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.