Friday, February 19, 2021

Ongoing Creation

 The term Creation possesses many definitions and meanings. The first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:1) refers to the most significant theological meaning of creation. The famous first verse of scripture refers to an absolute beginning of time—before which there was no space, energy, or matter. Prior to that, human time did not exist. From our human experience with the dimensions of time, space, matter, and energy governing our present lives, it is difficult to conceive or even imagine these conditions. The Creator of the Bible is able to exist within our dimensions, but also outside the dimensions in which we exist. Humans cannot conceive or even imagine that God could exist in other dimensions as well as in dimensions with which we are familiar.

The absolute beginning of time according to our human experience occurred at the Big Bang—about 13.8 billion years ago. God brought matter into existence from an infinitely small “singularity.” Physical descriptions for “singularity” characteristics are unlike anything with which humanity is now familiar. But Hebrew for Genesis 1:1, according to Hugh Ross in his volume “The Genesis Question” (Navpress, 2001), states the terms used in Gen. 1:1—heavens and earth,—“consistently refer to the totality of the physical universe: all of the matter and energy and whatever else it contains.”


Since the Big Bang creation event, our universe has expanded and has experienced many physical transformations. Credible scientists have described the primeval sea of quarks, early particles from which protons and neutrons formed and later combined to form atomic nuclei in the first several thousand years. These early particles were too hot to capture electrons. When they cooled enough, they captured electrons and formed elements which later formed galaxies of clouds and later, stars. The stars formed new elements and took on a life of their own. Astrophysicists refer to “cosmic evolution,” an ongoing sequence of events to explain our past and present physical existence. 


Our view is that the subject of creation, especially the creation event described in Genesis 1:1, usually signals a one-time event. The richness of our language and theology, however, permits discussion of many other aspects of God’s creative power. Our Creator is not limited to a singular creative episode with respect to our physical universe or physical life. The power of God’s creative work has been ongoing since the beginning. The study of our physical universe, its origin, its development over time, and its development in the present, reveals much of God’s ongoing creative work. Many useful discoveries have been made concerning the events of 13.8 billion years ago, but much reported knowledge about the origin of our universe is speculative, at best. 


Of even more importance is the manifestation of God’s ongoing creative ability with respect to living things. A riveting discussion topic is the origin of life on our planet. Is there a natural explanation for how life originated? In terms of our Christian belief system, God created life itself. Many scientists continue to search for a natural explanation for life’s origin. They are having little, if any success. The topic of divine action is off limits and even unwelcome in our science laboratories.


In contrast to our limited knowledge of events at the origin of the universe, we are far more confident that medical science has explained the sequence of events in the origin of planetary life. For instance—gestation—the events involving production of a human life from conception to birth. Knowledge of the process of gestation has increased exponentially. More knowledge of gestation is constantly being discovered. 


How do we relate our post title—Ongoing Creation—to the development of human life? As we study the wonderful events involving reproduction, we believe the terms divine creativity and divine creation are entirely appropriate to describe events occurring in our present day. God is the Creator/Author of the wonders involving the production of new life. Life begins at conception, the joining of two gametes, sperm and ovum, into a zygote. This new diploid cell possesses all the potential to become a fully human being. It is fully human, although not fully mature.


The creation process of the next nine months involves building and structuring many functional layers of cells from the early zygote. It becomes an embryo, soon becomes a fetus, and finally a newborn. This process is not random or incoherent. Rather, it is suffused with precision and wonder. In our post of 2-21-2018 we quoted a well-known developmental biologist, Lewis Wolpert: “It is not birth, marriage, or death, but gastrulation which is truly the most important time of your life. The term signifies “the embryonic process during which a living organism’s body plan is established.”


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2018/02/lifes-developmental-miracle.html


There are many dimensions of God’s creativity. Many theologians deal with the concept of divine creation in relation to preserving, upholding, sustaining, conserving, governing, or intervening. Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministries, states, “Each individual since Adam and Eve has been personally created by God.”     






   

Friday, February 5, 2021

Leftovers of the Initial Creation Event

 With a nod to the spectacular, we recently posted accounts of the ‘great planetary conjunction’ of Jupiter and Saturn, a spectacular rare total solar eclipse, a beautiful comet visitor, and a fireball meteor which spread treasured fragments of cosmic matter on our home planet’s surface. We resist focusing exclusively on overly spectacular astronomical phenomena. Everyday environmental events provide plentiful examples of natural wonder.  

There is nothing boring about sunrises and sunsets, the common star-filled sky (and perhaps the cloud cover obscuring the stellar show), ubiquitous common insects, (even in the spring), gentle rain events, plant growth, ordinary animal behavior, and  dozens of other daily events in which we are immersed.


Bear with us as we develop our case for divine creation, utilizing the term “leftover,” not in a pejorative but rather in a positive sense.


We highlighted both the spectacular and the mundane in our opening paragraphs. Both suggest a rich history. What came before? In terms of the ‘spectaculars mentioned in our opening paragraph: Are the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn “leftovers” of a divine creation event? Is Earth’s Moon, a main player in solar and lunar eclipses, a “leftover?” Are comets, fireball meteors, and meteorites “leftovers?” We ask, “Leftovers from what?” In terms of more ordinary phenomena including mountains and living things, could we make a case for creation’s leftovers? If we agree that the Big Bang, occurring 13.8 billion years ago, was God’s initial act of creation in our universe, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”


For many, the issue of a young earth is important. They interpret the seven “days” as literal rather than figurative. They do not acknowledge that Genesis days could be anything other than literal 24-hour days. Their position forces then to the conclusion that Earth and the universe itself is only six to ten thousand years old.


The position of our blog and the position of the John Ankerberg ministry is that diverse interpretations of the Hebrew yom (day) in early chapters of Genesis allow for a very ancient Planet Earth and universe in accord with multiple discoveries of historical science. Most scientists are in agreement that there is overwhelming evidence that the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago. On the same time scale Planet Earth originated about 4.5 billion years ago and simple life first appeared about 3.8 billion years ago. Fully modern humanity appeared very recently—about 50,000 to 65,000 years ago. At that time there was a significant leap in the ability of homo sapiens. That human achievement leap is described as a cultural explosion. Some analysts call this ability leap evidence of a divine creation event.


Recently I was challenged to recommend a book supporting the relationship of science and faith. I offered a volume by theologian C. John Collins, entitled “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” (Crossway Books, 2003). The 400-page volume is a comprehensive defense of Collins’ confidence in science and its relationship to faith. Collins states, “I have already given you my reasons for rejecting the claim that the Bible teaches a young earth…” He outlines theories proposed by theologian/physicists John Polkinghorne and Ian Barbour:


     “About 15 billion…years ago, space, time, and the universe began when the initial 

     singularity—all the matter and energy compressed into a point with zero

     dimensions—suddenly began expanding unimaginably rapidly. (Theorists disagree

     on how rapidly, and how the rate has changed over time.) After the first three

     minutes, atomic nuclei could form, yielding helium and hydrogen; after about

     500,000 years, the lighter elements could be formed. After about a billion years 

     of expansion, the stars and galaxies began to form, in which the heavier elements

     were produced. Some of these stars have died and some have scattered their

     matter—this is how the basic building blocks for biological systems became

     available. About 4 1/2 billion years ago planet earth was formed, condensed out

     of cosmic clouds. Biological life first appeared on earth about 3 - 3 1/2  billion

     years ago.”


Note the citation of the formation of planet earth in the quote above. As planets formed from the gas cloud, likewise, comets and meteors formed in the same way. In Collins’ words they formed from rocky masses and frozen gases which “bashed into each other and fused.” In our times planets, meteors, meteorites, and comets remain as “leftovers” from the initial Big Bang creation event. These leftovers are composed of “heavy elements” formed from “light elements” helium and hydrogen. Primeval stars exploded into supernovae. Light elements fused and spread heavy elements, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and other heavy elements into space. Living things are now composed of light and heavy elements—“leftovers” from the Big Bang. (Carl Sagan in his TV series Cosmos once voiced, “We’re made of star stuff.” Sagan was not a Christian, but he was correct in his “star stuff” utterance.)


Throughout Earth history our Creator has performed miracles. In other posts we have categorized miracles as (1) sustaining, (2) transformational, or (3) transcendent. We recognize the Big Bang as “God’s initial creative act.” In this universe it qualifies as a transcendent miracle. The origin of life on our planet, including fully modern humanity, is a transcendent miracle. Other events such as the formation of planets from gas clouds could be classified transformational miracles. Everyday maintenance of the orderly physical system exemplifies ongoing sustaining miracles. In all these categories, our Creator is at work to manifest His glory.


The Creator endowed matter with a coherent set of physical laws and physical constants by which the current cosmic order has achieved its present maturity. We speak of a wondrous endowment: God’s handiwork is present in thousands of ways within our sphere of existence. Science has discovered how the manifold physical systems operate. We observe creation miracles each day. For these gifts we offer God our thankful worship.   


   


   


 




  


 











 





   


   


 




  


 




          

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Observable Sky Wonders

 In past weeks we highlighted an unusual Great Conjunction of gas-giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, a visual treat in our dark evening skies. Reactions to this event ranged along a wide spectrum of excitement. As a former science instructor, memories returned concerning personal strategies for motivating and exciting students with observable astronomical phenomena. 

We favored naked eye astronomy. Systematic non-enhanced observations are useful for distinguishing between real and apparent motions of orbiting Solar System bodies such as the Moon and planets. Guided assignments effectively demonstrated apparent movements of all visible stars around the North Star (360º per day) owing to Earth’s rotation. Slower apparent changes in positions of constellations over several weeks caused by Earth’s revolution were studied and clarified with systematic activities. Our challenge was to distinguish between apparent motions caused by two different real motions. Telescopic astronomy was an occasional instructional bonus to observe Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, lunar craters, and even the two million light-years distant galaxy Andromeda.


Curiosity about physical laws follows from naked eye observations of familiar Solar System companions. For example, what causes planetary motion in their repetitive, predictable paths? What natural laws govern their motion and speed? What forces act on astronomical bodies? How is an object’s mass related to it’s motion? These issues can be discussed at appropriate times. Instruction, however, must seem natural and not overly pedantic—a challenge for skilled teachers.  


In our day students and parents alike benefit by observing the wonders of our environment uninhibited by studio-produced visual or auditory animations. Virtual reality has assumed a distinctive presence in our modern society. The Online Etymology Dictionary states virtual is “being something in essence or effect, though not actually in fact.” Also, virtual is “not physically existing but made to appear…..” Modern media can produce incredible virtual reality substituting for a wide range of genuine reality, including astronomical events. But, citing a popular cliché, nothing compares with “being there.”


In that spirit, your blogger relates four outstanding in-person astronomy experiences of the last decade, all of which we have previously reported. These episodes have their initial causes in a long-ago divine creation event. In our modern day, many events in our natural world inspire significant personal worship experiences. The object of our worship is the Creator of All Things—the God of the Bible.


We recount several especially memorable celestial events. First, we reference the recent appearance of Comet Neowise in July 2020, one of the most spectacular visible comets of our lifetime. The Sun caused the orbiting comet’s icy matter to vaporize and produce a thin, gaseous comet tail millions of miles in length. Neowise joined an unusual pair of visible comets in the late 1990s—Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp. Many people fail to observe even one naked eye comet in an entire lifetime. Here is our July 2020 link:


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2020/07/neowise-sky-spectacular.html


Second, fresh in our memory is the most spectacular personal astronomical observation of my entire life. A total solar eclipse favored millions of people as the Earth’s small shadow raced across the surface of the United States from coast to coast on August 21, 2017. For many years I had announced that I looked forward to some day witnessing a total solar eclipse. This type of eclipse roughly matches total lunar eclipses in frequency (just less than one per year) but the physical window of observation, merely a few miles wide, is exceedingly narrow compared with the planet-sized window of observation for a total lunar eclipse. The time of observation for a total solar eclipse ranges from a few seconds to a few minutes but more than half of Earth’s population is able to observe a lunar eclipse. Following is my personal account of the total solar eclipse of 2017:


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2017/08/eclipse-everest-experience.html


Third, Earth residents were favored by an unusual total lunar eclipse on the night of 9/27/2015. It was dubbed a supermoon eclipse, described in our 10/18/2015 post. Extra appeal for this lunar eclipse consisted of the knowledge that the eclipse event was the last of a lunar tetrad—an unusual series of four consecutive lunar eclipses in only two calendar years. Read about it here:


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2015/10/supermoon-eclipses.html


Finally, on the night of 4/14/2010 a several hundred pound fireball roared across the sky in southwest Wisconsin a few dozen miles north of our residence. It was a chunk of space rock, a meteor which became a meteorite when small fragments fell to Earth before it completely vaporized. Originally dubbed the Livingston WI meteor, it is now called the Mifflin meteorite. The meteor brightened our dark northwest sky for several seconds. Our family ascribed the light display to an approaching thunderstorm, an incredible explanation because the night was virtually cloudless. The next morning we heard the exciting news: We had experienced a visitor from the far reaches of our solar system!:


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2010/04/meteor-madness.html


All physical matter described above in our four posts—rocky, gaseous, icy, metallic, dusty matter—is leftover material from the initial divine creation event. Some creationists believe that all cosmic creation events have occurred recently and suddenly ex nihilo—out of nothing. To limit creation acts to recent time frames places human limits on the omnipotent, omniscient Creator. When we observe wonders in our heavens we are studying ongoing divine creation processes. We experience emotions of thankfulness and worship for our timeless Creator.



 


    


   

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Lessons from the Great Conjunction

 At present most readers are familiar with the Great Conjunction of December 21, 2021. It was a rare astronomical treat, not to be repeated for many years. Only twice before have Jupiter and Saturn appeared visually closer together in the past 900 years, but only once have Earth residents been able to see such a close planetary meeting in a dark night sky. That occurred in AD 1226! A third exceedingly close “Great Conjunction” occurred on December 21, 2020. In our last post we stressed the scientific value of ordinary planetary studies rather than their prophetic or astrological significance.

Astrology occasionally enjoys renewed popularity. Some sources state young people relish astrology as a tool for introspection or an aide for personal mystic significance.” In my astronomy instruction units students were amused by personal horoscopes printed in some publications. Our mention of horoscopes may have provided class members some entertainment, but the study of astrology is not a scientific discipline to help illustrate real causes and effects. Astrology is a pseudoscience. We endeavored to explain to students the popular meaning of “signs of the zodiac.” Here is a link to our post on “The Bible Zodiac:”


http://jasscience.blogspot.com/2011/10/bible-zodiac.html

        

In AD 1226, medieval residents may have seen the rare, exceedingly close planetary conjunction and ascribed astrological significance to the event. Many of that day believed events in the sky influenced human experience. Astrology was a significant scholarly pursuit. A few hundred years later astronomy began its ascension as a scientific discipline. We may connect it with the important Scientific Revolution.


Conjunctions of the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn occur approximately every 20 years. Jupiter is closer to Earth and travels faster than Saturn. It visually overtakes Saturn every two decades. There are other conjunctions between and among other planets and celestial bodies, but conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn are called “Great Conjunctions.” They occur less often than other conjunctions. The extremely close meeting of these two planets in December 2020 was especially noteworthy. The Wikipedia article entitled “Great Conjunction” is an invaluable source for detailed information on the infrequent celestial meetings of these two important planets. The informational table of close conjunctions of these planets since AD 1200 has multiple columns and rows of information to boggle the mind. One is startled by the statistical analysis—multiple precision details of the gas giant planetary conjunctions.


Late in the 20th century the two giant planets were drawing closer to each other. In the last two decades they repeated their ancient cycle of drawing apart, then approaching each other once again. Following the 2020 conjunction the two planets are once more slowly drawing apart. We are currently only a few weeks past the exceptional Great Conjunction of 12/21/20. Jupiter will lap Saturn once more on 11/4/2040. The planet’s speed in orbit is 29,236 miles/hour compared with Saturn’s 21,675 miles/hour. Jupiter completes one revolution in 11.9 Earth years compared with Saturn’s 29.5 Earth years. These facts appeal to statistically minded observers, reinforcing our belief that the physical world is orderly, coherent, and systematic in accord with the divine characteristics of the Creator of All Things. God has enabled humanity to discover the orderliness of creation. Mathematical statistics strengthen our concepts of cosmic order and coherence.


The Book of Isaiah and other scripture passages have many references to the heavens and the wonders in the skies. Isaiah 40:26a is written in the context of the creative power of God, not only in the heavens, but also on the planetary surface. We are overcome with a sense of worship as we inspect passages extolling the orderliness of the creation and the characteristics of the Creator. 


 “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?…..”