The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Absurd

Absurd.

That is how I summarize my thoughts about the upcoming Discovery Channel “documentary” “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”. If you’ve missed all the hoopla over this, here’s the story in brief:

  • Archeologists discover a tomb near Jerusalem.
  • People who are buried there have names such as Yeshua (Jesus), Maria, and Joseph.
  • Movie producer James Cameron produces a documentary saying this is the Jesus and his family.

Some reasons why this is absurd:

  • These were all common names in 1st century Jewish names.
  • Jesus and his family lived in Galilee, not Jerusalem.
  • Jesus and his family were poor, and would not have been able to afford a fancy tomb. His followers were poor as well.
  • This tomb has been known since 1980, and the archeologists who worked on the site came up with no ridiculous story about this being Jesus and his family.
  • None of Jesus’ enemies at the time could produce a body. It wasn’t in any tomb.
  • And finally, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. His body isn’t in a tomb.

Gene Edward Veith says:

Not that I accept the ludicrous claims of the documentary to have any scholarly merit. As someone said, it’s like finding a gravestone of two people named John and Paul and thinking to have discovered the Beatles.

There are probably a thousand sites out there that have something to say about this. Here are a few good ones:

A few of my observations:

  • It is not just Christians who are calling this a bunch of baloney. Secular scholars are highly critical of the documentary as well.
  • This underlines the need for clear thinking in Christian circles. The arguments of Cameron in his documentary will be easy to counter by those who have a basic foundation in the Bible and history.
  • Most who see this, just as most who read or saw The Davinci Code will have no idea that the arguments are absurd.
  • We should expect that the world will attack the center and foundation of our faith: the person and work of Jesus Christ. We should not lose heart even if the attacks become relentless.
  • I wonder if “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” will be shown between Discovery Channel programs about parapsychology and alien abductions. The Discovery Channel is often more concerned about making a buck than about presenting good science.

Don’t let your faith be weakened.

Grace and Peace

Update 3 March 2007:

This whole “Tomb of Jesus” argument is easy to pick apart, and many are doing so. Still, many in the world will buy into it. Why? Because we often analyze information like this not based on the soundness of logical arguments, but by how the information is presented, who presents it, and how it fits our preconceived notions.

Here are a couple more good analyses of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” :

Tales from the crypt, by Kerby Anderson, Probe Ministries

Archeological Identity Theft, by Chris Rosebrough, Extreme Theology

February 28, 2007 Posted by | Apologetics, Archeology, Christianity | Leave a comment

Stewart Brand, builder of the world’s slowest computer

There’s an interesting story in today’s New York Times about a man named Stewart Brand. Brand was the publisher of the original Whole Earth Catalog, and an early leader of the environmental movement.

Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering.

I was particularly intrigued by this:

Mr. Brand’s latest project, undertaken with fellow digerati, is to build the world’s slowest computer, a giant clock designed to run for 10,000 years inside a mountain in the Nevada desert, powered by changes in temperature. The clock is an effort to promote long-term thinking.

Taking a look at the NYT article just for a peak at his clock will be worth your time.

The thing I like about his clock project is its long-term perspective. Our energy and environmental policies tend to be very short-term; a decade at the most. At times, we need short-term solutions to problems, but we also need long-term solutions. What energy policies will keep us going for 100 years? 1000 years? 2000 years? Coal certainly won’t do it. Neither will fission-based nuclear power (which Brand advocates). Uranium, too, is a limited natural resource. The long-term possibilities: solar, wind, fusion (will it ever work?), and technologies that we might not be even dreaming about yet.

(Yes, I know that Christ could return tomorrow. But he could conceivably wait another 2000 years as well. We don’t know, and need to live as if he could come back on either timescale).

Grace and Peace

February 27, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Technology | Leave a comment

Guatemalan sinkhole

Pictures of a recently-formed sinkhole in Guatemala City can be found here.

By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA, Associated Press Writer

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – A 330-foot-deep sinkhole killed at least two teenagers as it swallowed about a dozen homes early Friday and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people in a crowded Guatemala City neighborhood. Officials blamed the sinkhole on recent rains and an underground sewage flow from a ruptured main.

The pit emitted foul odors, loud noises and tremors, shaking the surrounding ground. A rush of water could be heard from its depths, and authorities feared it could widen or others could open up.

Grace and Peace

February 27, 2007 Posted by | Geology | Leave a comment

Nerve Gas

Books and Culture has an fascinating review of two books about nerve gas:

War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda by Jonathan Tucker

Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraints by Frederic Brown

Some quotes from the review:

My favorite of Tucker’s tales is the story of Boris Libman, a native of Latvia who could have walked straight out of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Born in 1922, Libman was just 18 when the invading Russians confiscated his family’s land and property and drafted him into the Soviet Army. He was seriously wounded early in the war, returned to duty after a long recovery, and was again badly wounded, the second time left for dead. He survived the war and applied to study at the Moscow Institute for Chemistry tuition-free as an honorably discharged disabled veteran. Libman was turned down because he was officially dead. He managed to prove he was alive, attended university, and became quite a talented chemical engineer. He supervised production of thousands of tons of nerve gas on impossible schedules for many years. In trying to do his best for the Soviet Union, he made an error with a containment pond for toxic wastes. A storm caused a flood, the pond burst its dike, and tons of toxic waste poured into the Volga River. Months later the delayed effects of the spill killed millions of fish for 50 miles downriver. Libman was blamed and sent to a labor camp to appease an outraged public. But as it turned out, no one else could run the nerve gas plant, and Libman was quietly released and returned to work after one year.

Poison gases were used in WWI, but not to any large degree in WWII. All sides recognized the hideousness of these weapons, and the tactical difficulties in their use. Modern day terrorists don’t have the same qualms:

Quite rightly, Brown took a measure of comfort in reflecting that the restraints which existed in World War II continued in the Cold War era. Alas, this modest reassurance does not carry over to our own day. Terrorists are not soldiers. As their name suggests, their purpose is to inflict terror on the civilian population, while at the same time they can trust traditional Western reticence not to respond with indiscriminate murder in retaliation.

Grace and Peace

February 26, 2007 Posted by | Chemistry, Ethics | Leave a comment

Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness

More important science news, from the Onion:

NEW YORK—Millions of eyewitnesses watched in stunned horror Tuesday as light emptied from the sky, plunging the U.S. and neighboring countries into darkness. As the hours progressed, conditions only worsened.

At approximately 4:20 p.m. EST, the sun began to lower from its position in the sky in a westward trajectory, eventually disappearing below the horizon. Reports of this global emergency continued to file in from across the continent until 5:46 p.m. PST, when the entire North American mainland was officially declared dark.

Click here for the entire story.

I’m glad I live in Europe. It’s still light outside.

Grace and Peace

February 23, 2007 Posted by | Fun | Leave a comment

U.S. Hardiness Zones and Climate Change

The National Arbor Day Foundation has released maps with revised “hardiness zones.” These zones can be used for determining which plants can be grown in certain parts of the United States. For example, a Norway spruce grows well in zones 3 through 7, but would not grow well in much of the South. These maps reflect the realities of changing climate: most of the nation is warmer now than at the time the previous map was published by the USDA, which was in 1990.

USA 2006 Hardiness Zones:

USA 1990 Hardiness Zones:

USA Hardiness Zone Changes:
The pink and red areas are in warmer zones than in 1990.

Here’s what the Arbor Day site has to say about the benefits of trees:

Trees counteract global warming in multiple ways. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the leading contributor to global warming, and as trees grow they remove CO2 from the atmosphere, storing the carbon and releasing oxygen. A single tree can remove more than a ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Also, shade provided by trees reduces summer air conditioning needs. According to the USDA, the cooling effect of a healthy tree is equal to 10 room-size air-conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Trees reduce the “heat-island” effect in urban areas, where summer temperatures are generally warmer than the surrounding countryside. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 50 million strategically placed shade trees could eliminate the need for seven 100-megawatt power plants. Additionally, trees around homes and in cities slow cold winter winds, reducing the need for winter heating. This relief on fuel consumption for heating and cooling helps reduce CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Grace and Peace

February 22, 2007 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment | Leave a comment

Sea Level Rising

Sea level is rising! Coastal areas are going to be inundated! Billions of eco-refugees are going to be knocking on your door!

Or maybe not. Here’s some perspective on sea level rise:

The recently-released IPCC Report (Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis Summary for Policymakers) does not portray catastrophic sea level increases. Their projection for 21st-century sea level rise is in the 0.18 to 0.59 meter range. This is primarily due to the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm, and excludes any sea level rise due to substantial melting of polar ice caps. A 0.59 meter sea level rise could cause serious problems for coastal communities or low-elevation countries like the Maldives and the Netherlands, but this is not the catastrophic sea level rise that the more extreme elements of the environmental movement want us to fear.

Rising of sea level has been going on for many thousands of years, though at a slowing pace. In the past 18,000 years, sea level has increased a whopping 120 meters (that’s almost 400 feet). During periods of glacial maximum (i.e. “the ice ages”), a large quantity of water was stored on the continents in the form of ice caps. As this melted between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago, sea level rose dramatically. Whatever sea level increases occur due to global warming will be rather small in comparison.


Image from Wikipedia article on Sea Level Rise

Grace and Peace

Disclaimer: I am at present neither a global-warming skeptic nor a global-warming advocate. I’ll let you know when I figure it all out.

February 22, 2007 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment | Leave a comment

Misc Science News

The global consumption of plastic bags is in the 500 billion to 1 trillion range. Many of these end up in landfills or in nature. The solution according to bringyourown.org and reusablebags.com: BYOB — Bring Your Own Bag.

For a square-wheeled bicycle, click here.

Supervolcano in Washington state. This one erupted 3.7 million years ago, and produced 137 km3 of ash, compared to about 1 km3 produced by Mt. St. Helens in 1980. My M.S. research in geology dealt with wind-blown volcanic layers in eastern Washington, so this is near and dear to my heart.

Grace and Peace

February 22, 2007 Posted by | Misc | Leave a comment

Geology and the scientific method

Here’s a quote from geologist John D. Winter on how geologists think as they go about their scientific investigations:

Geology is often plagued by the problem of inaccessibility. Geological observers really see only a tiny fraction of the rocks that compose the Earth. Uplift and erosion exposes some deep-seated rocks, whereas others are delivered as xenoliths in magma, but their exact place of origin is vague at best. As a result, a large proportion of our information about the Earth is indirect, coming from melts of subsurface material, geophysical studies, or experiments conducted at elevated temperatures and pressures.

The problem of inaccessibility has a temporal aspect as well. Most Earth processes are exceedingly slow. As a result, we seldom are blessed with the opportunity of observing even surface processes at rates that lend themselves to ready interpretation (volcanism is a rare exception for petrologists). In most other sciences, theories can be tested by experiment. In geology, as a rule, our experiment has run to its present state and is impossible to reproduce. Our common technique is to observe the results and infer what the experiment was. Most of our work is thus inferential and deductive. Rather than being repulsed by this aspect of our work, I believe most geologists are attracted by it.

Winter, J.D., 2001, An Introduction to Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, p. xvii. (bold emphasis added)

My thoughts:

  • There is not just one “scientific method.” Even in the experimental sciences, not everything is done in the strict order of Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion. Geologists do experiments, but these are done to give insights into how the world works, and what has occured in the past.
  • The scientific method as practiced by geologists is often more like the work done by a forensic detective, trial lawyer, or historian. We have pieces of evidence, and we try to put together a coherent story about what has happened in the past.
  • This does not mean that geologists aren’t scientists. It just means that there are different sets of rules when one is investigating past, non-repeatable occurances.
  • Almost all high school science textbooks have a section about the “scientific method” in the introductory chapter, presenting the standard Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion outline. This might be acceptable (though not completely accurate) in a chemistry or physics book, but it is downright misleading in an earth science textbook. I have not seen a single high school earth science textbook that points out these important differences in methodology.
  • This distinction comes into play in discussions about origins. When one is talking about evolution, or the origin of life, or the origin of the universe, much of the discussion revolves around questions that can only be addressed by the historical scientific method rather than the experimental scientific method.

Grace and Peace

February 20, 2007 Posted by | Geology | Leave a comment

Predator-Prey Relationships

What happens when the street dog population decreases? The cat population increases. Here are a few of up to fourteen cats we have counted behind our apartment in Bucharest. We still have a few street dogs around, but they are old and lazy, and don’t seem to bother the cats too much. We don’t really want the cats to go. Unlike the dogs, they are unlikely to bite us, and I suspect they keep the rat population down.

Grace and Peace

February 16, 2007 Posted by | Biology, Romania | Leave a comment

Confusion

Ever feel confused? Sometimes we just don’t know what to do, and the messages we receive don’t help. For instance, check out the arrows on this bike path:

Grace and Peace

February 16, 2007 Posted by | Fun | Leave a comment

State Quarters, Presidential Dollars, County Cents?

The Montana state quarter should be out. They won’t be showing up here in Romania any time soon, but it looks like they picked a nice design.

Presidential dollars. They look nice but will anyone use them?

Have you heard about County Pennies? Read about it at U.S. Mint Gears Up To Issue Commemorative County Pennies.

Grace and Peace

February 15, 2007 Posted by | Fun | Leave a comment

Successor to Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope is ailing — its main camera stopped working a few weeks ago, and several of its stabilizing gyroscopes have failed. One more space shuttle servicing mission is scheduled for September 2008. The HST has not only been a marvelous scientific tool, it may well be the best public relations tool astronomy has ever had. In addition, it has added deeper meaning to what David wrote 3000 years ago in Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. (ESV)

The next generation space telescope is the James Webb Space Telescope. Its main mirror will have six times the reflecting surface area of the Hubble’s mirror, but the overall satellite will be smaller than the Hubble. It is presently in the planning and design phase, and is scheduled to be launched in 2013.

The design of the telescope is a radical departure from that of the Hubble. It’s primary mirror is made out of a number of smaller hexagonal mirrors which will act together as if they were one mirror (this has become common for large telescopes on earth). It will operate at a cold 50 K (-220°C or -370°F), so the mirror and instruments will need to be shielded from the heat of the sun and earth by a large screen, which will unfold once the telescope is in orbit.

The orbit of the JWST will also be quite a bit different. While the HST orbits at about 600 km above the earth, the JWST will be in an orbit around the sun at a point 1.5 million kilometers above the earth, at the point designated “L2″ on the diagram below. This is a mathematical point known as a Lagrangian point, where the gravitational attraction of the earth and sun work together to keep an object stationary with respect to earth.

NASA site
Wikipedia article — JWST
Wikipedia article — Lagrangian points

Grace and Peace

February 14, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Creationist earns PhD

A man named Marcus Ross recently earned his PhD in geology from the University of Rhode Island. The unusual thing about this is that he is a young-earth creationist. With his views on the age of the earth, I was very surprised that the university awarded him his doctorate, and there are secularists out there who are howling.

His dissertation was about Mesozoic marine reptiles known as mosasaurs, and he wrote it using standard geological assumptions about the age of the earth and the nature of fossils and sedimentary rocks. His professors were fully aware of his young-earth viewpoint, but he was able to do the things that are expected of a successful PhD candidate: original research, depth of knowledge, breadth of knowledge, good communication skills.
The New York Times had an article on this yesterday, and here are a few quotes:

The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”

His creationism aroused “some concern by faculty members there, and disagreements,” he recalled, and there were those who argued that his religious beliefs should bar him from earning an advanced degree in paleontology.

“But in the end I had a decent thesis project and some people who, like the people at U.R.I., were kind to me, and I ended up going through,” Dr. Ross said.

Dr. Fastovsky and other members of the Rhode Island faculty said they knew about these disagreements, but admitted him anyway. Dr. Boothroyd, who was among those who considered the application, said they judged Dr. Ross on his academic record, his test scores and his master’s thesis, “and we said, ‘O.K., we can do this.’ ”

He added, “We did not know nearly as much about creationism and young earth and intelligent design as we do now.”

For his part, Dr. Ross says, “Dr. Fastovsky was liberal in the most generous and important sense of the term.”

Dr. Fastovsky said he had talked to Dr. Ross “lots of times” about his religious beliefs, but that depriving him of his doctorate because of them would be nothing more than religious discrimination. “We are not here to certify his religious beliefs,” he said. “All I can tell you is he came here and did science that was completely defensible.”

Though I might disagree with Dr. Ross on issues like the age of the earth and the relationship between science and Scripture, I am very pleased that he was awarded his doctorate. To deny him this would have been blatant anti-religious discrimination.

Grace and Peace

February 13, 2007 Posted by | Origins | Leave a comment

The great train wreck

Here’s a great photo for a physics lesson on inertia or kinetic energy:

And here’s the description of this accident from Wikipedia:

On October 22, 1895, the Granville–Paris Express train overran the buffer stop at Gare Montparnasse station. The engine careened across almost 30 metres (100 feet) of the station concourse, crashed through a 60 centimetre thick wall, shot across a terrace and sailed out of the station, plummeting onto the Place de Rennes 10 metres (30 feet) below where it stood on its nose. While all of the passengers on board the train survived, one woman on the street below was killed by falling masonry.

Photo credit: Studio Lévy and Sons

Grace and Peace

February 10, 2007 Posted by | Physics | Leave a comment

Scottish parliament

Here is the Scottish Parliament debating chamber. It is a beautiful room, with lots of wood and natural light.

I like things that are well done. Christians sometimes debate about aesthetics, with some saying our buildings should be built with bare-bones budgets, while others build elaborate cathedrals. Each side in these sorts of debates usually makes valid points. My position is usually excellence and beauty without extravagance. We are created in the image of God, and should therefore make beautiful things, not just useful things. At the same time, there are many needs out in the world, so we shouldn’t live in luxury.

The balance, I suppose, is usually hard to find.

Grace and Peace

February 10, 2007 Posted by | Misc | Leave a comment

Mars and Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just four days away, which makes me wonder…

Is Mars the planet of war? After all, Venus was the Roman goddess of beauty and love, while Mars was the god of war.

This Valentine’s day, let us resolve to think better of the red planet! Mars is really a happy, loving place, as indicated by the following images taken from orbit around the planet:

Venus, on the other hand, is a deadly place, with searing temperatures, crushing atmospheric pressure, and sulfuric acid clouds. Mars really is a peaceful and homey place in comparison, the best planet in the solar system (other than earth) to take your sweetheart on that special day.

Grace and Peace

February 10, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy, Fun | Leave a comment

Galaxies

The Astronomy Picture of the Day for February 8, 2007:

Most of the objects in this image are galaxies, even many of the small specks. The only objects that are stars within our own Milky Way Galaxy are those that have spikes.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be
glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36 ESV

Grace and Peace

February 8, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Viewing Mercury

Most people have never seen the planet Mercury, but it has been known since ancient times. Being close to the sun, it is never found high in the night sky; rather it is viewable only shortly after sunset or before sunrise. This week, Mercury will be visible in the western sky after sunset.

Mercury is a challenge to spot, but you will be able to use Venus as a guide. You will need an unobstructed view of the horizon: no trees, hills, or buildings. Find Venus; shortly after the sun sets Venus will be the brightest object in the western sky. Go about 1/3 of the way down to the horizon and somewhat to the right. If conditions are right, you will be able to see a faint point of light about 11 degrees above the horizon; this is Mercury. You will be looking against a fairly light sky, which is what makes it so difficult to spot Mercury, but if you wait until it is darker, it will be too low in the sky.

Mercury will be at its highest on the 7th of February, and then will quickly become more difficult to see as it moves in its 88-day orbit around the sun.

Here’s a view from some astronomy software (Starry Night) at about 15 minutes after sunset, showing what to expect tonight:

Grace and Peace

[Update -- Friday 2/2 -- I took my children out last night to Parcul Tineretului, the large park next to our apartment block in Bucharest, and about 25 minutes after sunset we could all see Mercury. About half of my middle school students at Bucharest Christian Academy said they did the same last night.]

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

   

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