Monday, November 30, 2020

Saltwater to Salt and Water

 Planet Earth has been called a Water World. Seventy-one percent of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans. These are saltwater oceans making up about 97% of all water on Earth. The average depth of the ocean is almost 2 1/2 miles. Only 3% of Earth’s water is fresh (non-salty) water. Ocean water contains about 3.5% salinity. One liter of ocean water weighs 33.81 ounces of which 1.2 ounces is dissolved salt. This is how we calculate 3.5% salinity. Dissolved salt in one cubic mile of seawater amounts to an incredible 120 million tons. That amounts to 500 feet of salt piled upon each square foot of Planet Earth if all its water were to evaporate—enough to almost cover the Washington Monument!

Scripture contains many references and spiritual object lessons involving salt and water. Contemporary knowledge supplies an expanded scientific foundation for many biblical references to those substances. Both salt and water are necessary for life on Planet Earth. The most common aqueous solution on Earth is saltwater in our oceans, home to millions of different species of life. Almost 250,000 known species live in the ocean along with many more undiscovered species. Most ocean-dwelling species survive solely in salt water. A few are able to adapt to fresh water for portions of their lives. Therefore, it is appropriate to connect ocean saltwater with a substantial portion of life on our planet.

Our discussion relates to three substances—saltwater, salt, and water. The interrelationship of the three substances puts metaphorical “meat on the bones” of many science unit lessons from elementary school to graduate school.

Saltwater oceans cover 71% of Earth’s surface. There are 332.5 million cubic miles of liquid water on Earth of which 321 million cubic miles consists of saline water. Only 3% of Earth’s water is fresh water located in ice caps, glaciers, groundwater, swamps, lakes, and rivers. Potable fresh water is but a tiny fraction of the world’s supply of fresh water.

Humanity discovered long ago that pure salt and pure water are essential for human thriving. In modern times, we have discovered the processes of separating salty ocean water into safe, potable water and useful pure salt. Both water and salt are compounds—chemical combinations of two or more atoms forming a compound. Ocean water is the most common chemical solution of two compounds on the planet. From it we may derive pure salt and pure water.

Our last post briefly mentioned the process of salt production on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean. ( We introduce a few terms to trigger your memory of former science classes: If a solute (salt in this case) dissolves in a solvent (water in this example) we obtain a solution, a homogeneous mixture of salt in water. Chemically, mixtures are reasonably easy to separate if you apply the correct method. Heating the salt water to its boiling point evaporates the water quickly. The water becomes increasingly concentrated with salt as the water boils away. Eventually the solution becomes saturated with salt. Further boiling causes the salt to precipitate—crystallize into its solid state. Eventually the water evaporates completely and only pure salt is left behind. On Bonaire the warm trade winds naturally evaporate the water in shallow salt water pools over several months. A harvest of salt is soon in prospect. Evaporated water, in a sense, is a waste product.

With respect to separating pure water from ocean saltwater, there are several technologies to accomplish the task. They include thermal distillation by boiling away the water and condensing the vapors to a liquid by cooling. “Reverse osmosis” may provide the best explanation for an ever-present modern problem faced by many countries involving their need for fresh water. We leave the explanation of the reverse osmosis process for a future post.

The Island of Bonaire currently supplies its residents with fresh water primarily with technology which utilizes “reverse osmosis.” This technology is currently used by many countries. In particular, the nation of Israel is becoming a source of water, not only for itself, but also for some surrounding nations. Water may be more vital than oil in many Mideast nations. Israel currently derives 55% of its water from desalination technology.

Availability of salt? Availability of pure water? Our God has supplied a virtually unlimited supply of both compounds—an example of the provision of our infinitely generous Creator.   




Thursday, November 19, 2020

Gospel Radio and Salt Mining

 On the Caribbean island of Bonaire, a unique salt mining operation still exists. Bonaire was formerly part of the Caribbean country known as The Netherlands Antilles. The country consisted of several island territories and was a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Some islands of the former Netherlands Antilles have recently become autonomous municipalities. Since 2010 Bonaire has transitioned politically and is currently a municipality of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. It is the home of TWR (formerly known as Trans World Radio). TWR is a powerful source of Christian broadcasting. Our current post’s thread of Bonaire, the ministry of TWR, salt mining, and several personal family recollections begins here…..

TWR maintains a powerful radio transmitter of 440 kW (440,000 watts) on the Island of Bonaire to broadcast Christian programming to the Western hemisphere 24 hours/day. It broadcasts programs on Shine 800 Bonaire AM—a medium wave AM radio outlet. Understanding of how the TWR ministry acquired this capability provides several hours of challenging reading and study.

Dr. Paul E. Fried was a visionary for spreading the gospel of Christ. Dr. Fried was raised in the Mid-east by missionary parents. As an adult he became enthused about radio as a modern vehicle for reaching many of the world’s population with the Christian gospel. He initially purchased a limited-power radio station in Tangier, Morocco in 1954, and radio facilities in 1962 on Monte Carlo, Monaco. Later, Fried championed a leap of faith—building the most powerful radio transmitter in the Western Hemisphere on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire. Operational since 1964, the Bonaire TWR ministry began broadcasting at 440 kW, only to reduce its power in 1998 to 100 kW. Dr. Fried died in 1996, but his legacy remains.  

In 2018 the TWR leaders undertook a leap of faith and raised several million dollars to construct a new transmitter in order to restore its broadcast power to 440,000 watts. Much of the construction work was supplied by volunteers, matching the ministries of givers who sacrificed financially.

Why was Bonaire selected as the ideal location for a radio transmitting site? In all of the Caribbean there may be no better physical location than the island of Bonaire for a 440 kW transmitter. There is excellent ground conductivity—a term for propagation of radio signals resulting from a number of constituent radio waves. For example, the signal from TWR’s 760 foot tower complex is aided by the presence of a low-lying limestone layer which is permeated with ocean water and located very close to the seashore and salt ponds. Bonaire is an outstanding location for high quality salt production. The water and air on Bonaire are exceedingly clean. When ocean water evaporates from the solar saltern (a series of salt ponds) only solid salt of high purity remains!

The island of 288 sq. mi. is home to about 20,000 people. The island is of interest to church congregations because of the TWR gospel radio ministry and the many fascinating natural characteristics of the island and its unique linkage to salt production. For instance, the American flamingo breeds on Bonaire, one of only four places in the world. Its pink color is due to the bird consuming beta carotene in the brine shrimp and algae they consume. Several commentators made the statement, “You are what you eat.”

We close with personal recollections of our association with Bonaire. My father, Paul Virkler, concluded his pastorate of a small church in Northern New Jersey in 1967 with a “mission trip.” TWR had recently begun their radio ministry on the island. Their leaders were constructing a new studio building and reached out to volunteers to help complete the work. My dad, physically skilled in many ways during his productive life, agreed to install insulation in the new studio building. He stayed two months. We possess letters he wrote from Bonaire. He used a motor bike to access the work site. Once he wrote that the salt company, before the days before Cargill assumed leadership of the salt works on Bonaire, expected a salt “harvest” soon. After two months he took a plane to Peru, re-connecting with treasured old-time friends who were serving as missionaries.

Several years later, my uncle and I visited Bonaire with my parents. The trip was a memorable return to the beautiful island for my father. I recall enjoying some of the same Bonaire features he described in late 1967: goats prevalent, wonderful friends at the TWR office, the view of Klein (little) Bonaire, the memorable auto trip to the northern and eastern part of the island, saving a few unique “square nickels,” and snorkeling in the ocean behind our “guesthouse.”

Shine 800 AM Bonaire reaches a potential 100 million listeners with the message of Christ’s redemption. TWR has several radio outlets worldwide and other types of media outlets. In 1865 brilliant visionary physicist James Clerk Maxwell proposed the theory of electromagnetism, including the future potential of the generation of radio waves to travel at the speed of light. We wonder how James Clerk Maxwell would respond if he were alive today and able to see the fulfillment of radio’s potential to reach the world with the message of eternal salvation. Maxwell was a devout Christian. 

World population has increased from <1.5 billion in 1865, to slightly less than 4 billion in 1967 when the Bonaire TWR ministry was coming to fruition, to over 7.8 billion in 2020. Radio is a vehicle for spreading the message of God to humanity’s teeming billions. People like Dr. Paul E. Freed and countless other visionaries have used their divinely given talents to accomplish things of eternal importance. We thank God for the inspiration of far-sighted visionaries to convey the Gospel message. 



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Science and Psalm 148

Psalm 148, a “Hallelujah Psalm” written several millennia in the past, provides readers with an opportunity to praise the Lord for events in our environment which currently may be considered in a scientific context. Contemporary commentators promote diverse views of how our science and faith are (or are not) connected. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne strongly promotes his belief that there is no room for both science and theological faith within a scientifically informed understanding of our world. Reasons to Believe president Hugh Ross promotes the belief that science and faith both exist compatibly in the pages of Holy Scripture. Coyne uses the term accomodationism to express his view, claiming that there is no room for science and faith/religion to be mutually supportive.

Hugh Ross has successfully distinguished between science and theistic faith by using other terms—hard concordism and soft concordism. Hard concordists look to make nearly all scientific discoveries agree with some scripture passage.” In the same blog post (6/22/12) Ross describes soft concordists who agree that “…a literalist hermeneutic does not apply to all Bible passages.”  

The 148th Psalm is not scientific in the modern sense. It does not enumerate huge distances (verse 1), locate the domain of angels or the hosts of heaven (verse 2), or describe the physical processes occurring at this moment on the sun, moon, and shining stars (verse 3). Neither does it mention (verse 5) the process of the original creation act—a divinely produced, instantaneous flash of energy and matter inflating from an infinitely tiny singularity. (Psalm 148:4 warrants special commentary later in our post.)

Verse 5 commands us to “Praise the Lord,” imploring us to focus upon the fiat creation: “For He commanded and they were created.” Fiat creation occurs by decree…an act of the Creator. Sometimes the decree is carried out instantaneously; sometimes it is executed over time. We remind readers that God is timeless—not constrained by human time frames. Therefore, even when galaxies, stars, the sun, and planets condense from dust and gas to solid bodies over enormous periods of time, they may still be considered acts of divine creation by fiat. 

Verse 6 conveys awareness of time: forever and ever. Human time is linear, advancing from past to present, and from present to future. Time is a scientific concept. The ancients conceived of time long ago. The concept has been refined in our modern day. So have concepts of ‘the sciences.’ Oceanography is a modern science with early origins in Old Testament times. Sea creatures and ocean deeps (verse 7) have been contemplated for thousands of years.

Topics in meteorology have often been referenced in scripture. In particular, in verse  8 we become aware of fire (perhaps a geological/volcanic connection?) followed by hail, snow, mist, and stormy wind. These topics delight today’s meteorologists. Geologists identify with mountains and hills (verse 9). Not to be overlooked, biological scientists are inspired to study fruit trees, cedars, beasts and livestock, along with creeping things and birds (verses 9-10).

The science of Psalm 148 is an example of phenomenology—experiences we enjoy from our senses. Some scientists connect the term to an early 20th century philosophical movement highlighting experience and consciousness. In the interest of “keeping it simple,” we revert to our pure sense experiences to define the term: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Phenomenology is not a science, but it is closely related to careful observation. Phenomenology requires skills of observation, part of the backbone of modern scientific method.

Verse 4 contains a reference to the “waters above the heavens.” In ancient Middle East cosmology many writers described a solid vaulted dome called the firmament which separated the ‘waters above’ from the ‘waters below.’ Earth itself was a flat disc on which the dome rested. Many civilizations utilized this imagery in that pre-scientific day. Also conceived were the “pillars of heaven.” The Hebrew Scriptures were focused on the purpose of God’s creative work rather than scientific details we have uncovered in the 21st century. 

Detailed scientific knowledge of the chronology of physical events relating to the initial stupendous creation event—the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy—was not known by physical cosmologists until late in the 20th century. Much more knowledge remains to be discovered. Ancient scribes did not pretend to be  scientifically accurate in the days when scientific method was yet to be formulated in the 2nd millennium AD. We need not wonder why they incorporated metaphors and imagery in their writings.  

Meanwhile, we rejoice worshipfully at the phenomenological descriptions of Psalm 148 and many other Old and New Testament Scripture passages. We minimize naysayers who complain that the Bible is not “scientifically accurate” in the face of the paucity of scientific knowledge three millennia in the past. The Hebrew ancients were pre-scientifically attempting to understand their universe.

Psalm 148 closes with exhortations to the Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers, young men and maidens, old men and children! They are to ”Praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. (Scripture translations from ESV.)   





Monday, November 2, 2020

Plague, Pestilence, Pandemic, and Immunity

Many world residents are immersed in fear during the current coronavirus pandemic. At this writing many European countries are imposing renewed lockdowns. The United States has not imposed national lockdown rules, but local jurisdictions have done so. Spirited discussion has been generated regarding the efficacy of rigidly detailed regulations, social distancing, and on-line learning requirements for our students. In spite of a plethora of detailed rules, observations persist that COVID-19 cases, somewhat slowed, occur notwithstanding our finest medical efforts to control the spread of the novel virus. Public commentators describe it with terms such as plague, pestilence, or pandemic. 

Humanity has coped with pathogens—infectious agents—from the beginning of human habitation on this planet. Each pathogen has its own pattern of characteristics, including means of spread, incubation period, symptomology, virulence, speed of recovery, treatment protocols, and degree of lethality. Bioscientists are currently focused on developing a remedy for the COVID-19 pathogen as rapidly as possible. Informational lists of viral pathogens and their characteristics are available on websites such as ViralZone. Such lists can be overwhelming, causing us to wonder why we are not victims of viral illnesses regularly!

Human pandemics have sickened and killed millions of people in the last three millennia of human existence. Plague, a bacterial disease, wiped out the greatest number, upwards of 250 million souls. Bubonic and pneumonic plague have largely disappeared from the Earth, due to improved hygiene, better control of disease vectors such as rodents, and quarantine. Smallpox, a viral disease which killed over 56 million people, was banished from planet Earth in 1977—a medical triumph.

Native American population, variously estimated to be up to 60 million in pre-Columbian times, lost up to 90% of their population from Old World pathogens, largely smallpox. It devastated a remarkable civilization. New World Indian population may have exceeded the population of Europe at the time, some experts believe. European explorers of the New World in the middle of the millennium were intent on finding new trade routes and riches. New World native people were unaccustomed to horses and warfare using metal swords and armor, rifles and cannons. With their inferior technology and unconventional warfare, they always lost military battles to the Europeans. They did not yet possess the wheel. More horrors followed for Native Americans for many years to come. 

The Europeans’ most lethal weapon may have been the onset of viral pathogens which devastated the Indian culture and society. Never having been exposed to Old World pathogens, native populations possessed virtually no natural resistance to Old World diseases. The explorers/conquerors had acquired some immunity in their Old World homes by virtue of many having been infected by these diseases, later to recover, but Native American Indians had virtually no immunity. According to Charles C. Mann, author of 1491—New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, “…there is some scientific evidence that Native Americans were for genetic reasons unusually susceptible to foreign microbes and viruses…”   

We quote two scientists who recently commented that viruses are ever present. Vincent Racaniello, researcher in the Department of Microbiology at Columbia University says if we want to understand life, human health, and human disease, we need to know more about viruses. Racaniello states, “We live and prosper in a literal cloud of viruses. Viruses infect every living thing on the planet. Nothing escapes a virus infection. We regularly  eat and breathe in billions of virus particles on a daily basis and viral genomes are part of our genomes as well. They are truly pervasive. They are everywhere.”

Dr. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, presents realistic statements in his blog post of 3-30-20 concerning viruses—an ever-present reality on our Planet. We reprint Ross’s statements from his March blog post:

“Life forms on Earth larger and more complex than microbes would be impossible without an abundance of viruses. Without viruses, bacteria would multiply, and, within a relatively short time period, occupy every nook and cranny on Earth’s surface. The planet would become a giant, bacterial slime ball. Those sextillions of bacteria would consume all the resources essential for life and die.

“Viruses keep Earth’s bacterial population in check. They break up and kill bacteria at the just-right rates and in the just-right locations so as to maintain a population and diversity of bacteria that is optimal for both the bacteria and for all other life forms. It is important to note that all multicellular life depends on bacteria present at the optimal population level and optimal diversity. We wouldn’t be here without viruses.” 

Are all viruses detrimental? Some viruses, such as COVID-19, have devastated world health and economy. At this writing the virus has taken the lives of 233,130 US residents and 1,191,326 in the world. The good news: 33,170,857 have fully recovered. The fatality rate of those infected with COVID-19 is 0.07%. The fatality rate of those who contracted Bubonic Plague was 50-70%. For smallpox, the fatality rate was 30%.

We could quote multiple citations of Old Testament references to disease. The diseases resulted from disobedience to God and weakness of the Israelites’ moral fibre: Matthew 24:7-8 refers to pestilences and the “beginnings of sorrows.” Deuteronomy 28:58-63 refers to many plagues brought on by the Lord. The Israelite people, however, bore substantial responsibility for the onset of disease: They did not obey the voice of the Lord. They were disobedient. They did not practice hygiene and they did not observe dietary regulations established by God. For example, pigs were unclean and their meat was forbidden. This and similar regulations are not understood by most people in modern times. 

We examine this phenomenon in terms of Native American pre-colonial times in America. Hernando DeSoto, a brutal Spanish conquistador in the 16th century, was part of a company of conquerors “who traveled in a porcine cloud.” The Europeans brought with them animals such as pigs and other mammals. “Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in constant contact with many animals…By contrast, swine, mainstays of European agriculture, transmit anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis.” (Quotes from Charles C. Mann’s 1491). In human history and in modern times many viral diseases have their origin in animals. The pathogens have jumped to people and now are transmitted “people to people.” There are clear indications that the most devastating human pandemics originated in animals, including Black Plague, smallpox, Spanish flu and HIV/AIDS. Modern medicine has discovered how to treat and immunize the population against these diseases. Vaccination provides remarkable immunity from disease by injecting into the body a form of the pathogen.  

In the Old Testament Numbers 21 describes an incident where God sent venomous snakes to bite the complaining and disobedient Israelites. When they pleaded with Moses that the Lord would take away the scourge of snakes, Moses obeyed divine instructions to install a bronze snake on a pole and instructed the people to merely look at the bronze image. Anyone who obediently looked at the bronze serpent was miraculously healed, protected from the fatal effects of the venomous live serpents.

There are many accounts of serpents in ancient mythology. The serpent symbolization  is utilized by dozens of modern medical organizations in their choice of a logo for their literature. Serpent symbolization relates to medical healing in various ways. In ancient Israel, the serpent was the cause of their bodily misery. The remedy was provided by God only if victims would acknowledge the healing powers of appropriating the very agent that caused their bodily grief. Likewise, there is a parallel in modern medical practice: the vaccination process uses the offending agent to confer immunity from specific diseases. 

In Christian theology, we are immune from death caused by our sin by “looking upon” the remedy of Jesus Christ—His death on the Cross of Calvary.