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

Ice Core Data and Global Warming

Ice Core Data Sampling
Many years ago I did a master’s degree thesis on what we can learn by studying ice core data. To do this, I looked at a core taken from Mt. Rainier and another taken from Alaska.

Those ice cores were taken in a place where it never gets warm enough for the ice and snow to melt. In the winter it snows, and the snow doesn’t melt but gets buried by the next winter snow. In the summer the snow from the previous winter gets dirty on top. Dust, insects, pollen, and the remains of plants and animals that died on the ice accumulate and are buried by the next winter’s snow. This happens year after year, so each summer leaves a line in the snow. Looking at these lines with a stereoscope I could count how many summers had passed and what lived during that summer.

Since my studies when I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, techniques for getting ice core data have improved. We can now get deeper cores in places like Antarctica and Greenland. Also, we now have tools which can measure the composition and abundance of atmospheric gases dissolved in the ice. We now have drill cores that go down over a mile. In 1984, scientists took a core at Vostok in the Antarctic that was 6,560 feet and contained about 420,000 summers. That means we can analyze the gases in Earth’s atmosphere for every year going back over 400,000 years.

Scientists then compared the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and the average temperature for each location. They could see that when the carbon dioxide content went up, the average temperature also went up. Global warming is not a new thing, but how much human activity has affected the current warming is still unknown. What other factors might be involved is still pretty much conjecture.

Already we see some changes that the warming is producing with the melting of ice sheets and altered weather patterns. Not all of the changes are bad. Some places that have had a drought for a very long time are getting much-needed moisture. Fortunately, these changes are slow so that we can adapt. We can see the design of Earth to allow life to exist more clearly as the ice core data reveals its history.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Saturday Evening Post, January/February 2019, page 44.

Membrane Structure and Water – A Response

Membrane Structure and Water
In our January 10, 2019 post we discussed attempts to redefine life. Some scientists are doing that to justify the assumption that there are massive amounts of life in the cosmos. Is that true? We have pointed out that the Bible is silent on this subject. However, this question brings up some other issues about membrane structure and water. Dr. Phillip Eichman is a scientist with a Ph.D. in biology who has written many articles for our printed journal. He also wrote a book titled Understanding Evolution: A Christian Perspective. He made this observation of our previous post.

“I found your blog about the search for non-water-based life forms interesting. I took a course at IUPUI (Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis) called “Biological Membranes.” We spent a whole semester studying the structure and function of different types of biological membranes. It was one of the best courses that I have taken, and it really helped to pull a lot of things together.

“The professor had been a student or post-doc of Sidney Fox and was very critical of his proteinoid microsphere theory. He (my prof) believed that any life form must have a lipid membrane to survive.

“If you think about it, water is as essential to the formation of a membrane as are the phospholipids. It’s that hydrophobic/hydrophilic interaction that allows the membrane to form. Those compounds you mentioned are all aliphatic hydrocarbons and are nonpolar, so they won’t form any type of membrane like what we know about on Earth.

“When I was teaching even basic courses like Fundamentals of Biology, I spent a lot of time on the nature of the water molecule and also on membrane structure. Biology just doesn’t make sense without understanding those things.

“They may find something out there with a different type of membrane, but I will wait to see it myself. I used to tell my students that the membrane keeps the inside in and the outside out. Without that, a cell as we know it just won’t work.

“P.S. I wrote a short article on membrane structure 20+ years ago. It has been cited several times even though it was in an obscure journal. It is still accessible even though it is probably dated now. Here is the link: http://shipseducation.net/9-2/membrane.htm

–John N. Clayton and Phillip Eichman © 2019

James Watson’s Racial Remarks

James Watson's Racial Remarks
One of the most famous scientists in recent history is James Watson. Watson along with Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, and they received a Nobel Prize for their work. Even though he is 90 years old, Watson has been highly sought after as a speaker. James Watson’s racial remarks have changed things.

In early January of 2019, Watson was interviewed in a PBS documentary titled “American Masters: Decoding Genetics.” In that interview, he said that “genes are responsible for inferior intelligence among blacks.” There are so many problems with this claim that it is hard to know where to start. There are valuable lessons to be learned as well.

The claim that blacks have inferior intelligence is a very ignorant statement. I have a degree in psychometry which is the study of tests and how they are constructed and used. I.Q. tests are loaded with cultural bias, and there are many different types of I.Q. In my early days working under David Segal at Indiana University, I studied the Stanford-Benet I.Q. test and the Otis I.Q. test. As a personal demonstration of the problems with I.Q., my foster son Tim would consistently score 40-50 on the Stanford-Benet test, and yet he would score 90-100 on the Otis. The Otis was a test based on verbal skills. Because we read to Tim regularly during his childhood years, he had average verbal skills. The Stanford-Benet was not verbal but was based on reasoning. Tim was and is mentally challenged in those areas.

Many blacks do score lower on I.Q. tests that were written by upper-class whites in New England. On an I.Q. test written by a black author raised in a profoundly racist geographic area, blacks have better scores than whites. Unbiased testing does not support Watson’s assumption that blacks have inferior intelligence.

Another issue is that there are different kinds of intelligence. Koko, the gorilla trained by Penny Patterson, could use the sign language of the deaf. His I.Q. score was in the 90s, close to normal human values, on a test that measured literary capability. On a test that measured scientific reasoning, the scores were far lower. That test measured a different kind of intelligence.

Because of James Watson’s racial remarks, the laboratory he once led stripped him of honorary titles. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory immediately printed a statement saying Watson’s comments were “reprehensible and completely without a scientific basis and were a misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

The Bible describes humans as created in the image of God, and condemns all attempts to separate humans on any criteria. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Because a man is an expert in one field of study does not mean his opinions should be held superior to others. Watson is an expert on DNA. He is not an expert on racial origins or how our understanding of the function of DNA impacts areas as nebulous as intelligence. James Watson’s racial remarks make that clear.
–John N. Clayton © 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

National Guard and UFOs

National Guard and UFOs
During most of my military service, I was assigned to the 524th Batallion of the 38th Division of the National Guard in Bloomington, Indiana. Because I was a survey and recon specialist, I got to interact with men and women who were part of other battalions who told me about what was going on in their areas of service. Every summer we spent two weeks in summer camp doing military exercises. Since we were an artillery unit, we were always receiving new techniques and new materials. There were interesting stories related to the National Guard and UFOs.

The 38th Division of the National Guard spent their summer in camps in Grayling, Michigan and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Every summer we would hear about strange sightings near where we were drilling. People in these remote towns were not used to seeing Honest John Rockets fired high in the air. The flares we used gave sights that local people were unaccustomed to, but with small communities near the summer drills, not a lot of people were affected.

In 2017 however, there were more than 40 UFO sightings in and around Kokomo, Indiana. Bright lights were doing strange things, and even a string of lights sighted by several observers. On April 16, 2008, 911 dispatchers were inundated with 146 phone calls within a 15-minute time frame. That’s about 120 more than usual. Over 1000 people heard an incredibly loud explosion, and police started to search for a downed plane. This whole thing was reported on Discovery Channel’s “Investigation X” and History Channel’s “UFO Hunters.”

The National Guard has now revealed that the lights and sounds were from training exercises for National Guard aircraft stationed in Fort Wayne. The string of lights came from flares dropped several thousand feet above the ground. That is a technique used by jets to evade heat-seeking missiles. The sonic boom was just that, from jets training in the airspace known as Hilltop Military Operations Area. That area spans from West Lafayette to Logansport and includes parts of Howard and Tipton counties close to Kokomo and Bunker Hill Air Force Base just north of Kokomo.

There are several lessons here related to the National Guard and UFOs. One of them is NOT that there is no life in outer space. That question remains to be solved and has no biblical connections at all. What we do need to learn is that just because a story is on the Discovery channel or the History channel that does not automatically mean it is true. We need to remain open to new evidence and to how those discoveries relate to what the Bible actually says.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Source: South Bend Tribune, January 5, 2019, page A-3.

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

Alien Life Without Water

Is Alien Life Without Water Possible?
For all of my life, there have been articles, videos, and public presentations claiming that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. Now that we know there are thousands of planets in the creation, we see attempts to maintain that with so many planets there must be life somewhere. Scientists are even speculating alien life without water.

We need to remember that the Bible doesn’t say that this is the only planet where God created life, so this is not a biblical issue. The latest attempts to expand the window of what life is has rejuvenated the need to show the design built into the development of life. Life on Earth is based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The National Science Foundation has just funded a three-year program at Saint Louis University to explore what building blocks might be used to make a different kind of life. The chemicals they are considering are hexane, ethers, and chloroform. There is particular interest in whether these materials can form membranes that could be considered life.

The first problem is the definition of life. Life has traditionally been defined as “that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli and reproduce.” An extraordinary chemistry is necessary to meet all of these criteria. Water is the basic substance of life on Earth. The water molecule is polar, meaning that one end of the molecule is negative and the other end is positive. Oxygen is the negative end. Oxygen’s bonding orbitals allow the attachment of two hydrogen atoms making that end positive. This polarity allows water to dissolve other molecules. Salt, for example, is made up of sodium which is positive and chlorine which is negative. When you put salt in water, the sodium is attracted to the oxygen end of the water molecule, and the chlorine is attracted to the hydrogen end of the molecule because unlike charges attract each other. This pulls the salt molecule apart and allows the salt to dissolve. Alien life without water seems impossible.

Hydrocarbons like methane have four hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atom symmetrically. That makes the molecule non-polar and unable to dissolve salt. Numerous experiments are underway to circumvent this problem including the use of vinyl cyanide (also called acrylonitrile) which has been found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. Coming up with a formula for alien life without water will be difficult. How a substitute for oxidation would work has not even been publicized, so respiration would be an equally great challenge.

Chris Butch, a chemist of the Earth Life Institute, says “It’s like trying to build a car in your backyard out of lawnmower parts, versus having the Maserati factory build a supercar.” As science looks for something that can be called life elsewhere in the solar system, we should be impressed with the wisdom involved in the original building of life on planet Earth.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy magazine, February 2019, page 29-35.

Williamson Pink Diamond and Apologetics

Williamson Pink Diamond and Apologetics
We sometimes hear traditionalists say that apologetics is an affront to faith. The idea is that you just have to believe and therefore trying to show evidence for God’s existence is misdirected. They insist that nowhere in the Bible is there an attempt to convince people that God is real. There is an interesting story about the discovery of the Williamson pink diamond that illustrates the role of looking at evidence to come to a valid conclusion.

First of all, we would question the assertion that the Bible does not attempt to convince people of God’s existence. Passages like Romans 1:19-23, Psalms 19:1-3, Psalms 139:14-18, and Proverbs 8 certainly make an apologetic argument. In using parables, Jesus called people to look at the creation around them to come to faith.

The Williamson pink diamond is the main feature of the royal brooch of Queen Elizabeth II. It forms the center of a flower with five white diamonds forming the petals. It was a 54.5-carat rough diamond which was cut to a 23.6 brilliant cut diamond.

John Williamson was a Canadian geologist. In 1947 he was driving his Land Rover on a muddy back-country road in what is today Tanzania when he got stuck in the mud. As Williamson was digging the Land Rover out of the mud, he noticed a pink rock that was typical of rocks that contain diamonds. Because of his geology training, he knew rocks and the formations of the area. He carefully extracted the rock and cleaned it up, realizing that it was a very large diamond. That is how he found the flawless pink diamond. At the time of his death from cancer in 1958, Williamson owned a diamond mine at that location and was one of the world’s wealthiest men.

Thousands of people had driven that road and probably saw the rock that contained the pink diamond. Williamson’s training enabled him to realize what the rock was and pushed him to look at it carefully. Being able to recognize evidence is essential. There are some of us who have come to faith through science.

The “Does God Exist?” ministry was started and has been maintained for over 50 years by men and women who recognize the scientific evidence for God’s existence and the credibility of the Bible. Like John Williamson who gave the Williamson pink diamond to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip upon their wedding in November of 1947, we wish to share the evidence that led us to faith. This ministry is a part of our attempt to share the valuable gem we have found through science.
–John N. Clayton © 2019