From Gas to the Morning Star

The modern secular mindset takes the view that God is irrelevant or does not exist. So everything tends to be viewed in the light of this assumption. Even many who believe God may exist do not really treat God as important or relevant. So this certainly has bearing on how we live our lives down on planet Earth, but lets think about outer space first and then come back down to Earth. Do stars in space depend on God? In the New Testament, Colossians 1:16-17 says this, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This passage (and others) imply that every physical thing in the universe depends on Jesus Christ since Christ is the Creator. If objects in space and the atoms in our bodies depend on the Creator, then so do we.

I would say that there are physical laws by which the universe works but these laws are dependent laws, not independent laws. That is, they are not independent of God. The laws of the universe are also intelligently designed by God. The laws of the universe are information built into the fabric of the universe itself by God. So the universe does not operate as if it is a clock that once it is set up and started, it continues forever unaided. There is a term for this idea, called the “clockwork universe.” This concept came up after Isaac Newton’s discoveries which revolutionized physics in the 1700’s. But Newton himself did not believe the universe was a clock that kept itself going, he believed God created and he was a firm believer in the Bible. Human beings are intelligent in a way that imitates God. So we have a finite limited way of understanding what God made. We think of it in terms we can understand. Our “models” of how it works fall short of perfection but they have their usefulness. This is admittedly my imperfect way of understanding it but this is a Biblical view that reconciles with my physics background. Since the God of the Bible is the Creator and the Law Giver, he can supercede or overrule the Laws at any time.

How and when do stars form?
Modern astronomy thinking believes that stars form from clouds of gas in space called nebulas and then stars go through relatively predictable stages as they use up their nuclear fuel. Stars are very dense and are hot enough in their interiors to make amazing things happen to atoms. So in nebulas, some regions are very hot and are ionized. These areas may glow in different colors and this makes for some beautiful pictures of nebulas. Astronomers don’t believe stars form from the glowing colored regions but from the dark dusty regions that you can’t see into. There is some radiation that can make its way through a dark and dusty cloud though, such as microwaves and infrared light waves. Near some of these dark dusty regions there are also some very bright stars that astronomers think are young stars. Actually you can’t really tell a stars age just by looking at it, but astronomers make assumptions about various types of stars by assuming stars go through similar stages of change. This process of stars going through stages of change is called stellar evolution. I think stellar aging would be a better term for it. If scientists detect some hot infrared object glowing inside a dark part of a nebula and nearby there are bright hot stars, they may make the assumption that the infrared object is a new young star that recently formed.

Given that these ideas on star formation are well accepted, I was surprised to discover a comment to the contrary by a well known astronomer from a book published in the 1970’s. The book is a well known one called Astrophysical Concepts by Martin Harwit, published in 1973 by John Wiley & Sons, of New York. Dr. Harwit (from Cornell University) spent a few pages describing star formation theory and some of the difficulties with it and then he included a very interesting two paragraphs which I am quoting below. Though this is 1973, the basic problems of star formation have not changed much over the years. The quoted portion below is from page 14 in Harwit’s book,

    ‘Let us backtrack for a moment and view the question of star formation in a different way. Early in our argument we made an assumption that need not necessarily be correct: The association of dust clouds with recently formed stars is not absolute proof that stars form from these clouds. Some causal relation presumably exists, but is it impossible that stars just form out of nothing at all, and that a lot of dust get raised in the process? Such a picture, while unsatisfying because it postulates an apparently unphysical origin, after all at least avoids the angular momentum and magnetic field difficulties.
     We should keep this important point in mind: Perhaps stars do form out of “nothing”! For the moment, however, we prefer to work, as far as we are able, within the framework of ordinary physics.’

In case someone says this is just too old of a quote to use, it’s no longer valid, here is a much more recent quote that describes the same thing Martin Harwit was dealing with in the 1973 book. This is from Dr. Neil DeGrass Tyson, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandries, published in New
York: W.W. Norton and Co., p. 187, 2007.

“We know the cloud wants to collapse under its own weight to make one or more stars, but rotation as well as turbulent motion within the cloud work against that fate. So, too, does the ordinary gas pressure you learned about in high-school chemistry class. Galactic magnetic fields also fight collapse: they penetrate the cloud and latch onto any free-roaming charged particles contained therein, restricting the ways in which the cloud will respond to its self-gravity.”

There are solutions modern astronomers have proposed to address the problems Dr. Tyson speaks of but that is another story. The significant point is that we do not actually see stars forming. We see that there is something faint glowing in a dark cloud and then we infer that it is a new star. But this is not necessarily the only way to understand it, it is just a choice people make about what to believe. There are always limits of what we can do with our scientific methods. There are many limitations of our methods in astronomy, though we have accomplished a lot in terms of learning about things in outer space. To say that stars form out of nothing may be the most unpalatable idea you could ever suggest to astronomers, but does this mean it’s impossible?

Picture:  Eagle Nebula from Hubble Space Telescope, 2014 (STScI/AURA)

 

What do creationists say about star formation? Young age creationists vary in their point of view on this question. Some would say stars can form today and some would say they cannot. Now creationists could believe one of these options:

1) All stars were supernaturally created on the fourth day of the creation week (Genesis 1:14-19). Stars have never formed since that day.
2) Stars were supernaturally created on the fourth day of the creation week, but they can also form by known processes today. There are no clear statements in Scripture that rule this out.

Note that Genesis does not give an actual description of what happened when God created the stars. I do believe we can infer it happened on the fourth day of creation week, not over a longer period of time. The universe is described as essentially all complete in Genesis 2:1. So the two options above do not necessarily mean stars were created from nothing in an instant, though that is possible for God. Scripture does affirm that God spoke some things into existence in an instant, but exactly which things were spoken into existence in this way? Of this we can’t be sure. I would go by the “Let there be …” statements in Genesis 1 where God is giving a fiat command. We know it was supernatural and quick, but we don’t know exactly how. It could be that stars were pulled together supernaturally within a time of less than a day. Some creationists have suggested that some matter was created on the first day but not organized into anything until the fourth day. I believe this is an option that has some scientific advantages.

Out of three or four proposed mechanisms today for how star formation is thought to be possible, these theories all have limitations. First, supernova explosions are suggested as a solution. Gravity is not sufficient to collapse a cloud enough to make it become a star. The cloud starts heating up as gravity contracts it so that the pressure in the cloud will stop the collapse. It can’t get dense enough for gravity to keep it stable as a star. But if there is another force that compresses it, like a supernova shock wave from a nearby star blowing up, this is thought to explain star formation in dark nebulas. One problem with this scenario is that it requires an old star that blows up to form a new star. Another potential problem is would there be enough supernovae in the right places to form all the stars? There’s really a lot of stars out there! It is thought that one supernova shock wave may trigger the formation of multiple stars, but it’s still not clear that would be enough. What if the supernova was too far away, or the nebula wasn’t dense enough?

There are other theories for star formation but they all seem to require a previous generation of stars. A second theory of star formation is that dust in a nebula can help the cloud cool down and thus help it contract by gravity. Martin Harwit seemed to follow this idea in his Astrophysical Concepts book. There is some legitimate physics to this but this also has a limitation. Where does the dust come from? Dust is made up of a variety of elements in the Periodic Chart and so dust in space requires more stars! Stars have to go through their “lifetime” and blow up in a supernova in order scatter dust across space. So this theory also requires old stars to make new stars. Also, this still has a limit to how much a cloud could contract by gravity. The cloud would still heat up and stop contracting at some point. A third theory says that nebulas or perhaps galaxies could collide in space and this could compress clouds enough to trigger star formation. But this also requires that something existed prior to the new star so that objects can collide to make something else. So with all these theories, how would the very first star form? There is still no good explanation of this today. The Big Bang itself does not explain how stars or galaxies form. So it seems there is room for believing that it requires a creator to make stars, though whether stars continue to form today by known processes is a debatable question.

What can we learn from the stars?
Another issue about stars to think about is what should we learn from them? Obviously there is science we can learn from them, but is this all? How is God’s glory evident in the stars? Certainly seeing the stars on a clear dark night is beautiful, so that is something we can enjoy. Abraham was told to consider the number of the stars by God related to God’s promise to him about his descendants. The New Testament says that believers are supposed to ‘shine’ like stars in Philippians 2:15-16, “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Then there is the variety of types of stars. The range of sizes and types of stars is amazing. Some stars are really strange and it can be hard to believe they exist. Many people have trouble believing in Black Holes but there is very good evidence they are real. The evidence for Black Holes also has nothing to do with the origin of the universe or Big Bang theory.

Our Sun has often been described as just like other stars, but it is actually a bit unusual. It is classified as a Class G2V dwarf. This puts in on the large end of the range of dwarf stars. It is larger than about 88% of dwarf stars within about 30 light-years distance. This is important for us because it puts the habitable zone around our Sun farther away than for many other stars with planets. If a star is small, the habitable zone has to be closer to the star. That means that even if there were a planet in the habitable zone for a small dwarf star, the planet would probably be in tidal lock. The planet would have one hot side always facing the star and a cold side that always faces away from the star. That would not be a good environment for life. It would also make the planet tend to be more exposed to solar flares. Our Sun is exceptionally stable as a star. It’s solar flares are much tamer than for many other stars. So our Sun is of a very nice size and temperature for us. The largest known star seems to be one called UY Scuti. This is in a constellation called Scutum; the star is near the center of our galaxy and is considered a Red Hypergiant star. If UY Scuti were placed where our Sun is, the outer edge of it would be at 7.9 Astronomical Units distance, which would put it between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. The brightest star is apparently one called R136a1. It is 8.7 million times as bright as our Sun! So these make our star seem pretty small and tame by comparison, but our Sun is created with a purpose to provide for us on Earth.

Another lesson we can learn from stars is that we don’t know everything. This should be something we know, but we need reminders of it now and then. Scientists sometimes discover stars or other objects in space that are very puzzling and hard to explain. A very puzzling star was discovered in 2015. It’s actual ‘name’ or designation is KIC 8462852. However, this star has been often called Tabby’s star, named after the woman scientist who discovered it. Extrasolar planets are often discovered by watching how the light of a star varies. If a planet passes in front of the star, along our line of sight, it makes a very slight dip in the light of the star. This dip from a planet in orbit is a very predictable periodic change that usually happens like clockwork. But for Tabby’s star, there are dramatic and unpredictable changes in the light of the star and no one really knows why. Sometimes the light of the star dips by 10 or 15%, which is very dramatic but brief. Other times it only dips a little but it lasts for a long time. Astronomers are studying Tabby’s star trying to explain it. Some bizarre ideas have sometimes been proposed, including aliens are building large megastructures around the star. I doubt that is it. My best guess would be there is a lot of material around the star that is falling into it, such as perhaps from an asteroid belt or maybe even a planet that broke up.

Click here to see a video about Tabby’s star.

The strangest stars to me are the ones called crystalized white dwarfs. If this doesn’t sound strange enough, they are also sometimes called diamond stars. Old stars apparently can go through multiple levels of strangeness as they age as it relates to Carbon. Stars normally fuse Hydrogen into Helium. When stars run out of Hydrogen many of them seem to shrink into a small very hot object called a white dwarf star. When the Hydrogen is running out the star, if it is large enough, will start fusing Helium. There are several possible nuclear reactions that can happen at this point. Two Helium nuclei can fuse into one Berylium atom. Or Helium can react with Hydrogen, or Berylium, or with Carbon. If Helium reacts with Berylium it forms Carbon. If Helium reacts with Carbon it forms Oxygen. If this process can continue it can form lots of Carbon. I would like to describe this as if it is a process of getting more and more weird, since that is how it seems to me. The first stage is common, the other two stages are unusual for stars.

Stage 1 weirdness
Star runs low on hydrogen and it starts fusing together Helium atoms.

Stage 2 weirdness
The star does not explode in a supernova or shrink by gravity into a white dwarf star. Instead it keeps making more carbon until all we can detect in our telescopes is pure carbon gas in outer layers of these stars. These stars are still pretty hot, so the Carbon is a gas that rises to the outer layers so we can detect it.

Stage 3 weirdness – crystalized white dwarfs
This is where a star that had a lot of pure carbon cools down and crystallizes. This is a diamond star. Very dense and very cool compared to other stars. They are hard to see also because they aren’t very bright. There are two types of crystallized pure Carbon. One is graphite, the other is a diamond. Graphite is what we use in pencil lead. Graphite has layers of Carbon that form flakes that are brittle and can slide past each other. But diamond forms a more rigid interlocking type of crystal. Diamonds are more valuable, such as for making beautiful jewelry. In recent years there have been multiple news reports of what scientists believe are diamond stars. I had trouble believing it when I first heard of it. But there is good science behind this. Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Note that it is not certain that all three stages above are possible for the same star but all these stages have to do with stars forming Carbon from Helium, with different results.

The Morning Star
Let us come back “down to Earth” as they say. I write this on Easter weekend. We remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Someone once said that Easter is not just something that happened to Jesus, it is something that happens to you, to every Christian. In Revelation 22:16 Jesus is speaking and he says “I am the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The term “morning star” is interesting and has different uses. In astronomy it is often referring to the planet Venus, that appears early in the morning in the East or in the evening in the West. Sailors could use it as a navigation guide because it is one of the brightest objects in the sky. Jesus is like the light we should sail by. Also, since Venus is a planet, it’s light does not twinkle, it is a steady bright light, which makes it a good guide. The morning star is not always visible but it is always out there. So there is a parallel between Venus and Jesus that Revelation seems to be making.

The Apostle Peter also uses the term “morning star” somewhat differently in 2 Peter 1:19. Peter uses it to refer to God working in the heart of a believer. In 2 Peter 1:16 Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” So Peter here is referring apparently to Jesus’ transfiguration where he appeared in the light of his glory just for a moment. It was an amazing experience that seemed to confuse the apostles that were there. But Peter is emphasizing that Jesus’ is really God in human form. He could not be defeated by death because he has all authority in heaven and in Earth. Then Peter goes on in 2 Peter 1:19, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” In our sin we are in a dark place, but Jesus can turn on his light in us. So this is a way of thinking about how Easter isn’t just something that happens to Jesus. It is something that happens to us.

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Structures Too Big for the Big Bang

Astronomers have found evidence of superclusters of galaxies and of quasars (and voids) that are so large they are not explicable by current theories. But structures too big for the Big Bang are not too big for God.

Beginning in the 1970’s there was an effort to determine what has been called the “peculiar motion” of galaxies. This is referring to the motion of galaxy clusters relative to other galaxies. Scientists wanted to determine if the universe would continue expanding forever or eventually stop expanding and recollapse. So they started looking at the motion of galaxies that are “local” versus galaxies that are very distant. Here “local” means a few hundred million light years. Compare this to the estimated size of the observable universe, which would put the edge of the observable universe about 46 billion light-years away from us (recent estimate).

In 1975 it was reported that our own galaxy was moving at a velocity of about 500 km/sec. This was something the scientific community was skeptical of at first. There was an effort to improve estimates of the speeds of galaxies. So scientists had the idea to measure velocities in relation to the cosmic microwave background radiation, since it is uniform in all directions. So in 1977 it was found that our solar system was moving about 400 km/sec and that the Local Group of Galaxies that we are in is moving at about 600 km/sec. (So the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy for instance are both in this group.) These speeds were much more than what was expected. This was discussed in an article by well-known astronomer Alan Dressler, in Scientific American from September 1987, called the “Large-Scale Streaming of Galaxies.” [Ref.1]

Cosmological Questions
One question raised by scientists is how did our Local Group of galaxies come to be moving at such a speed? Another question is how did these clusters get so big? Could gravity pull galaxies into these clusters, even in billions of years? Some have even said that these findings challenge an important assumption in Big Bang theory, called the Cosmological Principal. The Cosmological Principle is the assumption that even you could look at the universe on a large-enough scale the universe as a whole would be uniform in density. This assumption implies that if we could map the locations of galaxies at large enough distances, the clustering would become small and insignificant in comparison to the universe as a whole. But surprising things have been found about galaxy clusters since 1987. The universe is made up of clusters of clusters of clusters of galaxies that astronomers did not expect to exist at such large distance scales. This challenges Big Bang theory, at least in the view of some astronomers. The problem has gotten bigger and bigger over the years as scientists have found there are clusters of galaxies that cover vast unimaginable distances and they all seem to have significant speeds. At the largest distances measuring the speeds of the clusters becomes very uncertain. But it raises the question of how could the galaxy clusters be accelerated to such speeds? Even 14 billion years may not be enough time for such large superclusters to be accelerated by gravity to these speeds.

Consider where we are in the universe. We are in the Milky Way galaxy (now thought to be a Barred Spiral type galaxy) and the Milky Way is part of a cluster of neighbor galaxies called “The Local Group.” Sounds kind of hum-drum, but our Local Group of galaxies is moving toward a larger supercluster made of several other galaxy clusters called the Hydra-Centaurus supercluster. But the article suggests there must be an even greater supercluster beyond Hydra-Centaurus. (Note that the Hydra cluster is about 100 million light-years in size.) This large supercluster, unidentified in the 1987 Scientific American article has been referred to as the Great Attractor. In more recent years the Hydra-Centaurus supercluster was found to be part of a larger cluster called the Norma Cluster and both Norma and Centaurus are part of an even bigger supercluster called Laniakea. So you could say that the Laniakea supercluster (or some say hypercluster) is our “home” supercluster. The name “Laniakea” means “immense heaven” in Hawaiian. One article describing the discovery of the Laniakea cluster in 2014 described it this way: “This so-called Laniakea Supercluster is 500 million light-years in diameter and contains the mass of one hundred million billion Suns spread across 100,000 galaxies.” [Ref.2,3] Wikipedia describes the Laniakea supercluster this way: “The Laniakea Supercluster encompasses approximately 100,000 galaxies stretched out over 160 megaparsecs (520 million light-years). It has the approximate mass of 1017 solar masses, or a hundred thousand times that of our galaxy . . . .” [Ref.4]

Recently discovered supercluster – the BOSS Great Wall!
An article on the PBS website, apparently from a Nova TV program, tells about the B.O.S.S. Great Wall of galaxies. B.O.S.S. stands for Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey , part of a larger mission called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Part III. The article is called “BOSS Supercluster Is So Big It Could Rewrite Cosmological Theory.” [Ref.5]

Quotes from this:
“The BOSS Great Wall is a tight network of four superclusters. The largest two form a stretched-out wall of galaxies that’s about 1.2 billion light years long.” . . .

“It looks like we have a structure that is bigger than anything else: like two Sloan Great Wall scale structures right next to each other,” said Heidi Lietzen of the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of La Laguna in Spain, who was the lead author of the new study. “The question now is: is it too big for our cosmological theories?”

How should these superclusters be explained?
An article in New Scientist by Stephen Battersby in 2011 has a good explanation of the issue. [Ref.6]

“We know that the universe was smooth just after its birth. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the light emitted 370,000 years after the big bang, reveal only very slight variations in density from place to place. Gravity then took hold and amplified these variations into today’s galaxies and galaxy clusters, which in turn are arranged into big strings and knots called superclusters, with relatively empty voids in between. . . .

On even larger scales, though, cosmological models say that the expansion of the universe should trump the clumping effect of gravity. That means there should be very little structure on scales larger than a few hundred million light years across.”

Some Theories Proposed to Explain the Superclusters:
1) “Coagulating dark energy”. Dark energy a theoretical concept for something causing the universe to expand in an accelerating way. But Dark Energy is normally thought to be uniform, so this is wondering, what if it isn’t uniform.

2) Maybe Einstein’s theory of gravity doesn’t work on these vast distance scales. Do we need a new theory of gravity for large distances?

3) Could dust or stars in our own galaxy be confusing the data somehow? This seems unlikely considering the care put into the analysis of the data but there are uncertainties.

4) Could the universe have a fractal structure? This means it has a structure that repeats at all scales of distance. The question this raises is why would the Big Bang do this? This requires a mathematical order of a kind that would be hard to explain as coming from the Big Bang.

Or, does this suggest supernatural creation by a Creator-God? Superclusters could have had their structure from the beginning, so they would not necessarily form due to gravity at all.

An Even Bigger Problem – Quasar Superclusters
In 2013 it was reported that scientists had discovered a cluster of 73 quasars that stretches across a region over 4 billion light-years in size! [Ref.7,8] This has been called the Huge Large Quasar Group, or Huge LQG. [Ref.7,8] Quasars are believed to be Black Holes, often at the center of galaxies. Astronomers are uncertain how one quasar could form, so how could 73 of them form into a cluster? One theory for quasar formation is that two galaxies, both of which have a Black Hole at their centers, would collide. The galaxies would pass through each other but the Black Holes are thought to merge into one object like a quasar. How many galaxies would have to collide to form a cluster of 73 quasars? Also, the Huge LQG has another quasar cluster relatively near it with 34 quasars in it. Below is a graphic map of the Hugh LQG and it’s smaller neighbor LQG, taken from the technical paper publishing it in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. [Ref.8]

Figure 1 Sky angular distribution of the 73 quasars of the Huge-LQG (redshift z = 1.27, circles), is shown,
together with that of the 34 quasars of the CCLQG cluster.

Below is a quote from the abstract of the MNRAS technical journal on the Huge LQG. [Ref.8]

“A large quasar group (LQG) of particularly large size and high membership has been identified in the DR7QSO catalogue of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It has characteristic size (volume1/3) ~500 Mpc (proper size, present epoch), longest dimension ~1240 Mpc, membership of 73 quasars and mean redshift z = 1.27. . . . This new, Huge-LQG appears to be the largest structure currently known in the early Universe. Its size suggests incompatibility with the Yadav et al. scale of homogeneity for the concordance cosmology, and thus challenges the assumption of the cosmological principle.”

Bigger Still – The Hercules-Corona-Borealis

The Huge LQG is still not the largest structure we know of. There is a massive super-supercluster even bigger. It could be as much as 10 Billion Light-Years in size and it is called the Hercules-Corona-Borealis. It was found by astronomers who were looking into another mystery, some very distant objects called Gamma Ray Bursters (GRB’s). These objects are a big powerful mystery. They are very very far away and can give off incredible amounts of energy. They have brief bursts of gamma rays and X-rays followed by infrared radiation. Scientists aren’t sure what they are, so they describe them by what they do. There was a region of space that was unusually high in gamma rays. Gamma rays are emitted from certain nuclear reactions. It was discovered that in this region of space there was at least 19 GRB objects covering a vast distance.

The scientific paper reporting the discovery of this supercluster described it this way:

“The GRB cluster at z ~ 2 appears to identify the presence of a larger angular structure that covers almost one-eighth of the sky. This encompasses half of the constellations of Bootes, Draco, and Lyra, and all of the constellations of Hercules and Corona Borealis. This structure
has been given the popular name of the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, or Her-CrB GW.

We estimate the size of the Her-CrB GW to be about 2000–3000 Mpc across. Few limits on its radial thickness exist, other than because it appears to be confined to the 1.6 < z < 2.1 redshift
range. This large size makes the structure inconsistent with current inflationary Universal models because it is larger than the roughly 100 Mpc limit thought to signify the End of Greatness at which large-scale structure ceases.“ [Ref.9]

Note that the authors of the above paper make the point that in some ways the cosmological principle does seem to fit some observations about the density of the universe. But these superclusters do not fit current theories and they continue to surprise scientists.

These are discoveries that demand a non-Big Bang theory. There are other cosmological models being explored by astronomers and physicists from various points of view. In 2004 an open letter was published in New Scientist that listed the names and institutions of scientists who were willing to go on record as questioning the Big Bang. Since 2004 this list of scientists has grown. It now has 218 scientists and engineers listed as well as a number of others. Supernatural creation is only one alternate approach considered today by some individuals with Ph.D.’s in Physics or Astronomy. Astronomers should be commended for exploring non-Big Bang models.

This article is a summary of a topic available in the Good Heavens! podcast.  See Soundcloud.com or Patreon.com.

References

1. Dressler, Alan. “The Large-Scale Streaming of Galaxies,” Scientific American, Sept. 1987, pp. 46-54.
2. National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “Newly identified galactic supercluster is home to the Milky Way.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2014. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140903133319.htm
3. R. Brent Tully, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman, Daniel Pomarède. “The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies.” Nature, 2014; 513 (7516): 71 DOI: 10.1038/nature13674
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laniakea_Supercluster
5. Gearin, Conor. “BOSS Supercluster Is So Big It Could Rewrite Cosmological Theory,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/physics/boss-supercluster-is-so-big-it-could-rewrite-cosmological-theory (published March 11, 2016)
6. Battersby, Stephen. “Largest cosmic structures ‘too big’ for theories” New Scientist, June 21, 2011. See also Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.241301.
7. Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). “Biggest structure in universe: Large quasar group is 4 billion light years across.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130111092539.htm
8. Clowes, Roger G., Harris, Katheryn A., et. al. “A structure in the early Universe at z ∼ 1.3 that exceeds the homogeneity scale of the R-W concordance cosmology” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 429, pp. 2910–2916 (2013). DOI:10.1093/mnras/sts497
9. Horváth, Istvan, Bagoly, Zsolt, Hakkila, Jon, and Toth, L. V. “New data support the existence of the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall” Astronomy and Astrophysics, vol. 584, A48 (2015) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201424829

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Encountering Noah’s Ark

On August 9, 2017 I visited the new Theme Park/Exhibit called The Ark Encounter in the Cincinnati area, in Kentucky. The Answers In Genesis (AIG) ministry has built a full size replica of Noah’s Ark for people to visit.

Caption:  I stand perhaps 150 yards from the AIG Ark Encounter near Williamstown, Kentucky.

 

 

 

 

The dimensions of the Ark from Genesis (see the KJV or NKJV Bible)
Length: 300 cubits
Width: 50 cubits
Height: 30 cubits

As built by Answers In Genesis (20.4 inches per cubit, or 1.7 ft./cubit)
Length: 510 feet
Width: 85 feet
Height: 51 feet
Cost: Approximately 100 million dollars

I believe Adam, Eve, Methuselah, Noah, and others mentioned in Genesis 1-11 were real people and that the global Flood was a real event in the time of Noah. The Ark Encounter from Answers In Genesis is a great place to visit. Everything is well done and there are activities to do outside the Ark itself, such as a zip line ride and a small zoo. There are a number of small shops to get crafts and snacks. There is also a very nice restaurant that has a marvelous buffet that is able to handle a large crowd. On the Ark itself is 3 levels of exhibits. It took my friend and I perhaps something over 5 hours to see everything. You realize how big the Ark is as you walk to see it all. It really is a lot of walking. The Ark Encounter is built almost totally of wood. It is said to be the largest timber-framed wooden structure of its kind in the world. It uses 1.5 million board feet of heavy timber. Some of the building methods followed those used by Amish builders, who are experts in building wood structures. The back side of the Ark is connected to a building made with modern typical construction methods which includes the elevators and restroom areas. The Ark is also set 15 feet above ground on special concrete piers. Inside, there are areas that demonstrate how various kinds of animals could be housed and managed inside the Ark as well as how Noah’s family would live. There are two theater areas inside the Ark. Though the structure is wood, the displays and exhibits are very high-tech. Some exhibits were created using 3D printing technology. I would say the exhibits essentially answer all the common questions people have about Noah’s Flood and Noah’s Ark.

As we were arriving to the Ark Encounter, it occurred to me that what Christians were doing today in visiting the Ark today in Kentucky is much like when Noah was building the original. Noah spent years building the structure and had to solve many challenging problems to do it. He must have done it outside of cities of the time, in order to have space and wood to do it. People probably came out to see it, even if just to laugh at Noah. This is like today, when people visit the Ark. Some come with family though they don’t believe it, and so they see the faith of others and they wrestle with what faith in the God of the Bible means. The gospel is presented at the Ark Encounter in multiple ways, so it really is a good place to bring non-christian friends or family. So people go outside of Cincinnati today to see the Ark (south of Cincinnati near Williamstown, KY). The people of Kentucky and Cincinnati know the Ark is there and so it is a witness that points to the faith of Christians who believe the Bible is literally true. There are still people who believe the book of Genesis tells us real history, even today in 2017. This faith is not outdated or misplaced, nor is it wishful thinking. The Ark Encounter exhibits demonstrate reasonable answers to the questions people have, in order to remove obstacles to people believing in Christ. So, Christians demonstrate their faith today in going to see the Ark. We don’t actually know how Noah and his family solved all the problems of living on the real Noah’s Ark, but this is not a problem. If we can come up with reasonable answers to the questions today, then Noah could have found reasonable answers to the problems then.

Caption:  Front end of the Ark.  Friend Mark stands near it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ark Encounter affirmed many things that I have taught about Noah’s Flood and Noah’s Ark over the years. But I also learned a number of things in my Ark encounter. I learned about extinct animals I had never heard of because the exhibits showed replicas of a number of extinct animals, that would have been on the real Ark. I learned about methods of removal of waste from the Ark and ventilation of the Ark that would be feasible for Noah’s family to use on-board the Ark. I learned that the number of animals needing to be on-board the Ark could have been less than I had expected (about 6,700 by AIG research). In a number of ways, Noah’s family had to find ways to “work smarter, not harder” to manage caring for the animals. The Ark Encounter helps visitors find answers to their questions on the Flood. The Ark Encounter also helps people imagine the corruption of the preflood human society, where people lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Geological evidence for the Flood, the cause of a post-flood ice age, and other scientific questions were addressed also. Reasonable well-informed answers are provided. Granted some of the exhibits are based on speculative reconstructions, but demonstrating that this can be done today implies it is plausible Noah and his family could have done it in the past.

The Answers In Genesis Ark structure is not the first replica of Noah’s Ark that has been built, but it is probably the most authentic. In 2012 CNN did a story about a man in Dordrecht, Netherlands who built a replica of Noah’s Ark. It has been called Johan’s ark, after Johan Huibers, the man who built it. Johan is a wealthy businessman. He built it to be a “Bible museum.” Huibers did not have the means to built an ark in an authentic way. He put barges together and then put wood around it. Huibers did make it the Biblical dimensions but he seems to have used a smaller value for the length of a cubit than Answers in Genesis, if the CNN article is correct.

In Bremerton, Washington there is a Noahs Ark Restaurant, but it is not built as a replica of Noah’s Ark, it is more of a theme of the restaurant. There have also been a number of churches built to be similar to Noah’s Ark. Churches have always considered it as a salvation message, that Jesus is like “our Ark” and the one way to be saved.

There has also been ship engineers and naval architects who have studied Noah’s Ark. Some have made small scale engineering models and studied them in wave tanks. The late Henry M. Morris showed that the dimensions of the Ark made it almost impossible to capsize in the water. The engineering studies have consistently shown the unique proportions of the Ark from scripture make it quite stable in the water. Another study by a mechanical engineer (from the 2013 International Conference on Creationism) looked into whether immersion in water for extended periods of time would weaken the structural strength of the Ark. The conclusion was that any weakening effect was not great enough to threaten the structural integrity of the Ark.

In our modern world, where Bible stories are often thought of as like myths or legends, the Ark Encounter shows that we can believe the Bible is really true. Much attention to detail in the exhibits demonstrate how a family like Noah’s long ago might have managed all the challenges and lived through the experience. The sight of the AIG Ark structure is very impressive. It will undoubtedly spark much conversation about the Bible and the book of Genesis. The key issue brought up by the Ark Encounter is probably the authority and historicity of Genesis in the Bible. The Ark Encounter is a quality attraction that I highly recommend.

Caption:  Noah reaches to catch the dove to return him to his cage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Website from Tim Lovett and others on the engineering of the Ark.
http://worldwideflood.com

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Is the Universe a Message?

Why does the universe exist? Why is it as it is? Why should it be so vast and awe-inspiring? This question crosses people’s minds and people make significant choices when they deal with the question. One option is to just not deal with the question. Someone might think for example that it is an unanswerable question. Others might follow modern scientific ideas and say there is no “why” to the universe’s existence, that the universe just spontaneously happened. But this is not a satisfying answer.

Recall the book called Contact, written by the late Dr. Carl Sagan (published 1985). The book Contact was made into a movie. In Contact, a radio signal is received from space that is found to have a message in it from intelligent beings. So people on Earth find that the message is actually elaborate instructions for building a machine which will transport someone across the universe. So an astronomer, a woman named Dr. Arroway, makes the trip in the device and has an encounter with an alien being. There is an intriguing statement about the question of life in the universe repeated multiple times in the Contact movie. It begins when Eleanor Arroway is just an inquisitive girl who asks her father if there were people on other planets. After first saying he didn’t know, her father responds with the statement, “If it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.” Dr. Arroway later repeats this statement to school children.

Dr. Arroway in the story comes from the atheistic mindset, she does not believe in God but she accepts the concepts from modern science that the universe is billions of years old and it came from the Big Bang. The “wasted space” comment is I think implying a certain naturalistic (atheistic) argument that goes something like this. First, the universe formed not from the creative activity of an intelligent Creator but by natural processes over billions of years. Out of deep time and many combinations of processes forming stars and planets, life formed by natural processes in rare instances on certain planets in the universe. Given the many billions of years and the vast number of combinations of scenarios in how planets form, there is bound to be life forming on other planets the same way it formed on our own planet. I think this is Arroway’s thinking in the story. So I think the concept of “wasted space” from Dr. Arroway is actually a misnomer. If there is no “why” to the existence of the universe, then on what basis could you say that the vastness of space is wasted? She is saying that since we exist, other intelligent life must exist also, somewhere. This is not a “scientific” conclusion, it is more of a hope from a certain world view. Dr. Arroway thinks that it would be a “waste” if we were the only intelligent life, considering the vastness of the universe. There is a statement in the Contact book to the effect of, how could there be billions of worlds going to waste, as barren lifeless worlds? But the naturalistic mindset views the universe as a product of a kind of numbers game. It is because of the vast numbers of planets and stars out there and the long periods of time that we were lucky enough to exist. Out of many stars and planets the “waste” is that most of them don’t support life, but it is often believed that a few of them would and we are ‘lucky’ enough to be on one of those planets that support life. On the other hand, Biblically, it is not a numbers game at all! Isaiah 45:18 (NIV) makes clear that Earth exists by deliberate design for life, especially for us.

“For this is what the Lord says —
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited . . . .”

The scientific evidence for many extrasolar planets, discovered some years after the publication of Sagan’s Contact book, would be seen as supporting this view by many. But if Dr. Arroway were a real astronomer today, would the discoveries about extrasolar planets support the same “wasted space” concept? There are certainly many extrasolar planets. The scientific evidence for this is good. In our galaxy the Milky Way, it is not unreasonable to say there is likely to be as many extrasolar planets as there are stars in the galaxy. The number of stars in the Milky Way is now estimated at about 200 billion. Some stars have no planets but some have multiple planets. Astronomers debate the habitability of some of the extrasolar planets. Some are of the right distance from their stars to have a temperature range that could allow for liquid water. But this in itself doesn’t tell us if the exoplanet even has water. Even if there is a life-friendly atmosphere and liquid water on an exoplanet, there are effects from the star that could make life impossible. Many stars are not so stable as our own star and solar flares could destroy life on many of the known exoplanets. The scientific question of how life would arise on our own planet without a Creator is not really a resolved issue either, so we do not really know enough to confidently assert that life could arise on an exoplanet, just because it exists on Earth. So the question of life on extrasolar planets is really a question science cannot answer. There is reason for skepticism and yet there are planets that could be in the habitable zone for other stars. But in real scientific research, no one has found evidence of an intelligently coded message from space as in the Contact fictional story. Still many hope for something like the Contact story to happen one day.

The Biblical view suggests a very different way of understanding the universe. In the Bible, the important issue is not are there intelligent alien beings similar to us, but is there an intelligent Creator worth knowing and worshiping? What if the universe is first and foremost a means of communication from an infinite Creator-God? It is not vast for the purpose of supporting many different intelligent life forms, but it is vast primarily for helping finite mankind to imagine an infinite Creator. Since an all-powerful being could do anything easily, it would not be too much for an infinite Creator to make a vast universe to stimulate our thinking. The Bible presents God as unlimited in power and all-knowing. He is spirit, yet can exist in human form, as in the person of Jesus Christ. Solomon stated “the highest heavens cannot contain you…” when he was dedicating the temple long ago in ancient Israel (1 Kings 8:27, NIV). King David once wrote in Psalm 139, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there…” (Psalm 139:7-8). Psalm 19:1-4 makes the well-known statement “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands….” What is this “glory” that the heavens declare? I think it is about God’s greatness and his nature as One who wants a relationship with us. The glory in the universe should motivate us to want to know its maker, and our Maker. The Bible does not really even entertain the notion that natural processes could be adequate to create the universe. Only an all-powerful Creator could be an adequate first cause, in the Christian world view. But the Bible, as the special revelation of the Creator-God, uses nature and sometimes references to the universe to help human beings grasp how God is so much different and greater than us.

Consider the passage below from Isaiah 55:6-9 (NIV).

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he
will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely
pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It has always seemed an amazing thing to me that the infinite Creator would have any interest in our lives. Yet, Scripture actually goes so far as to “measure” God’s love by the vastness of the universe! Psalm 103:11 puts it in the strongest terms, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” I once wrote an article about a Gamma Ray Burster object (GRB 090423, CLICK TO GO TO). By the usual way scientists interpret redshifts to indicate distance (Hubble’s Law), this object would be over 13 billion light-years away from us! It was a very brief powerful burst of energy and scientists are not sure how so much energy could be generated. This has been described as one of the most distant known objects in the universe.

Biblically, the universe is not big and impersonal, but big and personal. It is something from an infinite Being who wanted to give finite human beings with limited imaginations something tangible to help us imagine what He is. If you try you can find another way to look at the universe, but I would say the other ideas are neither logical nor satisfying. I’ve wrestled with how secular science tends to view the universe differently than the Bible. The naturalistic origins theories from secular science are not so well established as most people think they are, including Big Bang theory. Science has not ruled out supernatural creation by a Creator, it simply cannot model it. We cannot argue that supernatural creation did not happen just because science cannot model it or quantify it.

So, what if the universe is a communication?  If it is, we must learn to listen the right way.  Perhaps there is a message we have missed, about the Creator.

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Truth That Changed My Life

‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ John 8:31-32 (NIV)

I have been a Christian for what is now going on 38 years. I’ve been thinking about the changes in my life over these years. I’ve been asking myself how does my life bear out this passage from John 8? My life has not followed a typical course like grow up, go to college, get married, raise a family, succeed in a career, except perhaps for the college part. In fact, I had to drop out of college for a while and get a lot of psychological counseling. My life was a wreck and my future was very uncertain. Even college was not really a “normal” path, because I started college in engineering, switched to physics, did not go to my college graduation, and spent a lot of time unemployed after finishing my bachelor’s degree in 1982. I was out of college and then went back to college twice after graduating with my bachelor’s degree. So I was in and out of college for a long period of years. I went back to college in 1984 to study education with the goal of getting certified to teach in a public school. But becoming a public school teacher didn’t work out because I failed as a student teacher twice. That was a very hard time in my life. I then worked as a church janitor for a while until a surprising thing happened. I was given the chance to be a teacher in a Christian school in Wichita, KS. The principal of the school was an amazing man who gave me a chance and stuck with me. So I became a teacher in spite of major failures that made it look like I would never be a teacher. God has a surprising way of working things out in spite of us sometimes. The God of the Bible often has a very non-intuitive way of working in our lives. I was a teacher at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, KS for four years. Then I went back to college again, this time to get a Master’s degree in Physics. Those two years were a great experience and I finished my Master’s degree in 1994. I did some part-time teaching as an adjunct faculty for a few months. I intended to become a teacher after that but again it didn’t work out as I had envisioned. I tried to find a position teaching physics but ended up in Dallas teaching high school math. After a mission trip to Russia in the Summer of 1995 I moved to Dallas for a teaching job. The school in Dallas had some problems and I left late in 1995. After that I changed directions again and got into computer technical support. For a while I supported Compaq computers while Windows 95 was new. But I didn’t like the schedule so I found another technical support position in Fort Worth for a company called PPC. I worked for PPC for about 7 1/2 years. After that I was unemployed again for a while but eventually found a job in Dallas where I still work to this day.

It seems my life has been a long fight. It has been a fight to get my life straightened out. I’ve found that we really cannot straighten out our life on our own, we need God’s help. Without having become a Christian in 1979 I don’t think life would have worked out well for me. I was close to being suicidal for a while before I became a Christian. A pastor who knew me in those years once told me that I had been the most unhappy person he ever knew. God repaired my broken life, but it was not a quick or easy process.

There have been many changes in my life since I became a Christian. How many of these changes might have happened anyway, if I had not become a Christian? I suppose there is no way to be sure, but there are many things about me now that would not have been like the ‘old me’ from prior to 1979. I was a very troubled and insecure young man. I had a problem with anger, with relating to people, and with handling money. I had little concept of my own self-worth as a young man and I was afraid of responsibility. Now I am a software manager and I can safely say I have significant responsibility at my company. I’ve found the Lord has been with me and helped me through many challenges of various kinds in my life. Becoming a Christian led to me losing friends. But God provided me some wonderful friends in my life, friends better than most people ever know. I needed a stable foundation to build my life on as a young man. My faith in Christ gave me this. It might not appear that my life was more stable because of my faith. There were times I moved around a lot and I did not seem to have much stability. But the uncertainties of that motivated me to seek God’s answers. I found God’s answers are the right answers that we need, as given in the Bible. I had much emotional pain to work through in my early years as a Christian and it made me hungry for answers. My father (who was an atheist) also challenged my faith when I was a new Christian. But I found that there is evidence for the truth of the Bible that is apart from my feelings. It’s not that the Bible is true to me, it’s that it is objectively true. It is true to our life experience and true to the real world.

Here are some Scripture passages that have meant a lot to me. These are bits of truth that have pointed me in the right direction.

On Anger James 1:19-20
On fear of responsibility Exodus 3:1-4:17, and 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
On self-image Romans chapters 5 & 8, and Psalm 91:14-16
On Anxiety 1 Peter 5:7
On money Luke 16:9-11
On our need of a savior John 3:16-18, and John 10:10

We are all born lost and in need of a savior, and Jesus is that Savior. I would say there are four key things that you receive as a Christian that enable you to have an improved life. It is never a perfect life. But it is improved because it means you are not just being helped, you are being transformed by God into a different kind of human being.

  • We can experience what it is to be forgiven of our sins
  • We can know the truth that is true for all
  • We can experience being loved perfectly by God
  • We receive power to change

The best indication of change in your life is to observe how it lasts. What does it mean when it says the truth will set you free? I think it means that without a relationship with God in Christ, you are a prisoner and you don’t know it. You don’t know what you’re missing without God. It can appear as a nonchristian that the Christian life is too restrictive, but the kind of freedom you tend to be attracted to as a nonchristian is often not good for you anyway. In following Christ you find that the thing that may have seemed restrictive before is actually more free because it doesn’t enslave and spoil the good that God provides in life. So if we continue believing and obeying what Jesus taught, we find life more as it should be and this is a kind of freedom. We cannot do this on our own, but what is impossible for us in and of ourselves is possible with God.

Wayne Spencer

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Is Genesis History

On February 23rd a movie was shown at some movie theaters called “Is Genesis History?” From time to time, movie theaters allow some Christian movies to be available like this in a one-night showing. Often it is sort of a “trial run” where theater managers are unwilling to give it more showings unless they see that there is good interest in the movie among the public. There are many good creation related videos that have been produced by creation organizations but they are normally simply available on DVD or Blue-Ray discs. It is always good if a Christian movie makes it into the theaters because this does bring more exposure and reaches a wider segment of people. This movie reportedly did well at the theaters on Feb. 23 so there is a possibility it may be shown at theaters again soon. I would recommend it to anyone from about middle school age and up.

“Is Genesis History” is a presentation of young-Earth creationism for the general public. I would say it is a very good presentation. It keeps things pretty understandable and clear for the most part. It’s answer to the question, “Is Genesis History?” is a resounding “YES.” It’s arguments for this come mainly from geology, from a Biblical scholar (Hebraist Dr. Steven Boyd), and from some archeology. The moderator/interviewer in the program is Del Tackett, who was involved in the Truth Project at Focus on the Family. It features interviews with some well known creationist scientists, including Steve Austin, Robert Carter, Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise, Kevin Anderson, Danny Faulkner, and others. (To see the trailer on YouTube, CLICK HERE.) The program emphasizes a lot on geology and evidence for a young age and how this allows for the Biblical time scale. But there is also very good material on how living things can adapt to their environment, on intelligent design, and some on astronomy. There is a very good segment on archeological evidence for the Tower of Babel event. I would like to have seen more on archeological evidence related to Genesis, but the program was very packed with good information.

Geological evidence that is not too technical is emphasized in the film. This is clearly intended to attack the assumption that science has shown the Earth to be billions of years old. The film begins with discussion of the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption in May of 1980 and how it showed that erosion and layered deposition can happen quickly in the right conditions. It also has good information about the rock layers in and around the Grand Canyon and shows how many layers of sedimentary rock cover large portions of North America and beyond. Evidence for little time between the rock layers is also discussed. All this information on rock layers is well established from research from both secular geologists and creationist geologists. So I know there is good research to back up what is presented in the film. The film presents each topic in a very brief (but effective) manner but there is research to back it up. The film ends with a very nice informal discussion with Andrew Snelling, Steve Austin, Robert Carter, and Danny Faulkner at a table with Del Tackett.

One of the best moments in the film was when it showed tweezers stretching soft dinosaur tissue. There was an audible gasp from the audience at this. This is something that there is a need for people in the public to be exposed to. It is dramatic and clear evidence against the evolutionary time scale. There is much more that could have been included on this topic but again the film presents each subject in a very brief manner. This is evidence which was first published by a non-creationist scientist and many other examples (not just dinosaur fossils) have added to the soft tissue cases since the first reports. Creationists have now also done their own field work and lab work verifying soft tissue in a dinosaur bone. It is an important thing that this film shows the original field work and research done by creationists in finding soft tissue in a Triceratops horn fossil. I hope the film will stimulate viewers to search for more information from organizations like the Institute for Creation Research, Answers In Genesis, Creation Ministries International, and the Creation Research Society.

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