Friday, October 16, 2020

Autumn Weather and Wildlife Wonders

Autumn provides notable changes as calendar weeks advance. The season is transitional at mid-latitudes. In the Northern Hemisphere, meteorological autumn begins on September 1 and ends on November 30. (In the Southern Hemisphere September 1 marks the start of meteorological spring.) In contrast to autumn, Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures are not transitional—it is more or less warm throughout the season. Winters are more or less cold all season.

Let us consider autumn from the perspective of your blogger’s mid-latitude location—40º north latitude. Over half of the entire human population occurs between 30º and 60º north latitude. When meteorological autumn begins on September 1, we are in store for surprising environmental changes. Leaves change color, falling in great quantities into the forest and onto our lawns. We take note of how the current year’s leaf colors compare with previous seasons. Perhaps we recall some information on deciduous plant physiology. Autumn leaf colors vary according to geographic regions owing to different types of deciduous tree species present.

Concerning other transitions of autumn, we mention a few obvious statistical changes. Autumn is the season of falling temperatures. From September 1 to November 30, the average daily high temperature falls 28º F. The average daily low temperature also drops 28º F. In three summer months, average daily highs and lows vary only 3º F for the entire season. 

Autumn is the season of decreasing daylight hours. We “lose” four hours of daylight during this season. Why? The tilt of Earth’s axis is responsible—23.4º away from perpendicular to the plane of Earth’s orbit. With no axis tilt temperature and daylight lengths would not vary seasonally because there would be no seasons. Life on Planet Earth would not be the same. Two posts of October 2017 discuss Planet Earth with and without seasons in some detail:

A favorite passage in Genesis 8:22 expresses the wonder of changeable weather, its effect on planting and harvest, and our enjoyment of variable environmental conditions. We perceive each descriptive condition mentioned in this verse as a blessing to humanity from our Creator: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (ESV)

In conversational exchanges we are prone to discuss the weather—sometimes happily satisfying and diverse, at other times unhappily or irritatingly alike. We also enjoy relating the wondrous unique behavioral changes of neighborhood plant and animal life with the progressive flow of seasonal weather events. Bird behavior has currently transitioned to autumn harvest abundance as temperatures decrease. Many scriptural themes relate to the autumn grape harvest.

In our back yard we have been blessed with a natural wild grape vine (vitis riparia) which has recently overtaken a 40 foot chokecherry tree. Such grape vines commonly ascend to over 50 feet in their voracious growth habits. They often overtake host trees. Several years ago this vine had not yet appeared. In the last two years the vine has become a natural back yard bird feeder 35 feet outside our ‘sun room’ windows. This year the vines produced an estimated 3-5 bushels of grapes (all inaccessible). At this writing we believe the plentiful grape supply will not survive another few days at the current rate of bird consumption. As we write, dozens of neighborhood birds, mostly robins and cedar waxwings, are providing entertaining avian bedlam and mayhem with grapes the focus of their attention. Their enthusiastic response to the current vintage is a joy to behold. Matthew 6:26 provides a background for our current grape tale: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (ESV) 

Before continuing this discourse, we quote Job:12: 7-10: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (ESV)

These verses need no further elaboration. Nevertheless, we comment: The grapes sometimes provide an overly sated condition: Robins sometimes eat more grapes than they should. They sometimes squabble over food with other robins but get along quite well with cedar waxwings—a different avian species.  This year pileated woodpeckers (one so far), sparrows, cardinals, and flickers (a few of each) have appeared at our grape vine feeder. We recall one unusual visitor a few weeks ago: Young turkeys are currently approaching their full growth. Recently, a mother turkey suddenly flew up with great effort to perch on unsteady branches in order to eat her fill of grapes while her young watched at a distance. The property owner was startled. The turkey managed her meal with substantial success. How did the mother turkey know the grapes were hidden in the high branches?

Perhaps the turkeys mentioned in the previous paragraph were a party to a front porch incident a few days before. Turkeys frequently take dust baths to preen their feathers. Instead of shaking off their dust in the woods, they opted to shake off the dust on our front porch, leaving behind turkey footprints in the thick dust. Do turkeys have a sense of humor as they relate to their human friends? And how do they know that their preening dust bath behavior helps maintain beautiful feathers? 

We challenge readers to contemplate the meaning of verses from Genesis 8, Matthew 6, and Job 12. Intellectual and emotional awareness of our environment and sharing our enthusiastic responses is an important way to call attention to God’s multidimensional divine glory.    





Monday, October 5, 2020

Life on Planet Venus?

One popular speculation among ordinary citizens and some science specialists is whether life exists anywhere but Planet Earth. If there is agreement that life may exist elsewhere but Earth, further questions are triggered: What sort of life could it be? Simple one-celled life? More complex multi-celled life? Even life similar to sentient human Earth life? Such questions have broad mass appeal. These questions provide literary fodder for imaginative science fiction novelists.

Recently there has been a media buzz concerning the possibility that the Earth’s twin, Planet Venus, manifests a signature of past life. The planet’s surface temperature is currently hot enough to melt lead and its atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of Earth. In the past three billion years however, conditions supportive of life existed in terms of more favorable temperatures, atmosphere, and the presence of water. Russian and US space probes have visited the atmosphere and surface of Venus many times in the past 50 years. Surface probe vehicles have quickly been destroyed by the currently harsh temperatures and dense atmosphere. Until now little speculation concerning life on Venus has been put forward. Mars has garnered most attention in that regard.

When research uncovers the possibility of life on another planet, considerable enthusiasm is generated among astro-biologists. When the news leaks out to the public, enthusiasm multiplies exponentially. With respect to possible Venus life, public fervor has been generated by an esoteric discovery. The upper atmosphere of Venus  possesses lower temperatures than its surface. It is there that the compound phosphine was detected in quantities that may be a signature of life. Phosphine (chemical formula PH3—one phosphorus, three hydrogen atoms) is a by-product of life processes. The compound is present in the Venus atmosphere at concentrations far above the level that non-biological processes could explain.

Is the presence of past or present life on Venus therefore, proven? No, but these are curious results, perhaps nothing more than “anomalous and unexplained chemistry.” Mars researchers have the same problem as they also attempt to find potential signatures for life on Mars in sedimentary rocks several billions of years old.

Earth was blessed with the initial appearance of life starting about three and one-half billion years ago. It arrived on our planet suddenly—morphologically simple, but biochemically complex. Today’s biologists have no explanation for the mysterious sudden origin of biologically complex life. Theistic scientists such as Dr. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, believe the sudden appearance of life approximately 3.5 bya is the signature of a creation event produced by the God of the Bible.

Enthusiastic secular scientists promote the concept that life may have originated spontaneously and naturalistically on billions of planets in our vast universe. So far such enthusiasm and optimism is unwarranted. Dr. Ross’s popular volume The Creator and the Cosmos, fourth edition, (2018, pp. 243-266)) lists 150 separate parameters a planet, its moon, its star, and its galaxy must manifest for life of any kind to exist. If even one of the parameters is absent, life is impossible. This requirement is known as “fine tuning”—precise conditions which must be present for the operational existence of a living physical system. 

Dr. Ross has also proposed that primitive microbial life forms could have been transported from Earth’s atmosphere to other planets such as Mars and Venus by asteroids and meteoroids colliding with our planet. Earth material could thereby be deflected to another planet in our Solar System. This is known as interplanetary panspermia. The process was recently described by technology/science reporter Chris Ciaccia: A meteoroid from outer space grazed Earth’s atmosphere in December 2017. The resulting fireball travelled more than 800 miles through the upper atmosphere of southern Australian and then skipped back into space. In earth’s long history the above scenario may have occurred thousands of times. Microbes are known to exist in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Bio-scientists admit that a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life does NOT exist. Many explanations have been proposed but none can be proven. The processes of life as it exists are majestically and wonderfully complex. People who believe in God recognize the origin of life as a divine miracle. Likewise, life processes are sustained by a divine miracle. Many works of literature and music contain the sentiment that Life Is a Miracle.

Does life presently exist on Venus or Mars or did it exist in the past? It is possible. We are positive that life on Planet Earth is the result of dozens of unique, fine tuned physical conditions. Life on our planet is described by theists as a signature product of the divine Creator. The more we discover about the wonders of life, the more we intuitively sense the reality of the Creator.

Here is a link to the first of four posts from July 2018. We discussed many related questions on life in our vast universe and the human curiosity whether life of any sort exists at any other location than our own home Solar System: