If you have looked to the southwest just after sunset in the past month, you probably saw two bright stars that have been moving closer to each other. They are not stars. They are the planets Jupiter and Saturn, two of the brightest objects in the sky, reaching a planetary conjunction for the winter solstice.
In their orbits around the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn appear to pass each other about every 20 years. However, the last time they appeared this close was in 1623, just 13 years after Galileo first pointed his telescope into the night sky and discovered four moons of Jupiter and saw Saturn’s rings. On December 21, those two planets will appear only one-tenth of a degree apart. That is one-fifth the diameter of the full moon.
You can bet that there will be hucksters making connections between this very unusual astronomical event and the star of Bethlehem or various political events. This conjunction is not part of a doomsday scenario but a demonstration of the accuracy of scientific observation. We can predict planetary conjunctions or solar and lunar eclipses to the minute, which is not hard to do.
When I taught earth science using the Earth Science Curriculum Project, we did a lab where the students predicted an eclipse of the Sun. They predicted when it would begin, when it would reach totality, and when it would end. I tried to make this a school-wide event, and the principal permitted me to take all 1000 students onto the school lawn to witness the eclipse. We gave the students special glasses and set up our telescopes to observe the eclipse.
We told the students what was going to happen and when it would happen. When it started, and the sky got dark, dogs began to howl. Crescents appeared on the ground under the trees as the eclipse projected through spaces in the leaves. Even though we had told the students what would happen, some kids began crying and ran back into the building in fear.
Why do people lack trust in scientific information, whether it concerns an eclipse, planetary movements, climate change, or COVID-19? Science and the Bible are friends, and God has called us to look at the creation around us and learn from it. Proverbs 8, Romans 1:19-20, and Matthew 6:25-33 all remind us of science and faith’s symbiotic relationship.
Tomorrow we will consider this planetary conjunction and the star of Bethlehem.
One question we hear from a wide range of people is, “Why did God do this to me?” My answer to that statement is always the same, “God didn’t do it to you!!” James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God. God cannot be tempted with evil, and He does not tempt any man.” James speaks of moral temptation, but the principle laid down is true in a wide variety of areas. James says it is our own lust that causes us to sin, which ultimately leads to death. The fact is that every bad thing that happens to us came from someone’s lust. It may be a lust for money, for power, or for dominance. But it is not because God chose to give us something bad. God is not the enemy.
One of the most frustrating examples is mental problems, especially dementia and Alzheimer’s. What can be more painful than having your own mother or spouse not know who you are? It is especially difficult when a disease like Alzheimer’s happens to some people and not to others. I recently stood next to a woman whose mother didn’t know her. That mother was an elder’s wife. She had blessed countless others and had been a teacher of children both in Bible classes and in the public schools.
In the same room was a foul-mouthed, abusive woman who spent much of her life in prison. She was busily writing a legal defense of why her current conviction on selling porn pictures of children should be thrown out of court. She was the same age and yet was very capable and mentally alert. I engaged her in an academic discussion of why quantum theory didn’t invalidate Genesis, and she knew her subject.
“Where is God?” my friend asked as we left the facility. My response was that He was with her mother because even though her physical body was with us, in my opinion, her spiritual self was not. God is not the enemy.
The fact remains that we need to understand why scenarios like this one happen. A recent study of 131,000 people in London, England, aged 50-79, showed that high exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a common pollutant in cities, more than doubled the incidence of Alzheimer’s. Also, exposure to particulate matter from traffic, even in small levels, increased the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s. High concentrations more than doubled it.
More and more studies of irresponsible disposal of chemicals in rivers, lakes, and oceans is causing the worst of human diseases. The London study also showed that ozone reduced the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s. Ozone is part of the structure of the atmosphere which reduces the amount of ultraviolet light from the Sun reaching Earth’s surface. Most of us will remember the problem of the atmosphere’s ozone hole a few years ago, which endangered life on the planet. It was caused by manufactured chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). That led to a worldwide ban on CFC production in 1987.
I am reminded of the old statement in the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” We reap what we sow. It may be by our own actions, but for many of us, the pain is from the greed and selfishness of others – but it isn’t from God. God is not the enemy.
“IT’S NOT FAIR!!” my atheist, feminist opponent declared. “Why would your God allow men to father children well into their old age while the average woman ceases having menstrual cycles by the age of 51.” Her challenge sent me digging into the whole business of menopause and women’s roles, and how they are designed and why.
The facts in a woman’s reproductive life are clear. Pregnancy becomes more hazardous with age, and younger women are more likely to survive childbirth than older women. It is a fact that we see more chromosomal abnormalities in the ova of women over 40, so there are genetic issues as well.
Aside from the survival rate physically and genetically of children born to older mothers, there is the issue of different roles that women have at different times in their lives. If a woman reaches menopause by the age of 50 and she lives to be 80, she has time for a new phase of life–that of being a grandmother. Studies on a variety of societies have shown that the survival rate of children in primitive societies is directly related to the presence of grandmothers. Assuming that human children need their mothers until they are around ten years old, the support of a grandmother can obviously be a positive feature.
We are all familiar with the poem “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” As a public school teacher in an inner-city high school, I saw a huge number of grandmothers who came to PTA meetings or conferences about the needs of a child. In our day of working mothers and single parents, the need for the role of grandmother is undeniable.
The apostle Paul described the foundation of the faith of the young man, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 1:5: “When I call to remembrance that unfeigned faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice…”
One of the things that defines us as humans is the exceptional care that we receive from our mothers. The difficult business of raising children today is compounded by the unwillingness of many to accept our biological design. The facts of menopause and women’s roles clearly show evidence of design.
In March, the state of Idaho enacted a law called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The purpose was to protect women from having to compete in sports against males who identify themselves as females. Gender issues in women’s sports have created unfairness.
This was an international problem in the last Olympics as Russian men posed as women and became a factor in the Olympic competition. In Connecticut, two males who claimed to be females dominated high school track when they captured over a dozen championships and broke 17 long-standing female track records.
The question of gender identity has become an issue far beyond the rights of individuals who wish to identify with a different gender. When men decide to be women and compete in women’s athletic events, they affect the rights of all the women in that field. Chelsea Mitchell, a Connecticut high school senior, was the fastest female runner in four different state championships. She watched the gold medal and state title go to males who claimed to be females. Her statement was, “No girl should have to set out onto her starting blocks knowing that no matter how hard you work, you don’t have a fair shot at victory. Female athletes are only looking for a fair playing field. All we’re asking for is a fair chance.“
There is a biological difference between males and females. The biblical position is that God created males and females as individual entities, and all the evidence supports that fact. In America today, a person can legally express their sexuality any way they wish. Denying others the right to compete equally with those having the same biological makeup is a violation of the evidence and a violation of gender rights. Gender issues in women’s sports will continue to be a problem as long as people fail to accept the undeniable fact that men and women are different.
To remain politically correct in the United States, Disney has gone to great lengths to include LGBT content in their productions, including those designed for children. However, Disney removes LGBT content in the Russian version of children’s movies to meet the government’s demands. They have also done the same for Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, where a very brief lesbian kiss was edited out of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
The new children’s film “Onward” contains a scene where a female cyclops police officer named Specter says, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” In the Russian version” girlfriend” was changed to “partner.” Russia also required editing out LGBT content in” Rocketman” and “Avengers: Endgame.”
Interestingly, Disney removes LGBT content for Russia and Muslim countries. They have the legal right to adapt their material to different cultures. Still, it seems strange that family values are emphasized by the entertainment industry for children in other countries and ignored in the United States.
Yesterday we looked at the two postulates of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. We saw how our view of time is changed by taking the two postulates and applying them to motion at or near the speed of light. Now let’s look at mass and acceleration at light speed.
Looking at the top equation, which we presented yesterday, you can see that at the speed of light, the equation’s denominator becomes 1 – 1, which is zero. Time stops. If the velocity could somehow exceed the velocity of light, the denominator would be the square root of a negative number, which is not possible.
Another one of Einstein’s equations is a description of length in the direction of motion. The second equation shows that an object’s length in motion (L’) is equal to its length at rest (L) times the quantity square root of 1 minus the velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared. Thus the faster you move, the thinner you are in the direction of motion. An object one meter long at rest would be .765 meters at half the speed of light. At the speed of light, it would disappear, because it would have no length. There would be energy, but no physical length. What travels at the speed of light? The answer, of course, is light itself. Light is two-dimensional. It has no thickness in the direction in which it is moving, precisely what Einstein’s postulates predict.
Mass is another quantity that is affected by Einstein’s postulates. The equation for mass is similar to the equation for time. The mass in motion (m) equals the mass at rest (m’) divided by the square root of 1 minus the velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared. As an object moves faster, its mass increases, but it can never reach light speed. What, then, can we know about mass and acceleration at light speed?
One of the fundamental laws of physics is Newton’s Second Law. It says that when we apply force to a mass, the force (F) depends on the amount of the mass (M) and how much we want it to accelerate (A). The equation is F=MA. At the speed of light, the mass of an object would be infinite, and the force required to accelerate it to that speed would also be infinite. Because of the magnitude of the force, the mass would collapse into a black hole long before reaching light speed. So, it is not possible to achieve mass and acceleration at light speed.
People have paid much attention to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere because they play a significant role in global warming. The main culprit in the greenhouse gas list is carbon dioxide. Not only do we exhale this gas, but fires of all kinds produce it. With the recent major fires in Australia, there is even more concern about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But God has given the Earth some tools to counteract greenhouse gases.
The most efficient tool built into the Earth is a microscopic plant called a diatom. There are 12,000 species of diatoms in Earth’s lakes and oceans. Unlike phytoplankton, diatoms are encased in porous, intricately structured silica shells. Examined under a microscope, these silica shells are beautiful, and they are very resistant to change in shape. That means that the spaces between the shells can collect particulate material. So diatoms are used as filtering agents to filter water for swimming pools and as fillers for aerating soils in yards. The shells are used as diatomaceous earth, which is familiar to most of us, especially those who raise roses or tomatoes.
Diatoms can also absorb gases. In the oceans, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up in the ocean’s depths. Diatoms capture as much carbon dioxide as all the trees, grasses, and other land plants combined. The fancy latticework of the diatom is not just for humans to admire. Because of the twists and turns of their shells, the surface area of diatoms is much greater than that of smooth shells. The increased surface area maximizes photosynthesis and allows the diatoms greater energy for growth and reproduction.
The life expectancy of a diatom is about six days. Because the silicon is heavy, the diatom at death sinks to the ocean floor or lake, taking carbon with it. One solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide is to catalyze the growth of diatoms. Iron nutrients can do that, and seeding the oceans with iron might be a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Diatoms are one more example of the design built into Earth’s structure to allow the planet to exist over the long haul. While diatoms are not apparent to the human eye, they are tools to counteract greenhouse gases and a possible solution to a modern problem.
There are animals designed to fill every ecological niche, and they are often specialized for a local ecosystem. Many flightless birds have a unique ability to fill a specialized niche. Penguins and ostriches are examples of that. New Zealand kiwis are an especially odd example of birds designed for a unique environment.
These flightless, nocturnal birds fill a niche in the New Zealand forests. They are about the size of a chicken, and they eat worms, insects, and berries. Kiwi feathers resemble the rough fur of some mammals rather than bird feathers. The feathers shed dirt efficiently, which is good since they live in dug-out burrows underground. Kiwis get their name from their vocalizations, which sound like “keee weee.”
Kiwis have no keel on their sternum and no tail, so they can’t fly. They do have muscular legs with four toes. (Most flightless birds in the ratite group have two or three.) They have thick, tough skin and heavy, dense bones. (Most birds have hollow bones for flying.) They have a low body temperature for a bird. Their bills have nostrils at the tip, giving them an acute sense of smell. By eating worms, grubs, and insects, kiwis maintain the ecological balance needed in the forest. New Zealand kiwis had no predators until humans introduced dogs and cats to the country.
Kiwi eggs are designed differently from other bird eggs. They are huge, being equal to 20% of the mother’s weight. It would be like a human mother having a baby one-fifth of her weight. The eggs have twice as much yolk as other bird eggs, and they contain antibacterial and antifungal materials needed for living in underground burrows. The male sits on the egg until the chick kicks its way out since kiwi chicks have no egg tooth to break the shell. The parents do not feed the chick, which lives on the extra yoke until it can follow the male outside to get worms and insects.
God’s design is different in each ecosystem, but there are always creatures that provide balance. When humans upset that balance, the result can be a disaster. New Zealand kiwis are an example of unique specialization to support the forests of that unique country. To the people of New Zealand, they are a treasure.
Japan has been a world leader in the development and implementation of high-speed trains. More than 10 billion Japanese passengers are transported by rail each year, and those trains keep the population highly mobile. However, biomimicry solves a high-speed train problem.
One of the major difficulties with the high-speed rail system was that the trains had a bullet-shaped nose. That design compressed the air creating a severe shock wave every time the train went through a tunnel. This “sonic boom” was especially bad in cities, and because Japan is densely populated, the sonic shock waves were a real problem.
The chief engineer for the West Japan Railway Company named Eiji Nakatsu also happened to have birding as a hobby. He was trying to solve the sonic boom issue when he saw a kingfisher dive into the water from a high elevation without even making a splash. He was also aware that owl feathers have the unique ability to absorb sound so an owl can dive quietly on its prey.
Nakatsu and his fellow engineers took the examples that birds offered and built the front of their trains with the equivalent of a kingfisher bill. They also installed a quieter pantograph design based on owl’s wings. (The pantograph is the device mounted on top of an electric train to collect the power from an overhead cable.) in 1997, trains using those designs went into service, and the tunnel problem and noise issue were resolved.
It is called biomimicry when human designers copy something they see in nature to solve a technical problem. There are many examples of biomimicry from velcro to binding straps. God thought of it first, and humans have merely learned to copy God’s design. That’s how biomimicry solves a high-speed train problem.
The Barna Research Group is a research agency that has been doing statistical analysis of religion since 1984. Their studies are widely recognized as academically valid. One useful part of Barna’s work is that they repeat studies to identify trends. Research this year indicates a decline in practicing Christians in America.
Barna defines a practicing Christian as: “Someone who identifies as a Christian, agrees strongly that faith is very important in their life, and has attended church within the past month.” In the year 2000, 45% of Americans surveyed identified themselves as Christians using that criterion. In February of 2020, that percentage had dropped to 25%. This research was based on interviews with 96,171 adults.
When you think about the numbers associated with the Barna definition, it is evident that the word “practicing” is the weasel word. Many people who claim to be Christians have not made a practice of attending Church services. At the same time, they would probably be upset to be called “non-practicing Christians.” However, the truth is that Barna used the same set of questions in 2000 and 2020. There can be no doubt that there has been a sharp decline in practicing Christians in America.
It may be that the coronavirus pandemic will pull some of us away from making a god out of our material possessions. But unless we replace our zeal for things with enthusiasm for the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will continue to be poorly equipped either for this life or for eternity.