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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God Called A Fish

The book of Jonah in the Bible contains a well known story that has often been dismissed as a myth. Many things in the Old Testament have been dismissed as myths but I believe the Old Testament is an actual history of real people and real events. It is amazing how often the question comes up on the internet, “Can a whale swallow a man?” Both believers and unbelievers have often asked this question or some question related. Believers often wonder what kind of sea creature it was that swallowed Jonah. Unbelievers will often say it is impossible for a man to survive being swallowed by a large fish or whale.
Usually neither the believers nor the unbelievers have many facts to go on to answer the question. I have not addressed the question before, so here is my take on it.

First of all, I’ve always found that assuming the Biblical account to be a myth never helps really understand it. Ideas that are put forward to explain away miracles in the Bible often have more problems than believing the miracle. So, I think we should take the story of Jonah as a real event, but we should get what facts we can to help understand it. Modern scientific knowledge cannot disprove miracles in the Bible. But modern knowledge can sometimes shed light on how to understand details of the Biblical account. On the other hand, we should not “demand” a scientific explanation for everything in the Bible before we believe it. This is reasonable because there are plenty of confirmations of the truth of the Bible from verifiable facts, including from the book of Jonah. The Bible has authority as God’s word and we should believe it. Even if someone doesn’t believe the Bible, the proper way to evaluate it is really to assume it’s true, then explore the facts and the details of what it says and see how plausible it is. But if you reject the concept of God doing miracles the Bible will not make sense. It is a starting assumption that the God of the Bible can do miracles. In addition, there is no way to escape Jesus’ implying the story of Jonah was a real historical event. (See for instance Matthew 12:39-41.) Jesus spoke on multiple occasions about the “sign of Jonah” referring to Jonah being inside a fish for three days and he made it an analogy of his own death and resurrection. He also said that Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching. So Jesus implied the story of the people of Nineveh repenting and believing was historical in connection to Jonah. If Jesus believed it, so should we.

Second, the point of the story of Jonah I think is more about the lengths God will go to to reach people. Another major point is there can be serious consequences for believers who will not obey God when they are called to a ministry, especially as a prophet like Jonah. The story of Jonah is often brought up as a kind of evangelistic warning for nonbelievers to not run from God. But that may be a misapplication of the story. The unbelievers in the story were the ones who benefited by learning who the true God was, they were not what you could call the “guilty party” in the story. The account of Jonah focuses not on the sin of the people of Nineveh but on their ignorance. God was giving them a chance to repent and change. (Note that the Biblical book of Nahum, written more than 100 years after the book of Jonah, certainly does focus on the sin of the city of Nineveh. Nineveh eventually came be known for some terrible atrocities and is called the “bloody city” in Nahum 3:1.) Though God was showing compassion to Nineveh, Jonah had a kind of hatred of them as Assyrians. Jonah’s attitude was wrong and thus he resisted going to Nineveh to speak to these people. So what happened to Jonah was God’s way of giving Jonah a painful attitude adjustment. So when God’s prophet would not obey God’s call, God called a fish to deal with the prophet.

Jonah is also mentioned in II Kings 14. From this we know he was in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and his ministry and the writing of the book were probably sometime between 770 B.C. and 750 B.C. This would have been before the city of Nineveh was at its peak in size and influence, and before Assyria had reached its peak in terms of the territory it controlled. Thus the Northern Kingdom of Israel had not been conquered by Assyria yet.

Now about the issue of a man, like Jonah, being swallowed by a sea creature. I will not dig into the word study of the terms used in scripture but the Bible does not use terms specific enough to identify what the sea creature was. (For an article on the Biblical words used, I’d recommend this article by Apologetics Press.) Today marine biologists have much more specific definitions of animals than the terms used in the Bible. Whether a Bible translation uses “great fish” or “whale” or “sea monster,” all of these are fair translations because we can’t be sure exactly what it was. Many people merely assume it was a whale, but the Bible is not that specific. Recent translations do not usually say “whale.” So, what do the actual facts about whales, marine reptiles, and large fish (and the Mediterranean Sea) tell us?

A number of different sea creatures have been proposed to be the possible one to have swallowed Jonah. Knowing what creature it was is not necessary to the Biblical account but it just seems like an irresistible question. First of all, whatever creature it was, it must have been able to swallow Jonah whole and then vomit him up later. The Biblical account doesn’t mention Jonah having any injuries from the experience. Perhaps there could have been minor injuries it doesn’t mention but Jonah survived the experience. This would require something quite large. Some extinct marine reptiles would have been large enough, but I will leave them out of consideration because as far as we know they would have been extinct at the time. But this is not certain really. We cannot identify the creature with certainty; we can only proceed on the basis of what we do know. So some of the proposed creatures to be considered are the following:

  • A Sperm Whale
  • A Killer Whale
  • A Whale Shark
  • A Basking Shark
  • A Great White Shark

I will deal with the Sperm Whale first. There is a story reportedly from 1891 in which a Whaling Ship called the Star of the East found a man inside a Sperm Whale that they caught. The man’s name was James Bartley and he is said to have survived when they cut him out. This story has a number of specific details that make it sound like a real account but I would not trust it. There is a “James Bartley” page on Wikipedia that says historians have tried to verify the account. Historians found something from a woman of the time who was said to be the wife of the captain of the Star of the East. The woman said there was no truth to the story. Also the Star of the East was not actually a whaling ship apparently. Sperm Whales can be large enough that a large one might be able to swallow a man but many of them couldn’t do it I suspect because their esophagus or gullet may not be big enough for them to swallow a man whole. Also, whales are not usually found in the Mediterranean Sea, where Jonah would have been. So I would not rule out a Sperm Whale completely but it seems like an unlikely candidate to me.

Next I will consider Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks. These are very large sharks but they are more like many whales that filter through large amounts of water for small things like plankton and small fish. They could never swallow a man whole. Their mouths are very wide and they could get a man in their mouth, but their “throats” are small. There is one video of a whale shark closing it’s mouth on a diver, that I found on YouTube. But if a whale shark got a man in it’s mouth it would let the man out because they couldn’t do anything to the man.

Killer Whales could be a possibility because they have been known to swallow some very large animals. There have been cases where a Killer Whale was known to have swallowed a Moose as it swam between islands! But in the wild, Killer Whales never try to eat humans. There are a few cases where they seem to have bitten down on a man by mistake. But they never try to eat a human. However, in captivity, Killer Whales can be dangerous to their trainers and there are a few cases where a Killer Whale trainer has drowned due to the Killer Whale pulling them under the water. I think a Killer Whale could be a possibility because they are known to swallow their food whole. Whales have three stomachs, the first of which is meant to break up the food mechanically. Whales actually swallow rocks to keep in their first stomach to help break up their food. I was surprised to find that the Mediterranean Sea is considered a possible location for Killer Whales.

Then there is the Great White Shark. Great White Sharks have been commonly seen in the Mediterranean Sea, they sometimes follow boats to eat garbage thrown off the boat, and they do sometimes swallow their food whole. There are many cases of sharks attacking humans but Great White Sharks do not always bite or chew up their food. Great White Sharks can certainly be large enough to swallow a man whole so I think the Great White Shark is the best candidate for a creature that could have swallowed Jonah. In fact there is another little known fact about sharks that could be relevant to Jonah. They can do what’s called everting their stomach. This is basically turning their stomach inside out so as to ‘vomit’ out things they cannot digest. Then they pull their stomach back in! Just what Jonah needed, in God’s timing. So I would put the Great White Shark as the best candidate, the Killer Whale as second best, and the Sperm Whale as third best.

There are however multiple miracles implied in the Biblical account of Jonah surviving his experience. First, God communicated with the creature and sent it to swallow Jonah. This is the first miracle. Secondly, I do not know how to explain how a man could breathe for three days inside a fish or whale, so that may be another miracle. I think for the man to be kept whole and not chewed up or digested for three days is not necessarily a miracle but it could involve exposure to stomach acids and some nasty gases. Then another possible miracle is where it says God spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. The miracle could again be in the communicating with the fish so it did this as intended.

In considering the plausibility of the story in the book of Jonah, there are some archeological details worth noting that I think show the basic historicity of the account. So if you set aside the issue of Jonah being swallowed and consider the rest of the story, it seems to be historically accurate. First of all, Nineveh is described in Jonah 3 as a very great city and in Jonah 4 it states that there were 120,000 people there. This is a large city and yet this is probably before Nineveh became the capital of Assyria. Jonah 3:3 says it was a three day journey for Jonah to walk through the city. This is indeed a large city by ancient standards and is consistent with what is known about the history of the city.

Also the people of Nineveh would probably have been afraid to offend Jonah or harm him because of their beliefs. Assyrians believed in multiple gods, one of which was named Ea. Ea was considered the god of waters and of sorcery. When Jonah came up out of the sea, having been inside a fish or whale, the Ninevites would have taken that as an omen or they may have thought of him as a messenger of Ea. We don’t know everything Jonah said to the Ninevites but Jonah’s experience would have gotten the attention of the people of Nineveh. I think the people of Nineveh must have turned away from their false gods. They must have come to understand Jonah was speaking for the true God. So God decided not to send the destruction on the city. Because they responded to God with humility and repentance, they were spared. But unfortunately, later, by the time of the prophet Nahum, the sin of the city had become much worse and they did not respond to God’s warning then. Thus the city was eventually destroyed. From history and archeology we know the city of Nineveh became the capital of Assyria and became rich and powerful from trade. But it was eventually conquered by the Babylonians in 612 B.C.

In the end the story of Jonah and Nineveh ends with a happy ending! Jonah obeyed the Lord and preached to the city, and the city believed and repented! Also, some sailors on the boat Jonah took got a pretty good lesson about who the real God was also. Is the lesson from the story of Jonah more about believing God can do miracles, or about unbelievers coming to faith, or about believers not giving up on unbelievers? Perhaps all the above.

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