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

Understanding Dark Matter and God

Understanding Dark Matter and God

One of the things that frequently happens when scientists admit they don’t understand something is that pseudoscience and pseudo-religion crackpots go wild with completely impossible claims. The UFO craze is an example. Many people attributed poorly understood natural phenomena to alien visitation. Virtually all UFO claims have been answered and shown to be natural phenomena or manufactured hoaxes. A more difficult question involves understanding dark matter.

Dark matter and dark energy pose a huge challenge to cosmologists and astronomers. Galaxies are spinning masses of billions of stars orbiting a core, which at least most of the time is a black hole. The problem is that the spin of the system is so rapid that the force of gravity is not enough to keep galaxies from flying apart. Scientists believe that there is undetectable mass in the galactic systems to hold them together. They call that missing mass “dark matter.”

There is a similar problem in the motion of galaxies through space. Various experiments have shown clearly that the cosmos is being accelerated at between 72 and 76 (Km/s)/Mpc. The acceleration of the cosmos involves energy far greater than anything science has seen in any thermonuclear reaction to date. If we view the cosmos as embedded in spacetime, then some energy is accelerating spacetime, but we cannot detect what that energy is or how it is generated.

In past centuries and many cultures, this would have been explained by simply saying,” God is doing (or has done) it.” We call that “God of the Gaps.” Atheists quickly point out that when science finds an explanation, that “God of the Gaps” is dead. Our studies of quarks, hadrons, WIMPS, and relativity are offering suggestions that may eventually give an understanding to fill the gap. Understanding dark matter is not a small gap because dark matter makes up 26.8% of the universe, and dark energy makes up 68.3%. That means that the matter we can detect makes up only 4.9% of the universe’s total composition.

There are some critical lessons in this. We need to realize that creating the cosmos is not a simple matter. Just creating space, time, and the substance to make the cosmos is a highly complex process. However, the process is not God. God has used His massive intelligence and design to produce something we are just now beginning to appreciate. When science finds a way of understanding dark matter and dark energy, it will only tell us more about God’s wisdom, power, and intelligence. We are beginning to understand the meaning of Proverbs 8, where wisdom speaks.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

For a current discussion of this challenging area of study, see “Is the Big Bang in Crisis” by Dan Hooper in the May issue of Astronomy magazine pages 21-29, or at astronomy.com.

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize on the Nature of the Cosmos

The evidence is massive that there was a beginning to the cosmos. The cosmological argument for God’s existence is that there had to be a cause of that beginning and that the nature of the cause was an intelligence. The phrase “big bang” was invented to describe the beginning, but the big bang theory never tried to answer the question of what banged and who banged it. The April 2020 issue of Scientific American (pages 4-7) carried an article about the work of Alan Guth, who received the Kavli Prize in astrophysics in 2014. The main objective of the Kavli Prize is to honor, support, and recognize scientists for outstanding scientific work in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

Alan Guth’s work has been to develop the theory of cosmic inflation to show that the universe is eternal and had no beginning. The chief problem with any suggestion that the universe is eternal is something called entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Whenever energy is expended in any way, disorder is introduced to the system. Unless organizing energy is applied externally on the system, the disorder will grow until there is no available energy left. We call that “heat death.”

A simple example might demonstrate this. If you took a bottle of hydrogen into a room that was completely isolated from the outside and opened the container, the hydrogen would escape and spread throughout the room. If you now wanted to get the hydrogen back into the bottle, could you get every atom back? The answer is “no,” because some of the hydrogen would have morphed into something else. Protons have a half-life, and other changes could take place. The measure of what couldn’t be put back in the bottle is called entropy.

Guth gets around the need for a beginning by saying that there is no difference between the present and the past. Using black holes, dark matter, and probabilities, he proposes a model that avoids a beginning. Alan Guth received the Kavli Prize because of his imaginative, creative thinking. The fundamental problem with Guth’s proposal is that it is not testable. No experiment can be done, and no evidence can be examined to test his theory. It is not falsifiable, and thus it really does not qualify as science. Guth is a brilliant scientist speculating on what he calls “a backward world where the past is the future and where infinite parallel pocket universes pop into existence without cause.”

While Guth’s work is interesting, it is of no apologetic significance. If God has created many pocket universes, they are so isolated from us that they do not impact our lives. Guth relies on probabilities to make many steps in his theory. When we apply probabilities to what we see in the world around us, the strong suggestion is that an intelligence has been at work to produce the cosmos.

In addition to the design we see in creation, our spiritual makeup and our creativity are not connected directly to how we got to this point in time and space. Quantum theory is based on probability, and the article ends by saying, “We had better know what they (the probabilities) mean.” We would suggest they mean, “In the beginning (of our cosmos) God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

James Peebles Wins Nobel Prize in Physics

James Peebles Wins Nobel Prize in PhysicsThose of us who have an interest in creation have followed the work of Dr. James Peebles at Princeton University for some time. Since 1964, Peebles has been working to understand the scientific evidence of how the cosmos came into being. For his work, he has won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dr. Peebles predicted cosmic microwave background radiation, which has been a major tool in understanding the beginning of the universe and in realizing that 95% of the matter/energy in the cosmos is unknown. The “big bang” model describing the universe fits well with understanding God’s role in the cosmos. Peebles has shown that the formation of space/time and matter/energy fits with all available observations, and he has discovered several new processes, such as the baryon model, to describe the physics of the early universe.

The Ostriker-Peebles criterion relating to the stability of galactic formation has helped us understand other galaxies besides our Milky Way. Observing the spin rates in those galaxies has led us to realize that the rapid speeds at which they move require a force that has not been identified to prevent them from flying apart. This realization is the starting point for speculating the existence of dark matter. There has to be a missing mass that is the glue of stable galaxies. Research continues to understand what dark matter is and how it works.

Dr. Frank Baxter once said, “the more we know about the creation, the closer we get to the creator.” The fact that James Peebles has been recognized for his work in cosmology is encouraging. Scientists now agree there was a beginning. The cause of that beginning and the properties of that cause are the next steps toward comprehending the creation of the cosmos.

Proverbs 8:22 finds wisdom saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” Reading Dr. Peebles’ research is intimidating because God’s wisdom and His works in cosmology are so complex. The study of creation in cosmology has only become recognized as valid science in the last few years. James Peebles has been a major player in accomplishing that, and therefore he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. “In the beginning, God created” may sound simple, but what it describes is incredibly challenging to understand. Dr. Peebles has clearly shown that, but he has also opened the door for more study of how God did the creating.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Curtain Opening on the Cosmos

Curtain Opening on the CosmosYesterday we discussed the Hebrew word “natah meaning to stretch out in an accelerative motion. We pointed out that it is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe the action of the cosmos. We emphasized that the Bible does not use that word to reveal a scientific fact, but it does show an accurate knowledge of the nature of the cosmos. It is knowledge that science has only verified in the past few years. The same verses that use “natah” also imply a curtain opening on the cosmos.

The verses we mentioned yesterday (Psalms 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, and Isaiah 45:12) describe the nature of the cosmos in a way that shows an understanding of what people often call the “big bang.” When people think about the “big bang,” they seem to have in mind some kind of explosion that created the cosmos. Science has learned that it is not the correct concept. The “big bang” was a great expansion but not an explosion. There is a uniformity of temperature across the cosmos of one part in one-hundred-thousandth of a degree. That fact indicates a smoothness in what took place at the creation event. An explosion doesn’t do that. The creation process started with a fine-tuned balance for a geometrically flat universe (not elliptical or hyperbolic). Instead of an explosion, it is more like a curtain opening on the cosmos.

Passages like Psalms 104:2 and Isaiah 40:22 describe the cosmos as being like a curtain. In Psalms 104:2, the Hebrew word used is “heyry,” which means a hanging drape. In Isaiah 40:22, the word used is “doq.” That word is used only once in the entire Bible and refers to a unique veil or curtain. The picture we get is that God stretches the cosmos pulling the fabric of space as we might open a curtain.

Science is now in agreement with the Bible that space and time began at a singularity. In that event, the material in space was moved, creating the fabric of space itself. Objects in the cosmos did not move through eternally existing space, but rather time began, and space was created as the objects moved. As space was pulled open like a curtain, the material embedded in space moved with it.

This scientific understanding is new, and it comes from the most recent observations available. This curtain opening on the cosmos is not some religious hodgepodge, but a discovery of modern science. The amazing thing is that the Bible writers stated it thousands of years ago. Science is beginning to show us a fuller understanding of the meaning of statements in God’s Word.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Stretching Out the Cosmos

Stretching Out the Cosmos is Like Starting a ChainsawAs a person trained in the sciences and a student of the Bible, I find it interesting how many times a Bible statement demonstrates an understanding of something only learned by modern science. Only recently has science proven that the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion. We can refer to it as stretching out the cosmos. This is no longer debatable but a fact confirmed by various experiments using different techniques and measurements.

The Bible repeatedly refers to the fact that the cosmos is “stretched.” For some examples of this, take a look at Psalms 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, and Isaiah 45:12. None of these passages are attempting to reveal any scientific fact, but all of them refer to God stretching out the cosmos.

The Hebrew word used in those passages is “natah,” meaning to stretch out. The most common use of this word in other places in the Old Testament is to indicate a person’s hand stretched out to point or show motion. In Exodus 8, for example, “natah” is used to describe Moses’ moving his hand or rod (See verses 5,6,16,17). Perhaps many of us would remember starting a lawnmower or chain saw by pulling the starting cord. The Bible tells us that accelerative is the force that moves the cosmos as a whole.

We want to emphasize that it is not the purpose of those passages to reveal any scientific information. However, they are a clear reference to the nature of the force that operates by stretching out the cosmos.

Tomorrow we will see that another word in these passages indicates the nature of the fabric of space itself.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cosmological Verification of Bible Statements

Cosmological Verification of Bible StatementsThere are many passages in the Bible that contain scientific information that was unavailable to the authors who wrote the passage. Cosmological verification has come through modern science. In a few cases, science has discovered some of those verifications only recently.

An example is Hebrews 11:3, where the writer says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The word “framed” is from the Greek word meaning “to make thoroughly fit” (Young’s Analytical Concordance). We now know that quarks and all quanta (which we can’t see) have shaped the formation of the particles that make up our world. The author of Hebrews would not have known this.

Another example is Jeremiah 33:22, where we read, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered …” The recent discovery that the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion is an incredible verification of that statement. Scientists tell us that the universe is 46.5 billion light-years in any direction. We have known for 100 years or so that the cosmos is distributed so that the further you go into space, the faster galaxies, stars, and planets are moving away. At the edges of the creation, we see objects traveling at speeds over 90% of the speed of light. If the cosmos is accelerating, then objects will pass that boundary of light and will disappear from our ability to see them. It is absolutely true that the objects in space cannot all be measured because we can’t see all of them.

It is not the purpose of the biblical passages to reveal scientific facts. But God seems to have inserted things into the Bible passages that allow cosmological verification. Modern scientific knowledge has reached the point of being able to understand some of God’s creative methods. The more we know of the creation, the better we can understand the Creator. God’s power and creative capacity are incredible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Does God Exist? and Is the Bible True?

Does God Exist? and Is the Bible True?
How can we investigate the questions, “Does God exist?” and “Is the Bible true?” Many go to an atheist website or read a book by an atheist to decide. A vast majority of people who attack our position on the Bible follow atheist websites. The problem here should be obvious. If a person’s religious view is that there is no God, then obviously, the Bible cannot be the word of God since God does not exist! If you tell anyone something often enough and long enough, eventually they will believe it.

The same kind of problem could come up in the opposite way if one were to read only a book on the truth of the Bible written by a Christian minister. We are not saying that you should not read books written by atheists or ministers. What we are saying is that you cannot stop there and be satisfied whether the Bible is true or false. To answer the questions like “Does God exist?” and “Is the Bible true?” by reading what people say, you need to read both viewpoints. You also have to learn how both sides answer the questions posed by people whose views conflict with theirs.

A more direct way to answer the question “Is the Bible true?” would be to explore the evidence yourself. Is the Bible accurate in its statements of a scientific nature? Are the principles of psychology used in the Bible practical and worthwhile? Is the Bible’s approach to human relations valid? Can following the principles of the Bible bring peace, harmony, unity, and positive things to human beings? The way to answer these questions is to read the teachings of Jesus and ask yourself about these issues. It can be helpful to listen to the objections of an atheist and listen to a Christian apologist respond to those objections. But, take the time to look at the evidence and ask questions yourself. Starting with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 will show you clearly the answers to many of those questions.

Another approach worth considering is the cosmological evidence. The argument we make is very simple. We ask three questions: Was there, or was there not a beginning to the cosmos? If there was a beginning, was it caused, or was it not caused? If it was caused, what or who caused it?

The evidence for each of the steps in this logical discussion about origins comes from a variety of sources. In the first question, we can look at evidence from cosmology. The fact that the cosmos is expanding, strongly suggests that the expansion had a specific point in space and time from which it started. Any astronomy textbook will point this out. There is chemical evidence in the cosmos in terms of hydrogen, the fuel that powers the cosmos. If the universe had always existed, there would be no hydrogen left because it is the element from which all other materials are made. The power of the Sun and stars comes from the fusion of hydrogen atoms. We also see evidence from physics in the form of the laws of thermodynamics. We know that, in closed systems, things tend to move toward a condition of disorder. If the cosmos had always been, it would be totally disordered because the cosmos is a closed system with no energy being added to it.

The point we are making is that evidence comes from different fields. Experts in the fields of cosmology, physics, and chemistry have written about these processes. The evidence gives predictability to the cosmos and has many practical uses in space travel and astronomy. There is a wide range of support from a variety of areas for the argument that the cosmos had a beginning, that it was caused, and that it was intelligently caused.

Being confident about your beliefs cannot be rooted in what someone else tells you or what is popular. There are always problems with any biased belief systems passed on to you by others. You should be open to new evidence even when you have formed an opinion about something. The lesson of history on matters related to faith is that new discoveries support and confirm faith in God and His word.

We do not have to be consumed by doubt and paralyzed by uncertainty. The Bible speaks confidently, and we must work to build a dynamic faith that allows us to meet the needs that we were put here to address. The questions, “Does God exist?” and “Is the Bible true?” are probably the most important questions you will ever ask. Do the research and think!
— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

This post was adapted from an article by John N. Clayton in the Does God Exist? journal. You can read the complete article HERE.

There Was a Beginning

There Was a Beginning

One of the strong arguments for the existence of God is the data that shows there was a beginning to time, space and matter/energy. If you admit that there was a beginning, then you have to deal with what was the cause of that beginning. There must be a causer of some kind.

Atheists have avoided this discussion in the past by saying that there was no beginning and that the cosmos is “self-existing.” One version of this self-existing concept is that the cosmos may be oscillating. The hypothesis is that the cosmos will eventually slow down, stop, and collapse on itself leading to another “big bang” to start the process over again. This oscillating model could be eternal thus avoiding the whole question of cause and causer.

There are several difficulties with the oscillating model. The most telling one is the evidence about the movement of galaxies and the cosmos as a whole. The newest data collected by NASA shows clearly that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. Data from doppler measurements at various wavelengths and further analyses of inter stellar-reddening continue to support the fact that the acceleration is not slowing down.

There are several possible causes of this acceleration. One is the shape of space. The fact that light bends when it goes around a massive object suggests that the curvature of space is causing the acceleration. Another view is that there is a “great attractor” beyond the cosmos that is producing the acceleration. A third view is that dark matter is producing the acceleration. Scientists are devising various ways to test these hypotheses. It is an exciting time to be a student of astronomy and astronomical evidence. Whatever the cause of the acceleration, it adds to the data that leads us to reject the oscillating universe theory.

Most discussions about this subject end up with the conclusion that there are dimensions outside of the X, Y, Z system which we experience. Theories like string theory suggest eleven spatial dimensions. Because there are so many possible equations to describe such a proposal, it falls more in the realm of fantasy than of testable, falsifiable science.

The evidence that there was a beginning is overwhelming. The biblical descriptions of God indicate that He is outside of space/time. Thus God is a logical answer to the question of what caused the beginning. “In the beginning, God” turns out to be a highly complex statement, but one that is strongly supported by the evidence.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Vastness of Space

Vastness of Space and the Big Dipper

One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.

In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.

There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.

We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.

The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.

When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 she says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth was.” The vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

–John N. Clayton © 2019