Friday, April 30, 2021

Mankind's Planet Earth Perspective

 Psalm 8 goes beyond devotional significance into the realm of ancient science: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?…..O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth” (vs 3,4,9 NIV). The Scripture quotations above contain references to (1) observation, (when I consider), a necessary scientific skill, (2) intelligent design, (the work of God’s fingers) (3) divine orderliness, (“set(ting) in place” of the moon and stars), and finally, (4) devotional worship (how majestic is your name,) an outgrowth of David’s recognition of God’s mindfulness of mankind and His care for them.   

This psalm is well known in terms of profound theological and scientific significance. It was penned by King David long before the formalization of scientific method. The passage highlights observational skills and suggests an intelligent cause and effect relationship between the existence of heavenly bodies and the Creator’s role in forming them. The physical knowledge we possess of sequential events forming planets, the moon, and the stars, including our life-giving solar companion, focus our understanding on complex cosmic processes which seem unlikely to develop or exist purely by chance or accident.

The concept of intelligent design mentioned in the above two paragraphs may be a sticking point among secular scientists. Here is a link to our previous post (10/1/10) suggesting why human intuition paired with induction are valid indicators of intelligent design:

The deepest devotional thoughts of King David are apparent in Psalm 8. It was written about ten centuries before Christ, long before the concept of a spherical Earth was established in human awareness. Actual human photographic and visual evidence of Planet Earth’s circular profile did not occur until about 90 years ago, a startling truth in view of many other telescopic visualizations of astronomical bodies hundreds of years before. Even in the 1930s there was only an incomplete profile of the terrestrial sphere. Humans were intellectually aware of Earth’s curvature long before they were able to see it either visually or photographically. This speaks to the startling fact that the oldest residents alive in our day were unable to perceive the complete Earth sphere.

Commanders of balloon flights in 1931, 1933, and 1935 ascended to about 10, 12, and 14 miles above Earth’s surface. There is debate whether the subtle curvature of our planet was discernIble. Some have proposed the curvature of Earth may not be visible even at 120,000 ft.—almost 23 mi. In 1946 a photograph was taken at 65 mi. by a captured WWII V2 rocket. The curvature was clearly observable but we were not close to visualizing the entire planet at once.

The first complete Earth globe photograph was taken by the Russian satellite Molniya on May 30, 1966. Many other photographs taken by the USA were composites of multiple different surface pictures. The Russian communication satellite’s ability to produce such a picture was due to its very distant highly elliptical orbit.

The Apollo 8 Moon exploration program enabled scientists to produce our country’s first inspiring complete Earth photograph on December 24, 1968. It was entitled “Earthrise,” although the Earth never rises above a stationary angle of elevation. This is because the Moon is “tidally locked” to the Earth—one side of the Moon always faces Earth. However, the Earth appears to rise and set if observed by astronauts in orbit around the Moon!

Returning to King David’s exuberant Psalm 8 worship experience, we describe a mysterious phenomenon reported by modern astronauts—the “overview effect.” We quote a Wikipedia article which utilizes many sources: “The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space. It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, ‘hanging in the void,’ shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere…..” We link our previous post on the “Overview Effect:”

We cite two other popular instances of the human view of Planet Earth from outer space. The “Blue Marble” is a photograph of Earth as seen by the crew of Apollo 17 in December 1972. It has become one of the most famous photographs of all time. The Earth was nearly fully illuminated with the sun shining from behind the astronauts.

The “Pale Blue Dot” is a photograph of Earth taken about 4 billion miles from the sun, farther than the orbit of Neptune. It is a barely perceptible tiny dot in the photograph. It was produced by the Voyager I spacecraft in 1990 just before technicians switched off its cameras while the craft was in the process of exiting our Solar System. The picture was suggested by Carl Sagan who argued for one last “family” portrait of the Solar System. In Carl Sagan’s 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot” he wrote, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” He went further, describing Earth as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” It may be the ultimate “overview effect” photograph. 

We offer a partial timeline of astronomy discoveries:  (1) spherical planets (other than Earth) and stars—observed ever since humans inhabited Earth  (2) intellectual (non-visual) understanding of Earth as a sphere—500 BC  (3) photographic and eyesight visualization of only a fraction of Earth’s curvature—1931-1966  (4) First visual and photographic proof of the complete Earth sphere—1966  (5) High quality complete visualization of the Earth globe—1968 to present  (6) Extremely distant Pale Blue Dot Earth photographs—1990.

King David’s deepest spiritual emotions were expressed in Psalm 8. The Israelite King had experienced only discovery (1) in the timeline catalog offered above. How much more spiritual awe and wonder should we experience in the 21st century? Could we describe the experience as a spiritually heightened overview effect?   


Monday, April 19, 2021

Our Home on Spaceship Earth

 In our contemporary time frame we possess abundant knowledge of our home on “Spaceship Earth.” The term derives from a photograph taken by the astronaut crew of Apollo 8 orbiting Earth’s Moon on December 24, 1968. Of many photographs, this rendition has been dubbed “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” 

Spaceship Earth is a sphere. The concept of human habitation on a sphere rather than a flat surface has been known to man for only about 2500 years. It is unlikely any authors of Old Testament scripture were aware of these Classical Greek discoveries beginning about 500 years BC. Many skeptics have claimed that authors of Old Testament Scripture proposed the Earth was flat. 

Almost all Old Testament books were composed before the advent of the Classical Greeks. Greek scholars in the 500 years prior to Christ’s advent brilliantly proposed and defended many spherical Earth beliefs. Included were Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Aristarchus, and Eratosthenes.

All of the Greek scholars were unable to visually observe the Earth as a sphere, but their intellectual achievements were noteworthy. They observed various phenomena such as the shape of Earth’s shadow on an eclipsed moon, apparent differences in height of visible stars above the horizon as we travel north or south, and the differing angle of incidence of the sun’s rays on the same date in cities widely separated. The myth that the informed public believed in a flat Earth rather than a spherical one has not been true since the start of the Classical Greek period. With few exceptions, even Dark and Middle Ages residents did not hold flat Earth beliefs.

Skeptics of Scripture point to Old Testament books which seem to indicate inaccurate scientific beliefs. One example is found in texts such as Psalm 104:5 “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Many similar passages have been offered to show that the Bible contains errant science. Almost all of the Old Testament was written before the Classical Greeks offered their scientific and intellectual insights. Keep in mind that OT writers stressed their God-centered perspectives and devotional focus. Even though Greek intellectuals of a later era produced startling scientific insights concerning physical reality, the writers of Scripture should not be diminished for lacking modern scientific insights. Their writings were observational, practical, and often metaphorical. We may appreciate their conceptual model for what it was, not according to our current model of advanced scientific knowledge.

Citing supposed inaccuracies or absence of modern scientific knowledge in order to promote belief in the errancy of Scripture is a serious mistake. Beyond the discovery of planetary sphericity, we pose another serious conceptual deficiency of the Greeks which persisted for almost 2000 years—the belief in geocentrism rather than heliocentrism. This is defined as the belief that the sun revolves around planet Earth rather than Earth revolving around the sun. This belief resulted from an observational error—a false trust in what appears to be rather than what actually is. The confusion results from the difficult task of distinguishing the real from the apparent. This error makes the study of observational astronomy challenging, yet interesting for astronomy students of our current day.

The history of establishment of the spherical Earth concept together with the knowledge of Solar System heliocentrism presents an interesting study at many levels of detail. How do these topics impact our contemporary culture? Proponents of scientific naturalism are not impressed by evidence of intelligently designed features in our natural world. If we link evidence of a spherical Earth with evidence of heliocentrism, some naturalists and some theists may respond with indifference. But these two characteristics are just the introduction in the catalogue of multiple intelligently designed features of our Solar System.

The Discovery Institute based in Seattle is a famous scientific think tank. They have dozens of scholars who promote the concept of intelligent design in the natural world. In their Center for Science and Culture they publish a well-known list of fine-tuning parameters. Jay Richards has described the “most celebrated and widely accepted examples of fine tuning for the existence of life.” He enlarges by explaining “such features include the initial conditions and ‘brute facts’ of the universe as a whole, the laws of nature or the numerical constants present in those laws (such as planets’ distance from its host star). The basic idea is that these features must fall within a very narrow range of possible values for chemical-based life to be possible.” Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, has long published an extensive and nearly identical list of fine-tuning parameters in his publications. Readers are encouraged to explore a vast wealth of knowledge pointing to multiple examples of fine-tuning—the actions of a Divine Creator.

Spaceship Earth is a spherical planet in a system of planets orbiting our magnificent companion in the Solar System. That companion is the SUN, around which all planets, including Earth revolve.

Psalm 33:6; ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” (ESV)


Friday, April 9, 2021

Weather and Climate on a Spherical Earth

 Modern residents focus on current weather and contemporary climate trends. Most weather and climate reporters understandably highlight recent events and predict events in the near future. They devote less attention to ancient weather and climate phenomena, preferring to comment “in the moment.” How did weather and climate “in the moment” evolve to its lofty importance? The simple response: Weather and climate relate to the behavior of water in its various states, the atmosphere, and the flow of heat energy to power Earth’s dynamic physical weather/climate system.

Who originated our physical weather/climate system? We propose it was the Judeo-Christian God of Creation. The initial creation event of Genesis 1:1—the ex nihilo creation of the universe “from nothing”—triggered a multitude of wondrous existential events.

In our present day we have access to scientific evidence of past and present (ongoing) creation events. Since the initial creation event, dating to 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has experienced many captivating physical transitions. Millions of years after transitional events take place, scientists are able to infer what happened in the distant past. We refer to the formation of spherical planets long after the initial creation event. There are many hypotheses for how planets formed. For example, a NASA publication has published photographic evidence that “golf ball-size clumps of space dust formed the building blocks of our terrestrial planets.” This phenomenon is inferred by examining some meteorites which manifest a process called “pebble accretion.” Scientists acknowledge they are not sure of the exact nature of the process of planet formation.  

(Our Science/Faith posts of February 2021 discussed divine creation events which occurred long after the initial Big Bang creation event. Our 2/5/21 post referred to ‘leftovers’ of the initial creation event. Our 2/19/21 post reinforced the concept that creation events still occur.)

God’s creative activity was powerfully manifest when He created spherical planets to revolve around a central star. Our timeless God could have created a fully functional universe in a single instant. Moreover, he could have designed a system where the entire human population resides on a flat surface. Instead, He produced a physical Solar System consisting of the Sun and the gas and ice giant planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. A short time later, much smaller spherical inner planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars became part of the Solar System. They are rocky planets with metallic cores. Earth is unique in its habitability. Insofar as we know, there is no other location in the universe suitable for human habitation.

A spherical, axis-tilted, rotating planet revolving around a stationary central star results in unequal heating of the surface of Planet Earth for several reasons. The low latitude equatorial regions of our spherical Earth receive more heat than mid-latitude regions and much more heat than high latitude polar regions. This is a result of the varying angle at which the sun’s rays strike. Our rotating Earth causes the angle of the sun’s rays to change constantly. In addition, the Earth’s axis tilt causes changes in the sun’s angle from season to season. Latitude, time of day, seasonal variation, and axis tilt all relate to the flow of heat energy on our spherical planet. Solar energy drives Earth’s weather and climate.

The interlocking relationships of water, atmosphere, and heat energy on our spherical planet produce a weather/climate system which sustains human life. Details of the fine-tuned system are the province of expert scientists who study the life-sustaining interaction of these three factors. Our universe is fine-tuned for the existence of human life. Our timeless Creator is the author of this fine-tuning. 

“For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the Earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited): ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other.’” (Isaiah 45:18 ESV)