Thursday, October 10, 2019

Autumn Farewell to Monarchs

Perhaps no insect commands more interest than Danaus Plexippus—the well-known Monarch butterfly. Its flashy physical appearance and distinctive migratory behavior locates this species in a special category. Our readers will bear with us for many past posts on Monarchs, the only butterfly to complete an annual two-way migration. 

Before discussing the migratory behavior of Danaus Plexippus, consider some developmental details of this unique animal. Our view is this migratory animal strengthens belief in an Almighty God who sustains the existence of all things. The monarch butterfly epitomizes the wondrous event sequence of four-stage metamorphosis. Adult female Monarchs, after mating with male monarchs, lay individual eggs on milkweed plants. A few days later, they hatch into tiny caterpillars, the larval stage, and begin to feed on milkweed leaves. After more than a thousandfold weight gain in one or two weeks, they suspend themselves upside down for a short time, shed their skin, and transition after 8-12 days into a beautiful jade-colored pupa called a chrysalis. The adult monarch which bursts forth from the chrysalis is a marvel of beauty. But the aesthetic beauty and four-stage metamorphosis of this insect is only part of its story.

Our current post is inspired by an observation we made from our Northwest Illinois front porch during the last week of September. Our residence faces almost directly east. We were privileged to observe a local manifestation of the famous migration of monarch butterflies. We noticed many monarch butterflies all flying above our front lawn from left to right. More precisely, we identified their compass direction of travel: northeast to southwest! I had not observed this directional monarch travel for a number of years. The last time was likely 2006. An encouraging spike in monarch population occurred in 2018—144% greater than the previous year. After many years of alarming declines, the increase is encouraging.  

A few days later we traveled to the east coast on Interstate 80—Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Again we observed every monarch navigating directionally across the Interstate from left to right. I estimated the number of monarch sightings as approximately 20 to 24 per hour. Every monarch was impelled to fly in a specific direction.

The last generation (probably the fourth) in late summer does not reproduce immediately. They return to Mexico after a long and hazardous flight to a small mountain forest. Their journey is followed by a long period of quiescence for several months with millions of other clustered monarchs. This special generation then begins a return journey a few hundred miles to the north. After reproduction, their offspring continue on, producing the second of four broods. Each of the first three broods lives only a few weeks. The fourth brood, from the northern and eastern states and southern Canada, undertakes a long, hazardous return journey at the end of summer to the mountainous Mexican forest. Diminishing day length and cooling temperatures trigger the fourth generation’s divergent behavior. Those travelers have never been to Mexico before!

Monarch migration is unusual because of its two-way, cyclical journey. In contrast, many individual migrating birds annually travel back and forth between their seasonal habitats. The difference between this bird migration and the unique monarch migration is that no individual monarch completes one cycle. In this way monarch migration is even more remarkable than bird migration. Monarchs must blend internal physiological and external cues such as earth’s magnetism, polarized light, and other geographical cues to implement their annual migration. Scientists have calculated that the pinpoint location of their Mexican overwintering forest site is only 0.015% of the area they occupy during their summer sojourn in the Eastern US and Canada.

Some bioscientists call the Danaus Plexippus migration an “evolutionary development.” We must determine the meaning of “evolutionary” in this context. The remarkable migration is necessary because the monarch is unable to survive in the cold, wintry, northern areas of its range. There are several world regions where monarch butterflies are non-migratory—namely southern Florida and smaller populations in Central and South America, Hawaii, South Pacific Islands, Australia, and a few spots in Western Europe. In all cases, we credit monarchs’ adaptability, also a gift of the Creator bestowed on living all things.

Epigenetic adaptation occurs “above or on top of” genetics—the basic information supplied by DNA to all living creatures. Not only does the monarch have a heritage of DNA, but it also has a heritage of epigenetic adaptation. Great quantities of information related to monarch behavior and all other living creatures are becoming accessible as new scientific discoveries uncover the genius of Our Creator.             



Thursday, September 26, 2019

Anthropic Principle and Anthropocentrism

Physicist Brandon Carter proposed the Anthropic Principle in 1973. It has become the topic of many fascinating scientific, philosophical, and theological discussions. William Lane Craig, philosopher and theologian, has written extensively on matters of faith, including the Anthropic Principle. The following Craig quote strikes a balance between scholarly complexity and simplicity:

In recent years, however, the scientific community has been stunned by its discovery of how complex and sensitive a nexus of conditions must be given in order for the universe to permit the origin and evolution of intelligent life on Earth. The universe appears, in fact, to have been incredibly fine-tuned from the moment of its inception for the production of intelligent life on Earth at this point in cosmic history. In the various fields of physics and astrophysics, classical cosmology, quantum mechanics, and biochemistry, various discoveries have repeatedly disclosed that the existence of intelligent carbon-based life on Earth at this time depends upon a delicate balance of physical and cosmological quantities, such that were any one of these quantities to be slightly altered, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist.

More succinctly, astrophysicist Hugh Ross says the anthropic principle is “…the conclusion that the universe, Milky Way Galaxy, solar system, and Earth are all exquisitely fine-tuned so that human life can exist and flourish.” The previous quote supports the scriptural concept that the universe was created with its life supporting properties for the benefit of life, particularly humanity. But the fine tuning of the physical universe was inherently built into the physical world even before the arrival of humanity. God repeatedly pronounced the creation “good” even in the sequential time frames prior to the arrival of life. The adverb very is not used in Scripture translations, however, until the final creation of humans.

Scientists and philosophers have expanded upon the simplest concepts of the anthropic principle. The reactions of non-scientists may range across a wide spectrum. Perhaps this is because many analysts have substituted philosophical speculation for scientific inquiry. We do not disparage philosophical analysis, but it is possible to divert from and lose our grip on the main point. For example, some commentators state that the universe is “compelled” to produce conscious life such as human life. Others say the anthropic principle points to the existence of the “multiverse.” Still others connect the anthropic principle with naturalistic evolution of human life.                

The term anthropocentrism is related to the anthropic principle. It suggests humanity is the central “being” or “fact” of universal existence, the final “aim” or “end” of the universe. Everything is conceived in terms of human values and experience. This point of view may have marginal validity, but not to the exclusion of all other life values and a healthy theistic worldview: How do we see the world in terms of our everyday outlook in all areas of life and belief? Extreme anthropocentrists may have limited environmental concerns, for example. 

Anthropocentrism is not one-dimensional. Believers in the Biblical theistic worldview, while they recognize the primacy of man, are multidimensional in terms of interests, values, and responsibility toward their Creator, fellow man, and the environment. In respect to belief in God, we cite a personal quote from our post of 3-16-2016: “The evidence points to a Creator who transcends our space-time dimensions and acts as the cause of all that exists. Our universe could not have “self-created.” God fashioned a universe where life could exist. The presence of life in our space-time continuum is evidence for the Creator of All Things.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Beginnings and Designs

Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) coined the term “Big Bang” to describe what his  scientist colleagues had described as an explosive event. Hoyle never accepted the concept of a Big Bang. He advocated the “Steady State” theory in which matter is continually created. He felt that the Big Bang was a pseudoscientific, irrational proposal. The universe was infinitely old, he believed, having no beginning (also no end!). He described space as never ending.

When I began my teaching career the school district budget permitted me to purchase a generous quantity of books. Among the volumes I ordered was one by Fred Hoyle (as I recall, the title was The Nature of the Universe) in which he outlined some of his theories on cosmology. This scientist did not believe the universe originated in a minuscule singularity, followed by a momentary inflationary stage, preceding a hot Big Bang as scientists currently believe. As a young elementary school student I speculated what was beyond the apparent dome of sky surface which seemed to meet the solid Earth at the horizon. Was there anything beyond? And what about the beginning of time? 

In my youth, I speculated there was NO beginning to time, because we could always imagine time existed further back, before the earliest instant of time we could conceive. Hoyle agreed that time was infinite—no beginning, no end. My youthful speculations did not include the later developed hypothesis that the universe originated in the Big Bang—the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy, and that the event can be pinpointed to a finite point on a time scale. The event dating to 13.8 billion years ago has been refined and accepted by astrophysicists in the past few decades with practically no uncertainty. Genesis 1:1 proclaims that the universe did have a beginning: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” The deep concept of a beginning is affirmed by both science and Holy Scripture.

The existence of a beginning to our universe is an intractable problem for scientists who do not believe in the existence of God. The beginning of time, space, matter, and energy implies a Beginner. The Beginner was God. Most scientists now acknowledge the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe but a majority of professional scientists do not yet acknowledge the God of Scripture as the Beginner. There is another intractable problem for scientists who do not believe in God. The problem relates to the apparent existence of overwhelming Intelligent Design with attendant fine tuning of multiple design features inherent in our physical universe.

We return to Fred Hoyle. Although he was an atheist, Intelligent Design enthusiasts sometimes quote his powerful discoveries and the surprising statements he uttered concerning them. Hoyle was a champion of the hypothesis of stellar nucleosynthesis. This hypothesis cites the formation of carbon atoms from simpler atoms such as  helium and beryllium. This was impossible unless a process called the “triple alpha process” could account for the amount of carbon present in the universe. Life in the universe is dependent on the existence of the element carbon in sufficient quantities. A highly unlikely “resonance” was discovered in the carbon-12 nucleus. Hoyle invoked the Anthropic Principle when he famously stated in 1981, “It appears a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics.” Some ID enthusiasts envisioned the statement as an affirmation of their ID worldview. In a more scholarly utterance in 1959 Hoyle stated, “I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”

There were many other naturalistic scientists who recognized the design features of the universe. Paul Davies, British astrophysicist, has reported on numerous design evidences in his many years of writing and research. We quote two of many: “Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brutal fact” (The Mind of God, 1992). In The Cosmic Blueprint, 1988, Davies said, “(There) is for me powerful evidence that there is ‘something going on’ behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.”

Davies was roundly criticized by a cadre of famous scientists who criticized his 2007 opinion article “Taking Science on Faith” in The New York Times. Each of the objecting scientists was either an atheist or an agnostic. Davies is known as an agnostic. Nevertheless, over the years he has uttered much support to those considering belief in an Intelligent Designer, the Creator of the Universe. He willingly submits to discussions with theists such as Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Ross stated in The Creator and the Cosmos (2018, fourth edition) that “Davies deserves credit for ongoing reconsiderations and revisions of his position…..Davies seems to be moving toward some form of theism.”

We leave it for readers to ponder why the overwhelming evidence for Intelligent Design is not a “slam dunk” for belief in the Creator of Scripture among non-scientist laypeople, but especially professional scientists.

The premier promoter of the Intelligent Design paradigm is Stephen Meyer, author of recent books such as Signature in the Cell (2009) and Darwin’s Doubt (2013). Meyer is director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. As director, Meyer would agree that Discovery Institute be recognized as promoter of a “scientific research program.” He may be pleased to acknowledge his own strong personal theistic beliefs and deep personal thoughts. In Darwin’s Doubt (2013) he clarifies his beliefs: “The ability to detect design makes belief in an intelligent designer (or a creator, or God) not only a tenet of faith, but something to which the evidence of nature now bears witness. In short, it brings science and faith into real harmony.” In Signature in the Cell (2009), he stated explicitly, “I personally think that the evidence of design in biology, considered in the context of other evidence, strengthens the case for theism and, thus, my personal belief in God. Subjectively, as a Christian theist, I find this implication of intelligent design “intellectually satisfying.”

We link a related past post on the Intelligent Design paradigm:



Saturday, September 14, 2019

Discovering Climate Truth

Whenever someone questions how we feel about climate change, we may be hard pressed to offer a coherent statement to satisfy the questioner. In our day we are confronted by a plethora of conflicting truth claims on the climate issue. Many of these truth claims spring from ubiquitous references to climate change we encounter in everyday modern life. The issue generates anxiety among many of today’s residents. Moderate anxiety ascends to catastrophic fear in some citizens, driven by politicians who wish to force their climate agenda on the public. Currently, the presidential primary season has revealed that a vast majority of candidates of one major party has installed climate change as a paramount platform issue. Readers may be confronted by questions: What is your view? What guides your thinking and belief on the climate change issue? What is true?

We return to the subject of truth claims. Truth theory is not very often a subject of everyday discussion. Citizens should be cognizant of many types of truth in connection with the observation that “climate change is real.” Of course, virtually everyone agrees that climate change is real. Climate has been changing from time immemorial—a very long time! The truth of propositions related to climate change beyond the above statement that “climate change is real” should be analyzed carefully. 

Over a dozen categories of truth are described in literature. A majority of truth seekers subscribe to a category called correspondence truth, one of five primary categories of truth. It signifies truth which corresponds to reality, corresponds to the way the world is, corresponds to facts, and describes the actual state of affairs. The truth that “climate change is real” is an indisputable example of correspondence truth. Beyond our agreement that the correspondence truth of this statement is undeniable, the main issues surrounding the strident advocacy of climate change remediation fall far short of correspondence truth. We briefly discuss four other categories of truth below:

Consensus truth: Shaped by agreement within a specified group

Constructionist truth: Shaped by social or community forces

Coherence truth: Shaped by coherence (fitting together) of multiple sets of propositions or beliefs

Pragmatic truth: Shaped and confirmed by practical results or effects

Most progressive political activists propose aggressive remediation. Their advice is based on the overpowering belief that climate change has profoundly negative current effects and that scientific models accurately predict future catastrophic conditions. They believe their suggestions for remediation justify the spending of trillions of dollars to phase out recovery, processing, and use of almost all carbon-based fuels in the future.

Such startling controversial proposals, not only in the United States, but among most of the nations of the world, have their origins in errant or inadequate thinking concerning truth. The concept of truth or truth theory has not been stressed in our culture. With respect to climate change and numerous other life issues, appropriate conclusions about truth gravitate away from correspondence truth and stray toward the many other categories of truths outlined above—consensus, constructionist, coherence, and pragmatic. For example, if we all agree that “climate change is real,” we must not assert that interpretations of cause or suggestions for remediation will hold equal truth value in determining our course of action.

On climate change issues, we may ask if oft-repeated statements like “the science tells us that…” actually point to scientists’ discovery of truth in the area of climate. This statement is a source of misunderstanding of truth. The practice of science offers, according to one source, “accurate and reliable explanations.” Science is not a search for truth. Neither is science a “body of truth.” Rather, science is an activity, a systematic method of study of the physical and natural world. Sometimes we extend  the usage of the term to a particular branch of study—agricultural science, for example.

We leave our readers with heartfelt recommendations: Read all you can about  weather and climate. Affirm that your grandparents and great-grandparents endured many extreme weather events that rival events occurring today. Consult scientists on all sides of the divisive climate change issue. Discover how our weather and climate systems are miracles of wondrous complexity. Study how destructive weather events are relatively rare and in the long term may contribute to the general health of our climate system. Attest that Planet Earth is a God-provided place to thrive.

In dozens of posts since we began to address Earth’s climate system and offer commentary on weather and climate change, we have attempted to uplift our readers with thankfulness for Earth’s resources. We are confident our Creator provides for the welfare of Earth’s billions of residents and that He supplies wisdom for human stewardship of the creation. We link one early post from 9/15/12. The last paragraph relates to our current post’s discussion of truth. We quote from it: “God’s people in science or in any other profession must search out and apply truth concerning the natural world. The discovery of truth is an achievable goal of awesome responsibility. When scientists disagree on a matter of great import to humanity such as the multidimensional climate change issue, the stakeholders share responsibility and culpability to search out what is true and what is false and act accordingly.”







Friday, September 6, 2019

Climate Change: Separating Blame from Cause

Our climate change discussion begins with recollection of two different undergraduate electives offered by my university more than a half-century ago. Their one-word course titles caught my eye—meteorology and climatology. As a childhood resident of Central New York, weather had always provided a source of interest. The six-month transition from plentiful winter snow near Syracuse, NY, followed by that region’s lazy, hazy days of summer left a lasting impression. Mid latitude meteorological variety is still ingrained in my conscious preference.

Climatology was a logical sequel to meteorology. I devoured both courses—meteorology as a discussion of short-term atmospheric conditions such as temperature, precipitation, wind, and humidity among other topics; climatology as a manifestation of average long-term weather conditions. Searching my memory for instructional strategies, I recall that the presentation was straightforward and positive. There was no political or economic agenda. Climate was not mentioned in any negative sense. Possibly, the term “climate change” was not even mentioned.

Who has not noticed that weather and climate discussions now often merge with a pejorative comment? Climate, a fascinating planetary system worthy of awe, wonder, and diligent study, is often linked with the concept of change. We are now overly focused on climate change. Of course climate is changeable and has been changeable since the creation of our physical planetary system. Climate changeability is a positive component of dynamic planetary adaptability which acts most often for the benefit of Earth’s living creatures. 

As we compose this post, destructive Hurricane Dorian is wreaking havoc along the US east coast. Some commentators waste no time blaming its destructive power on anthropogenic (human caused) climate change. They conflate destructive climate change and anthropocentrism—the view that humans are the predominant species on Earth. Many modern radical environmentalists blend anthropocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism. These observations are currently the source of confusion about our view of the created world and how humans manage its resources for their own benefit. There have been mighty hurricanes in North America for multiple thousands of years, long before European discovery of the New World. Humans should not be blamed for causing greater intensity or frequency of weather events such as hurricanes.

Scientists attempt to discover causes of natural events including meteorological and climatological events. We must be aware of the difference between assignment of blame or cause with respect to the broad spectrum of changing weather and climate. Are humans to blame for climate change, particularly harmful global warming? Many alarmists claim we are. The production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels receives substantial blame for climate change. But there are hundreds of other causes which result in perceived positive as well as occasional negative impacts. Climate catastrophists place the primary blame on man for his recent discovery and use of fossil fuels. Some go so far as to propose the phase-out of fossil fuels. How have Earth’s billions of residents (7.7 billion in 2019) responded for its energy needs in the past 150 years? Some demographic analysts react with fear; others perceive our home satellite with joyful optimism, thanking God for His generous provision of energy resources, and calling Planet Earth “a place to thrive!” 

Believers in the Creator must approach the blame/cause issue with divine wisdom which comes only from above.           

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Climate and Truth

In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul visited Athens, Greece, one of many locations he toured during his missionary journeys. One account relates his meeting with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, an adjunct to his primary goal of ministering to Grecian Jews and God-fearing Gentiles concerning the Son of God. They were apparently fascinated by Paul’s message, but called him an idle babbler who seemed to be a “proclaimer of strange deities.” They accused Paul of “bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” The Athenians “…spent their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.” (Acts 17:18-21)

In our sanctified imagination we may imagine that the topics were deep and enigmatic. They discussed the role of “God who made the world and all things in it.” Perhaps, if we project the discussions to modern times, they might have discussed the world’s climate system. We are reminded of the frequency with which modern people are bombarded with the ever-present topic of climate change. The newest raging topic for us moderns may be that June 2019 was the warmest June on record for Planet Earth. The first half of 2019 was the second warmest half-year on record. We hasten to add that “on record” constricts the sample to modern times.

This post’s observations concerning climate change in 2019 are more subjective than objectively analytical. Some studies indicate there has been a slow rise in global temperatures since 1880—on the order of 1.4ยบ F. In that time frame there was a slow rise in world sea level—on the order of 6 to 9 inches. When media report the years between 2000-2019 were the “hottest” on record, we may wish to modify the statement with the caveat that temperatures on a very slowly warming Earth may not presage disaster for Earth inhabitants. Projected models of catastrophic planetary warming, and devastating sea level rises are speculative at best. The trend of climate change is slow, but not catastrophic. If we subscribe to belief in a benevolent Creator sustaining and keeping watch over His creation, our special home on Planet Earth, we need not fear climate change.  

Statistics do not reveal that disastrous droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, and cold waves have proliferated abundantly. Slow changes in climate have occurred with attendant moderate environmental changes for wildlife and plant life. Agricultural productivity, however, manifests greatly enhanced food production of the world as a whole whose population has risen from less than 2 billion in 1900 to nearly 8 billion today. We are not headed for environmental climate disaster. Warnings of climate disaster contribute to a climate of fear. 

Climatologist Cliff Harris and meteorologist Randy Mann have achieved balance in their climate reporting for many years. They produce research on climate and make long-range forecasts for business and agriculture. Their statements make coherent sense, but are disparaged by some who trumpet catastrophic global warming. Harris believes “…society would be better off devoting its limited resources on ending poverty, curing diseases, or providing universal health care, rather than investing in costly forms of cleaner energy or curtailing business to reduce carbon dioxide.” He believes “…this planet is a breathing entity, made by God, to cleanse itself, adjust itself.” Our past post titles remind us of two truths concerning Earth: It is “A World Working Well; moreover, it is “A Place to Thrive.” Gifted agricultural technologists have improved crop yields many times over. Gentle planetary warming may have enhanced crop yield. In the past century, some population theorists warned of starvation. In 1970 warnings of a renewed “ice age” gained popularity. In the early 21st century we now have alarmists with different agendas.

On 8/13/18 Randy Mann posted “OK, Let’s Talk About Climate Change.” He stated, “Cliff and I DO believe in climate change. Our planet has been experiencing climate changes since the beginning of time. Our long term chart… back to 2,500 B. C., indicates there have been at least 78 temperature swings in the last 4,500 years. Two of those big changes have occurred since the 1970s. Therefore we, meteorologist Randy Mann and climatologist Cliff Harris, believe in rather frequent changes in our global weather patterns. Geologic evidence shows our climate has been changing over millions of years. The warming and cooling of global temperatures are likely the result of long-term climatic cycles, solar activity, sea-surface temperature patterns and more.”

In our imagination we may return to Athens when the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers questioned the Apostle Paul about his “strange deities.” Paul made a brilliant evidential case as time allowed. We long to have an ancient video documenting Paul’s apologetic skills. His request appears to be “…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find Him.” The key concept is Paul’s exhortation that we should search for knowledge. 

Knowledge of climate change issues demand diligent study. The science surrounding the topic is complex and often subject to diverse interpretation. A complicating factor is that political principles influence some conclusions. Scientific conclusions are influenced by personal worldview and philosophy. Issues of truth, science, worldview, and philosophy become intertwined. Above all, we need a generous dose of wisdom spoken of in James 1:5.      



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Energy Transformations During Travel

During a long cross-county journey in the family automobile, one’s thoughts sometimes wander for science-minded travelers. Scientific principles speak loudly concerning the coherence of physical creation—a coherence authored by the Creator  in the beginning. As inhabitants of Planet Earth there are multiple opportunities to contemplate the wonders of our physical existence and the majesty of the Creator, even on a mundane journey in a modern automobile.

On the morning of departure for our recent 1000-mile family journey to the east coast we headed for the interstate, taking note of the bright, sunny day. Even on a cloudy day the journey would be illuminated by a more subdued light from the sun’s orb shining through the clouds from 93 million miles in space. 

Solar (radiant) energy has streamed down on the planet ever since planetary darkness was dispelled in the days of Earth’s early “water world.” We read about these events in abbreviated form in Genesis 1:1-8. Plentiful bacterial life, Earth’s first created life forms, appeared in the oceans. After millions of years various types of bacteria became precursors of today’s mineral resources and eventually the producers of the life-sustaining atmosphere we enjoy today. Light energy from the sun combined with atmospheric CO2 and water produced tiny plants and animals which became petroleum in intervening millions of years—the fossil fuel energy used to propel our vehicle nearly 1000 miles! Our eastern trip, therefore, originated long ago in the energy of ancient sunlight, an example of radiant energy. Fossil fuels originated on ancient Earth in the presence of radiant energy. Fossil fuels are now sources of chemical potential energy. Plentiful energy is stored in the chemical bonds of a substance.

The Sun is the original source of almost all of Earth’s energy resources. Without the Sun’s radiant energy Earth would be little more than a lifeless ball of rock. No fossil fuels would have formed; no photosynthesis would have produced simple phytoplankton, the earliest ingredients in petroleum formation. Without fossil fuels, energy transformations which keep our modern civilization going forward would be impossible. 

Auto trips supply many examples of energy transformations. When gasoline burns in an internal combustion engine chemical bonds break down. This is the beginning of a series of energy transformations. For instance, when gasoline is burned thermal energy (heat) from rapidly moving molecules exerts force on the piston. From there forces are transferred to the crankshaft/driveshaft, the gear system, the axle, and finally, the wheels which propel our automobile. The car and its passengers acquire the energy of motion—kinetic energy. Some thermal energy is produced. This energy must be removed so the engine does not overheat. In winter, however, some of the thermal energy keeps the passengers comfortably warm.

Along our auto trip, we sometimes gained potential energy, derived from energy we acquire when we ascend to a high elevation along the Interstate. At high elevations our vehicle acquires potential energy, found in the position of our automobile. From elevated positions as we coast downhill, we forfeit potential energy advantages of high elevations. Sometimes potential energy is termed gravitational potential energy.

Along the way of our interstate travel the generator converts kinetic energy to electrical energy. This permits the car to start again with a charge of electrical energy after the motor is turned off and produces radiant energy from the headlights. While traveling, some sound energy (road noise) is produced. Friction between the tires and the highway produces a small amount of heat (thermal energy). The environment gains a small amount of thermal and kinetic energy when an automobile passes by, but the energy is rapidly diffused. The total quantity of energy never changes even though the energy has been diffused and has become less useful.

The Law of Conservation of energy is one of the most important laws fundamental to our understanding of the physical world. This physics concept states that the total amount of energy remains constant in an isolated system—a system so far removed from other systems that it does not interact with other systems. This implies that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can change from one form to another. Numerous energy transformations such as the ones discussed above affirm the truth of this law. Sometimes symmetry is used to describe such transformations, a physical or mathematical feature of a system that remains unchanged under some transformation.

Travelers may devise creative ways to make scientific laws such as energy conservation and facts concerning energy transformations entertaining or interesting. We calculated the weight of our 2+ tankfuls of gasoline for the 1000 mile journey. The weight of gasoline was slightly more than the weight of an average Major League Baseball player and slightly less than the weight of an average National Football League player. Gasoline in 2+ tankfuls weighed about 220 pounds. Our two-ton vehicle was propelled almost 1000 miles by only 220 pounds of fossil fuel at 65/70 mph. Our trip was completed in about 15 hours. More remarkable: The fossil fuel energy in our tank originated in radiant energy from the Sun! Most remarkable: None of the energy was destroyed, but rather transformed. It still exists.

The genius of our Creator is on full display in conservation laws such as the Conservation of Energy. In our universe there exists a finite quantity of energy. God may be considered the Master Designer of all energy forms as well as the Overseer of multiple energy transformations.  


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Energy Types

“Energy Types” could be a chapter heading in a physics textbook. Those who believe in the Creation event of Genesis 1:1 rest in the assurance that “In the Beginning, God created “The heavens and the earth.” Simply translated, that means “God created ALL things.” Heavens and the Earth includes not only the matter (mass) of the physical creation, but also the dimensions of energy, time, and space. Energy may be discussed as a topic by itself. On a deeper level scientists pose the relationship between energy and mass, known as mass/energy equivalence. On a simpler level we may isolate the topic of energy and consider types of energy and transitions between types of energy. Most texts identify up to a dozen types of energy including chemical, nuclear, mechanical, electrical, thermal, radiant, sound, and elastic. We’ll discuss two of the most important types of energy.   

Differences between chemical energy and nuclear energy provide a discussion take-off point. Chemical energy is stored in the configurations of electrons bound to atoms of chemical elements and compounds. By far, chemical energy reactions are the most common. We are reminded of our high school chemistry courses. When the bonds of electron configurations in the atoms or molecules are broken, the energy stored in the bonds is released. Burning of fossil fuels releases this energy to accomplish work such as moving an automobile forward or the production of heat and light. Elements such as carbon and hydrogen combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water, respectively. An automobile burning gasoline acquires kinetic energy—the energy of motion, along with heat of combustion and perhaps a little light. Fossil fuels provide chemical energy stored and later released when burned. In modern times fossil fuels account for 80% of our energy needs.   

In contrast with chemical energy, nuclear energy is produced by the interactions of particles such as neutrons with the nucleus of the atom. Stored energy within the nucleus is far stronger than ordinary chemical forces. Therefore, the release of energy is also much stronger—as much as millions of times stronger. A subatomic particle called the neutron, originally discovered in 1932 by James Chadwick, is aimed at uranium nuclei. The nuclei of two new elements are formed when the uranium atom splits and neutrons are released. These additional neutrons collide with other uranium atoms and cause them to split. The process is called fission. In a nuclear bomb this chain reaction is very rapid and powerful. After the destructive bombs were produced to end World War II, many scientists researched more controlled chain reactions to produce useful energy. Nuclear reactors are water cooled. Control rods prevent dangerously rapid out-of-control fission in nuclear reactors.

World energy use since humanity first inhabited our planet has dramatically changed. During the Neolithic Age, also known as the Age of Agriculture beginning about 10,000 years BC, humanity utilized primarily animal and human energy power and the use of biofuel, the burning of wood, for cooking and warmth. It is fascinating to speculate on what life was like for our human forebears. In the days of prehistory before the time of Abraham and the Biblical chronicle of the Chosen People, the Creator interacted with humanity in a manner largely unknown, mysterious, and foreign to modern man. In Romans 1:20, the Apostle Paul refers to events “since the creation of the world.” The gospel writer states that “(God’s) eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” This passage likely refers to prehistoric humans who experienced God through the creation—through “what has been made.” Early man “did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (NAS Bible)

Perhaps if they had honored God or given thanks to their Creator, deeper Creation mysteries would have been revealed to them long before. Understanding the characteristics of our created cosmos involves not only a description of visible matter, but also the dimensions of “mass/energy equivalence,” and the dimensions of the “time/space continuum.” Modern scientists have researched and reported on the relationships of the multiple dimensions of mass/energy/time/and space. The more they discover about these relationships, the more coherent the created universe appears and the more our universe appears to be intelligently designed for the benefit of humanity.

Our contemporary use of fossil fuels, nuclear fuels, bio-fuels, hydro-fuels, and renewable fuels would be foreign to fully human residents of ancient, prehistoric times. In our time, fossil fuels account for 80% of our modern energy needs; 10% of our needs are supplied by biofuels, 5% by nuclear, and 5% by renewables. Electrical generation is produced 67% by fossil fuels, hydropower supplies 16%, nuclear energy 11%, and renewables 6%. Discovery and use of the full spectrum of energy resources is a phenomenon of the mysterious flow of human history and its progress. 

Modern science has clarified many mysteries of mass, energy, time, and space and their interconnections. However, modern scientific naturalism does not acknowledge and explain these interrelationships as the production of a divine Mind. From a theological perspective the “reality of Creation” includes the profound truths of the mass/energy equivalence and time/space continuum. Many applications and benefits of this reality have been and are yet to be discovered.






Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Creation of Energy

Genesis 1:1 is one of the most frequently quoted verses in the entire Bible. It speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth—all that exists—in the beginning. Before this divine creation, there was nothing. Theologians, philosophers, scientists, and laypeople have speculated and sometimes disagreed on the deeper meanings of creation ex nihilo—out of nothing. 

No doubt some recall flannel graph lessons during youthful days in Sunday School. These lessons presented a vivid visual portrayal of events on a board supported by a tripod. Children were impacted by images of beautiful animals, images of the sun, moon, and stars, and other visual descriptors of events as the subject of creation was taught. Sunday School pedagogues, especially those living several decades ago, found the visual imagery of flannel graphs effective in teaching Bible stories. They were also entertaining. A more profound challenge is to advance our students conceptually. What other concepts of the broad topic of creation could we address with our children as they advance toward maturity, or even with adults, without inappropriately boring them? Perhaps meaningful treatment of this topic is within reach more than we believe.       

The creation event was the origin of mass, energy, space, and time. This description of creation goes far beyond simple flannel graph visualizations of beautiful creatures and objects. Is this esoteric knowledge solely for scientists? Or does the topic have theological applications as we teach the topic of creation in our church educational program at all age levels? Let us elaborate: Scientists have connected mass and energy. A natural law describes their relationship in one way as the “Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy. Albert Einstein in 1905 proposed the equation E=mc2, posing the relationship between mass and energy. A brief definition of energy: The capacity or ability to do work. When work is accomplished, a push or pull force moves an object. Physical scientists are fond of defining and quantifying the terms mass, energy, space, time, work, force, motion, and acceleration. For good measure, teachers deal with other terms—gravity, force units such as the newton, and friction.

Before becoming too pedantic, we must express a truth in a simple form. When Genesis 1:1 speaks of God as the Creator of All Things, we must include Laws of Nature governing the activities of the physical Creation. All processes and activities of our daily lives are wondrously governed by natural laws set in place by God at the Creation event. All things includes ALL of dozens of physical constants quantitatively tuned to the precision of a metaphorical “razor’s edge.” Laws of Nature go hand in hand with physical constants. Laws of Nature are generalizations about the way the world actually is. Physical scientists have discovered regularities is the way matter behaves, including observations that the regularities are repeatable. Let us think what our world would be like if physical conditions were not predictable and repeatable, given the same initial conditions! If our creation were chaotic, life would also be chaotic. In fact, life would be impossible.

Young children learn about their world by observing the regularity of the laws which govern events in their surroundings. Cause and effect phenomena are plentiful as they learn to expend muscular energy to move their bodies, to swat the bell on their play pen (it rings every time), to push building blocks into desired positions, or to assemble a pile of blocks, being careful not to let them fall from the top of the pile if gravity takes over too early. Intentional use of energy assists in activities such as throwing, kicking, or batting a ball. Our grandchildren are currently fond of activities with balloons—wonderful instructional settings for lessons on the energy of air pressure. In home school venues there are many opportunities to apply and discuss energy applications in science classes by reminding students that our Creator is the Author of rational laws governing energy. In public school science settings students have many opportunities to tacitly infer a profound coherence in our natural world.  

With older children we discuss the fact that energy converts from one form to another without any loss of the combined amount of energy present. Energy conversions benefit humanity in multiple ways. For instance, coal, oil, and natural gas fossil fuel energy resources may convert to electricity, heat, light, motion, or work of many types. We will address the many dimensions of energy conversions in a future post. 

Creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) included the creation of energy, mass, time, and space. It is important for educators to include the wonders of energy/mass, and time/space dimensions of our physical universe when we speak of what God created In the Beginning as well as what he sustains in the present moment. We close with a personal favorite expression used many times in discussing the subject of Creation for children and adults alike: God had great ideas!               


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moon Landing at 50 Years

As we write our calendar reads July 20, 2019—fifty years to the day after humans first set foot on our lunar companion during the Apollo 11 program. This is a day when active recall dominates our consciousness for a few hours. The overpowering incredible technological human achievement was fraught with equally incredible risks. President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 speech to Congress stated a goal of “…landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The last seven words may be more technologically challenging than the previous six.

My grandfather, born in 1880, proclaimed that it would not be God’s will for man to break loose from the earth and visit the moon. His death in 1960, however, was sandwiched between the first earth orbital flight of a space vehicle in 1957, and Russian and American astronauts’ manned orbital flights in 1961 and 1962. The Moon visit by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on July 20, 1969 was obviously “permitted” by the God of Creation who implanted the technical ability in humans to accomplish the feat.

On July 20, 1969 I was traveling with an uncle and cousin in New Mexico during the evening. We were hoping to rent a motel room to join the estimated 600 million earth residents who watched the historic events on live television. We were successful, arriving in our room sometime after 9:39 PM MDT when the Eagle’s hatch was opened. My memory is entering the motel room to a blinking television screen displaying astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon’s surface. A few feet away was the Eagle Landing Craft. Micheal Collins was circling above them in the Command Module. It was a special, unforgettable moment!

Armstrong died in 2012. Aldrin and Collins are still alive and able to recount their experiences clear-mindedly. All three Apollo 11 astronauts were born in 1930.

Twenty-four astronauts have left the confines of Earth and have viewed the Earth from the Moon, 240,000 miles distant. Twelve of those astronauts descended to the surface and walked on it. They experienced an emotional high called the overview effect, defined as a cognitive shift in awareness in which the viewer is overwhelmed by a vision of the Earth from outer space.

The most touching expression of the overview effect may have been experienced by US moon astronauts seven months before Apollo 11. On Christmas Eve 1968 Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, while in moon orbit, took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 while transmitting images of Earth from space on live television. 

On this anniversary of man’s first moon walk, we are thankful that our space program has enabled Earth residents to see a portion of God’s glory in creation. 



Friday, July 19, 2019

Fossil Fuels in Family History

Fossil fuel energy was a fundamental driver of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent revolutions of the past 250 years. Contemporary society’s technological, economic, and social development was birthed by the events of the Industrial Revolution. Without the meteoric rise of fossil fuels on the human scene, how different would our lives be? Prior to the Industrial Revolution fossil fuel energy may be portrayed as a mere whisper. In our modern society we might metaphorically describe the fossil fuel phenomenon as an amplified full-throated shout.  

The “big three” fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—rose and sometimes fell in popular use and appeal in the years since my personal family forbears arrived from Europe. Between my wife and me, three sets of grandparents arrived from Switzerland and The Netherlands from 1860 to the early 1900s. My third great-grandfather arrived even earlier and carved out a living in Northern New York from unspoiled wilderness. The Rudolph Virkler family, including his seven sons, initially did not utilize any fossil fuels according to our family genealogical history volumes. Instead, the fuel to heat primitive cabins in their New World home may be described as “biomass"—primarily wood. Biomass supplied virtually all their earliest energy needs in Northern New York.

Coal, first of the “big three,” became prominent in the 1800s. Before 1800 very little coal was mined compared with the 19th century, even though there are records of some use of coal for thousands of years. Likewise, small oil and natural gas seeps were known long before humanity began to utilize these fuels on a scale remotely resembling today’s level of use. Coal became important for powering primitive steamships. It was used to heat water for steam generation to drive pistons in steamships and railroad engines. In the mid-1800s coal was also used to produce iron and steel from mineral ores. Coal provided for generation of electricity, peaking in 1961. Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution which initially utilized energy supplied by water power and wind.

Rudolph Virkler sailed west to America in 1834 on a wind-driven ship in 42 days. Early steamships had barely begun to use coal to fuel their locomotion. Had they arrived in America a decade or two later the family may have arrived on a coal-driven steamship. During that family’s first fifty years in this country, the use of coal increased. Coal became a source of heat in homes beginning in 1885. In 2019 fewer than 130,000 homes in the US are heated by coal. 

In the 1930s and 1940s my century-old home in Central New York was heated by coal. Prominent in our basement was a coal burning riveted steel furnace. It was sometimes called an octopus furnace owing to the presence ductwork through which heated air flowed toward registers around the house by convection. Warm air is lighter than cold air and naturally rises by convection without being mechanically forced. Recalling the blast of heated air flowing from the main living room register early on cold winter mornings is still heart-warming.

Memories associated with this coal burning furnace are vivid and pleasant. My father was responsible for carrying the coal to the furnace, shoveling it in, and frequently removing the ashes. Ken Roginski, author of an article on The Old House Guy website, relates many stories triggering recall from my personal childhood: “Coal was delivered into a nearby basement window. Below the window was a sort of pen where the coal was stored.” The sound of coal being emptied from the coal truck, flowing down the tapered coal shute and into a bin in our cellar, is a fading memory I had not believed still existed. The rhythmic back and forth sound of the hand lever used to agitate the furnace grate so the coal ash could fall into the ash pit is another.

During my experience as a public school science teacher, I sometimes recalled childhood memories to reinforce science history. One example: the evolution of fossil fuels and their use by humans. Classroom students were amused by the anachronism of coal as fuel—in particular, my experience with a coal furnace during childhood. Most of my students’ families had modern central heating systems fueled by oil and later, natural gas.

Many home coal furnaces were converted to oil burners after coal fell from popularity. Some were modified; some were new installations. Many sent steam to radiators; some were modified to receive hot water. In 1951 my family moved to New Jersey. We burned oil to produce hot water; radiators transferred heat by radiant energy into the home. Petroleum became an important fossil fuel at about the turn of the 20th century. It has long outdistanced coal as an energy source.

After my sentimental experience with coal, three family homes since 1951 used oil to heat air or water in their central heating systems. Since 1989 three homes have consumed gas for their home heating fuel. This family progression from coal to oil to gas parallels the historic evolution of the popularity of fossil fuels: coal, then oil, followed by gas. Important natural gas discoveries in the United States since 2000 have trained the spotlight on the most recent fossil fuel to achieve increasing popularity. In the US coal use has declined substantially, oil use is still expanding, and natural gas use has increased dramatically.

Our memories help remind us that our timeless Creator intentionally supplied Earth’s inhabitants with plentiful deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas. The formation process from dead plants, algae, and zooplankton deposited in water consumed eons of time by human standards. 

When coal’s disadvantages became known, men appropriated other fuels such as oil and later, natural gas which burns cleaner than either coal or oil. The “big three” fossil fuels were support pillars for humanity’s Industrial Revolution. In turn the Industrial Revolution triggered technological, agricultural, and economic advances. Long before the surge of fossil fuel discovery and utilization, humanity had devised uses for biomass as fuel. Humanity’s use of wood for burning, garbage or manure to generate methane, or producing ethanol from the sugars in vegetable matter were evidence of creativity in humans. However, these processes do not compare with the creativity of God who provided humanity with plentiful coal, petroleum, and natural gas via wondrous chemical processes over millions of years of geologic history.

We have enjoyed “big three” products to heat our homes, power our internal combustion engines, produce electricity, clothe ourselves with fabric, and experience the utility of plastic goods in hundreds of products. There are thousands of petrochemicals and coal, petroleum, and gas by-products to enrich our life experience. Fossil fuels are examples of the exquisite provision of God for the welfare of humanity. For this we give thanks to God.