Comets and Cats

Comets and Cats
More than five years ago there was an event that reminded us of a comparison of comets and cats. The media proclaimed comet ISON “the comet of the century.” Experts predicted that it would outshine the full moon. Some said that it would be visible in daylight. Astronomy magazine predicted that it could “become the brightest comet ever seen by anyone now alive.” Excitement was in the air as people waited to see this remarkable comet in the fall of 2013. What happened to it?

Comets have been described as dirty snowballs in space. They consist of water ice, other frozen gasses, and rocks orbiting through the solar system. When they pass near the Sun, the solar radiation vaporizes the solids, and the vapor reflects the sunlight creating a visible ball called a coma. The solar wind causes the appearance of a tail pointing away from the Sun.

The comet that brought such excitement was named ISON after the International Scientific Optical Network based in Russia that initially discovered it. Because its perihelion (closest passage to the Sun) was going to be only 1.8 million kilometers in November of 2013, astronomers expected it to be a rare and “dazzling” sight. However, as the comet came close to the Sun, it disintegrated. What was left instead of being “fifteen times brighter than the full moon” was almost, or entirely, invisible to the naked eye. Star-gazers were disappointed.

Famed comet hunter David Levy made the statement: “Comets are like cats. They have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” Yes, comets and cats are unpredictable. However, one thing we know is that the design of our solar system makes it unlikely that one will collide with Earth. What the Sun doesn’t stop, the “comet sweeper” giant outer planets will—especially Jupiter which captured one of the comets that David Levy discovered. Although Levy said that comets do what they want, it might be more accurate to say that comets do what God wants.
–Roland Earnst ©2019

Gravity Force and Life

Gravity Force and Life
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.

The gravity force is just right to make the universe, stars, planets, and life possible. If it had been slightly more or less, none of these things would exist. We think the precision of the forces of nature is not an accident, but the design of a wise God.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere
A cosmic coincidence took place on November 5, 2018. It had to do with our Sun and two probes that NASA sent into space.

To the average person, the solar system refers to our Sun and the eight (or nine) orbiting planets. However, between Mars and Jupiter there are asteroids and beyond the planets there dwarf planets and smaller bodies called planetesimals. So where is the edge of the solar system?

A bubble surrounds the solar system which scientists call the heliosphere. The Sun sends out charged plasma particles called the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most harmful effects of the solar wind, but we can see the effect of that “wind” as it ionizes molecules in the upper atmosphere creating the aurora we call the northern and southern lights. There is a limit to how far the solar wind reaches, and that is the outer edge of the heliosphere bubble. NASA’s Voyager 2 reached it on November 5.

Also on November 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached the inner edge of the heliosphere by flying toward the Sun. The fact that both probes arrived at the extreme boundaries of the heliosphere at the same time was not and could not be planned by the scientists at NASA. We would have to call it a cosmic coincidence.

NASA launched Voyager 2 forty-one years earlier in 1977. On its journey out of the solar system, it flew past and took pictures of all four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). In late August of 2018, its plasma detectors, called Faraday cups, began to indicate that it was reaching the edge of the heliosphere. After 310 days of crossing that boundary, scientists determined that it passed out of the solar wind on November 5. Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km ) from the Sun. Voyager 2 had reached 120 times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Meanwhile, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, and it traveled toward the Sun. In three months it arrived at the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. Parker’s job is to investigate how the solar wind originates. Scientists want to know how the Sun’s superheated atmosphere generates the solar wind plasma and blasts it into space at speeds of a million-plus miles per hour.

So, the cosmic coincidence is that two NASA probes launched 41 years apart arrived at almost the same time at the outer and inner limits of the heliosphere. Their mission is to give us new information about our solar system. Their arrival at the same time was a pure cosmic coincidence. The marvelous system they are investigating and that supports life on this planet is certainly not a coincidence. It shows the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Amoeba Can Solve TSP

Amoeba Can Solve TSP
A famous challenge in computer science is called “The Traveling Salesman Problem,” or TSP for sort. Scientists in Tokyo have found that a one-celled amoeba can solve TSP.

The problem goes like this:
Suppose you are a traveling salesperson going from city to city to sell your goods. You want to maximize your efficiency to make as much money in as little time as possible. You want to find the shortest path that will let you hit every city on your route one time and return you to the starting point.

There is no simple mathematical formula to find the best route. The only way to solve the problem is to calculate the length of each possible route and see which is the shortest. The problem gets exponentially harder as more cities are added to the route. With four cities there are only three different routes to consider, but with six cities there are 360 different routes. If you had ten cities or more, the number of routes could be in the millions. With an increase in the number of cities, the number of routes increases logarithmically.

The traveling salesman problem is one of a broad class of problems computer scientists call “NP-hard.” (NP stands for nondeterministic polynomial time. People involved in hacking encrypted systems and mining cryptocurrency are interested in this sort of problem.)

At Keio University in Tokyo, scientists have discovered that an amoeba can solve TSP, with the help of some human ingenuity. They used a single-cell slime mold amoeba known as Physarum polycephalum which moves toward food and away from light. The scientists built a chamber filled with channels and placed some food at the end of each channel. The channels represent a city on the salesman’s route. The amoeba would extend tendrils into the channels to get the food. As it reached the food, a light would go on in that channel so that the amoeba would not go back to the same “city.”

The advantage is that that the amoeba doesn’t have to calculate every individual path as most computer algorithms do. Instead, the amoeba just reacts passively to the conditions and figures out the best possible arrangement by itself. What this means is that for the amoeba, adding more cities (channels) only increases the time linearly rather than logarithmically.

The lead study author Masashi Aono said, “The mechanism by which the amoeba maintains the quality of the approximate solution, that is, the short route length, remains a mystery.” If researchers can figure out how the amoeba can solve TSP, it could speed up our ability to solve all kinds of challenging computational problems.

This design feature in one of God’s simplest creatures is another demonstration of how we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-23).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2019

Reference- https://www.sciencealert.com/an-amoeba-has-solved-an-exponentially-complex-problem-in-linear-time

Chocolate Flies at Work

Chocolate Flies at Work - Cacao Tree Flowers and Pod
Thank God for chocolate flies. No, we are not talking about chocolate-covered houseflies. That sounds repulsive to us too. We are talking about the tiny flies that are essential to the production of the chocolate we love.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which is native to the rainforests of South America. When early tribes in the Amazon and Orinoco River area discovered uses for the cacao tree, they started what became a chocolate craze that is still going on today. From there, interest in the trees and the tasty substance they produce spread to more of northern South America, into Central America, and into Mexico. The Aztecs even used cacao beans as money.

However, growing the cacao beans is not easy. The tiny white flowers that produce the beans require a small insect pollinator. The flowers grow out of the trunk of the tree where pollination by a bird or mammal would not be practical. Even bees or butterflies are too large. That’s where the chocolate flies come in. The pollinators that can do the job are tiny flies, or midges, in the family Ceratopogonidae. They are small enough to get into the flowers, and they are on the right work schedule. The cacao flowers open just before dawn—a time when the midges are most active. It seems like a planned arrangement. They are not really chocolate flies, but they are essential helpers for chocolate farmers.

As farmers began to grow cacao on plantations, the pollination process was not working well. Human pollination of the flowers by hand is a difficult job and not as effective as the work of the little flies. The midges were not doing the job because they prefer the shade of the rainforest over the open spaces of cacao plantations. Coincidentally cacao trees grow well in shady areas.

Farmers found a solution by planting small areas of cacao in the ecosystem of rainforest areas. Of course, that limits the areas where it can be grown and thus the amount of chocolate produced. However, the people of the world will not give up their desire for chocolate, and a fly the size of a pin-head makes it possible. This is just one more example of the importance of rainforests and the excellent design God has given this amazing planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Thinking Outside the Brain

Thinking Outside the Brain
Our bodies feed sensory information into the brain, sort of like a keyboard, mouse, or scanner feeds data into a computer. There is a school of psychology known as “embodied cognition” which suggests that not all of our thinking takes place in the brain. They suggest that we do some of our thinking outside the brain.

Those scientists say that the body helps the brain decide what to do with the data it receives. In one test, volunteers were directed to stand at the bottom of a hill and estimate how steep it was. The answers given correlated with the physical condition of the volunteers. Those who were not physically prepared to climb the hill estimated it to be steeper than it was. Those who were carrying a heavy backpack estimated the hill to be steeper than those who were not carrying a load. A physical challenge of any kind may look easy to a person who is physically ready for the challenge. To a person with disabilities, the same task looks much different.

The way we perceive the world is linked to our physical state. The idea of facing a new day is difficult for a person who is in pain. To a healthy person, the new day may be filled with exciting possibilities. A happy person may thank God for blessings. To a person who is discouraged or depressed the concept of a loving God may be hard to accept. Our bodies may be giving our brain a discouraging message.

Sometimes we need to be thinking outside the brain — even outside our bodies. We need to allow faith to tell us something more than our eyes can see and more than our bodies can feel. Another test by those investigating embodied cognition showed that looking upward influences people to think of others who are more powerful than they are. We suggest that looking up to God and putting faith in Him can change our perspective on the challenges of each day.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Design Is an Illusion – Not

Design Is an Illusion – Not
If you read our posts and publications regularly, you probably know that we are continually talking about design in the universe, on our planet, and especially in living things. We think that it is impossible to look at life and say that we see no design. However, some people can see the same things and say design is an illusion. They are willing to accept on faith that everything came into existence out of nothing and evolved by pure accident with no intelligence involved.

One person who refuses to see design in nature is a very well-known evolutionary biologist. Richard Dawkins has written several best-selling books that are supposed to be on the subject of biology. However, they are actually books on theology. The high point (or low point) of his books on theology is The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin 2006). He travels the world giving lectures on theology, under the guise of biology.

Dawkins’ field of study is biology, not theology, so we take his pronouncements with a grain of salt. However, even Dawkins has to admit that his biological studies appear to show design. In his book The Blind Watchmaker he wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” However, he then goes into theology by stating that design is an illusion and there is no designer. That means there is no ultimate purpose in life beyond day-to-day survival. In River Out of Eden Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good…”

No design, no purpose, no evil, and no good—that’s the way Dawkins describes the living things he has spent his life studying. Life, of course, includes human beings—you and I. If Dawkins is right, why should he study living things, or why should we? What is the purpose of using our purposeless lives to study purposeless things? Perhaps Dawkins has found his purpose in theology as he endeavors to convince everyone that there is no God.

As we think about this, we have to be amazed at how incredibly ironic the Dawkins delusion is. In the meantime, we will continue to admire the design we see in the world and pay homage to the Designer. Faced with the Dawkins challenge that design is an illusion, we choose to believe our eyes–and our common sense.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

How Many Moons Are Enough?

How Many Moons Are Enough?
When it comes to moons, it seems that Earth got cheated. We have only one moon while Mars has two. Neptune has fourteen moons. Uranus has twenty-seven. Saturn not only has rings, but it also has sixty-two moons. Lucky Jupiter has sixty-seven! To add to the embarrassment, puny little Pluto, which is no longer considered a planet, has five times as many moons as Earth has! The only bragging point we have is that we can say we have more moons than Mercury and Venus. (They have none.) So how many moons are enough?

Actually, one works very nicely. Our single moon is critical to the existence of life on Earth. It’s because of the moon that Earth has a stable tilt on its axis of 23.5 degrees. That tilt prevents temperature extremes on this planet. With no inclination, the area of the Equator would be extremely hot and the poles extremely cold and dark all year. With a greater tilt, seasonal weather changes would be extreme all over the planet. Because of the angle of the inclination, we have proper seasons, and the air gets mixed to temper the weather extremes.

Our moon has the right mass at the right distance to keep Earth’s tilt stable. The moon plays several crucial roles in making our planet a great place to live, but stabilizing the tilt is one that’s extremely important. So how many moons are enough? I would say that one moon of the right size and at the right distance is just right.

Oh, and those other planets with more moons — none of them are habitable. Guess who has bragging rights now? Thank God that he gave us a just-right moon, and we don’t need any more. We see evidence of God’s design in every detail of our planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Galactic Coincidences?


On a clear, moonless night, you can look up and see the Milky Way. Actually, we are in the Milky Way, a spiral galaxy of 200 billion stars one of which is our Sun. We are located in a spiral arm of that galaxy 26,000 light-years from its center. Our location seems to indicate many galactic coincidences.

At the center of the Milky Way (and perhaps all galaxies), there’s a black hole sending out lethal radiation to a distance of 20,000 light-years. Farther out than 26,000 light-years from the center, heavy elements that are vital to our existence and survival are scarce. We are in what astronomers call the “galactic habitable zone.”

Spiral galaxies rotate, and we are near the co-rotation spot where our solar system moves at almost the same rate as the spiral arm we are in. If we were in precisely the co-rotation spot, we would experience gravitational “kicks” which could send us out of the habitable zone. If we were far away from the co-rotation spot, we would fall out of the arm and be subjected to deadly radiation.

In the vast majority of spiral galaxies, the habitable zone and co-rotation spot do not overlap. Most other spiral galaxies are not as stable as ours. Most galaxies are not spiral galaxies and would not have a stable location for advanced life.

Furthermore, galaxies exist in clusters, and our cluster called the “Local Group” has fewer, smaller, and more spread-out galaxies than nearly all other clusters. Most galaxies are in dense clusters with giant or supergiant galaxies which create deadly radiation and gravitational distortion making advanced life impossible.

These are only a few of the many factors that “just happen to be” true of the place where we live. Are these just galactic coincidences? Some say it’s all accidental. We say it’s a grand design by a Master Designer. The next time you look up at the Milky Way, thank God that we are precisely where we are.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Why We Need Christmas

Why We Need Christmas
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. Many people dislike Christmas for various reasons, and some are good. I have some reasons why we need Christmas.

First, for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of the winter solstice when daylight seems much too short. Christmas serves to cheer us up and get us through those winter doldrums. That leads to a second reason–the decorations and especially the lights which bring beauty and cheer, even on those cold, dark days.

A third reason is the emphasis on family at Christmas. It seems that everyone wants to spend time with family and those we love as we carry on the Christmas traditions we enjoy. Related to that is the fourth reason, and that is giving. We enjoy giving to others. Jesus said there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). We naturally tend to want others to give to us. But when we give to others, we learn the truth of what Jesus said.

Reason number five relates to giving. God’s love for us prompted Him to give the greatest gift of all. God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived among us (John 1:14). The greatest reason why we need Christmas is to remind us of the gift God gave to us. He came to show us how to live and to give himself for us. If we could all accept the gift Jesus offers and follow His teaching and example, the joy of Christmas would last all year long.
–Roland Earnst © 2018