Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Genesis

Genesis: the origin or mode of formation. In the context of hurricanes, two of which devastated the Caribbean region and the US mainland in late summer 2017, we wonder about the sequence of events which results in a fully mature hurricane. The energy of a hurricane exceeds by 200 times the electrical generating capacity of the entire world according to US Department of Energy figures. What sorts of forces could generate such powerful storms?

Scientists have informed us of constant powerful forces operating in our worldwide weather system. Some are explained by familiar terms we may have learned in weather units in middle school, high school, or college. We have heard that evaporation of liquid water is a cooling process. This is illustrated by the fact that when our bodies perspire a large quantity of heat is removed from our body surface. When water vapor condenses back into liquid water, a large quantity of heat is returned to the air. These processes are more formally called latent heat of evaporation or latent heat of condensation. In terms of the scope of total energy flow on our planet, the quantities are unimaginable.

After receiving heat from radiation of the sun, heat energy spontaneously flows from warm to cold regions. Most Earth weather phenomena are driven by this flow. Warm regions and cold regions are characterized by different air pressure conditions. Generally, cold air is denser than warm air because atoms and molecules are packed together more closely. Movement of air spontaneously occurs from high pressure regions to low pressure regions. Weather events are powerful forces of heat movement and pressure equalization producing mighty environmental effects. Some of these effects cause serious inconvenience and pain albeit they are relatively infrequent. In perspective, Earth’s weather more frequently provides seasonal warmth for human enjoyment, growth of food crops and beautiful ornamental plant varieties for human enjoyment and even pleasant spring warming for family picnics or Little League baseball or autumn cooling for high school football or soccer matches. Our blog has more often characterized Earth as “a place to thrive” rather than “a place of brokenness and despair.”

Humanity is embedded in a wondrous collection of weather phenomena. Consider the term cyclogenesis. Two parts of the term are cyclone, a rotating low pressure area in which air spirals inward from high pressure toward low pressure, and genesis, meaning formation. Cyclogenesis explains the formation of tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean and other storms in mid-latitudes. In other parts of the world hurricanes are known as typhoons or simply, cyclones. They form over warm water where there is much moisture in the air. An organized region of thunderstorms forms over the ocean and these regions are later called tropical waves. A tropical depression develops and the air begins to spin around the low pressure center at a speed above 39 mph. If the storm strengthens to 75 mph, it a Category 1 hurricane. Wind speeds sometimes increase to 157+ mph—a Category 5 hurricane.

On our spherical earth there exists a phenomenon called Coriolis effect. Large moving objects, including moving air, are deflected to the right in the northern hemisphere, away from an expected straight line path. Air rushing from high pressure to a low pressure center as in tropical depressions and hurricanes are deflected from their direction of travel owing to the different speeds of rotation on a spherical earth. This causes a counter-clockwise rotation of storms in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern hemisphere), and forms a well-developed “eye.” Heavy rains, severe winds, and sometimes tornadoes are generated many miles from the hurricane’s eye.

The God of Creation is author of the orderliness of matter. In terms of Earth’s weather, this includes the predictable, uniform characteristics of air molecules—several quintillion of them in each cubic centimeter of volume. Latent heat, the tendency of energy to flow from warm to cold regions, the tendency of air to flow from high pressure to low pressure, the constant forces of gravity: We affirm, in concert with the scriptural statements such as “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV), that God originated the concepts of an orderly universe. The truth of God as Creator of all things seems discoverable intuitively.

Foundational principles of energy flow, pressure phenomena, and hundreds of constant characteristics of matter form the framework for understanding the genesis of hurricanes. With the passage of time humanity has discovered more information on knowing a hurricane is approaching and how to prepare for it. The two recent hurricanes produced relatively few fatalities. Beyond this some are not sufficiently aware of strategies for risk aversion and willing to act on the information. For example, many are unwilling to obey heroic building codes or locate their homes and businesses away from flood prone areas. Humans still have much to learn.    

God created a very good but not a perfect world according to the idealism of some people. Many religious people and skeptics question why God permits hurricanes and other natural disasters to occur. In a future post we will address these questions in more depth, but not as an effort to present final answers. Some questions may be unanswerable in human terms.    




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pondering Hurricanes

The onset of two deadly hurricanes in late August and early September 2017 broke a twelve year stretch of relative calm with respect to the most destructive Category 3 or stronger hurricanes. We acknowledge that many Christian and secular commentators are searching for answers to the difficult problem of horrific destruction. The apparent paucity of destructive hurricanes for the past twelve years does nothing to mitigate the questions of why God “permits” such tragedies to occur even today. The two observations about hurricanes, (1) no severe ones struck the US mainland for twelve years, and the question of (2) “Why does God permit such devastating storms?” are entirely peripheral to the multifaceted primary questions about hurricanes.   

Many Christian theologians have offered explanations for horrifying tragedies which have punctuated our planet with regularity even before written records. Hurricanes are part of a family of weather and climate events. These include tornadoes, violent thunderstorms, hailstorms, straight line windstorms, floods, droughts, heat waves, extreme cold spells, and blizzards. Add to this catalog other impactful environmental events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other upheavals. Some analysts energetically vocalize, “Earth is a chaotic place of brokenness and despair.” We do not concur with this generalization. 

What would imaginary visitors from outside our Solar System discover as they approached Earth for the first time? Would they discover a wonderful “Blue Marble” suspended majestically and beautifully in space? (The Apollo 17 astronauts snapped a famous picture of Earth from 28,000 miles during their lunar journey in 1972. Their famous photograph was reassuringly dubbed the “Blue Marble.”) As we consider our “Blue Marble” planet, what do we see? We offer a trite cliché:   The answer depends on whether we view the glass half empty, or half full. The underlying purpose of our science/faith blog is to call attention to the works of God in the physical realm in order to relate them to strengthening our faith. The Creator is the author of the physical creation. He is also the author of truths in the spiritual world, imparting to his people the gift of faith.

At this time of tragedy and destruction brought upon the victims of the hurricanes, we  are challenged to blend concepts of tragedy and triumph. The hurricanes have imposed an overwhelming dose of tragedy on their victims—tragedy which may take years to repair. We stare in horror at the graphic images on news channels on a near constant basis. At the same time, we long for the relief which inevitably comes as repair and restoration progress in the future.

In August and September 2017 US hurricane victims may be forgiven for temporarily viewing the glass as half empty, even close to completely empty. When life circumstances change, we see the dividing line between empty and full becoming variable, even on a daily basis. Hurricane victims hope and pray for a rapid positive trend in the levels within the glass.

We search for opportunities to view the glass as more than half full. In our vision of Planet Earth, there are many opportunities to reinforce our view of “fullness.” Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards DVD Privileged Planet enables us to rejoice in Earth’s “very good” quality. Gonzales and Richards present Earth as a wonderful place specifically designed by God for human habitation. Their DVD describes in graphic detail a planet (1) having the proper distance from the sun (2) having liquid water (3) that is terrestrial (a rocky planet of our size and composition)(4) having tectonic plates (5) protected by large planets (6) orbiting the correct type of star (7) having a large moon (8) having a magnetic field and (9) being oxygen rich.

Our obligation to be positive and work to remedy the brokenness brought about by these storms is a gift we may achieve with the help of God. We do not live in a perfect world. God has higher purposes in permitting suffering of humanity in the earthly sphere. Some of those purposes will remain unknown until the onset of the New Creation if the Creator chooses to reveal them.

My father passed into eternity at age 90. He endured the destruction of several east coast hurricanes in his farming operation in the 1960s and later. In each case there were remedies for damage and inconvenience. As he approached the end of his life he often expressed satisfaction for the blessings he experienced during his long, earthly journey. He lived according to the instructions in I Thessalonians 5:16: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV).               


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Galveston or Houston?

In three weeks we have transitioned from the summit of natural wonder, a total solar eclipse visible over a 70-mile swath of the US from coast to coast, to the depths of tragedy in coastal Texas. Hurricane Harvey is projected to be the most costly national disaster on record. Experts estimate the Houston cataclysm will require up to $180 billion in costs. In comparison, Hurricane Sandy required $160 billion and Hurricane Katrina $70 billion. Harvey has tragically taken the lives of 60 people. As I write, we are threatened by Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm. 

When such an event strikes many people justifiably focus on the natural disaster at hand. Notwithstanding journalists’ citations of comparable past events, the present catastrophe overwhelms public attention. People desire detailed reporting of the present event and many journalists oblige them eagerly. Interest in the current disaster overcomes public desire to discover realistic historical perspectives of our planet’s long history of natural catastrophes. We do not minimize the present disaster in any way. Rather, we encourage analysis of historical records of hurricanes to acquire an overview of their past frequency, intensity, cyclicity, causes, and effects.

Hurricanes have been a feature of planet Earth’s weather throughout its long history. Bible students may be familiar with the account of Euroclydon in Acts 27. The Apostle Paul was caught in what might have been a Mediterranean tropical-like depression similar to an Atlantic hurricane. During an extensive sea journey lasting two weeks, the apostle was wind-driven around the Mediterranean, finally landing at Malta. His fourteen day saga was testament to the unpredictability of hurricanes. Some travel fast. Others travel slowly and even divert or reverse course. Hurricane Harvey’s 52 inches of rainfall at one Houston location was the result of its slow movement.

In North America, east coast hurricanes are generated in the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Their formation and strength is dependent on many factors over the ocean. The impact of landfall is dependent on a great variety of other factors. Hurricane science is exceedingly complex as are many weather and climate phenomena. In the aftermath of the tragic impact of Hurricane Harvey, there have been many ambitious reporters who have joined the rampant cadre of modern climate change enthusiasts. Global warming enthusiasts have convinced a large segment of the population that climate change, formerly more often described as global warming, exacerbates the severity of these great storms. For example, a small increase in ocean surface temperature (0.85ºC from 1880-2012) has been cited as likely increasing the wind speed in hurricanes by a few miles per hour. A number of commentaries on Harvey have focused on climate change as causative. Much less attention is given to the fact that climate has changed naturally hundreds of times in the history of our planet.

As we composed this post, Hurricane Irma was threatening the US with potential for another meteorological tragedy. We quote Dr. Calvin Beisner, founder of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He addressed the question of increased hurricane severity resulting from anthropogenic climate change in an email he sent on 9/5/17. Beisner accounts for the additional CO2 added to Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. He states, “…Of the 175 mph maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Irma today, 173.3-174.6 mph would have occurred anyway, and of the 50 inches of rainfall that fell on some places from Hurricane Harvey, 49.5-49.9 would have fallen anyway.” Most journalists do not cite such specifics, but many people are persuaded by the claim of “increased severity” without knowledge of such statistics. It has been twelve years since a major hurricane (Category 3 or larger) has struck the United States mainland. Dr. Roy W. Spencer, NASA award-winning climatologist, reports, “This is the longest ‘drought’ in landfalling major hurricanes since records started in 1850…It goes to show how variable nature is.” Attributing the severity of Harvey to climate change illustrates the logical fallacy of “oversimplified cause:” an effect has multiple causes, but only one cause is identified.

The Galveston TX hurricane of 1900 claimed about 8000 lives. Some estimates are much higher. More lives were lost in that tragedy than in all US hurricanes combined since that time. We counsel readers to pray for those impacted by Harvey and Irma. We encourage readers to search for websites under topics such as “historic hurricanes” in order to lend valuable realistic perspective to the lively current topic of climate change. Our planet is a beautiful place to thrive, but subject to potent meteorological forces and effects on occasion. Hurricanes are but one destructive weather event. In perspective, they do not occur often enough to transform our planet from a place to thrive to a place of disaster. In this light we remain convinced that during the present age, Earth is still a wonderful place to thrive.

Passages from Job 37-38 relate many frightening but wondrous meteorological events. The lofty poetry of these chapters does not conceal some of the tragedies such weather events may cause. Many other scriptural passages describe the overall beauty and abundance provided by the planet. The Earth may still be described as “very good.” For this, we offer thanks to the God of Creation. 





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse "Everest" Experience

What is the “Everest” event to which we refer? My wife and I experienced the “Great American (total solar) Eclipse of August 21, 2017 at Marion, Illinois. The town was a few miles from Carbondale which has achieved notoriety as the Great American Eclipse capitol. The low 90s summer day dawned essentially cloud free with only occasional passing cumulus and cirrus clouds. Natural air movements swept away the few clouds threatening our view of totality in plenty of time. Our eclipse viewing area was Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, an ideally serene venue. A company of perhaps 200 folks from several states, primarily Illinois, formed the compatible and friendly gathering in the area of the Refuge we claimed as our viewing area. Untold thousands of visitors had descended on this town as well as many hundreds of towns across the United States in the 70-mile strip of totality.

We add our personal impressions of the most observed, most studied, most photographed, and most viewed solar eclipse of all time. For many years we have been amazed at precision predictions concerning these events—when they occur, where they occur, how long they persist, and how earth dwellers are specifically impacted. Basic answers for these questions have been known for hundreds of years. In more recent years mathematicians have refined their knowledge to an astonishing  degree of accuracy. Knowledge of physical processes impart a picture of an incredibly ordered world. Eclipse events produce reverential awe of cosmic orderliness.

Precisely at 11:52 A.M., fulfilling the long-standing prediction, our viewing devices, safety glasses and binoculars, revealed the moon’s initial contact with the sun. Safety glasses were effective, displaying the sun as an orange orb. In addition, binoculars pointed at the sun with eyepieces directed upon a nearby sheet of light paper produced a large, sharp solar image. (We never looked through the binoculars. This is merely a method of image projection.) Binoculars were more effective than the often recommended  pinhole “cameras.” The next hour and twenty-eight minutes was an experience of patient anticipation. We sent periodic iPhone pictures of the progress of the eclipse to our children and other relatives. The Moon’s slow progress across the Sun’s face portrayed its actual revolution around Planet Earth.

Some eclipse events exceeded our expectations; only a few did not match the descriptions provided by previous total eclipse observers. However, all events were electric with excitement and provided reverent wonder. We viewed the eclipse experience as an unparalleled divine gift. No human words adequately capture our profound and powerful personal emotions. 

As totality approached at 1:20 P.M., we prepared by getting ready to remove our safety glasses. At a precise instant, the Moon became a darkened sphere. At virtually the same moment the famous diamond ring effect flashed its dazzling glory for a few moments. This bright diamond ring visual experience exceeded anything I had expected. Immediately the corona appeared—larger and brighter than I had imagined. For over two minutes a dark Moon was surrounded by an unexpectedly brilliant corona. The two minute totality seemed to persist for a nearly timeless interval. I was not even tempted to count off the seconds!

The temperature had been around 90ºF. The temperature dropped slightly and the park became essentially silent as totality approached. At the sudden onset of totality and the flash of the diamond ring, the assemblage cheered, shouted, and applauded. We had been led to believe that the sky would rival the darkness of a moonless night. This expectation was not fulfilled, but not to my disappointment. There were too many other phenomena to enjoy. Perhaps the brighter than expected corona and a subdued glow from the horizon provided the unanticipated twilight-similar light. Bright Venus was clearly visible to the west of the Sun. I did not see any other planets or stars, perhaps a function of not observing intently enough.

At the conclusion of totality, the diamond ring flashed again. We observed one or two tiny spots of light at the edge of the Moon. These are called Baily’s Beads, formed by light passing through irregularities on the Moon surface. The diamond ring is also caused by a momentary passage of sunlight through these surface irregularities. Almost immediately a sliver of sunlight reappeared. The countryside was soon bathed in light again, subdued but slowly brightening. It is interesting that even a tiny sliver of sun surface provides so much light. 

Most eclipse observers departed soon after totality concluded. It is likely that tens of thousands of eclipse enthusiasts had the identical idea at the same time: “Let’s get a head start and begin our trip home.” For many, the trip home was many hundreds of miles. Our trip from Marion, IL to extreme northwest Illinois should have consumed just over six hours. The journey actually took ten hours. But we were fortunate because many eclipse lovers were delayed much longer. Monumental traffic delays generated by people returning home were rampant all across our great land. On the positive side we were able to enjoy miles of lush corn and soybean fields and discover an intricate network of country roads. Had we not followed the GPS voice on our iPhone instructing us on many occasions that, “You can save 27 minutes (for example) by taking this alternate route…” our trip may have extended until daylight the following day.

Pantheism is an errant belief that the universe itself is a manifestation of God. In brief, pantheists believe “Nature is God.” In contrast, we believe nature displays God’s glory in manifold ways. The 2017 total solar eclipse gave glory to the God of Creation. Of all astronomical wonders, this event is superlative. The Creator is author of the order and beauty he permits man to recognize and enjoy. For this moment at the mountaintop we give glory and praise to God. We worship Him!       





Friday, August 18, 2017

Reality Of Shadows

In our final post prior to the Great American total solar Eclipse, we examine additional science related to the physical eclipse. As we anticipate this experience with excitement, we ask if there is a deeper meaning to the upcoming events in our sky. In so doing we may describe metaphysical phenomena. Philosophy is the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence according to many definitions. Metaphysics is considered an important branch of philosophy. When we observe total lunar or solar eclipses, we experience deep emotions. Most readers have experienced total lunar eclipses. It is likely that only a few of our readers have ever been in the path of totality during a total solar eclipse. Dr. Kate Russo, eclipse consultant involved in community planning for previous total solar eclipses during the last few years says such an event is “…eerie, awe-inspiring, unsettling, beautiful, and often emotionally overwhelming. Most people find it hard to describe the totality experience.”

Awareness of scientific, metaphysical, and theological realities provide a robust complement of eclipse day experiences on August 21, 2017. The relatively tiny total shadow of the moon sweeping across the country envelops observers in virtual complete darkness for over two minutes in the middle of the day. We wonder how ancient Earth dwellers coped with eclipse experiences in pre-scientific days. Metaphysical speculation may have troubled them. Most ancient societies did not have a meaningful theological anchor.

Come with us as we review “astronomy geometry:”       

We know that the Moon’s total shadow of complete darkness shrinks from 2159 miles wide to just over 70 miles wide during this particular eclipse as it travels to Earth from its 229,807 mile distance. Our large Sun produces a very small Moon shadow shaped like a cone. Sun diameter is 400 times the Moon’s diameter. If the Moon were only a few thousand miles more distant from Earth, our lunar companion’s shadow would pinch off completely before striking our planet. In some solar eclipses this occurs because the Moon revolves around Earth at variable distances, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. Earth dwellers would experience an annular eclipse—a moon appearing slightly smaller than the apparent sun—permitting a ring of sunlight to fall on us. Total darkness would not occur. This is an interesting astronomical phenomenon, but eclipse observers hope for total darkness instead.

The total shadow is known as the umbra. Social media have made abundantly clear how small the 2017 eclipse umbra actually is when it reaches our planet. The shadow is produced by a 2000 mile wide Moon, but specific straight-line sun rays passing from the Sun’s perimeter past the Moon’s perimeter project a diminishing, converging shadow on Earth only 70 miles wide during our Great American eclipse! Other straight line sun rays passing by the moon’s perimeter diverge as they travel into space. This area is called the penumbra, a partial shadow where sunlight intensity is somewhat dimmed because the sun is partially obscured. All 50 states in the US will experience different degrees of a partial solar eclipse. Once again, we have an interesting astronomical phenomenon, but not nearly as spectacular as totality. Observers may fantacize that the Sun is missing a “cookie bite” while looking through their special eclipse-viewing glasses.

Our viewing experiences extend our awareness beyond the understanding of physical phenomena. Is there a deeper meaning underlying the marvelous precision and visible glory of our Solar System bodies? In pre-biblical days residents were superstitious and prone to the mystical. Some of our contemporaries retain their superstitions. Modern adherents of astrology rely on daily horoscopes and inordinately focus on heavenly bodies, thinking their positions and movements influence human affairs or future events. In 2015 we wrote of the “Supermoon Eclipse” which garnered its share of attention and speculation:

Interesting object lessons could be offered relating to the Great American total solar Eclipse. The Sun’s beautiful corona—an “aura of plasma” or a “jacket of gases” is visible only when intense illumination from the Sun is temporarily shielded. Likewise, the “diamond ring effect” is visible only at this time. In a 1919 eclipse, observations were made relating to the reality of Einstein’s famous theory of general relativity which demonstrated that massive objects like the Sun cause a distortion in space/time. One object lesson relates to the fact that some human knowledge could be undiscoverable unless we observe and perform our research in a novel and imaginative way.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 demonstrates the reality of God-ordained natural laws operating in our everyday environment. Meteorological phenomena may not be controlled or predicted, including the hoped-for clear skies for all observers on the day of the eclipse. But the glory of the eclipse will still occur above the clouds!

Some of the commentary in this post relates to mysterious metaphysical realities. In terms of theological realities, we quote once more the majesty of Psalm 19:1. The King James Version was the parental preference in my early childhood home. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1 KJV).    





Monday, August 14, 2017

Accidental Moon?

We live at the exact moment in Earth’s extensive history when perfect solar eclipses, such as the event of August 21, 2017, are possible. These eclipses occur because the apparent disc of the Moon and the apparent disc of the Sun are virtually identical. Much earlier or much later in geologic history the moon would be either too close or too distant from earth because the Moon’s orbit is very slowly spiraling away from Earth. Contemporary eclipse events have enabled humanity to make many important physical discoveries concerning our Solar System, the universe, and the laws of physics. Scientists are reminded of this fact each time a total solar eclipse occurs. Understandably, laypeople bask primarily in the splendor of the event.

Early models of Moon formation failed to explain its existence. Decades ago I proposed models of moon formation to my students without much confidence that any model was true. The models ranged from highly unlikely to impossible. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has commented, concerning the proposals of early theorists, “In their frustration some researchers went so far as to comment that the Moon must be some kind of illusion—or, perhaps, a miracle.”

Ross’s previously cited volume Improbable Planet uses the effective imagery of a home building project in which the owner and builder both insure that all the conditions for building a new home meet all the “just right” criteria. Home building is not an opportunity to pray for a sequence of “lucky accidents.” We repeat a quote from Ross concerning how “…the Moon’s formation nevertheless represents an intricately layered sequence of coincidences that happened to prepare Earth for life—advanced life, especially.” We quote the nine points made in Ross’s “brief list of what the (Giant Impactor) collision accomplished:”

“1. The collision replaced Earth’s thick atmosphere, providing in its place an atmosphere with optimal (for life) chemical composition, appropriate (for life) heat-trapping capacity, appropriate transparency for efficient photosynthesis, and precise air pressure for making possible the eventual operation of lungs.

“2. Earth’s mass and density were augmented, enabling Earth to retain (via its gravity) a large, but not too large, quantity of water vapor for billions of years.

“3. The amount of iron in Earth’s core increased, bringing it closer to the level needed to provide Earth with a strong, enduring magnetic field (the remainder came later) to shield Earth’s future life from deadly cosmic rays and solar X-rays and to prevent the sputtering away of Earth’s atmosphere.

“4. The collision delivered iron and other critical elements to Earth’s core and mantle in just-right ratios to produce long-lasting, continent-building plate tectonics at levels just right for life.

“5. The quality of iron delivered via the collision to Earth’s crust was just right for supporting an abundance of ocean-dwelling phytoplankton that, in turn, supports the entire oceanic food chain and also provides oxygen for advanced terrestrial life.

“6. Earth’s interior was salted with an abundance of long-lasting radioisotopes, the heat from which drives most of Earth’s tectonic activity and volcanism.

“7. Earth’s crust and upper mantle were peppered with just-right quantities of HSEs (iron loving elements)—not so much as to prove poisonous to (later) life but to sustain myriad plants and animals, as well as to allow for the eventual launch and maintenance of global high-technology civilization.

“8. The collision produced a moon with sufficient mass to stabilize Earth’s rotation axis tilt, protecting the planet from rapid and extreme climatic variations.

“9. The resulting Moon also gradually slowed Earth’s rotation rate to a life-sustaining level.”

The concept that home building projects must manifest near-perfect perfection is analogous to the idea that Planet Earth benefits from a divinely designed sequence of events with respect to the formation of Earth’s lunar companion. The story of the Moon reveals not merely a catalog of its physical characteristics but also how the Moon provides for life on Earth. We are mindful of this provision as we observe the glory of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.  


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Total Solar Eclipse: Reflections

As we approach the total solar eclipse “zero hour” on August 21, we have a few days to reflect concerning Earth’s Moon—our planet’s constant companion in space. The event will generate genuine awe, punctuated by audible “oohs” and “aahs.” The glory of the visual spectacle will take precedence on the actual day. Temporarily obscured by the wondrous event is knowledge of the Moon’s history, how it formed, its effect on Earth history, and its influence on our home planet in our day. In each of these knowledge categories, the Moon story provides opportunity for deep and thoughtful contemplation in the days before and after the actual event.

Several decades ago scientists developed a theory, generally accepted today, that the Moon formed from a glancing collision of a fairly large astronomical body with the Earth over 4.5 billion years ago, not long after the formation of Earth as a solid body. It is known as the Giant Impactor theory. The theory has replaced several unlikely earlier speculative proposals concerning the origin of our satellite. Astronomers still debate many details of the modern theory, but some fundamental concepts have become established in the minds of modern theorists. The moon formed from material blown away from the Earth and the impactor itself. There is substantial supporting evidence that the two resulting bodies have similar characteristics. The impactor imparted a fast rotation to the Earth and debris from the collision coalesced into our Moon and solidified.

Almost all the Moon’s visible craters could only have been formed long ago. The Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts returned Moon samples that are 3.5 billion years old. The oldest Moon samples were recovered by Apollo 17 crew members. Their age was 4.5 billion years. Erosion measurements indicate nearly 90% of moon craters formed about 3.9 billion years ago during a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). Tens of thousands of asteroids and comets pummeled the Moon and many other Solar System bodies.

Life sprang up on Earth 700 million years later after the formation of Planet Earth as a solid body. Modern scientists have proposed that emergence and development of life on Earth has been and continues to be strongly influenced by the presence of the Moon. Whenever secular scientists comment about the formation and development of the Solar System, the Earth, the Moon, and the appearance of life on this planet, the word “evolution” is generously salted into the discussion. Most modern scientists use the term evolution to indicate that all processes of solar and planetary formation, and life development are natural. Herein lies a primary disagreement between non-theists and theists and between evolutionists and creationists. Where does naturalism end and creationism begin when we talk about the origins of Solar System bodies and life forms which initially inhabited Planet Earth? This is one of the most significant origins issues we could discuss as we speak of the role of God the Creator in the cosmos.

We concur with concepts of the Big Bang singularity, the “cosmic egg” or “primeval atom” from which all matter originates as proposed by Roman Catholic priest George LeMaitre in 1931. This is one of the true meanings of “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This inspired vision has been refined and affirmed by scientists for nearly a century. Theologians affirm, “In the beginning God created” ex nihilo, from nothing. God created the matter, time, space, and energy of our cosmos. He also created and put in place “natural” laws which govern operational processes involving physical matter.

When most secular scientists speak of “evolutionary processes” they refer to “natural,” unguided processes. Most origins scientists do not attribute the development of galaxies, the formation of our Solar System, and the appearance of Earth’s Moon, to creative acts of the Judeo-Christian God. Theologically, this an errant concept. There have been many instances of divine creation acts which do not fall into the category of “transcendent” miracles such as the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, or the feeding of the five thousand. Nevertheless, they are creative miracles. They are impossible without the transformational or sustaining power of the Creator. Some writers describe such actions as “extraordinary providence.” Some theist creationists conceive the formation of our Solar System over billions of years as fully miraculous, to the consternation of some creationists who propose that God could only have spoken the present universe into existence 6000-10000 years ago. 

Many secular scientists do not see anything especially miraculous in the sudden, initial appearance of life on Planet Earth nearly four billion years ago. This life was, from its inception, morphologically simple yet bio-chemically complex—a formula for the description of a transcendent miracle. Evolutionists are untroubled by the enormous difficulties inherent in explaining the appearance of chemically complex Earth life from an evolutionary viewpoint. Our blog has advocated belief in creationism, rather than belief in evolutionism. We link a previous post from 5/27/2008:

Planet Earth was meticulously prepared for life by hundreds of geological events shortly after the Earth appeared as a solid body 4.5 billion years ago. In his recent volume Improbable Planet (2016), astrophysicist Hugh Ross states, “…the Moon’s formation nevertheless represents an intricate series of coincidences that happened to prepare Earth for life—advanced life, especially.” Our Creator is not limited by human time frames. The passage of millions or billions of years does not limit God’s creativity in this cosmos. Here is a link which mentions “extraordinary providence” as we could apply the term to the formation of the Moon and its life-supporting characteristics:

If our readers are blessed to view the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, especially if they are located in the glory provided by the Moon’s total shadow at mid-day, we suggest they take time to consider the benefits this unique satellite provides Earth dwellers, past and present. In our next post we discuss the benefits of Earth’s “Giant Impactor.”         



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Exceptional Total Solar Eclipse

An eclipse is defined as the partial or total blocking of the light from one celestial body to another celestial body by an intervening body. This definition fits both solar and lunar eclipses. In a solar eclipse the intervening body, the Moon, passes between Earth observers and the sun. In a lunar eclipse the intervening body, the Earth, prevents light of the sun from reaching the Moon. Earth observers are in the middle during a lunar eclipse. In contrast, Earth observers are positioned at one end during a solar eclipse.   

Eclipses are rather common in planetary systems with moons. Our Solar System has several intriguing planets with moon systems. Earth possesses perhaps the most fascinating satellite—one unusually large moon. Among planet/moon systems, it is an anomaly. It is the largest moon in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet. It is just over one fourth the diameter of Earth and about 1/80 the mass of Earth.

The Moon orbits the Earth in a plane similar to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Their orbits are only about 5º from being coplanar. If the orbits of the bodies were precisely coplanar there would be either a solar or lunar eclipse with each Moon revolution. Many factors affect frequencies and types of eclipses. On average there is a total solar eclipse somewhere on earth every eighteen months. Including the more common partial or annular eclipses, 224 solar eclipses occur on Planet Earth in the 21st century. Only 68 total solar eclipses occur on Earth during this century. There are 230 lunar eclipses during this century with only 85 total lunar eclipses observable from Earth.
Multiple factors affect the frequency of both types of eclipses. The orbits of both the Moon and the Earth are elliptical, not perfect circles. Consequently, distances from the body around which they revolve are constantly changing, along with their orbital configurations, speeds, and apparent sizes. In turn, eclipse frequency, type of eclipse, duration, and other factors are impacted in numerous ways. We marvel at the skill of modern mathematicians who are able to predict future astronomical events accurately to fractions of a second years in advance, taking into account all the known motions of planets and their satellites. Even before the wonders of modern computing, the achievement of ancient mathematicians was astonishing. Encyclopedia Britannica claims “…the successful prediction of eclipses constitutes one of the earliest achievements of the scientific investigation of nature.”

The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse is exceptional for United States residents. The shadow of the Moon crossing the entire US mainland has not occurred since 1918. A total eclipse of the Moon is many thousands of times more common than a total eclipse of the Sun at any Earth location. Total lunar eclipses occur about once per year and are generally visible to residents on half of the Earth’s surface. In sharp contrast, a total solar eclipse is visible at any given location on Earth only once in 300-400 years on average. Only people within a very narrow band of Earth’s surface are able to view it because by the time it reaches Earth’s surface the moon’s umbra (total shadow) is exceedingly tiny in relation to the size of the planetary sphere. On August 21, 2017 the shadow racing across the US is only about 70 miles wide. The shadow crosses the lower 48 states from the coast of Oregon to the coast of South Carolina in 91 minutes at an average speed of 1691 mph. At no point in this shadow will the spectacular totality last longer than 2 minutes 41 seconds. At the outer edge of the shadow the time of totality diminishes. Twelve million US residents live within this strip. On that day many additional millions who reside outside the path of totality may opt to journey up to a day’s automobile ride in order to view the spectacle. If they remain outside the narrow strip of total darkness they will observe a partial solar eclipse—a much more common event. All US residents located outside the narrow strip on August 21 will observe various degrees of partiality but they miss the “main event.”

Syzygy is an interesting term, not only because of its meaning, but also because of its unique spelling. All of these eclipse phenomena occur because of the alignment of three bodies in space: the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. Now and again, these three bodies experience syzygy, a colinear configuration. In short, these bodies are directly in line. They are, therefore, joined together to produce an event of emotional and spiritual impact.   

A popular animated NASA graphic shows the tiny shadow of the earth like a small dot (the umbra) zooming west to east across the entire United States along with the very wide path of partiality (the penumbra) encompassing all 50 states. Viewers of the partial solar eclipse are unable to see the sun’s corona, Baily’s beads, or the diamond ring effect. Partial eclipse viewers do not observe a dark, star-filled sky at mid-day, birds singing their evening sunset song, or their morning songs a few minutes later. These events call attention to the glory of the Creator. Total eclipse events “move us deeply and existentially.” We are able to appreciate where we are in the Solar System.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Total Eclipse Geometry

As we write on July 30, 2017 our daily newspaper weather almanac page proclaims the moon on this date to be in first quarter phase. Careful observers watch the moon cycle through its beautiful phases once in approximately 29 1/2 days each month. On this day the sun, earth and moon form a 90º angle. After sunset, this right angle provides a view of a half illuminated moon surface called first quarter. In the coming week the sun, earth, and moon angle will increase to 180º. The side of the moon facing us will then be fully illuminated, providing a full moon on August 7.

In the week following full moon, the angle of the three bodies slowly decreases. In a week the angle of the three bodies is again 90º with the moon now on the opposite side of the earth. We experience last quarter phase on August 14. The moon is half illuminated again, but this time a different quarter of the moon is visible in sunlight. The geometry of the three bodies changes moment by moment. In one week we arrive at a very significant “straight angle” configuration of the the astronomical bodies. On August 21, 2017 we experience new moon phase. The three bodies are directly in line. In the United States a total solar eclipse is in prospect for millions of residents. We will experience the “new moon of the century” in terms of additional astronomical coincidences. 

Not since 1970 and 1979 has a total solar eclipse been visible to so many people in the US. The 1970 total solar eclipse event was visible to many people along the east coast before the shadow passed out to sea near Norfolk, VA. Even though the driving time from my home to Norfolk was approximately six hours, I made an error in judgement in not traveling to Norfolk from northern New Jersey. However, I graphed the temperature drop of 4º F while the partial eclipse progressively covered nearly the entire sun. In northern New Jersey, 3/7/70 occurred on Saturday when school was not in session. I encouraged my students to observe the eclipse with protective eye devices. During the 1979 event only a few states in the Pacific Northwest were able to observe totality.

The effective difference between observing a total eclipse of the sun in the narrow path of totality and observing the partial solar eclipse just outside the path of totality is comparable to the difference between hitting a home run in baseball just inches beyond the outfielder’s glove and having the outfielder make a leaping catch for the out. There are many other analogies we could cite to illustrate the difference between total success and great disappointment. This explains why millions of visitors will travel many miles to observe the August 21, 2017 eclipse in the narrow path of complete totality.

The shadow of a total eclipse of the sun traveling across virtually the entire United States mainland has not occurred in the US since 1918. There have been many partial solar eclipses, annular solar eclipses, and hybrid solar eclipses. Other awe-inspiring eclipses are various types of lunar eclipses. A total solar eclipse visible to so many people is a truly rare and uniquely spectacular event. We will follow the story of this great total solar eclipse both before and after it occurs.

Citizens who position themselves in the path of totality may experience various degrees of success. In one more baseball analogy we claim that totally clear skies on August 21 might be compared to hitting a baseball completely out of Yankee Stadium. But if a turn at bat barely results in a home run there is still cause for rejoicing for the winning team. With the bases empty, the team scores one run. With the bases full, our team scores four runs—a grand slam. If the ball also travels out of the stadium, we would catalog and remember the wonderful additional details forever! The events of the upcoming total solar eclipse will exceed the glory of any conceivable sports event imaginable. We may pray for clear skies, keeping in mind that we are subject to the natural vagaries of weather. Even if it is cloudy, the onset of complete darkness in the middle of the day will be an event to remember.  

This eclipse is a completely natural event but it will inspire self-transcendent, overpowering emotions. A memorable Bible verse translated by Eugene Peterson reads, “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made the earth overflow with your wonderful creations” (Psalm 104:24 The Message Translation).            

Friday, July 28, 2017

Error-free Beginnings and Endings

Our previous post discussed the concept of an error-free creation. God did not err in creating dozens of physical constants by which our cosmos functions. Neither did he err in designing the physical structure or functionality of the human body and all other living things. We admire the beauty and organization of the created order surrounding us. Only the most negative appraisal would fault the creation at this level.

One could attempt to promote the case that the existence of death for all living things is an error in the creation process for this cosmic sphere. This proposal is in a different category than the possibility of errors in the creation and operation of our physical creation—the subject of our previous post. For example, we may believe there are “errors” in the strength of the force of gravity, the speed of light, or in the characteristics of thousands of wavelengths of electromagnetic energy by which we function moment by moment. Some skeptics may perceive error in the orientation of light-sensitive cells in the human retina, a favorite ploy of ID skeptics. Such proposals are intended to arouse suspicion concerning the ultimate wisdom of the Creator and perhaps even his existence. Such objections are essentially scientific issues. The objections are shown to be valid or invalid scientifically.

The presence of death in our universe is also a scientific matter. Scientists instruct us concerning the physiological basis for both life and death. Death is also a weighty discussion topic for philosophers. Most important, the sequence of life followed by death has theological significance. In Genesis 1:1, we discover that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Not only did he create the matter, time, space, and energy dimensions of our universe, but it is also apparent that he put in place an incredible operating system. It is at this level of analysis that some human observers are dissatisfied with the operating system. Specifically, they object to the reality of death on our planet, especially of human death. They may even claim that the presence of human death, perhaps even death of any creature, should not have been part of God’s operating plan for Planet Earth. Did God, therefore, commit an error in permitting the existence of death?

There are some parallels between the beginning and end of human life and the beginning and end of our universe. The universe originated in a high energy birth—the Big Bang. At its beginning it possessed all the potential for a fully developed universe as it followed divinely established dictates of physical laws. For billions of years until the present it has slowly dissipated from a maximally ordered to a less ordered energy level as the present universe expands. There exists the prospect of ultimate death of the universe at a very distant point in the future. We might say that the universe is programmed to die as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (also called the Law of Decay or the Law of Entropy) operates with the progression of time. One fundamental law by which the universe operates is the 2nd Law—all systems naturally proceed from a state of higher to a state of lower useful energy. Available energy resources constantly become less useful, never the opposite.

Now consider how human life develops from birth to death. From the initial formation of a diploid zygote having all the potential for mature development, life proceeds on its journey from beginning to end. For a number of years the human body takes advantage of environmental opportunities to produce a healthy, attractive young person and adult. For several decades the resources in food and healthy activity are temporarily transformed to produce normal growth in size, body complexity, and physical and mental ability. But the increasing order, temporarily accomplished at the expense of external resources in our environment, soon reverses as humans age.

Our bodies quickly deteriorate without heroic health maintenance, along with many other features of our environment such as aging physical homesites and automobiles. Notwithstanding outstanding advances in health care, ultimately every human being experiences death. Historical records claim 100 billion people, more or less, have lived and died on Planet Earth since modern man was created. Of 7.5 billion people currently living, they will all have died not far into the 22nd century. This does not sound pretty, but our universe’s 2nd Law of Thermodynamics operates to support the births and deaths of the universe, humanity, and all creatures who have ever lived.

Theological strife has sometimes resulted from the proposal that all death in this universe has been the result of the original sin of Adam. In our brief and incomplete response, we propose that verses such as Romans 5:12 (Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…) refer primarily to spiritual death as the result of man’s sin. We recommend reading this 2011 post in which we covered questions of death and the 2nd Law overlay governing all of our experiences from birth to death:

We decry the idea that God made mistakes in his creation, including the establishment of death as a fundamental characteristic of existence in our universe. The Creator knew man would quickly exercise his free will to sin against him in the early days of Adam and Eve’s residence on Earth. Before the beginning of time God knew humanity would need redemption (Tit. 1:2 NIV). Sin is at the root of man’s spiritual death. This is the the real subject of Romans 5.

In God’s infinite wisdom he created a universe where the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics could benefit human existence. In many cases the Law of Decay works to human advantage. Yes, sometimes the Law results in inconvenience, discomfort, or worse. In this complex topic, the broad scope lesson lies in our understanding that, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord (Isa. 55:8 NIV). In the future New Creation described in Revelation 21 our Maker may choose to reveal answers to questions we may not even imagine in our present realm.    


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

No Creation Errors

A look at the creation of Planet Earth, our Solar System, the Milky Way galaxy, and our entire cosmos reveals a creation with no divine errors. If we believe in an omniscient and omnipotent Creator, we posit that his works of creation are mistake-free. From a human perspective, however, we may errantly identify many “errors.” As we talk with friends concerning the reality of God and his characteristics, a common thread sometimes runs through our discussions: Why didn’t God…..? Why doesn’t God reveal himself by…..? According to our friends’ human reckoning, they believe an answer to these questions according to their personal viewpoint might affirm the reality of God’s existence or reveal his attributes. We believe human answers to these questions would do little to affirm the Creator’s existence or reveal his characteristics.

We are tempted to ask our friends, “What would be the characteristics of a perfect world?” Descriptions of our “perfect world” may be interminably long. Some folks may realize the futility of their project. Countless volumes have been produced describing the physical world as it currently exists. Most secular books describe our world with detailed accounts of an ordered and well-designed physical system. Most people would be unable to deny the existence of a lengthy collection of orderly characteristics and designs. Fanciful proposals of a human designed “perfect world,” however, would descend into triviality and ignorance. 

Would we change any of the dozens of physical constants by which our world currently operates in a predictable and orderly manner? Does anyone wish to change the predictable force of gravity on Planet Earth? Would we consider modifying the virtually unlimited manifestations of electromagnetic energy by which light and heat are transferred and by which modern communications are enabled? Personal studies may reveal precise empirical facts about charges, masses, and sizes of atomic particles which compose the matter of our physical existence. These are just several of dozens of characteristics of matter known as physical constants. They are the immutable design characteristics of our cosmos. Not even one of these constants could vary and still permit life to exist anywhere in the universe. Moreover, altering any of the constants would plunge the cosmic system into chaos.

In more specific areas of life science, secular scientist Fred Hoyle in his 1984 volume Intelligent Universe compared “the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.” Intuitively, when we examine the millions of different Earth species, we perceive that there were no mistakes by the Creator in their production, physical design, and behavioral manifestations.  

Modern skeptics of intelligent design select the human “inverted retina,” as an example of errant design. They claim the cells in the vertebrate retina are oriented functionally sub-optimally because retinal photoreceptors are oriented away from incoming light. We must pass over many pages of detailed scientific evidence and claim that “if the human retina were (not inverted), we have no evidence that vision would be better. Most likely, it would be worse.” (ASA fellow Jerry Bergman, in “Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith,” March 2000.) 

Some non-theistic scientists dwell on other fanciful ideals for their proposals of a “perfect world” of living creatures—different from our current one. The Creator’s “mistakes” are supposedly demonstrated by the human esophagus, the panda’s thumb, the human appendix, and pseudogenes, all pronounced to be wasteful or unnecessary. These famous objections have been debunked many times.

As we examine our universe, the life forms within it, and the unique visual beauty and physical organization of several million species of life forms, we caution our readers that any effort to identify errant designs or inefficient processes in our physical planetary system, including its living systems is doomed to fail. God has made no errors in his personal creative actions, but he may have a purpose in allowing error in the behavior of his redeemed people. Such error by humanity is the result of God’s gift of free will.

We conclude our discussion of the absence of errors in God’s creation with Psalm 145:3 (ESV): “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”