Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos - Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant
Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant

Those of us who are interested in the subject of creation have been excited about some new data which will help us understand the cosmos. Apparently God has built into the creation various devices to help us more clearly see what He has created. Among those devices are fast radio bursts (FRBs).

When high mass stars draw in matter, they emit various frequencies of radio waves. Neutron stars and black holes release radio waves in a wide range of different energies. High energy waves travel through space without being affected a great deal by anything. Lower energy radio waves are affected by whatever material they pass through. Recent research has shown that in interstellar space there are variations in the actual speed of radio waves coming from a common source, depending on how much intergalactic material the waves are going through.

The material that slows the radiation is the ordinary particles called baryons, including protons and neutrons. We now know that interstellar space is full of the matter that makes up our galaxy, but at a very low density. These microscopic baryons do not emit light so we have not been able to detect their presence in the past. Fast radio bursts can make it possible for us to observe them because of the effect they have on the speed of the radiation.

Astronomers know from observing the light that was emitted when the universe was young that baryons should be the source of five percent of all the mass and energy in the cosmos. If that was true at the beginning, it should also be true today. However, the stars and gas we can see only account for half of that amount. The baryons are not uniform or isotropic in their distribution, but rather exist as filaments making a sort of web of low density matter which can be measured using FRBs. Astronomers are optimistic that this discovery will account for the “missing mass” in the creation. (This is the missing mass of regular matter, not dark matter, which is still a mystery.)

When the Bible challenges us to “know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20), it implies that this process is ongoing. In the 21st century we are blessed with new and better tools to see what God has made. Like the microscope, fast radio bursts open whole new vistas for us so that we can see and understand more of the handiwork of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News , June 20, 2020, page 6, and Nature.com

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

We see misunderstandings of the question of falsification by both atheists and religionists. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?

Let us begin this discussion by giving a simple definition of falsification. The Falsification Principle, initially proposed by Karl Popper, is a way of demarcating science from non-science. It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be testable and falsifiable. For example, the hypothesis that “all swans are white,” can be falsified by observing a black swan.

It always disturbs me to read a religious writing that claims scientific proof that a faith healer accomplished a miracle cure. An excellent example of this was William Nolen’s studies reported in a book titled In Search of A Miracle released in 1975. Nolen investigated the claims of faith healers Kathryn Kulman and Norbu Chen. He showed that there were observable, natural explanations for what had been called “miracles.” Nolen believed he could test Kulman and Chen’s claims by investigating whether there were other explanations for their claimed miracles. There were, so they could not be scientifically proven to be true. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God? You can have faith in someone, but you cannot call it science.

The scientific community is guilty of the same kind of error when it promotes an idea that cannot be tested and calls it science. It is fashionable in today’s world for scientists to propose the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes. They use this idea to explain how our universe could be fine-tuned for life. With a nearly infinite number of universes, we just happen to be in the one with all of the right stuff for life. Multiverse proposals say that quantum pops create universes and that an infinite number of pops would eventually produce every possible set of properties, including ours.

That is an interesting fantasy, but it is just that. There is no way to falsify that proposal, and so it is not scientific. Skeptics will be quick to point out that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is also not falsifiable, and that is true. But look at the logical outcome of these two choices. If God created the universe and placed humans in it, then there is a reason there is something instead of nothing, and there is a purpose for our existence. If the faith statement of the multiverse is true, the question of why we exist remains unanswered, and any purpose for the “pops” is pure fantasy.

Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible, as a whole, brings us understanding that we are part of a struggle between good and evil and that God is love and wants to have a relationship with us. We can’t offer scientific proof of that, so it is a statement of faith. But it is far more full of meaning and purpose than to speak of what we see in the cosmos as “quantum pops” of something without a cause or purpose. So the question we all have to entertain is, “What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?” The proposed multiverse alternative to God is not falsifiable, and therefore it is faith and not science. In what do you place your faith?

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fish as Flat as a Pancake

Fish as Flat as a Pancake

Biologists are always finding and studying new life-forms. Among recent discoveries are fish as flat as a pancake.

How many species of biological life exist? So far, scientists have identified, classified, and named about two million. They estimate that there are somewhere between ten-million and one-hundred-million. How fast are scientists finding and describing new forms of life? About 18,000 new species are identified and given genus and species names each year. At that rate, it will take somewhere between 555 and 5,555 years to identify them all. Obviously, biologists have a lot of work left to do.

Each year, scientists identify most of the “new species” from museum specimens that were found earlier but not studied carefully. Some species in the wild are going extinct, and some of the museum specimens may already have gone out of existence. Two species that are not endangered and that were discovered in the wild in 2010 are fish “as flat as a pancake.”

Scientists discovered two species of pancake batfish in the Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They gave their discoveries the genus and species names Halieutichthys intermedius and Halieutichthys bispinosus. (The picture shows the similar Halieutichthys aculeatus.) You probably won’t remember their names (or even know to pronounce them), but they play a role in the balance of life in the ocean.

Pancake batfish live on the sandy bottom of the ocean between 148 and 2,690 feet (45-820 m) below the surface. They are flat, that’s why the name “pancake,” and they cover themselves with sand to wait for prey. They eat snails, worms, clams, scallops, and other crustaceans. Their maximum diameter is about 4 inches (10 cm), and they move over the ocean floor by hopping on their fins.

We have to wonder why there are so many species. God created living things with the ability to adapt to many environments, with each one filling a niche in the marvelous system that makes our lives possible. He even gave us strange fish as flat as a pancake. Furthermore, God created us with unquenchable curiosity and plenty of things to study. We believe that we can learn more about God as we explore the creation.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:

Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.

The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.

The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.

The cosmos is much larger than most of us can imagine. The light we see from some of those stars left the stars hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measuring the distance to stars gives new meaning to passages like Isaiah 40:22: “He stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in.”

If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Religious Anti-Science Rhetoric

Religious Anti-Science Rhetoric

For the 51 years of this ministry, we have confronted religious anti-science rhetoric. Our critics are those who feel that science is an enemy and that you can’t be a good Christian and embrace science. We are now in a period when the issue of whether people can meet together for worship services has become an issue of science and politics. Some politicians oppose churches resuming worship services saying there is strong scientific evidence that it will expose participants to the COVID-19 virus. Many religious leaders insist that this is an attempt by the government to restrict religion. They say that this scientifically-based objection is destroying the right of people to worship together.

In previous articles, we have pointed out that a great deal of ignorance is involved in rejecting science. According to the dictionary, science is knowledge. Knowledge is always neutral. The critical thing is how we use it. When new scientific knowledge gave us lasers, the question was how we would use lasers. Would they be weapons that cause massive destruction, or would they be medical tools to heal eyes?

We now understand how the COVID-19 virus spreads from one person to another. Will we use this knowledge to stop the progression of the illness, or will we use this virus to destroy whole masses of people? The bubonic plague from 1347-1351 killed 200 million people, which was nearly half of Europe’s population. Religious anti-science rhetoric today has the potential to create a catastrophe.

It isn’t our knowledge about the COVID-19 virus that is a threat to freedom or to worship. The reality is that science will eventually develop a vaccine that will allow everyone to worship together. Smallpox was killing 400,000 people a year in Europe, and it only stopped when scientists developed a vaccine. It is hypocritical for religious people to vilify science while they: 1) enjoy modern technology in their entertainment 2) go to medical facilities for treatment of disease, 3) use scientific advancements to grow and prepare their food, 4) use new scientific discoveries in their businesses, and 5) use science in their homes to improve their standard of living.

Proverbs 8 makes it clear that God has used science (wisdom) in all He has done. Psalms 19 and 139 refer to God’s creation, and Romans 1:19-20 points out that science reveals God’s existence through the things He has made. The following verses, Romans 1:21-32, point out that human moral and political choices cause the pain and destruction we see in our world.

Christianity doesn’t need to violate social distancing to worship and to practice our faith. James 1:27 defines true religion, and Jesus made it clear that He is there when just two people come together in His name (Matthew 18:20). First Timothy 6:20 tells Christians to avoid scams and religious claims called science. Ignore the religious anti-science rhetoric and know that God and science are friends. Don’t listen to politicians and religious hucksters and rely on evidence and the message of proven researchers. Join together in prayer and worship in our homes on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or whatever method you choose. Rejoice that, through science, God has given us new ways to come together, encourage each other, and glorify Him even in the middle of a pandemic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Discover magazine, June 2020, page 11.

What Are Viruses and What Is their Purpose?

What Are Viruses and What Is their Purpose?

It is self-evident that we are all impacted by something called a “virus.” What are viruses, and what is their purpose?

The first clue about viruses was in 1898 when scientists discovered that the cause of foot and mouth disease in livestock was something smaller than any bacteria. Because viruses are about 100 times smaller than bacteria, they could not be detected until electron microscopes were developed in 1931. Since viruses were too small to be filtered out, scientists initially thought they were liquids. They were given the name “virus” which comes from the Latin word for poison.

Later, scientists discovered that a virus is a protein (DNA or RNA) molecule enclosed in a capsid covered by a protective layer of fat, or lipids. The virus in and of itself is inert and unable to reproduce. So what is their purpose? When they come in contact with living cells, they insert their genetic material into the host, so the cell now produces viral protein. This may produce harmful and life-threatening results. Among the illnesses generated by viruses are the common cold, influenza, smallpox, chickenpox, herpes, shingles, AIDS, polio, rabies, Ebola, and others.

If the protein is beneficial, the virus can produce a useful evolutionary change. In that way, viruses are tools to create new genetic products. In today’s world of genetic engineering, the process is called transduction. We have pointed out before that many times good things come from evolutionary change. God designed living things with the ability to change and adapt. Scientists use viruses as tools to affect desired genetic changes in agricultural products to produce high protein corn, for example. Some viruses attack bacteria, and they are called bacteriophages. As bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics, scientists are interested in using bacteriophages as a defense against harmful bacteria.

If they are not living things, then what are viruses? They are sometimes called “organisms on the edge of life.” They are not fully living on their own, but they possess some characteristics of living things. Viruses are very fragile because the only thing protecting them is a thin layer of fat, known as lipids. If the fat is dissolved, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own. That is why any soap or detergent will destroy a virus, and why washing your hands with soap and warm water is essential. Heat melts fat, so water above 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees F) for washing clothes, dishes, or hands will destroy viruses. Any solution which is more than 60% alcohol will dissolve fat and destroy the virus, as will bleach in a 1 to 5 ratio to water. Antibiotics or bactericides do not affect a virus because they only work on living tissue. Antibiotics cannot kill what is not alive.

The problem with viruses is that when they are transferred from animals into humans, or even different animals, they can be destructive. Scientists believe that the current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is active in bats where it causes no problems. When the virus jumped into humans, the result was destructive.

Then, what is their purpose? Viruses can be useful tools in their proper place. They are part of the way life continues to exist on a changing Earth. Mismanagement of animals and food can cause a virus to become an enemy of humans. We have a repeat of the Frankenstein phenomenon when a potentially useful concept turns into a monster because of misuse.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from: Berkeley.edu and wikipedia.org

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize on the Nature of the Cosmos

The evidence is massive that there was a beginning to the cosmos. The cosmological argument for God’s existence is that there had to be a cause of that beginning and that the nature of the cause was an intelligence. The phrase “big bang” was invented to describe the beginning, but the big bang theory never tried to answer the question of what banged and who banged it. The April 2020 issue of Scientific American (pages 4-7) carried an article about the work of Alan Guth, who received the Kavli Prize in astrophysics in 2014. The main objective of the Kavli Prize is to honor, support, and recognize scientists for outstanding scientific work in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

Alan Guth’s work has been to develop the theory of cosmic inflation to show that the universe is eternal and had no beginning. The chief problem with any suggestion that the universe is eternal is something called entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Whenever energy is expended in any way, disorder is introduced to the system. Unless organizing energy is applied externally on the system, the disorder will grow until there is no available energy left. We call that “heat death.”

A simple example might demonstrate this. If you took a bottle of hydrogen into a room that was completely isolated from the outside and opened the container, the hydrogen would escape and spread throughout the room. If you now wanted to get the hydrogen back into the bottle, could you get every atom back? The answer is “no,” because some of the hydrogen would have morphed into something else. Protons have a half-life, and other changes could take place. The measure of what couldn’t be put back in the bottle is called entropy.

Guth gets around the need for a beginning by saying that there is no difference between the present and the past. Using black holes, dark matter, and probabilities, he proposes a model that avoids a beginning. Alan Guth received the Kavli Prize because of his imaginative, creative thinking. The fundamental problem with Guth’s proposal is that it is not testable. No experiment can be done, and no evidence can be examined to test his theory. It is not falsifiable, and thus it really does not qualify as science. Guth is a brilliant scientist speculating on what he calls “a backward world where the past is the future and where infinite parallel pocket universes pop into existence without cause.”

While Guth’s work is interesting, it is of no apologetic significance. If God has created many pocket universes, they are so isolated from us that they do not impact our lives. Guth relies on probabilities to make many steps in his theory. When we apply probabilities to what we see in the world around us, the strong suggestion is that an intelligence has been at work to produce the cosmos.

In addition to the design we see in creation, our spiritual makeup and our creativity are not connected directly to how we got to this point in time and space. Quantum theory is based on probability, and the article ends by saying, “We had better know what they (the probabilities) mean.” We would suggest they mean, “In the beginning (of our cosmos) God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Second Law of Thermodynamics

Second Law of Thermodynamics

Yesterday we looked at the First Law of Thermodynamics. I said that in my 41 years of teaching high school physics, the hardest part was getting students to see how the subject applied to their lives. If they understood that life is not possible without the laws of thermodynamics, they would realize the importance of the topic and find it easier to understand. As with the First Law, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is essential to our existence.

THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: In Any Energy Conversion, Some Energy is Lost in the Form of Heat, Which Cannot be Recovered as Useful Energy.

This statement of the Second Law is known as the Clausius statement. What it describes is heat death. In any closed system, things tend to move toward a condition of disorder. We call that disorder “entropy.” The law does not say that energy is destroyed, because that would violate the First Law. It merely states that there is always some energy that cannot be recovered in any physical process. Things always move toward a condition of disorder.

To help students understand the Second Law, I would have a student put a spoon on the desk. While I was talking to the class, one end of the spoon would get hot and start to smoke. I would deny it was hot by picking it up at the other end and then putting it back right where I found it. There it would continue to get hotter and hotter on one end. The class would go ballistic, and I would ask them, “What’s the problem?” After a barrage of nutty answers (it’s haunted, it’s an illusion, etc.), I would point out that they had faith in the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Common sense tells them that order (the cold end) cannot exist at the same time as disorder (the hot end). I had an induction coil under the desk-top that was heating the spoon, but we all know that one end cannot remain hot, and the other end cold. Gases diffuse, things fall apart, and people get old because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

My favorite example is a teenager’s room, which becomes more and more disordered with time in conformance to the Second Law. It is essential to understand that all of these examples assume that no one is improving the order from the outside. If Mother comes along and makes you clean up your room, then the room is no longer a closed system. Organizing energy is added from the outside. The Second Law applies to systems in which no external organizing energy is added to the system. The induction coil made the spoon an open system.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has enormous implications for cosmology. It says that, like us, all stars and all galaxies will eventually die. The cosmos is not eternal. There had to be a specific point at which the cosmos had no unusable energy. At that point, there was no entropy. The biblical statement that there was a beginning is strongly attested to by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

We must point out that it is incorrect to apply the Second Law to planet Earth or to anything on Earth. Some creationists have attempted to attack evolution based on the Second Law, but Earth is not a closed system. Photosynthesis works because the Sun is adding energy to the Earth. Biological systems can have energy added to them by any number of methods such as light, radiation, heat, or thermal vents. The added energy improves order, reducing entropy. Although the Second Law verifies many biblical statements, it is not a tool to attack evolution.

Tomorrow we will examine the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Note: Laws are quoted from Physics, Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

Christian Women in Science

Christian Women in Science

We are pleased to see a report about Christian women in science. A typical attack against Christianity is the claim that it views women as second-class citizens. Critics use Scripture references such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which urges women to learn in silence and not to usurp the authority over men. Another passage they use is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which tells women to keep silent in the assembly and to ask their husbands at home if they want to learn anything. Atheists and skeptics have not only quoted these passages, but they have sometimes been used by males in the Church as control devices over women.

It is essential to consider to whom those instructions were written, why they were written, and what the circumstances were when they were written. The critics ignore the fact that Galatians 3:28 tells us that there was no such thing as male or female in the Church because we are all one in Jesus Christ. All of this misunderstanding has been catalyzed by what has taken place in the world as a whole. Women have been mistreated in every aspect of life, both in their secular roles and in the Church.

The March 2020 issue of Christianity Today carried an excellent article on the roles of women in science. For the report, the magazine interviewed twelve Christian women who are respected scientists and highlighted their accomplishments. These women are part of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization made up of scientists of both genders that integrates science and faith.

We recommend this information about Christian women in science, especially to young women and their parents. It is encouraging to see so many women of faith having success in the secular world of science.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Proton Starting Point

Proton Starting Point

Yesterday we gave a brief and simplified discussion of the electron, a particle which was speculated before the birth of Christ and discovered in 1897. The other fundamental particle in the cosmos is the proton. The date of discovery of the proton is 1919, and Ernest Rutherford gave the proton its name in 1920. Proton is the Greek word for first, and that name describes the fact that when it comes to understanding the elements in the creation, we begin with a proton starting point.

Along with neutrons, protons are called nucleons because they are present in the nucleus of the atom. Hydrogen contains one proton, and science believes it is the starting point for all of the chemical elements. The proton has a rest mass of 1.6726219 x 10-27 Kgs, which is about 1836 times the mass of an electron. Protons are incredibly stable and carry a positive charge. By contrast, neutrons will decay, producing a proton and an electron (beta particle).

In the periodic chart, the atomic number of each element is the number of protons in the nucleus. Neutrons also exist in the nucleus, but it is the proton that determines what the element is. In the laboratory, we can produce heavier elements by fusing protons, which are essentially naked hydrogen atoms. Scientists believe that the heavier elements in the creation have been produced in the cores of giant stars using a proton starting point.

Science is now dissecting the proton to understand how it was created. We have learned that particles called quarks are the building blocks of protons. Two up quarks and a down quark make up the proton. We are beginning to understand electrical charges, but how a positive charge is produced is still under study.

The message of the proton and electron is the amazing complexity of creating the stuff of which everything is made. Everywhere we look, we see a wonder working-hand has gone before. It has taken science many centuries to begin to understand the basics of the beginning of creation. For most of us, all we need to know is, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” There may have been a proton starting point for the beginning of the chemistry of the physical world, but it is evident that much took place to produce that beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2020