The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

New GIS class

I started a new GIS (Geographic Information Systems) class from ESRI today: Learning ArcGIS Spatial Analyst. I am taking courses like this to expand and update my GIS skills. Plus, it is cool stuff to work with.

I’ve done some of this before, such as generating shaded relief and contours:

Shaded relief and contour maps of Mt. Shasta, California. Note the lava flows on the lower slopes north of the main part of the volcano. Taken from the ESRI course Learning ArcGIS Spatial Analyst.

Shaded relief and contour maps of Mt. Shasta, California. Note the lava flows on the lower slopes north of the main part of the volcano. Taken from the ESRI course Learning ArcGIS Spatial Analyst.

Other things will be new to me, such as interpolating data. An example of this would be filling in precipitation values between scattered weather stations.

I might not get much blogging done this week, as I’d like to really push myself to get this done.

Grace and Peace


Update

Here’s my first hillshade map for this class. This is a hilly region near Harlan, Kentucky, showing the topography with the sun at an elevation of 45 degrees in the northwest:

spatialanalysthillshade

Here is a slope percent map of the same area. Green areas are flat, red areas are steep, and yellow areas are of intermediate slope:

spatialanalystslope

Here’s one more for tonight. This map shows slope aspect, which is the direction the slope faces:

spatialanalystaspect1

spatialanalystaspectkey

You could combine the final two maps to search for a homesite on a shady north-facing slope; not too steep, and not in the flats.

All of this illustrates one of the strengths of GIS: the ability to quickly analyze a large geospatial dataset—in this case a digital elevation model—to create new output files.

January 31, 2009 Posted by | Employment, Maps | 1 Comment

The Earth has a future

This item was originally posted in June 2006. I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries (with some editing).

Additionally, this is being submitted to the January 2009 Accretionary Wedge Geoscience Blog Carnival, in which a number of geology bloggers are writing on the topic of speculation about future Earth history from a geological perspective. The first part of this post contains no original thinking on my part, but is a summary of an article that appeared in the online journal Geosphere.

For those of you who have gotten here who are not regular readers of The GeoChristian, welcome. I write primarily for a general audience rather than for a geological audience. One of the primary objectives of The GeoChristian is to promote geoscience literacy in the Evangelical Christian community, and so I have a number of posts on issues that are controversial within that group, including the age of the Earth and Christian attitudes toward the environment.

I close this post with a few thoughts on Christian perspectives on the future of the Earth.


The Accretionary Wedge #16: Pondering the geological future of Earth is now posted.


We usually think of the science of geology as being about the past: geologists often reconstruct events that happened thousands, millions, or even billions of years in the past. Sometimes geologists are called upon to project into the future as well. Examples of this include earthquake prediction and finding sites for long-term (>10,000 years) storage of radioactive waste. Geologist Steven Ian Dutch takes a look at the prospects for the next million years in “The Earth Has a Future”, published by the Geological Society of America in the online journal Geosphere. I’ll summarize the article and then give a little commentary on it.

The article is available online in two versions:

Dutch starts with processes active on the surface of the earth—erosion, uplift, volcanic activity, plate movement, changes due to human activities—as well as the more rare events such as eruptions of supervolcanoes and meteorite impacts. He calculates the rates at which these occur at various places on the earth, and makes predictions as to what the earth will be like in one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, and a million years from now. He acknowledges that there are many uncertainties in these speculations, but it is still a worthwhile exercise.

One of the most difficult things to predict, in Dutch’s mind, is the future impact of human activity. Will humans become extinct? Will technological civilization collapse? Will humans modify the surface of the earth beyond recognition?

Some things that will happen in the next 1000 years:

  • 5-7 magnitude 8 earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault, with total movement of about 25 m.
  • 40 eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 5-10 eruptions of Fuji
  • ~12 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • Perhaps smaller volcanic eruptions in areas with lower-frequency eruptive histories: cinder cones in the SW United States, Puy region of France, or Eifel region of Germany
  • 200 eruptions of Mauna Loa on Hawaii, building it 5 m higher
  • Probable death of Old Faithful Geyser, as its geothermal plumbing shifts over time
  • Several world-wide large volcanic eruptions (on the scale of the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which caused “the year without summer” in the United States and Europe)
  • Little change visible in mountain ranges as they simultaneously uplift and erode
  • The Mississippi River and its delta will change its course. Its delta naturally changes position every 1000 years or so, and is overdue (thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Niagara Falls will have cut back 900 m upstream from its present position
  • A good chance of a meteorite impact with a crater of 100 m or more
  • Most steel structures (Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge) will survive only with careful maintenance
  • Humans will still be using coal and natural gas, but not much petroleum

Some things that will happen in the next 10,000 years:

  • 50-70 magnitude 8 earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault, with displacement of 250 m
  • Kilauea, on Hawaii, will be about 100 m higher
  • Several hundred eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 100 eruptions of Fuji
  • 100 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • 90 m uplift of the Baltic Sea and 100 m uplift of Hudson Bay as they continue to rebound after the removal of Pleistocene ice sheets. These bodies of water will, therefore, be smaller
  • By natural cycles, we would be nearing the end of the present interglacial, looking to the beginning of a new ice age
  • Niagara Falls will retreat upstream by 9 km
  • Higher probability of a 1 km crater formed by meteor impact, with considerable destruction up to hundreds of km away
  • Without considerable care, the only human structures that will still exist are large highway cuts and large monuments
  • No present human cities are 10,000 years old. Will any of our present cities exist 10,000 years from now?

Some things that will happen in the next 100,000 years:

  • 2.5 km slip along the San Andreas Fault. Not enough to close the Golden Gate
  • Kilauea will be 1 km higher, and Loihi (an underwater volcano SE of the island of Hawaii) will be above sea level
  • Some mountain ranges will have had 1 km of uplift. In most cases, this will be accompanied by close to 1 km of erosion, so the net result will be exposure of deeper rocks, not higher mountain ranges
  • Earth could be in an ice age
  • Niagara Falls will stop retreating as rock types are different further upstream. A new waterfall will start forming near the outlet of Lake Erie
  • There could be a meteor impact with global effect

Some things that will happen in the next 1,000,000 years:

  • The San Andreas Fault will have slipped 25 km, perhaps blocking the entrance to San Francisco Bay
  • The highest points of the island of Hawaii will be Kilauea and Loihi. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea will be old and eroded
  • Several enormous catastrophic landslides will have occurred on the slopes of Hawaii
  • Many current volcanoes will have become extinct, being replaced by others
  • One or more eruptions of “supervolcanoes” such as Yellowstone or Long Valley, California. (The last large eruption at Yellowstone, 640,000 years ago, had a volume of 1000 km3, as compared to 0.5 km3 for Mount St. Helens 1980)
  • Some rivers will have changed their courses
  • Ten or more major periods of glaciation
  • Hundreds of meteor impacts
  • The earth’s day will be 20 seconds longer (due to tidal effects)
  • The moon will be 38 km further away
  • The solar system will have traveled 750 light years in its orbit around the center of the galaxy
  • The only present human structures to survive will be large and made of earth and stone: open-pit mines, large road cuts, mine waste piles, the Pyramids. (Even the Pyramids might not make it if the climate becomes more humid in that area).

Commentary

This kind of reasoning is increasingly important in the Earth sciences: trying to figure out what has happened in the past and what is going on at the present in order to make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future.

Some issues that come to mind as I as a Christian geologist think about the future of the Earth:

  • This paper puts our human achievements in a good perspective. All that we create is of a very temporary nature. Compared to the universe and the potential vastness of time, we are rather temporary. The purpose of this isn’t to magnify the creation, but to magnify the Creator. God is to the universe as the universe is to us. And that is an understatement.
  • In Christian understanding, God is sovereign over the events of the future. This does not rule out the type of investigation that has been done here—we can seek to understand how the earth works and then project that into the future. This is the geological principle of uniformitarianism properly applied to the future. It has its limits, but it can also be a powerful tool.
  • As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven after his resurrection, will return to Earth some day. I don’t know when that will be. First century believers thought that it would occur in their lifetimes, and probably couldn’t imagine a delay of at least 2000 years. I don’t know if Christ’s return will be tomorrow, or 3000 years further down the road. I am just told to always be ready.
  • One reason that we need to use our natural resources wisely is what I just stated. We don’t know the future; we don’t know when Christ is returning. Our water, mineral, soil, and energy resources may need to last us a very long time. There are a number of other reasons, of course, for us to pursue a sustainable future.
  • The Biblical view of eternal life (yes, as a Christian I believe in life after death) is not living in heaven. The Earth has a future, at least as a new Earth (Revelation 21:1). Biblical scholars disagree as to the exact relationship between the present Earth and the New Earth; whether it is just a makeover or a complete re-creation. But eternity for the believer will not be spent strumming harps on clouds, but on a real, physical Earth that is in many ways like the one we live on. It will have rocks and trees and bodies of water. It may be different in some ways than the present Earth, but it will still be “earthy.” The primary difference will be the removal of sin and its effects, such as disease, war, famine, and death.
  • Will the new Earth have volcanoes? Earthquakes? Uplift and erosion? Plate tectonics? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it will. We tend to think of things like volcanoes and earthquakes as “bad,” but I believe these things could fit under the phrase “it was good” from Genesis 1. Volcanoes, for example, renew the surface of the earth, and provide us with rich soils. “Good” isn’t the same as “safe;” in fact, dangerous things have a way of showing God’s glory to us.

Grace and Peace

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Future, Geology | 3 Comments

Reading – January 2009

Here are the books I’ve been working on in January:

  • The Bible, Rocks, and Time, by Young and Stearley
  • The Oceans, by Prager
  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Noll
  • Living the Cross Centered Life, by Mahaney

I didn’t finish any books.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Reading | Leave a comment

Geology humor

Some good humor from Looking for Detachment: Geologists and Engineers. I got some good laughs.

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Fun, Geology | 1 Comment

All truth is God’s truth

Does the Bible take priority over science, or are science and scripture complementary?

Here’s the approach I take: All truth is God’s truth.

I’m not the first to use this phrase by any means, but I think it is a good summary of how I view the relationship between science and my Christian faith.

Sometimes there appears to be a contradiction between science (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation). When this conflict occurs, it could be for one of two reasons: either we don’t understand nature correctly, or we don’t understand the Bible correctly. In the end, when we understand both correctly, there will be no conflict.

For now, we need to approach these “conflicts” with humility, hard work, and intellectual rigor.

Grace and Peace

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Origins | | 20 Comments

Darwin, evolution, and God

charles_darwin_aged_51This may be new to some of you, but Charles Darwin did not reject God because of evolution, but because of other factors, such as anger over the death of his 10-year old daughter. Darwin was more of an agnostic than an atheist, and he certainly was no anti-God crusader like Richard Dawkins is today.

Dinesh D’Souza writes about this at ChristianityToday.com: The Evolution of Darwin.

The story is told in Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s authoritative biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. When Darwin’s daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin came to hate the God he blamed for this. This was in 1851, eight years before Darwin released Origin of Species.

Around the time of Annie’s death, Darwin also wrote that if Christianity were true, then it would follow that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and many of his closest family friends would be in hell. Darwin found this utterly unacceptable, given that these men were wise and kind and generous. Darwin’s rejection of God was less an act of unbelief than a rebellion against the kind of God posited by Christianity. A God who would allow a young girl to die and good people to go to hell was not anyone whom Darwin wanted to worship.

When Darwin published his work on evolution, the American biologist Asa Gray wrote Darwin to say that his book had shown God’s ingenious way of ensuring the unity and diversity of life. From Gray’s point of view, Darwin had deepened man’s understanding of divine teleology. Darwin praised Gray for seeing a point that no one else had noticed. In later editions of his books, Darwin went out of his way to cite the English writer Charles Kingsley, who described evolution as compatible with religious belief. To the end of his life, Darwin insisted that one could be “an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

D’Souza (author of What’s So Great About Christianity) concludes with:

This history is important because we can embrace Darwin’s account of evolution without embracing his metaphysical naturalism and unbelief. Dawkins and others like him are in a way confusing the two faces of Charles Darwin. They are under the illusion that to be an evolutionist is essentially to be an atheist. Darwin, to his credit, rejected the equation of these two stances as illogical, even if he didn’t always maintain, within his own life, a clear distinction between his science and his animus toward God.

Charles Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1809. The 200-year anniversary of their births is coming up next month.

Grace and Peace

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Geology, Origins | , | 1 Comment

Perseverance

As you know, this is a difficult time to find a job.

I just sent off application #212. I spent a good portion of the day writing essays on four federal job applications that were due by midnight Eastern time; I sent the last one off at 11:58. I’ve been very well qualified for most of the 212 jobs I’ve applied for. I suppose there are a few that I’m not fully qualified for, and a few that I’m overqualified for.

When I picked up my daughter from school a few days ago, she asked me, “Did you find a job?” My answer was, “I’ve found lots of jobs; they just haven’t found me yet.” There are still companies and agencies hiring, and I’m praying that some day soon one of them will find me.

Remember to reach out to those in your church and community who are without jobs. I am still filled with hope. Some others are having a very difficult time.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
–Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)

Grace and Peace

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Employment | 1 Comment

Chaiten Volcano, Chile

After 9000 years of dormancy, Chaiten Volcano, in a remote part of southern Chile, has been in an eruptive phase since May 2008. NASA’s Earth Observatory posted these images of the 1/19/09 dome collapse yesterday:

chaiten1

Credit: NASA (Terra satellite)

NASA (Terra satellite)

Credit: NASA (Terra satellite)

These images above don’t do justice to the high resolution versions available at Earth Observatory:

NASA (Terra satellite)

Credit: NASA (Terra satellite). The river formerly went south of the town of Chaiten (meandering gray channel), but as the stream bed clogged with debris, it changed course and now goes right through the middle of the town.

In these false color images, the red areas are vegetation, and the gray areas are volcanic ash and mud.

A dome collapse is what it sounds like. Chaiten Volcano is similar to Mt. St. Helens in Washington, in that it produces viscous lava that piles up in a dome, as opposed to the fluid lava that is produced by basaltic volcanoes such as those in Hawaii. As the dome grows, it can become unstable and collapse, which is sort of like removing a cork from a bottle of champagne. The result is an eruption of ash, such as what you see in these images. (For a picture of the Chaiten dome before its collapse, click here).

This volcano is in an area with a low population density. The town of Chaiten has been evacuated since the volcano rumbled into activity eight months ago.

The Volcanism Blog gives regular updates on Chaiten Volcano.

Grace and Peace

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Geology, Natural Disasters | , | 1 Comment

Mapping the harvest

From NASA’s Earth Observatory this week: Poor harvest in Kenya

NASA

Credit: NASA

From NASA’s description:

Ten million people could face hunger in Kenya after a poor harvest, Kenya’s government warned on January 9, 2009. According to the Associated Press, the government declared a state of emergency to free up funds for food aid.

This image, which shows vegetation conditions between January 1 and January 10, 2009, shows part of the reason for the failed crops. Developing drought settled over eastern Kenya, slowing plant growth. Areas in which plants were growing less vigorously than average are brown, while areas in which plants were growing well are green.

Satellite data like this, if properly used, could help relieve the suffering of millions.

Grace and Peace

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Geography, Maps, Natural Disasters, Why Earth science matters | , | Leave a comment

Planet of the Apes musical

For your cultural enrichment: Planet of the Apes, the Musical

Grace and Peace

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Fun, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Uber space nerd

According to NerdTests.com, I can now add the title of Master of Uber Space Nerd’s Mentor to my resume.

uberspacenerd

HT: GeoTripper

Grace and Peace

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Astronomy, Fun | 5 Comments

Climate change survey

From CNN: Surveyed scientists agree global warming is real.

The results of a University of Illinois survey of scientists include the following:

  • 90% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures have risen compared to levels from before 1800.
  • 82% agreed that human activity been a significant factor in this increase of mean global temperatures.
  • 97% of climatologists surveyed agreed with anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
  • At the other end of the spectrum, only 47% of petroleum geologists agreed with this.

The researchers chose scientists listed in the the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments, 2007 edition.

Geologists in general have been more skeptical about AGW than have other scientists, though I’ve noticed a considerable shift on this in publications of the Geological Society of America and the American Geological Institute. Two reasons for this skepticism that have been proposed are:

  1. A deep historical perspective. Geologists know that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout its history by purely natural means, and that a number of factors have caused this, including changing brightness of the sun, changing oceanic circulation patterns, plate tectonics, and cyclical variations of Earth’s orbit. The Quaternary Period, i.e. the past 1.8 million years, has had an especially variable climate, with long glacial maximum periods, punctuated by interglacial periods, such as the one we live in now.
  2. The close association of geology to the fossil fuel industries. Perhaps there is something psychological here, with a denial that the oil, gas, and coal that we are so closely tied to are the cause of something bad.

I think it is significant that 97% of climatologists surveyed believe global warming is real and that humans have been a significant factor in this. But climatologists will continue to need the input of geologists to gain a fuller understanding of how Earth’s climate works, in both the short term and long term.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Geology, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | | Leave a comment

Moon rover

NASA’s Image of the Day Gallery has a concept of what the next lunar rover will look like:

NASA

Credit: NASA

Here’s the description from NASA:

NASA’s Next Generation Moon Rover

In the year 2020, NASA will be back on the moon. This time NASA will explore thousands of miles of the moon’s surface with individual missions lasting six months or longer. Just as we did during the Apollo program, NASA will be developing new concepts and technologies that also will benefit life on Earth.

One concept that is in NASA’s current plans is a Lunar Electric Rover. This small pressurized rover is about the size of a pickup truck (with 12 wheels) and can house two astronauts for up to 14 days with sleeping and sanitary facilities. It is designed to require little or no maintenance, be able to travel thousands of miles climbing over rocks and up 40 degree slopes during its ten-year life exploring the harsh surface of the moon. The rover frame was developed in conjunction with an off-road race truck team and was field tested in the desert Southwest by driving on rough lava.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology | , | 8 Comments

Dr. Dino still in prison

Welcome to The GeoChristian. Out of over 1000 posts on my blog, this one on Dr. Dino is visited by more people than any other.

The primary objective of The GeoChristian is to increase science literacy among Evangelical Christians, especially in the areas of the Earth and environmental sciences. I aim to discuss controversial topics in ways that are sound both Biblically and scientifically, and to do so in a way that treats all readers with respect. I invite you to click on the “Best of The GeoChristian” link at the top of this page to read more, or to go to my most recent posts.

Grace and Peace,

Kevin N (The GeoChristian)

Kent Hovind (a.k.a. “Dr. Dino”) is a well-known young-Earth creationist speaker. He is in federal prison, having served two years of a ten-year federal conviction for tax evasion. His reasoning for not paying taxes was that it was all God’s money, not his, and was therefore non-taxable. He paid his employees with cash, and then said they weren’t really employees, but that they were servants of God. Hmmmm. I wonder if he ever read how Jesus responded to paying taxes to the evil Romans? (Matthew 22:15-21). Or what Paul had to say about paying taxes, again to the Romans? (Romans 13:6-7). If Paul could advocate payment of taxes to Nero, I think Hovind can’t excuse himself from paying taxes to the US government.

Earlier this month he and his wife (who was also convicted) lost an appeal, so it looks like he’ll stay in jail, and she’ll go to jail. His supporters have a petition that they are sending to the White House, trying to get Hovind and his wife last-minute pardons from President Bush, but it looks like that won’t happen either.

I have nothing personally against Hovind, and some say that the 10-year sentence was unusually harsh. But his scientific reasoning is even screwier than his legal reasoning. Hovind’s young-Earth creation organization, Creation Science Evangelism, continues to function, with Hovind’s son, Eric, giving talks at churches and Christian schools. Kent Hovind blogs from prison.

The arguments used by Hovind and CSE are so extreme that other young-Earth organizations, such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research keep their distance from him. In fact, AiG’s “Arguments we think creationists should NOT use” page is aimed largely at Dr. Dino.

I still run into young-Earth creationist web sites and bloggers who think that Hovind is a wonderful apologist for the truthfulness of Scriptures. But my advice is: run the other way! Don’t use his videos in your church or school! This stuff makes others laugh at Christianity, not because of the foolishness of the Gospel, but because of the utter foolishness of the reasoning.

Grace and Peace

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Geology, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 221 Comments

More Martian gas

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the ongoing release of methane from the crust of Mars. This is the topic of today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

NASA

Credit: NASA

Here’s the description from APOD:

Why is there methane on Mars? No one is sure. An important confirmation that methane exists in the atmosphere of Mars occurred last week, bolstering previous controversial claims made as early as 2003. The confirmation was made spectroscopically using large ground-based telescopes by finding precise colors absorbed on Mars that match those absorbed by methane on Earth. Given that methane is destroyed in the open martian air in a matter of years, the present existence of the fragile gas indicates that it is currently being released, somehow, from the surface of Mars. One prospect is that microbes living underground are creating it, or created in the past. If true, this opens the exciting possibility that life might be present under the surface of Mars even today. Given the present data, however, it is also possible that a purely geologic process, potentially involving volcanism or rust and not involving any life forms, is the methane creator. Pictured above is an image of Mars superposed with a map of the recent methane detection.

This discovery was actually made using Earth-based instruments, not instruments on orbiters. Scientists are already looking into means of determining the isotopic composition of the methane (the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13) to gain additional clues as to whether this methane is produced by biological or geological means. Biological processes fractionate carbon isotopes in a slightly different ratio than non-biological processes, at least on Earth. Isotope fractionation occurs because molecules having slightly different mass have slightly different physical properties. For example, heavy water (H2O made with hydrogen-2) has a slightly different boiling point than ordinary water (made with hydrogen-1). Likewise, methane made with carbon-13  has slightly different properties than methane made with the more abundant carbon-12.

Mass spectrometers, the instruments used to measure isotope ratios, are too heavy at present to place on landers. There are, however, spectrographic methods that can be used to determine isotopic ratios, and it is possible that these instruments could be placed on future probes to Mars.

Grace and Peace

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Astrobiology, Geology, Origin of Life | | Leave a comment

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States, a day to honor the slain civil rights leader, to celebrate how far we have come, and to reflect on how far we still have to go as a nation.

Here’s some suggested reading: “Letter from Birmingham jail.” It is a succinct overview of the injustices faced by blacks only a few short decades ago, and outlined the reasons why MLK advocated nonviolent resistance to these outrages. It includes the famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Grace and Peace

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, Misc | Leave a comment

Martian methane

From LiveScience.com: Mars Methane: Geology or Biology?

Plumes of methane gas detected over certain locations on Mars in 2003 could point to active geological processes on the red planet, or perhaps even to methane-burping microbes deep below the Martian surface, a new study reports.

There is no firm evidence for life on the red planet, however, despite news reports early today suggesting as much. Rather, scientists are puzzled by the new findings.

The methane gas is concentrated in small areas of the northern hemisphere of Mars, suggesting it is released from deep fractures or from only limited areas of soil; and that it breaks down over time in the atmosphere. Additionally, these releases of gas occur only in the summer.

It is best to have multiple working hypotheses in a situation like this. Here are some possibilites:

  • Shallow geochemical processes in the soil.
  • Deeper geochemical processes or reservoirs of methane, with release occurring when ice in the subsurface melts.
  • Magma in the subsurface (though this is unlikely as other volcanic gases have not been observed in these plumes).
  • Biological activity. On Earth, bacteria in the subsurface rely on chemosynthesis, which is like photosynthesis, except that the energy source is oxidation of inorganic molecules rather than sunlight.

Discovery of bacteria on Mars, of course, would be a major discovery. The next question would be, how did it get there?

A perspective from Reasons to Believe can be found here: Bacteria or Boulders? Methane and Life on Mars. I have two disagreements with Fazale Rana’s RTB article:

  • He seems to jump to the conclusion that the geological answer is the correct one. It may be, but this seems a bit premature.
  • He states: “Rather than life-confirming methanogens, it seems that boring rocks may be responsible for Martian methane.” I object. Rocks aren’t boring!!!

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Astrobiology, Astronomy, Geology, Origin of Life, Origins | | 1 Comment

Google Earth – improved ocean floor

The ocean floor on Google Earth has always been a little fuzzy, but the good folks at Google have recently improved the resolution:

Gulf of Mexico. The irregular surface is formed by the rising of salt to form salt domes in some places, and dissolution of salt in others. The escarpment at the southern end of the chaotic area marks a thrust fault.

Gulf of Mexico south of Louisiana. The irregular surface is formed by the rising of salt to form salt domes in some places, and dissolution of salt to form pits in others. The escarpment at the southern end of the chaotic area marks a thrust fault.

These worm-like ridges are off of the Oregon coast, and were formed by the crumpling of

These worm-like ridges are off of the Oregon coast, and are being formed by the crumpling of sedimentary material as the oceanic Juan de Fuca plate (to the left) subducts beneath the continental North American plate (to the right). Note also the submarine canyon cutting into the continental slope at the top.

Mid ocean ridge, North Atlantic

Mid ocean ridge, North Atlantic. the mid ocean ridge runs north-south, with a transform fault running east-west in the lower portion.

Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the oceans

Mariana Trench, the deepest location in the oceans. Numerous seamounts in the east and south portions.

HT: Clastic Detritus

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Geology | , , | Leave a comment

The Evangelical Ecologist

evanecologoAfter a hiatus of a few months, The Evangelical Ecologist (The world isn’t ours to mess up – Psalm 24:1) is back into blogging.

Here are a couple of recent posts:

Protecting your health and the environment at the same time

Wolves out of the woods — what happens when the Endangered Species Act works?

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Environment | | 2 Comments

Day-age time chart

One of the most prominent old-Earth creation organizations is Reasons to Believe, headed by astronomer Hugh Ross. Ross is an advocate of what is known as the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1-2. In the day-age theory, the days of Genesis 1 are not literal 24-hour days, but represent vastly longer periods of time. Ross advocates (and I wholeheartedly agree) that there is no conflict between belief in the trustworthiness of Scriptures and acceptance of an old age for the Earth.

One criticism of the day-age theory is that, according to some, the events of Earth history don’t match the days as recorded in Genesis. For example, vegetation appears on day three, but the sun isn’t created until day four. How could plants survive for millions of years without sunshine? Ross addresses issues like this, and presents the day-age viewpoint as one that closely matches the 4.5 billion year history of Earth.

A key to this understanding of the relationship between Genesis 1 and science is the idea of point of view. The frame of reference of Genesis 1 is the surface of the Earth, not observing the Earth from somewhere out in space. This is based on Genesis 1:2, which says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (ESV)”  We should read the text, according to Ross’s version of the day-age interpretation, from this perspective. The rest of the chapter then unfolds in a logical way. The sun was created sometime in the period covered by verse 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (ESV). Days one through three describe the early differentiation of Earth, with the sun obscured by a translucent atmosphere in the beginning. Light was able to get through the atmosphere, but the sun itself was not visible. The appearance of primitive “vegetation,” i.e. the beginnings of photosynthesis, occurred in this time period. On day four, the sun, moon, and stars appear. They aren’t necessarily created then, but from the vantage point of the Earth’s surface, it seems as though they are. Days five and six describe the appearance of advanced forms of life: creatures of the sea, air, and land.

Reasons to Believe has a nice chart that portrays this sequence:

rtb-dayage1

rtb-dayage21

To many, this illustrates an amazing correlation between Earth history and Scripture, unparalleled in the sacred texts of other religions.

The day-age interpretation is just one of several models that attempts to show that there is no inherent conflict between science and Scriptures. The overall outline presented on this time chart is not affected by whether on not Ross’s understanding of events such as the Cambrian explosion are correct (Ross views the Cambrian explosion as a new creation event).

Some other ways of understanding the opening chapters of Genesis, such the analogical day and framework hypotheses, aren’t as concerned with correlating the days of Genesis 1 with the history of the universe.

I am not committed to any one interpretation of Genesis 1. My main objective here is to point out that there are Biblically-valid alternatives to young-Earth creationism.

Old-Earth creationists, such as advocates of these various positions, accept all of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: The Bible is God’s true revelation of himself, God is the creator of the universe and life, a real Adam, a real fall into sin, real consequences of that sin, and in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only answer to our sin problem. They may differ on the details, but acceptance of an old age for the universe is compatible with the Scriptures, and doesn’t lead to error in any core doctrines of the faith.

To any non-Christians reading this, note that there is no necessary conflict between science and the Bible. If you reject Christianity, it has to be for some reason other than Genesis 1.

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 19 Comments

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