod.nasa.gov). On January 15, 2021, the page showed this picture taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, as it flew by Pluto. The photograph shows areas of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It also shows massive amounts of water ice frozen into mountains reaching up to 11,000 feet (3,353 m), which is comparable to mountains on Earth.

There is more and more evidence that, at least in our solar system, water is quite common. Because of the temperatures in the outer planets, that water is in a frozen state. Liquid water has a very narrow range of temperatures, and that means the zone in which a planet can have liquid water is very small. Because of that, life on another planet is improbable, but the potential for humans establishing or supporting life elsewhere is relatively high.

Verse two of Genesis 1 tells us that the early Earth had water in the liquid state: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Massive amounts of water apparently dominated the planet. Verse six tells us that there was “a firmament in the midst of the waters” that divided the waters. It isn’t until verse nine that dry land appears. The keyword in these verses is the word translated firmament in English. The Hebrew word used here is “raqia.” It is used nine times in Genesis 1 and eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Four of those eight are in the visions of Ezekiel 1:22-26.

The Bible’s economy of language leaves us to understand the “firmament” from its context. The most accurate understanding is what, in modern terms, we would call an “interface,” a zone of change. In many cases, that zone is the atmosphere, so in verse 20 of Genesis chapter one, we have birds flying in the firmament. Genesis 1:14-15 tells us that the Sun and the Moon became visible as the darkness (Genesis 1:2) of the cloud cover (Job 38:8-9) in the firmament cleared. Ezekiel saw his chariots in the firmament.

The discovery of mountains of frozen water elsewhere in the solar system indicates that the original cosmos had massive amounts of water, as Genesis 1:6 implies. It also tells us that when the Earth’s temperatures settled to between zero and 100 degrees Celsius, the water became seas covering the planet. This is one more evidence for the integrity of the Genesis account as it describes the creative design of God, simplified so that all humans can understand it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021