Perhaps you saw the total lunar eclipse last night, or maybe it was only umbral (partial) in your area. Either way, it reminds us of God’s intricate design that allows advanced life on this planet. As you watched the Moon, you may have seen it close to the horizon or high in the sky. Why does the Moon look larger near the horizon? Is it really larger, or are your senses being fooled?
Here is a simple experiment you can do with a camera or smartphone. Take a picture of the Moon when it rises and then take another picture of it high in the sky on the same night. Now compare the Moon’s size in the two pictures. You will see that the Moon is the same size. Better yet, stretch out your arm and compare the Moon’s size to your thumb at the two positions on the same night.
If you are thinking that the Moon looks larger at the horizon because it is farther away at that time, that is clearly not the case. The Moon’s distance, and therefore apparent size, does vary somewhat throughout the year, but not on the same night. The difference in apparent size when the Moon is closest to Earth and farthest away is only about 7%. The human eye can barely detect that difference.
So why does the Moon look larger near the horizon? First, realize that it is not our eyes but the human brain that does the seeing. When the Moon is near the horizon, we compare it to distant trees and buildings that we know are large, so we think the Moon looks larger. However, when it is in the middle of the vast, open sky, the Moon seems small by comparison.
We interpret what we see based on previous experiences and prejudices. That means our brain interprets new information filtered through those prejudices. That brings up another question. How does the human mind interpret other areas of understanding, such as the existence of God? Are there filters in your line of sight that can block you from seeing the truth?
We read reports of scientific research from all over the globe. Scientists are discovering how various forms of life exist on this planet. There is a diversity of life on Earth, even in environments where you wouldn’t expect life to survive.
One such environment is in the deepest part of the ocean, where animals must live in total darkness. The design that enables them to survive with no light from the Sun or Moon is bioluminescence. These animals generate their own light so they can find each other and locate prey. There is a whole chain of life in the darkness of the deep ocean, and we are learning that this ecosystem absorbs greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere for land creatures.
We see this kind of balance in oceans of the past. Long ago, sea animals were large enough to maintain balance in the sea by eating tremendous quantities of food. For example, a marine reptile carnivore known as ichthyosaur was up to 66 feet (20 meters) long. When the asteroid strike wiped out the giant creatures, including the dinosaurs and ichthyosaurs, the smaller life forms survived and established a new food chain.
Scientists are discovering unique designs that enable animals to survive what would appear to be impossible conditions. For example, how can a boa constrictor breathe as it squeezes the life out of prey and ingests it? Why doesn’t the act of compression force the air out of the snake, suffocating it? The answer is that boas have 200 pairs of ribs and some of the ribs squeeze the prey while others are designed to allow the snake to breathe.
The diversity of life on Earth allows specialized equipment designed for living in any environment. Even humans are diverse. Modern pygmies are well-designed to live in a jungle environment. Fossils of a hominin named Homo naledi tell us that ancient small humans existed in environments with fewer resources. Most of what we know about them comes from a burial chamber found in a cave in South Africa.
We see the diversity of life on Earth today, even in humans able to survive in challenging environments. Racial characteristics in humans offer survival benefits in the diverse habitats of our planet, and they are not a basis for discrimination. We need to understand that diversity in animals and humans is an expression of God’s wisdom and design for life everywhere on Earth.
References: Saturday Evening Post May/June 2022 (pages 36-39); The Week March 18 (page 21) and April 15, 2022 (page 21); USA Today and South Bend Tribune for May 2, 2022; and Archaeology for May/June 2022 (pages 9-10).
As new space telescopes look out into the cosmos, astronomers discover more planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. NASA reports that known exoplanets number 5009. The process God used to create “heaven and earth” resulted in a lot of extra material in various forms throughout the cosmos. In 1999, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet, and since then, the number has kept growing.
At first glance, one might feel that since there are so many planets, some of them must be inhabited by sentient beings like ourselves. However, we find that is not the case when we examine the breakdown of the types of planets that astronomers have discovered. Even though known exoplanets number 5009, only 200 are worlds like Earth, made up of solid rock. The rest are gas planets like the Jovian planets Jupiter or Neptune, or they are huge solid planets with massive gravitational forces that would crush living beings. We should remind you that a world suitable for sentient life requires at least 47 other variables that we have listed in a chart you can see at THIS LINK.
When God “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), His methods involved forging massive amounts of gases and very few solid materials. Known exoplanets number 5009 now, but the number is sure to increase. Studies continue to show that our solar system and planet are unique. God’s wisdom in creating Earth the way He did becomes more evident as we explore space and realize how many resources we have available on this planet.
The “heavens declare the glory of God and the sky shows His handiwork” (Palms 19:1). We see more of His power and wisdom as our technology produces better images of the cosmos and how it was created in the beginning.
Space exploration presents many challenges, but the medical challenges of space travel may dwarf the technical challenges. Spending lengthy sojourns on the International Space Station (ISS) has already shown some of the problems that future space travelers will face.
One problem astronauts face is space anemia caused by a lack of red blood cells. On Earth, the human body makes two million red blood cells every second to replace the ones that are lost. In space, the astronauts’ bodies lose three million red blood cells each second, and they must replace those cells. Anemia results from a shortage of the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. It causes fatigue, dizziness, and weakness.
Space anemia was well-known, but scientists thought the body would adapt and correct the problem after an extended time in space. Unfortunately, a recent study of 13 astronauts has shown that it is not corrected after six months on the ISS. Furthermore, it took three to four months to restore a near-normal red blood count after the astronauts returned to Earth. There was still a thirty percent greater loss of red blood cells even after that.
A new study on cosmonauts in the ISS shows another area of concern. Scientists studied the brains of twelve cosmonauts just before and after their space flights and again seven months after they returned to Earth. They used computer reconstruction of data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the structure (gray matter) and connectivity (white matter) in the brain. The research showed shape changes in the brain, especially in the corpus callosum, a large bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s two hemispheres. In addition, researchers detected “changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain.” But, perhaps, the most concerning is that in the brain scans taken seven months after the cosmonauts returned to Earth, the changes to the brain were still present.
A journey to Mars and back will take more than twenty months. During that space flight, astronauts will need protection from radiation, food for proper nourishment, and to replenish red blood cells while they experience “rewiring” of their brains. The many medical challenges of space travel remind us how blessed we are that God has given us the perfect planet to call home.
Astronomers are constantly looking for signs of life on other planets or moons. One of the potential clues they seek is methane, a hydrocarbon gas consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It is classified as a “greenhouse gas” because it can trap heat on Earth’s surface resulting in “global warming.” It’s a more effective greenhouse gas than the much-discussed carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by organic decomposition and in the digestion process of ruminants such as cows and other animals. Scientists seek to learn more about a possible connection between methane and life on other planets.
Since living things create methane, scientists regard it as a potential “biosignature” indicating life on an astronomical body. For that reason, astronomers are searching for methane on planetary bodies. News reports have sometimes gone overboard with stories about methane and life on other planets. However, not all methane is created biologically. Volcanic eruptions can release methane gas, and even asteroid impacts can add methane to a planet’s atmosphere. So how can scientists tell if the methane is a sign of life on a body far out in space?
For one thing, gasses from a volcano would contain not only methane but also carbon monoxide. The biological creation of methane would consume carbon monoxide. When examining the gasses in a planet’s atmosphere, a large amount of BOTH methane and carbon monoxide would probably indicate that the methane was not a biosignature. Methane alone would be a more likely indicator of the possibility of life.
However, an abundance of methane without carbon monoxide would not prove the existence of life on a planet. As we have said before, many factors are required to make a planet suitable for any kind of life, especially advanced life. NASA’s James Webb telescope, launched in December, is still working to reach full functionality. When it does, a significant part of its purpose will be to look for methane in the atmosphere of exoplanets.
When results indicate that the Webb telescope has detected methane on a planet, news reporters may sensationalize the facts to suggest more than they deserve. Reputable scientists are more cautious in their predictions about methane and life on other planets. Nevertheless, we are excited about the possibility of learning more about the universe with the new Webb space telescope.
As we have said before, the Bible doesn’t tell us if there is life on any other object in space. If there is, we believe that God put it there. We are not afraid of scientific investigation because the more we learn about the creation, the more we stand in awe of the Creator.
Syzygy is an interesting word used in astronomy. It’s a great word for Scrabble, but my kids quit playing with me when I used it once. You might wonder what syzygy means. Let me explain.
This spring brings an unusual view of the solar system. If you get up before the Sun now through May, look to the east, and you will see four planets that shine very brightly. The planets from left to right are Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. All of them will be bright enough to see with the naked eye. With binoculars or a small telescope, you will also see some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call an alignment of planets like this a syzygy.
We can see these planets in this rare alignment because they orbit the Sun in the same plane, called the ecliptic plane. This is not just some happy accident but is a critical factor in the survival of life on Earth. Objects coming into the solar system along the ecliptic will not collide with Earth because the planets that lie further out in the solar system will intercept them long before they can reach our planet.
We have actually seen Jupiter intercept a comet coming toward the Sun along the ecliptic. The fireball the impact produced was larger than Earth’s diameter. This solar system design is so complete that the gravitational fields of the outer planets overlap so that nothing from outside the solar system can get to the Earth. The only “planet” not in the ecliptic is Pluto, which is inclined to the ecliptic. For that reason, scientists say that Pluto is not a planet but a captured object.
The design of the solar system is far more complex than most of us understand. The more we travel in space, the more we see the effect of not having a designed protection system. As science deals with space travel, the wisdom and planning of God become apparent. Take a few minutes on a clear morning before the Sun comes up to go out and look and wonder at how “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). Now you know what syzygy means, and you can use it the next time you play Scrabble.
In late April each year, we see the return of the Lyrid meteor shower. It may not be the most spectacular meteor shower of the year, but I find it easier to observe. That’s because, in our part of the world, it comes at a time when the weather is mild enough to sit outside and watch (unlike the Geminids in December) and before mosquitoes become a problem (as with the August Perseids shown in the picture).
This year, the return of the Lyrid meteor shower is from April 14-30, with the peak on the night of April 22. Typically, the Lyrids display five to 20 meteors per hour at the peak, although, in some years, the number has been higher. Written records of the Lyrid meteor shower go back 2700 years when Chinese astronomers made note of it in 687 B.C. A Korean account from A.D.1136 says that “many stars flew from the northeast.”
If you see the Lyrid meteor shower, you will not be looking at falling stars, although you may get that impression. Instead, you will see tiny fragments of Comet Thatcher (officially C/1861 G1), discovered in 1861 by amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher. That year was the last time the comet flew by our planet at 31.1 million miles (50.1 million km). Its next return to our vicinity will be sometime around the year 2280. Meanwhile, Earth’s orbit around the Sun causes us to pass through debris the comet left behind. So we see those fragments as they burn up from the effect of atmospheric friction.
We live in an orderly universe on a planet positioned to allow observation and study of the cosmos. Our planet is designed with an atmosphere and magnetic field to protect us from comet debris, meteorites, cosmic rays, and solar wind. If you have the opportunity to observe the return of the Lyrid meteor shower, use it as a time to thank the Creator for allowing us to live in the just-right time on a just-right planet in a just-right location in the universe.
Humans are obsessed with beauty. We try to make ourselves more beautiful with clothing and cosmetics. We seek to create beauty in music and art, and we continually long for something even more beautiful. But, what is the purpose of beauty, and how can we explain excessive beauty in nature? That is what we have called “the problem of beauty,” which we have discussed all this week.
Beauty is not to provide protection or to solve problems. The purpose of beauty is to bring joy, peace, and meaning to life. However, as we seek beauty, we long for something even more beautiful. We strive to create it, and we desire to find it in people and in nature.
The prophet Isaiah in a vision, saw God’s throne room where one seraph cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God’s glory is displayed in the beauty we see on this planet. The curse of sin has marred that beauty, but it still peaks through. It reminds us of the Creator of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). Theologian N.T. Wright asked the question that we all face at some time, “If the earth is full of God’s glory, why is it also so full of pain and anguish and screaming and despair?” That is what we call “the problem of pain.” I think we can see a glimpse of the answer in the purpose of beauty.
I suggest that humans appreciate and desire beauty because God created us in His image. God creates beauty in the world around us to give us a sample of what is possible. When we see beauty, we long for more because we always find imperfections in the beauty we see here. Beautiful peacocks die. Colorful fall leaves turn brown and fall to the ground. The beauty of a sunset is fleeting. We long for more. We want to know what more God has in store for us.
The apostle John saw a vision of what God has waiting for those who accept His gift of eternal life. In Revelation chapters 21 and 22, he struggled to describe it in terms of the familiar, such as gold, pearls, and jewels, but he knew those words were inadequate. Perhaps the purpose of beauty in the world around us is to show us a glimpse of the glory of God’s beauty. We long for the revelation of the pure beauty of God’s kingdom. As we struggle to answer the problem of pain, perhaps the answer is before our eyes. The problem of beauty is only a hint, a clue, a sample of the ultimate beauty. I can’t wait to see the real thing.
One of the challenges that skeptics use to argue against the existence of God is often called “the problem of pain.” The argument goes something like this: “Why would an all-powerful and loving God allow pain and suffering?” We have dealt with that problem before, including on our website whypain.org. However, there is a contrasting argument for the existence of God that some have called “the problem of beauty.”
The problem of beauty asks the question: “How is it possible that evolution by natural selection could create such beauty in living things?” In other words, “How could natural selection acting on random mutations create beauty which seems to have no survival value?” Darwinian evolution operates on the survival of the fittest. So how can the seemingly simple process of natural selection or survival of the fittest explain many cases of beauty which seem to make animals less fit and thus less likely to survive?
Look around, and you will see beautiful designs that naturalistic evolution attempts to explain without a designer. Why do male cardinals have the beautiful red color? Why do butterflies have such exquisite designs and colors? Some animals display beautiful colors that make them more vulnerable to predators. Birds make sounds that we can describe as beautiful music. A male bird may sing for an hour, announcing himself not only to prospective mates but also to predators. How can those beautiful features promote the survival of the fittest?
Peacocks, lyrebirds, flowers, starfish, butterflies, and seashells all display beautiful features that cannot be fully explained as survival benefits. In some cases, they may be at least partially explained by mathematical principles. But then, where did mathematical principles in our three-dimensional world originate except from the Creator of all things. Why does the nightingale sing beautiful songs to the darkness? Why do some lizards display colorful crests? How can colorblind cuttlefish change their colors at will not just to camouflage but to send messages to other cuttlefish or predators or just to dazzle any observer? Why do flowers display not only beautiful colors but also soothing fragrances? The beauty of nature is visual, auditory, and even fragrant. Most of all, it is priceless.
It seems that natural selection acting on blind chance mutations cannot explain all of the beauty we see in living things–both plants and animals. If natural selection can’t explain it, does that indicate evidence for design by an Artist? Furthermore, how can we explain the fact that humans can recognize and appreciate beauty? Is that because the Artist created us in His image? These questions point out the problem of beauty. I hope you will join me as we continue to consider this problem tomorrow.
As the Sun approaches an eleven-year maximum of its magnetic cycle, solar flares and eruptions occur with increasing frequency and violence. That means the Sun is blasting out a massive cloud of fast-moving electrons, protons, and ions in all directions. To see the magnetosphere display this creates on Earth, go to apod.nasa.gov for March 22, 2022. There you will see what NASA calls “A Whale of an Aurora over Swedish Forest.”
The cloud of particles from the Sun would cause huge damage to life if it reached us unobstructed by Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. Earth’s magnetosphere deflects the charged particles coming toward us from the Sun. As Earth’s magnetic field moves the particles toward the poles, they hit molecules in our atmosphere, causing them to glow in a magnetosphere display that we call an auroral corona.
Most people in the higher latitudes of North America can go outside late at night and away from the city lights and see the aurora borealis or “northern lights.” Here in Michigan, the glow in the north was yellow and orange. In a northern city like Östersund, Sweden, the aurora was blue-green and high in the sky. The APOD picture may look like a whale to some, but I think it looks like an eagle. The color of the aurora depends on what elements are being hit by the solar emissions. The green is from oxygen, but orange and red come from hydrogen higher up in the atmosphere.
Earth’s magnetic field is essential as a shield to prevent radiation damage to all life. Scientists don’t fully understand what causes the magnetic field, but it is just right to allow life on this planet. Life would have to be underground for protection on planets with no magnetic field. When God created Earth, He gave it a magnetic field of just the right strength and geographic distribution to allow life to exist. This is another great testimony to the wisdom built into the creation process that formed our planet.