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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Jupiter – Provided by God

If I were to pick a favorite planet in our solar system, I would have to pick Jupiter. Right now there is great interest in Jupiter because the Juno spacecraft recently began photographing Jupiter (around July 4, 2016). Of course, really Earth is the best planet in our solar system because it is designed to be our home. Extrasolar planet researchers still do not know of a truly Earth-like planet, though many take it on faith that one probably exists somewhere. At any rate, if you leave Earth out of it, my favorite planet is Jupiter. Jupiter has always represented an example of God’s greatness to me. It is majestic and very large. It stands guard in our solar system, protecting Earth from some small objects like comets that come in from the outer solar system. It is by far the largest most massive planet in our solar system. It has a variety of effects on the other solar system objects. It is massive enough that it causes the Sun to wobble. The center of mass of the solar system, which the whole system rotates around, is not the center of the Sun but it is located at a point that would be close to the surface of the Sun, putting it over 400,000 miles from the center of the Sun. Most of this wobbling effect is due to Jupiter.

Jupiter is also a kind of high energy planet. First, Jupiter spins very rapidly. It has a rotation period of about 10 hours. It’s often called a gas giant but it might be more accurate if we called it a fluid giant because much of it’s matter is probably in the liquid state because of the high pressures compressing it so much. The interior of Jupiter also probably has a pretty exotic form of matter in it-metallic hydrogen. Metallic hydrogen is where hydrogen is compressed by extreme pressures so much that it becomes an electrical conductor. Physicists have managed to create metallic hydrogen in the lab but only with great difficulty because of the extreme pressures it requires. It’s thought that Jupiter may have a solid core surrounded by a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen. Jupiter also has a very powerful magnetic field. The magnetic field of a planet makes an invisible sheath like structure around it made up of ionized particles that move with the planet through space, called the magnetosheath. The magnetosheath of Earth is known as the Van Allen radiation belts. The magnetosheath of Jupiter has a very long tail that stretches out so far that Earth sometimes crosses it. The Juno spacecraft will be paying close attention to Jupiter’s magnetic field. Jupiter’s magnetic field also generates powerful radio waves with an output of about a million megawatts. This would be about like the power generated by a million nuclear power plants. The radio waves and heat given off by Jupiter add up to about 67% more energy than Jupiter receives from the Sun.

There are some interesting and unique things about Jupiter. For example the Great Red Spot is essentially a giant hurricane that has existed for many years. The Red Spot is caught between layers of gas, which move Eastward South of it and Westward North of it. The East-to-West dimension of the Red Spot varies and it’s position moves around Jupiter, like something sliding along a belt. The Juno spacecraft will certainly be watching the Red Spot closely. There is lots of ionizing radiation all around Jupiter. Putting a spacecraft there is like throwing your computer into a high energy particle accelerator! Hopefully NASA has made Juno tough enough to handle it. Jupiter also has a ring. Many people don’t know this because the ring is not easy to see. It is made up of microscopic dust. The gases on Jupiter are very dynamic. They will undoubtedly provide plenty of action for Juno to watch. There are “Northern lights” (aurora) around Jupiter’s North Pole that Juno has already taken pictures of. Jupiter also has lightning occasionally. Scientists who research planetary atmospheres will be excited to see what the Juno spacecraft will show them.

There have always been puzzling questions about Jupiter to scientists trying to explain it’s origin. One question has always been why doesn’t Jupiter have more water? Jupiter is located in a region where judging by the temperature and distance from the Sun there should have been lots of water in Jupiter’s area when it formed, according to evolutionary planet formation models. This is because it is just past the distance where water would freeze, based on the current energy from the Sun. Being the largest planet in the solar system means that by natural processes Jupiter would have formed first. This is another reason it should have lots of water. Also, many of the moons of Jupiter have large amounts of water ice, yet Jupiter seems low on water. Another puzzle is why is it that the winds North of the Great Red Spot move much faster than the winds South of the Spot? There is somehow a significant difference in wind speeds between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. If Jupiter were tilted by a large angle this might make sense but it is only tilted about 3 degrees, so why would the two hemispheres be so different?

I love to watch the news from new solar system exploration missions. NASA does a fantastic job in building spacecraft and carrying out these missions. But there is a mindset from scientists that is sometimes unrealistic. It gets put forward in the media a lot in statements like this: “The Juno mission will help explain the formation of Jupiter and the formation of our solar system.” I think this kind of statement is unrealistic. You don’t know what you will learn from a new space mission. Scientists actually tend to be stuck in a rut of thinking the way they’ve always been told to think. We learn a lot about what is observed and we gain a lot of new data to keep scientific researchers busy for years to come. But I think origins theories that leave out God don’t ultimately succeed. There are other ways of looking at the facts. I think we can look at new discoveries from a totally Biblical perspective without compromising good science.

Some principles I start with in a creation view of planetary science are these. The planets and other objects in our solar system do not have to have a common origin from one cloud in space. Instead, they could be created by an intelligent God who deliberately made them to be unique. They often have some relevance to Earth, even if it’s only to make us wonder and ask questions about “why?” Second, the solar system and the objects in it do not have to be billions of years old. There’s a growing list of evidences for a young solar system. Initial conditions at creation can explain a lot of things that secular scientists tend to think requires long periods of time. Third, known natural forces and effects are not enough to explain how planets, moons, or other objects formed in the beginning, though they may explain how we see them changing now. Supernatural action by God was necessary in the beginning but we may not know how such action was applied. Fourth, our solar system, and especially Earth, were created intelligently for our benefit. Fifth, the origin of life requires more than chemistry and physics. Sixth, there are catastrophic events and natural processes that could have altered what God originally created. There is nothing wrong with applying these principles in science, in fact, I would say it really works.

(Note that there is an article I once wrote for the Biblical Creation Society of the UK in 2004 about Jupiter and Saturn. If you’d like to read this article CLICK HERE.)

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Identity

Who are we?  What are we?  What does it mean to have an identity and where does it come from?  There are many kinds of identity we adopt for various purposes.  But I am referring to our identity as human individuals.  It seems every concept from traditional Christian values is being challenged and abandoned by some today.  This puts American society into what sometimes seems like a kind of values civil war.  I was watching the British science fiction program Doctor Who and it brought up the issue of identity.  Doctor Who is an interesting and often unpredictable character.  He seems to have an unlimited ability to travel through time and space, as a “time lord.”  He lives outs some sort of lifetime and then changes into a different person (referred to as regeneration).  So he had just done this regeneration and he seemed confused.  He looked in a mirror to see what he looked like.  Then he made this statement, “I don’t know where faces come from, sometimes they just pop up.”  We are in a world where people have lost a knowledge of what we are and where our identity comes from.

The Bible gives us a sound basis for a healthy sense of identity and self-image.  This may be one of the best advantages of a Christian worldview.  It means you can have an understanding of who you are that is not merely tied to the temporary superficial things of this life.  It can be a difficult struggle to come to this understanding.  But it is not actually dependent on what we do, but on how God views us.  God is the source of our identity really, but there is part of it that comes from our experience as well.  Some of it is learned and some of it is in our DNA.  Our identity is not just about the family we come from or what we do as a career.  God has a purpose for our life, a place for us to fill.  God is the Creator and we are his creatures.  But we are not just any creature.  We are created designed by God to be imitative of God and able to have understanding of his creation and a personal relationship with Him.  We are not born into this relationship.  We are born outside of it, and need to seek it out and return to it.  We have an innate sinful nature that separates us from God and from being the kind of people we were designed to be.  Through faith in Christ we can return to what we should be in knowing God.

People have always liked to imagine themselves as something different than they really are.  We have stories of superheros, humans who evolve supernatural abilities, and people imagine they can live their life largely without moral responsibility.  But the best life we can have is not in becoming something else, but in finding the place and the role God intended for us to fill.  God knows our DNA, our family background, the place where we grew up, the education we have received, and all about our experience.  Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  God’s image is reflected through both maleness and femaleness.  Part of our sinful nature doesn’t want to accept what we are.  Societal conventions often protect people from the sinful nature.  But when people don’t acknowledge that we have a sinful nature and they don’t believe we are created for a purpose even the most basic principals can be questioned.  Questioning our created natures includes the concept of “gender.”  There is a psychological learned aspect of gender but that does not change the fact that we are made designed to live according to male and female roles and live within certain moral boundaries.  The dangers of crossing over moral boundaries is often ignored by many today.  Created gender differences are now sometimes being ignored.  Ignoring these created differences sacrifices respect for people for an unhealthy concept of permissiveness.  Acceptance of our created natures is being abandoned in favor of false concepts of who and what human beings are.  I think the long term effect of this is mostly to leave people empty and hurting.  I have put much effort and time into trying to learn how to think and live as a Christian and God has brought me a long way from the troubled young man I once was.

The unbelieving world does not know the good they are missing out on.  The more dark and confused the unbelieving world is, the clearer the contrast from Christians who live out their faith.  Reason does prevail sometimes, and the law is often on the side of Christians in America even if the government is not.  So we should live wisely in times like these.  I think of what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 2:14-15, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 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….”

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The Faithful Witness in the Sky

The science of the origin of the Moon seems to be taking on a different direction today compared to 10 or 15 years ago.  I have written about a number of issues in planet formation but have not really addressed our Moon too much, except for my 2008 paper for the International Conference on Creationism, called “Our Solar System:  Balancing Biblical and Scientific Considerations.”  I  have often observed that one of the best ways to refute evolutionary science is to just wait and let the evolutionists refute each other.  The trouble is often that when older ideas are refuted textbooks don’t catch up and the false impression promoted to the public from early ideas may not be corrected. You used to read that lunar rocks have practically no water or other “volatiles” in them, for example.  “Volatiles” refers to substances easily boiled away.  But now scientists know that there is actually water in lunar basalts.  The Moon is considered to be low in iron, when you consider the Moon as a whole, but again basalts on the Moon’s surface have significant amounts of iron.  In recent years lunar scientists have been realizing the Earth and the Moon are more similar in composition than they thought.  

The accepted theory for the origin of the Moon has been what’s referred to as the “Giant Impact Model.”  This general idea is that a small planet struck the Earth before Earth formation was complete.  This impact is believed to have happened sometime between about 50 million to 200 million years after Earth began to form.  The ejecta from the impact melted a significant part of the Earth’s mantle and ejected part of Earth’s mantle and crust into space to mix with material from the impactor planet.  This theory was originally put forward in the mid 1970’s following the Apollo program.  At that time the primary “fact” to explain was how could the Moon be of different composition than Earth, especially in the amount of iron it possesses.  The Moon was thought of as being of a composition that was similar to but different from the Earth.  So a large impact provides a mechanism for mixing Earth material and material from the small planet.  

By the time of the Apollo missions in the early 1970’s there was already a realization that none of the old theories on the Moon’s origin were plausible.  These theories were 1) the fission theory, 2) the capture theory, and 3) the condensation theory.  The fission theory never had any good physics behind it.  It said that the early Earth spun so fast that the Moon was literally “spun off” of the Earth.  But if the Earth spun this fast, the Earth itself would probably fly apart or be left smaller than it is today.  The capture theory said that Earth captured the Moon in the early years of the solar system.  The Moon would be presumed to have come close to Earth enough to be caught by Earth’s gravity.  But this idea was put forward before the dynamics of such an event was really understood well. Such an event would mean the Moon would initially have to be in a highly elliptical orbit and then you have to explain how the Moon could be slowed down, as well as how the Moon’s orbit could be rounded off and come to be as it is today.  The third old idea is the condensation theory.  This is actually the idea that is assumed to be the “usual” process for the formation of moons in our solar system in general.  Planet moons are normally assumed to have condensed and accreted out of dust and gas along with the planet they orbit.  There are some moons believed to be exceptions to this rule though, where it is believed they could have been captured by planets such as Jupiter or Neptune for example.  So the condensation theory would propose that our Moon formed with the Earth.  The chief problem with this idea in minds of scientists has always been that if the Moon condensed from dust with the Earth, why does it have so much less iron, and in general why is it’s composition different?

The Giant Impact theory for the Moon’s origin has been worked on in many computer simulations by scientists for a long time now.  There are varying views of how this event happened and when it happened.  Some scientists argue it happened around 50 or 55 million years after Earth began forming and some have argued it was later.  The difference in the time of when the giant impact happened matters because if it was earlier then Earth is thought to have been less solid, hotter, and it would not be it’s full present size.  If the impact happened later Earth would be larger, colder, and harder. Scientists believe life did not evolve on Earth-and survive-until after this large impact event.  The angle the impacting planet made when it struck the Earth has also been varied in computer simulations.  Generally scientists describe it as a “glancing blow” to the Earth.  But some have argued it was at a steeper angle (or that the impactor was larger) so as to eject more of Earth’s mantle into space.  There are many variables and it is very difficult to do a physical simulation of such a large impact.  Such an event cannot be checked against any experiment, not even against large craters in the solar system. This giant impact is a planet-changing event for Earth and formation of the Moon would have been just a lucky outcome of it for us.  The Moon benefits life on Earth by stabilizing Earth rotation axis and there are other benefits from the tides.

Recent research on the giant impact formation of the Moon finds that it is very difficult to make the concept work.  Not that scientists have given up on the theory, but as some issues are clarified, it is becoming more challenging to make it work. Between the motion of the Earth and moon, the tidal forces, and the amounts of various elements including iron, oxygen, titanium, and other elements, the simulations never explain everything. The research on the impact origin of the Moon has perhaps clarified some questions about very large impacts.  After the impact with Earth, the model says that the Moon would actually form mostly from the impactor, the small planet.  Scientists build into their simulation the assumption that the small planet had an iron or iron-nickel core.  Most of the impactor would turn into a debri disk around the Earth, essentially a temporary ring. But, the theory says that the metal core of the impactor would more or less stay intact and sink into the Earth, combining with Earth’s core.  Some of the material ejected from the impact into space would fall back to the Earth.  But any material ejected far enough away from the Earth is thought to be able to pull together by gravity into the Moon.  The Moon has to form at a distance where the tidal forces from Earth would not pull apart the Moon as it forms.  Because different elements vaporize and condense at varying temperatures, a large impact would have a tendency to separate materials by melting point, boiling point, and density.  This should make the Moon’s overall composition somewhat different than Earth.  

In 2013 some scientific papers were published raising serious questions about the giant impact theory of the Moon’s origin.  Consider the following from Nature Geoscience from 2013 (by Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institute, Nature Geoscience Vol. 6, Dec. 2013, pp 996-998.)

“But recent work may in fact have undone previous progress on the giant impact hypothesis. A crisis in the field has been created by the growing realization that the Moon and Earth are exceptionally similar in composition — so similar, in fact, that the emerging constraints are difficult for the giant impact hypothesis to meet.”

The paper goes on to say

“The Earth and Moon seem to share identical isotopic signatures in oxygen, iron, hydrogen, silica, magnesium, titanium, potassium, tungsten and chromium. . . . That all these isotopic compositions are the same on the Earth and Moon, to high precision, places stringent constraints on physical scenarios for making the satellite. . . . The simulations of a Moon-forming impact have yet to produce a moon that fits all the puzzle pieces, geochemical and otherwise.”
  

Another well known planetary scientist, Robin Canup from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO has made statements comparing the composition of the Earth and Moon similar to the above.  In Nature, Dec 5, 2013, Canup said “Lunar-origin studies are in flux. No current impact model stands out as more compelling than the rest.”
Canup goes on to say that there are new concerns that for the giant impact concept to work requires a sequence of events that could be considered too improbable.  I’ve observed over the years that as origins models have more and more problems, ideas that complicate them are often added and eventually it raises the question, “Would this be likely to happen in the real world?” Canup makes an interesting comment about this, “As the number of steps increases, the likelihood of a particular sequence decreases. Current impact models are more complex and seem less probable than the original giant-impact concept.”  

So my own conclusion is that when you rely only on known natural processes and rule out the possibility of superatural creation by God, this actually handicaps you in being able to explain it.  I cannot prove that a giant impact did not form the Moon, but as the details are better and better understood it does not make the impact idea look more likely.  It makes it look less likely, perhaps even impossible.  

On the other hand, for Earth and the Moon to be of very similar composition may be consistent with some ideas young-age creationists have been proposing.  First, it may suggest that the Moon and the Earth are similar by intelligent design.  Some creationists working on astronomy and planetary science questions are thinking in terms of God creating matter on the first day that is not formed into objects until the fourth day.  So because everything is created in a very short time frame, objects in space are created supernaturally and rapidly from material nearby.  This makes it reasonable that the Moon and the Earth would have similar compositions, but it doesn’t rule out differences either.  (I think there is a lot to say for the concept of created uniqueness in our solar system planets and moons.)  I’ve also come to consider the possibility that impacts could have been part of the rapid formation of the Moon on the fourth day of creation.  These impacts on the fourth day would not have affected Earth but could have affected objects across the solar system on the fourth day.  Then another impact bombardment event of a smaller scale would have happened during Noah’s Flood.  Then when the creation week ended the supernatural creation processes stopped and conservative natural processes became the rule of normal operation.

Psalm 89:37 speaks of the Moon as “the faithful witness in the sky” (NIV) that confirms that God’s promises are something we can count on. Scientific models always have their limits, especially in matters of origins.  Scripture doesn’t give us scientific models but it does tell us some information about our origins and the origin of our special planet. Isaiah 40:8 says “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever (NIV).”  Linda Elkins-Tanton quoted above made the comment that “The Earth and Moon should not be the special exception or a statistical improbability.”  Why not?  What if our planet Earth and its Moon are special exceptions, that is consistent with the old term “special creation” which I think should be brought back into modern usage.  Creation requires supernatural processes because natural processes are not adequate.  What is created for humans on Earth is special because it is intelligently designed for our benefit.  So the Moon should be a reminder to us God’s word still stands.

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The God who is

I’ve always been fascinated by Exodus 3:14 where God gives his name, by which he wants to be known. It is variously translated, such as “I AM that I AM” or “I Am who I Am”, or some say it could be taken as “I will be who I will be.” This is the first occurrence in verse 14. The second occurrence in verse 14 just has it once, “I AM.” Following this in verse 15 it uses the yhwh name, which we say as “Yahweh.” This is the Tetragrammaton, where God’s name originally was written without vowels, because the Hebrew language had no vowels. There seems to be almost complete agreement that no one is sure how to translate the “I AM.” I can’t pretend to translate it but it seems to me the emphasis is not on what God would do in the future or on his power or many other attributes. It seems to me the emphasis here is on God’s existence and on him acting in the present. He was the one God who really existed and was there relating to Moses. He was the God who understood what his people were going through and was taking action (for Moses and the Israelites) to do something about it. So to me it seems almost as if God is saying “I am the God who is”, in contrast to all other alleged gods, which do not exist. Or, you might put it in a more modern parlance as “I am the God who is real.” The “I AM” is a variation on “to be” and there is a conjunction, followed by the same “I AM.” So it’s as though “to be” is used first as a nown and then as a verb, with a conjunction in the middle.

This name for God implies things about God’s attributes also. God is self-existent, He is the only self-existent one. He is transcendent, existing outside of the physical universe and not dependent on the universe. The name “Lord” in the Old Testament sometimes uses the four Hebrew letter name yhwh and it seems to be thought of as connected to the “I AM” name in Exodus 3. God also often refers to himself as the” God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses was also told to use this when he spoke to the Israelites in Egypt.

Then in the New Testament Jesus refers to himself with the “I AM” name, such as in John 8. Jesus makes statements that clearly imply that He existed from before Abraham, from the creation. The New Testament describes Jesus as the Creator, such as in John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1. But even the Old Testament occasionally had statements to the effect, such as in Micah 5:2. In Micah 5:2 it speaks about the city of Bethlehem, then says “From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler of Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Thus both the Old and New Testaments point to the same person being savior of all men and being fully God.

Thus, when Jesus made the radical statement in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am” this was implying he was with God in the beginning, before Creation. I think the “I am” perhaps could also be taken to mean that Jesus came from outside of time and space as we know it. Since he is fully God, his existence is transcendent. He is from “outside” this universe. Jesus’ statement starts with “before” then ends with “I am” which sounds present tense. Some have argued that this implies from God’s perspective God can see all times at once. C. S. Lewis, somewhere in his Chronicles of Narnia book series, once put in a statement describing Aslan in similar terms. It said that to Aslan, “all times are near.” So this may be how Lewis thought about God. This is really speculation about things beyond us. But the important thing is that Jesus became one of us, to give us a way of salvation and a hope for eternity. So the God of the Bible is not far away or merely theoretical. He is a God who emphasizes his own existence in his name. He is the real God who acts in the present and relates to people who seek him.

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Jesus and the Sword

Nonchristians often bring up the idea of “turning the other cheek” in the context of criticizing military action or criticizing self defense. They may think of it as inconsistent for Christians to say they believe in “turning the other cheek” as Jesus taught but also believe in supporting the military. Nonchristians in a similar manner often tend to criticize Christians for accepting the Old Testament because it has the legal principle in the Law of Moses to “take an eye for an eye” or a “hand for a hand.” But nonchristians criticize such things without knowing the context. The context matters a lot. Also, Jesus wasn’t so easily categorized as nonchristians make him out to be. There were some interesting incidents in the gospels recorded in the New Testament that have to do with Jesus, his disciples, the sword, and self defense. You won’t find unanimity from all Christians on the meaning of these passages. But these passages certainly don’t present the simplistic view that nonchristians tend to have of the Bible on these topics.

I first dealt with this issue from growing up in the Church of the Brethren, which takes a position of pacifism regarding war. I picked up a pamphlet from the Church of the Brethren once that made the statement, “all war is sin.” Because it accepted that all war was sin, regardless of the reason for the war, it was wrong for Christians to take part in killing in a war. Thus there have been conscientious objectors that in the past were drafted but they were allowed to serve in roles that did not put them on the front lines where they could be involved in fighting. I decided to look into this in the Bible and I concluded the pacifist position was not really supportable by Scripture. Most conservative Christians in America believe killing can be necessary in self defense and that there are at least some circumstances where going to war is necessary for a nation. What those circumstances are is a challenging question.

I found that when you study the kings of ancient Israel there were some instances where the Bible commends kings for preparing for the defense of cities. (The issues surrounding the Israelites conquering Canaanite peoples is I think a separate discussion.) There were situations where Israel went to battle not because they wanted to but because they had to, unrelated to the people groups in Canaan they were conquering. So the Old Testament does have support for the idea of a national defense, totally apart from the conquest of Canaan.

The “eye for an eye” principle in the Old Testament (see Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, Deut. 19) was something for the national level. It was never intended to justify revenge. It was harder on sinful violent acts than we are today. The Bible generally treats sin as more serious than we think of it today. But this was a law for ancient Israel and I think it was because they were a true theocratic state. I don’t think the Bible implies all nations should do the same necessarily. The Jewish legal system included a sort of trial where evidence was presented. If someone was found guilty of some act of violence then the principle could apply. I’m not sure how often it was carried out.

Jesus taught something different because he was telling people they could not use this command in the Law of Moses as an excuse to be violent toward someone, even if they were wronged. Responding to violence with more violence can escalate the violence rather than ending it. Jesus also I think emphasized how we tend to react in a selfish way, such as when possessions are taken from us. In the United States we often talk about our rights. But there are situations when it is better to give up on what may be your rights, as an example and a witness to others, and to avoid escalating a tense situation and making everything worse. This is the context of the “turn the other cheek” idea from Jesus (see Matthew 5:38-39). It was what Jesus said about how an individual should react if some other individual mistreated them in some way. It was not in a legal context about the consequences of a crime.

When I was looking into the pacifist point of view, I was surprised to find that in Luke 22:36 Jesus tells his disciples to take a sword with them after he was arrested or no longer in the world. He was about to be arrested and he implied that the disciples would face some opposition and possibly some hatred from some. He even said that if they didn’t have a sword to sell their cloak and buy one if they had to. At this statement someone spoke up and said “See, Lord, here are two swords.” Jesus then said “That’s enough!” ( Luke 22:38, NIV). This passage has been interpreted different ways. But it seems that some of the disciples took it the wrong way because in Matthew 26:51-52 Peter later attacks the servant of the High Priest and cuts off his ear! This was not what Jesus meant they should do. But Jesus did tell them to have a sword. I think the sword statement was meant to be for later after Jesus was no longer on Earth, for self defense.

Another interesting statement from Jesus was when he was speaking to Pilate in John 18:36. Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus’ reply was “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36, NIV) Jesus disciples sometimes thought Jesus was indeed intending to become the new King over Israel and somehow defeat the Romans. But that was not God’s purpose. He deserved to be King, but he came to die in our place to be the Savior of the world. But this statement is not against the principle of fighting against an injustice or against an unjust government necessarily. The arrest of Jesus was the ultimate injustice. But it wasn’t God’s will at the time to start a rebellion against the Romans, or even against the hypocritical Jewish leaders. This statement of Jesus is very puzzling to Christians of the pacifist perspective. We should never want violence, but in an evil world, violence can come to us and it takes wisdom and courage to deal with it.

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