As we said yesterday, science cannot detect 68.3% of the energy in the cosmos, but we know it is there because of its effect on the galaxies. Also, today’s scientists cannot detect 26.8% of the mass in the universe, but they know it is there because of gravity. They call it “dark matter.” To make their theories work, scientists now say that there must be a bizarre form of matter that does not affect or interact with light, visible or invisible, in any way. They call this hypothetical particle which cannot be seen or detected, “the axion.” The axion would explain dark matter, but the big question is how can we detect it?
As science attempts to understand the nature of the world we live in, it becomes evident that the creation is not just the physical world that our senses can detect. Seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting are wonderful, but they are just physical manifestations of something far more significant.
For Christians, this is not the mystery that it might be to an atheist. Hebrews 11:3 says it well: “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 are visible.” My physics studies have convinced me that the world we can see is just a snippet of the total creation.
We are beginning to understand that there are many dimensions beyond what our senses perceive. Even when we extend our senses with machines, we still cannot detect the axion. The wonder of creation simply brings us back to the Psalmist’s song: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). The cry of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-23 reminds us of our limitations: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way before His works of old I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or before the Earth existed.”
Remember that “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3). Science is a friend of faith, and God has given us a limited view of what He has done. The full scope of creation is beyond our comprehension, but science helps fill in some gaps in our understanding. Perhaps someday science will find the axion.
The Moon does many things that affect life on Earth. Sometimes its power can help in ways we never considered, such as opening the Suez Canal.
For a week, we saw news reports about a giant ship blocking that canal which carries much of the world’s shipping. The offending vessel is one of the world’s largest container ships, and it got stuck on the sand and turned sideways to block the entire channel. Tugboats and dredging vessels worked to dislodge it, but they were toy boats by comparison. You could think of a child with a toy shovel and sand bucket trying to free a beached whale and push it back into the ocean. I saw a news report with an “expert” saying it could take weeks to free the vessel.
Then, the Moon stepped in. The March full-moon arrived over the weekend and helped to free the ship. We have said before that the Moon does many things to support life on Earth. Its light helps nocturnal animals, and sometimes humans, to find their way. The Moon’s gravity stabilizes the Earth’s tilt which causes the seasons. The gravity also causes the tides that clean the ocean’s shores and estuaries. The tides and the moonlight play an essential role in the reproduction of sea turtles and many crustaceans. The tides even help to free stuck ships.
On March 29, the container ship Ever Given became dislodged, opening the Suez Canal. The 1,300 foot-long ((400 m) vessel would still be stuck if the Moon’s gravity had not raised the water level to lift it enough that the tug boats could move it. Tides are highest during the full-moon. At that time, the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Their gravity pulls on the water raising the tides. In this case, that force was enough to free a ship the size of the Empire State Building from being stuck in the mud and thus to open the Suez Canal.
One more thing about the Moon is that it has just the right size to allow us to have total solar eclipses, which benefit scientists in their study of the Sun. We never stop marveling at the powerful forces in God’s creation.
What is your faith? Some of my atheist friends will say, “I don’t have a faith,” but that isn’t true. The definition of faith given in the Bible is, “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word used for “substance” in this verse is “hupostasis” which is from two words meaning “stand” and “upon.” It is literally our “foundation.” What is your foundational faith?
Each of us has things in our lives that are fundamental to our existence and that we trust even though we don’t see them. We all have faith in gravity. We don’t sit around worrying about whether gravity will suddenly fail and we will drift off into outer space. There is a vast list of things that we cannot see and yet which are foundational to our existence.
For most of us, our foundational faith has more to do with our intellectual understandings, our values, our morals, and how we make decisions. The book of Hebrews identifies some of those things with scientific accuracy and on which most of us can agree. Verse 3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed … so that what is seen was not made of what was visible.” Whether you are a Christian or an atheist, you can have faith in that part of the verse. However, the middle of that verse says, “…was formed at God’s command…” An atheist would disagree that God had anything to do with it but would still agree that “…what is seen was not made of what was visible.”
That raises an important point. Is faith something that is blind?The answer is clearly “no!!” We have faith in gravity because, for all our lives, gravity has functioned in the same way. We trust gravity and have faith in it because we have seen it working. We cannot directly see that God commanded the formation of the cosmos. Having faith in the cause of the universe requires a different kind of evidence. We cannot directly observe the creation of time, space, matter/energy, and life.
Science gives us interesting examples of faith in something we can’t directly see. For many years, scientists debated whether light was a wave or a particle. Those scientists with faith that light was a wave had evidence for their faith. They proved it by showing destructive interference in light. Two light waves can intersect and cancel each other out, leaving darkness. Waves can cancel each other, but particles cannot. Experiments also show that waves can be polarized, and particles cannot. You can shine a light through certain types of crystals, and the crystals will only allow light vibrating in one plane to pass through. Reflected light turns out to be polarized, as you know if you have a pair of Polaroid sunglasses. There was massive evidence that light is a wave, and 400 years ago, that was the faith of most scientists.
The problem with that faith was that there were things that light could do that waves could not do. Light could shine on certain materials and knock electrons out of those materials. This is called the photoelectric effect, and we all use it in photo-sensors and solar-cells. Waves such as sound waves cannot go through a vacuum because they need something to “wave.” Particles can go through a vacuum. Some scientists had such strong faith that light was a wave they explained how light reaches us from the Sun by saying that space is not a vacuum. They made up a substance they called “aether” which they said filled the universe and which waves could pass through.
Scientists today have faith in the dual nature of light. It is both a wave and a particle, and aether doesn’t exist. The point is that our faith can change when we see new evidence. What is your foundational faith, and how has it changed during the last few years? If you are a Christian, has your faith grown? We’ll talk about that tomorrow.
June 10, 2019, is an excellent time to observe the largest planet in our solar system. The reason is that Jupiter is in opposition to our Sun.
When astronomers say that Jupiter is in opposition, they mean that planet Earth is passing between the Sun and Jupiter. At this time, Jupiter will rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and it will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. In other words, Jupiter will be visible all night long, and it will be at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.
The picture was taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s spacecraft Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter. NASA posts the raw images online and encourages individuals to download and process them. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill enhanced this one. You can find access to the raw images and see the work of other citizen scientists by clicking HERE.
When you see Jupiter in the sky tonight, it will not look like this picture, but it will be the brightest object in the sky. Jupiter is not a rocky planet like Earth. It’s a gas giant which if were 80 times more massive, would be hot enough to set off nuclear reactions in its core. Then it would be a star giving off its own light instead of just reflecting the Sun’s light. However, if you could lump all the other planets in our solar system together (including Earth), Jupiter would be 2.5 times more massive than them all.
Why do we need such a huge gas giant in the outer solar system? As we have said in previous posts, Jupiter is a comet sweeper. With its massive size and gravity, Jupiter protects us from objects such as comets coming from outside our solar system. In the 1990s, NASA observed Jupiter pulling apart and destroying comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. You can read about that in our previous post HERE. Jupiter also affects Earth’s climate cycles, which you can read about HERE.
Jupiter is in opposition about every 13 months. Last year opposition occurred in May. Next year it will be on July 14. If you miss seeing Jupiter tonight because of cloudy weather or any other reason, don’t despair. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on June 12, and it will continue to be visible, but right now it’s visible all night long.
We depend on the Sun every day to generate the energy that makes life on Earth possible, but have you considered how the Sun works?
The key to the Sun’s energy-supplying ability is a delicate balance between gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity curves space and pulls together all objects that have mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force of gravity. Right now gravity is pulling us toward the center of the Earth, but we are being held in place by the strength of the Earth’s crust and whatever floors or objects we have below us. The strength of the surfaces supporting us comes from electromagnetic forces between electrons and the protons in the nucleus of atoms. Those forces bond atoms of elements to each other forming compounds.
Since the Sun’s mass is more than a million times that of Earth, its gravity is more than a million times as great. The tremendous force in the core of the Sun overcomes the electromagnetic force and squeezes atoms of hydrogen tightly together igniting a thermonuclear reaction producing helium.
The creation of helium atoms releases high energy gamma-ray photons. If those gamma rays reached Earth, they would kill us. But the vast majority of them are transformed before they leave the surface of the Sun. On the way from the core to the surface they bounce off protons and electrons heating the hydrogen gas in the outer portion of the Sun. That heating increases the gas pressure enough to overcome the pull of gravity. Otherwise, the Sun would collapse on itself.
The bouncing of those gamma rays slows them so much that it takes hundreds of thousands of years for them to reach the Sun’s surface. If they could travel in a straight line, it would take only seconds, but they would emerge as deadly gamma rays that would reach the Earth in eight minutes, destroying all life. By the time those sterilizing gamma-ray photons reach the Sun’s surface, their energy has mainly been reduced to life-giving optical photons. There are still some dangerous rays that reach the Earth, but our atmosphere takes care of most of those.
Our mission statement is: “Science and faith are friends and not enemies.” One of the challenges that we hear from atheists and skeptics is that statement is bogus because the scientific method can not be applied to it.
As a public school science teacher I always tried to make sure that students knew what scientific method is and could see how to apply it to the problems we face in the modern age. Sometimes that is incredibly difficult to do. Our textbooks usually gave six steps to use the scientific method:
1. Identify and define the problem. 2. Accumulate all possible data. 3. Formulate a tentative hypothesis that would solve the problem in step 1. 4. Conduct experiments to test the hypothesis – the more experiments, the better. 5. Interpret the results of the experiments without prejudice. 6. Repeat the steps until you find an acceptable solution.
In high school science classes, those six steps are usually easy to do, but sometimes later data alters what we thought was a solid fact proven by scientific method. Suppose we ask, “What causes gravity?” We could say “I think gravity is a property of mass.” All objects with mass have a gravitational attraction for all other d objects that have mass. Other people might say that it’s a property of electric charge, or maybe spin. You write down all the possibilities and conduct experiments to see which hypothesis can be experimentally verified.
To see if mass produces gravity, I fill two large bags with cement, and I hang them close to each other. If mass causes gravity, they should attract each other. That is an experiment I can do. I can also charge two balls electrically and see if they attract each other including the electric forces in the calculation. I can spin the two balls and see if they change their attraction for each other as they spin. The mass experiment works, and all the others don’t. I publicize my results and wait for additional experiments to support or deny what my experiments have shown.
The example I have just described is in most physics textbooks and has been done and repeated hundreds of times. But then a scientist did an experiment that didn’t support this conclusion. He found that when a beam of light passed by a huge object (the Sun), the light curved. This suggested that gravity was actually a product of space, not mass. The difference was that the size of the experiment produced different results when you used a star instead of a bag of cement.
As we have looked at the very large (quasars) and the very small (quarks), we have found that the scientific method is hard to do and sometimes impossible. String theory, brane theory, multiverse theory, and a variety of other proposals simply cannot be tested by an experiment. For the time being at least, we cannot test them by scientific method. They are not alternatives we can hold up as fact. They cannot even be considered as serious scientific explanations since they cannot be demonstrated or falsified by scientific method.
Trying to use the scientific method in areas like psychology, sociology, and matters of faith are also frequently difficult. What we generally do is to rely on statistics to evaluate a potential cure for a psychological difficulty. Does a treatment method work? Is a particular activity statistically helpful in relieving a mental or spiritual problem? As more and more data become available, we examine that data. We must reject some psychological theories (like Freud’s view of sex) and use the data to make a new proposal we can analyze.
Christ challenged his followers to examine the data. When the disciples of John came to Christ to ask if He was the promised Messiah, He responded: “Go and tell John what things you have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised …” (Luke 7:22). Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to take His word for it. He asked them to look at the evidence. The evidence supports the claims of Christianity. If we honestly examine the evidence, our investigation will lead to a better understanding of how our faith works.
Four fundamental forces impact our lives: electromagnetic force, strong and weak nuclear forces, and gravity force. We couldn’t live without them. More than that, we couldn’t live without them being exactly what they are and carefully balanced against each other.
Gravity is the weakest by far. For example, the strong nuclear force is 10 to the 38th power stronger than gravity. That is one followed by 38 zeroes. That strong nuclear force holds the nucleus of atoms together, but it acts over very short distances within the atom. The gravity force acts on larger objects over much greater distances.
If gravity were as strong as any of the other three forces, it would crush you and everything else as well! Because gravity is relatively weak, you can stand and walk. But it’s strong enough that you can also jump without flying off into space. Gravity holds our planet together. It also holds Earth in orbit around the Sun at the right distance to allow life to exist. Gravity keeps our Moon in orbit around Earth, and the Moon’s gravity stabilizes Earth’s rotation and causes the tides which clean our ocean shores.
Gravity is also a major force in our weather, causing air masses to move as their density changes. A stronger force of gravity would create strong and destructive winds. Gravity even makes plants grow upward no matter which direction you place the seed in the ground.
As matter moves around in the cosmos, it’s attracted to other matter by gravity.Gravity formed the stars and planets. Planets are spherical because gravity force pulls them into that shape. It is also the gravity force that pulls hydrogen molecules together to form stars. When the hydrogen molecules reach enough mass, the gravity force squeezes them tightly enough to cause nuclear fusion. The fusion of hydrogen atoms turns them into the essential heavier elements that make up planets and our bodies.
Most people know that the Moon causes tides. The gravitational pull of the Moon mostly causes the ocean tides. The tides are essential for cleaning the coastlines and estuaries.
On average, the Moon is 238,900 miles (384,470 km) from Earth. What if the Moon were only half of its present distance from Earth? The Moon half as far away from Earth would create ocean tides eight times higher than they are now. At one-fourth the current distance from Earth, the tides would be sixty-four times higher than they are today. Imagine a world with tides like that! Coastal cities around the world would be in danger. Coastal lowlands would be uninhabitable. The coasts would be eroded away in a short time. Upflowing tidal waters would overpower rivers that flow into the oceans. Floodplains along the rivers would fill and drain with each ebb and flow of the tide.
With a closer Moon, all kinds of aquatic creatures living along the shore would not survive the destructive forces of the tides. In addition to those catastrophes, seawater would deposit salt on the fertile land along the rivers making them barren. Glaciers along the coast of Alaska and Greenland and the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica would be broken up. Icebergs would clog the Atlantic Ocean. Icebergs would sometimes wash ashore with the tides in places far from the cold climates, crushing whatever was in the way.
Gravity controls the universe — at least on a large scale. Obviously, gravity keeps you and your possessions from floating away into space. Gravity also holds planets and stars together. It holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth and all of the planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity holds the galaxies together. But other forces are stronger than gravity.
Four interactions make the universe work: the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity is by far the weakest of those forces. The weak and strong nuclear forces are limited to a very short range within the atom. Only the electromagnetic force and gravity reach out to the vast universe. Since the electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity, why does gravity control the universe?
Everything is made of atoms and atoms contain electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have an equal and opposite positive charge. Electromagnetism causes opposite charges to attract and like charges to repel each other. Gravity, of course, pulls anything with mass together.
The reason electromagnetism does not overpower the much weaker force of gravity is a delicate balance between electrons and protons. For each electron in the universe, there is a proton, so the plus and minus electrical forces cancel each other, creating electrical neutrality. Without that balance, we could not exist.
The balance between electrons and protons is so delicate that if you were building a universe and accidentally put in one extra electron for each trillion trillion trillion electron/proton pairs (that’s one followed by 36 zeroes), it would be catastrophic. The electrical repulsion between those negatively-charged electrons would overpower the gravitational force. The result would be that gravity could not pull any mass together. If gravity could not pull masses together, there would be no planets, no stars, no galaxies. Electromagnetic repulsion would create a universe of dispersed particles and nothing else.
Does Your GPS work? If so, you can give credit to Albert Einstein. In 1905 Einstein published the Theory of Special Relativity which said that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This presented a problem because gravity acts between objects instantly and thus it seems to be faster than the speed of light. It was a problem that needed a solution.
Ten years later, in 1915 Einstein revealed his Theory of General Relativity which resolved the problem. The explanation was that the Sun and planets cause space to curve around them and this warped shape of space influences the motion of other objects passing by them. That’s why the Moon orbits the Earth, and it’s why Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun.
This warping of space also bends light beams that pass through space. In 1919 British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington confirmed that Einstein was correct. Eddington observed the bending of light from distant stars as the light passed by the Sun during a total solar eclipse.
The understanding of how gravity bends space and light beams has given us methods of making measurements in space and detecting planets orbiting other stars. Einstein also said that time is warped by gravity causing time to move more slowly near massive bodies like the Earth. The effect of gravity on time allows Global Positioning Satellites to determine the exact position of the GPS receiver you use in your car.