The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn

In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.

In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.

However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.

I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:

Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.

It appears that there are no old-Earth seminars or exhibitors.

I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

————————————————-

NOTES

If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.

Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.

I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:

“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Astronomy, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , | 18 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God” vs Carl Sagan

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.

Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?

The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.

I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.

Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.

Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”

In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.

On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Grace and Peace

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Atheism, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution | , | 10 Comments

Humans and galaxies — the incalculable value of people

A quote from Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, by John Lennox, p. 99.

“So, both Genesis and science say that the universe is geared to supporting human life. But Genesis says more. It says that you, as a human being, bear the image of God. The starry heavens show the glory of God, yes; but they are not made in God’s image. You are. That makes you unique. It gives you incalculable value. The galaxies are unimaginably large compared with you. However, you know that they exist, but they don’t know that you exist. You are more significant, therefore, than a galaxy. Size is not necessarily a reliable measure of value, as any woman can tell you as she looks at the diamonds on her finger, and compares them with lumps of coal.”

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Astronomy, Christianity, Creation in the Bible | , | 2 Comments

Around the web 1/5/2013

EARTH IS JUST ONE PLANET OUT OF 100 BILLION — From Astrobiology.com: 100 Billion Planets May Populate the Galaxy. Not only could there be 1011 planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, there are an estimated 1021 stars in the universe. This seems to make Earth, and the humans who inhabit it, seem rather insignificant. But consider this quote from John Piper:

Sometimes people stumble over this vastness in relation to the apparent insignificance of man. It does seem to make us infinitesimally small. But the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us. It’s about God… The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our maker, not us.” –John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.

YOU ARE JUST ONE DOT OUT OF 341,817,095 — An online map showing over 340 million dots, one for each person in the 2010 United States and 2011 Canadian censuses.

Census_dots

Zoom in and individual dots can be resolved. My dot is somewhere in the middle of here:

Census_dots_zoomed

Does being just one dot out of 340,000,000 (or one dot out of roughly 7,000,000,000 on Earth today) make the individual dots insignificant? Not at all. The same God who created the universe with its 1021 stars, or the galaxy with its 100 billion planets, has this to say about you as an individual:

For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16 ESV

DANGEROUS SCIENCE?7 scientists killed by their experiments — Marie Curie, and six others.

COLDER THAN COLD? — According to one report (Science gets colder than absolute zero), temperatures colder than absolute zero are possible.

Absolute zero is often thought to be the coldest temperature possible. But now researchers show they can achieve even lower temperatures for a strange realm of “negative temperatures.”

Oddly, another way to look at these negative temperatures is to consider them hotter than infinity, researchers added.

This unusual advance could lead to new engines that could technically be more than 100 percent efficient, and shed light on mysteries such as dark energy, the mysterious substance that is apparently pulling our universe apart.

——————————————

Temperature is linked with pressure — the hotter something is, the more it expands outward, and the colder something is, the more it contracts inward. To make sure this gas had a negative temperature, the researchers had to give it a negative pressure as well, tinkering with the interactions between atoms until they attracted each other more than they repelled each other.

Or perhaps this is in the same category as last year’s report of particles going faster than the speed of light. Interesting, but not true.

Grace and Peace

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Around the Web, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Maps | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A river runs through it — on Titan

The Cassini probe, in orbit around Saturn, has captured a new radar image showing a long river on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

From the European Space Agency:

“The international Cassini mission has spotted what appears to be a miniature extraterrestrial version of the Nile River: a river valley on Saturn’s moon Titan that stretches more than 400 km from its ‘headwaters’ to a large sea.

It is the first time images have revealed a river system this vast and in such high resolution anywhere beyond Earth.

Scientists deduce that the river is filled with liquid because it appears dark along its entire extent in the high-resolution radar image, indicating a smooth surface.

[...]

Titan is the only other world we know of that has stable liquid on its surface. While Earth’s hydrologic cycle relies on water, Titan’s equivalent cycle involves hydrocarbons such as ethane and methane.

Images from Cassini’s visible-light cameras in late 2010 revealed regions that darkened after recent rainfall.”

HT: Clastic Detritus

Grace and Peace

December 17, 2012 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Imagery, Planetary Geology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Around the web 12/1/2012

NUKE THE MOON!!!! — U.S. had plans to nuke the moon — The U.S. Government really wanted to explode a nuclear weapon on the moon in the late 1950s, sort of as a macho “We’re better than the Soviets” thing. One of the researchers on this project was a graduate student named Carl Sagan.

BIG NEWS FROM MARS? — Has Curiosity made a Historic Discovery? — Complex organic chemicals? Fossils? Little green men? Elvis? For now, they seem to be keeping the lid down tight on whatever their discovery is.

I have a young-Earth creationist friend who is convinced that there is no life anywhere in the universe but here on Earth. Despite the fact that the Bible doesn’t say anything about the topic. Not all YECs are worried, however.

LOOKING FOR GOOD SEX?Searching for God, settling for sex — An editorial on CNN.com.

In the absence of genuine sexual intimacy (best defined as “in-to-me-see”), we settle for sexual intensity: erotica, pornography, an office romance, an extramarital affair or whatever strokes the ego and provides the sexual high we crave.”

Someday I might write a “50 good reasons to believe Christianity is true” post, and one of the reasons will be that Christianity gets sex right.

PAT ROBERTSON GETS ONE RIGHT — Pat Robertson Challenges Creationism

“I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this.”

“You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas. They’re out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible.”

BETTER THAN THE GEOCHRISTIAN — My “Around the Web” posts are a poor imitation of Saturday Ramblings, posted weekly on Internet Monk. In this week’s Saturday Ramblings: Vampires in Serbia, “What Would Jesus Shoot?”, Charisma magazine’s rather goofy article on sex (OK, Christians doesn’t always get sex right), and Jimi Hendrix.

Grace and Peace

December 1, 2012 Posted by | Apologetics, Around the Web, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Christianity, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus is for geologists (and other scientists)

I’ve always known that Jesus is for geologists, as well as for biologists, chemists, physicists, archeologists, astronomers, and all other sorts of scientists.

There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.

Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.

The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:

Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.

As the review says, this would be a great book for

  • Professional scientists
  • Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • High school teachers and students
  • Members of the general public.

Buy this book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Grace and Peace

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Archeology, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Atheism, Biology, Chemistry, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Physics, Science Education, Theistic evolution | , , , | 2 Comments

Vesta video

From today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day: NASA Dawn’s Virtual Flight Over Asteroid Vesta

Grace and Peace

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Planetary Geology, Space Exploration | , , | Leave a comment

Lunar topography

From NASA: LRO Camera Team Releases High Resolution Global Topographic Map of Moon.

The science team that oversees the imaging system on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has released the highest resolution near-global topographic map of the moon ever created.

This new topographic map, from Arizona State University in Tempe, shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire moon with a pixel scale close to 100 meters (328 feet). A single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about the size of two football fields placed side-by-side.

Although the moon is our closest neighbor, knowledge of its morphology is still limited. Due to instrumental limitations of previous missions, a global map of the moon’s topography at high resolution has not existed until now. With the LRO Wide Angle Camera and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument, scientists can now accurately portray the shape of the entire moon at high resolution.

“Our new topographic view of the moon provides the dataset that lunar scientists have waited for since the Apollo era,” says Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) from Arizona State University in Tempe. “We can now determine slopes of all major geologic terrains on the moon at 100 meter scale. Determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the moon.”

Called the Global Lunar DTM 100 m topographic model (GLD100), this map was created based on data acquired by LRO’s WAC, which is part of the LROC imaging system. The LROC imaging system consists of two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) to provide high-resolution images, and the WAC to provide 100-meter resolution images in seven color bands over a 57-kilometer (35-mile) swath.

The WAC is a relatively small instrument, easily fitting into the palm of one’s hand; however, despite its diminutive size it maps nearly the entire moon every month. Each month the moon’s lighting has changed so the WAC is continuously building up a record of how different rocks reflect light under different conditions, and adding to the LROC library of stereo observations.

Arizona State University has a pan- and zoomable version.

HT: Astronomy Picture of the Day 11/18/2011.

Grace and Peace

November 18, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Maps, Planetary Geology | , , | Leave a comment

Tharsis Tholus from Mars Express

Colored elevation image of Tharsis Tholus from directly overhead. Dark blue represents lower elevations, and white the higher elevations. The flanks of the volcano have collapsed in giant landslides at least twice, but interestingly there are no obvious debris piles at the foot of the volcano.

From the European Space Agency: Battered Tharsis Tholus volcano on Mars

The latest image released from Mars Express reveals a large extinct volcano that has been battered and deformed over the aeons.

By Earthly standards, Tharsis Tholus is a giant, towering 8 km above the surrounding terrain, with a base stretching over 155 x 125 km. Yet on Mars, it is just an average-sized volcano. What marks it out as unusual is its battered condition.

Shown here in images taken by the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, the volcanic edifice has been marked by dramatic events.

At least two large sections have collapsed around its eastern and western flanks during its four-billion-year history and these catastrophes are now visible as scarps up to several kilometres high.

The main feature of Tharsis Tholus is, however, the caldera in its centre.

It has an almost circular outline, about 32 x 34 km, and is ringed by faults that have allowed the caldera floor to subside by as much as 2.7 km.

It is thought that the volcano emptied its magma chamber during eruptions and, as the lava ran out onto the surface, the chamber roof was no longer able to support its own weight.

So, the volcano collapsed, forming the large caldera.

The summit of Tharsis Tholus, showing its large caldera.

HT: Yahoo News

November 13, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Maps, Planetary Geology | , , , | Leave a comment

Video: star size comparison

From Astronomy Picture of the Day for February 22, 2001: Star Size Comparisons

The video ends with the statement, “No, you are not the center of the universe!”

That is true, but I like what John Piper has said about this fact in his book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ:

Sometimes people stumble over this vastness in relation to the apparent insignificance of man. It does seem to make us infinitesimally small. But the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us. It’s about God… The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our maker, not us.

Grace and Peace

Video credit: morn1415

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Christianity | 1 Comment

Seven years of Opportunity

The rover Opportunity has been on the surface of Mars for over seven years now. From Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 29th: Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater.

Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA, JPL, Cornell

The panorama is much more detailed on the APOD site.

The description from APOD:

Celebrating 7 years on the surface of the Red Planet, Mars exploration rover Opportunity now stands near the rim of 90 meter wide Santa Maria crater. Remarkably, Opportunity and its fellow rover Spirit were initially intended for a 3 month long primary mission. Still exploring, the golf cart-sized robot and shadow (far right) appear in the foreground of this panoramic view of its current location. The mosaic was constructed using images from the rover’s navigation camera. On its 7 year anniversary, Opportunity can boast traversing a total of 26.7 kilometers along the martian surface. After investigating Santa Maria crater, controllers plan to have Opportunity resume a long-term trek toward Endurance crater, a large, 22 kilometer diameter crater about 6 kilometers from Santa Maria. During coming days, communication with the rover will be more difficult as Mars moves close to alignment with the Sun as seen from planet Earth’s perspective.

Grace and Peace

January 30, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Space Exploration | , | 2 Comments

I touched Mars and survived!

I had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History a few months ago and got to touch a piece of Mars!

Naklha meteorite

The Naklha meteorite fell to the Earth near Alexandria, Egypt, in 1911, and is most famous for killing a dog (no human has been killed by a meteorite in recorded history). Click here for reasons why scientists believe this meteorite came from Mars rather than elsewhere, such as the asteroid belt.

I also got to touch a rock from the oldest piece of crust on the Earth. The museum has a sample of the Acasta Gneiss from the Canadian Shield, which is close to 4 billion years old.

Acasta Gneiss

Touching these was actually a rather moving experience for me.

Grace and Peace

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology | , | Leave a comment

Around the web 12/11/2010

In the beginning… – Blogger Joe Carter (at FirstThings.com) finds Stephen Hawking’s cosmology as expressed in The Grand Design to be a bit “drab and nonspecific.” Carter rewrites Hawkings to make it a little more of a “creation story for young atheistic materialists.”

In the beginning was Nothing, and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.

Read the rest at When Nothing Created Everything.

Submerged paradise? — The Persian Gulf basin was above sea level until about 8000 years ago, and there is growing evidence that humans lived there in a well-watered plain.

And it would have been an ideal refuge from the harsh deserts surrounding it, with fresh water supplied by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun and Wadi Baton Rivers, as well as by upwelling springs, Rose said. And during the last ice age when conditions were at their driest, this basin would’ve been at its largest.

Hmmm. Four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. A refuge from the surrounding wild. Sounds almost Edenic.

The article is Lost Civilization May Have Existed Beneath the Persian Gulf at LiveScience.com.

Diamond world — AOL News reports Scientists Say Planet May Have Mountains of Diamonds.

WASP-12b, a gas giant about 871 light-years from Earth, seems to have an unusually large amount of carbon in its atmosphere. Diamonds form when carbon is compressed at extremely high temperatures. The high amount of carbon in the planet’s atmosphere suggests that its solid core could be full of diamonds, rather than the silicon- and oxygen-rich materials on Earth.

Not all are convinced:

“The findings are interesting, but are based on just four data points,” O’Toole said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I would proceed with caution.”

NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine also reports on WASP-12b:

It’s possible that WASP-12b might harbor graphite, diamond, or even a more exotic form of carbon in its interior, beneath its gaseous layers.

My two-cents worth: I don’t think I would want to live on a planet called WASP-12b.

Me at the Alzada end of the old gravel Ekalaka-Alzada highway in 2003

Ekalaka to Alzada highway — This news is a couple months old now, but I’m sure most of you missed it. From the Billings Gazette: A dream for decades, road from Ekalaka to Alzada is paved at last.

Residents of this remote town in southeastern Montana have lost one of their main claims to distinction, but don’t look for any of them to mourn the loss. When the first layer of asphalt was laid down last week on the only remaining stretch of gravel on Highway 323 between Ekalaka and Alzada, Ekalaka could no longer bill itself as the only county seat in the United States that didn’t have a paved road running through it.

My dad was born in Ekalaka.

Unabomber land for sale in Montana — One and a half acres on forested land near Lincoln, Montana, no cabin, no utilities. Was $154,500, now $69,500. The land isn’t worth nearly that much on the market, but it was where anti-technology letter bomber Ted Kaczynski lived his secluded life. From Yahoo! News/AP: Unabomber’s Montana land for sale; ‘very secluded’

Kaczynski is serving a life sentence for killing three people and injuring 23 during a nationwide bombing spree between 1978 and 1995. The Harvard-trained mathematician railed against the effects of advanced technology and led authorities on the nation’s longest and costliest manhunt before his brother tipped off law enforcement in 1996.

Kayaker eaten by a crocodile — We have talked about taking up kayaking as a family. Nothing exotic or wild; paddling around a mountain lake would be just fine with us. We will stay away from crocodile-infested waters in the Congo. From Yahoo! News/AP: Kayaker presumed dead after Congo crocodile attack. Hendrik Coetzee’s last entry on his blog (The Great White Explorer) was called “Feelings: do they make you soft?” and ended with “I would never live a better day.”

Camel crushes congregants — I don’t think live camels in church is a really good idea. Watch Camel Falls Into Crowd on YouTube.


I’ve got about thirty tabs open in my browser with items I want to blog about. So many tabs, so little time.

Grace and Peace

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Astronomy, Montana, Origins | , , | Leave a comment

Arsenic in DNA – maybe

Figure 1 -- Phosphorus and arsenic on the periodic table.

News of surprising biochemistry: Thriving on Arsenic (NASA Astrobiology Magazine)

NASA microbiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered bacteria that apparently can use arsenic in its DNA in place of phosphorus. Most biochemistry can be done with six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur (CHONPS). Smaller amounts of a variety of other elements are also necessary to varying degrees depending on the organism, such as sodium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Arsenic is similar enough to phosphorus (same column in the periodic table, Figure 1) that within these bacteria it may be able to play the same role.

From the Astrobiology Magazine article:

The recent discovery by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of an organism that can utilize arsenic in place of phosphorus, however, has demonstrated that life is still capable of surprising us in fundamental ways. The results of her research were published December 2 on Science Express and subsequently in the journal Science.

The organism in question is a bacterium, GFAJ-1, cultured by Wolfe-Simon from sediments she and her colleagues collected along the shore of Mono Lake, California. Mono Lake is hypersaline and highly alkaline. It also has one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic in the world.

On the tree of life, according to the results of 16S rRNA sequencing, the rod-shaped GFAJ-1 nestles in among other salt-loving bacteria in the genus Halomonas. Many of these bacteria are known to be able to tolerate high levels of arsenic.

But Wolfe-Simon found that GFAJ-1 can go a step further. When starved of phosphorus, it can instead incorporate arsenic into its DNA, and continue growing as though nothing remarkable had happened.

“So far we’ve showed that it can do it in DNA, but it looks like it can do it in a whole lot of other biomolecules” as well, says Wolfe-Simon, a NASA research fellow in residence at the USGS in Menlo Park, California.

The article describes the methods used to purify the DNA, to ensure that the arsenic was truly incorporated into the structure of the DNA rather that being associated with other molecules. Not all, however, are convinced.

But Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, FL, remains skeptical. If you “replace all the phosphates by arsenates,” in the backbone of DNA, he says, “every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes.” So “if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized” by some as-yet-unknown mechanism.

Benner suggests that perhaps the trace contaminants in the growth medium Wolf-Simon uses in her lab cultures are sufficient to supply the phosphorus needed for the cells’ DNA. He thinks it’s more likely that arsenic is being used elsewhere in the cells, in lipids for example. “Arsenate in lipids would be stable,” he says, and would “not fall apart in water.” What appears in Wolfe-Simon’s gel-purified extraction to be arsenate DNA, he says, may actually be DNA containing a standard phosphate-based backbone, but with arsenate associated with it in some unidentified way.

Microbiologists over the past few decades have discovered bacteria and archaea in increasingly hostile places, such as hot springs and deep in Earth’s crust. This has spurred on the hope that other worlds (e.g. Mars, Titan) also have places that would be suitable for bacterial life. The possibility of bacteria that can live with a chemical foundation other than CHONPS indicates that life might thrive in places where we otherwise would not have expected it to.

This discovery may not completely redefine life as we know it, but it does (if proven to be true) add one more bizarre thing that life can do.

Grace and Peace

December 2, 2010 Posted by | Astrobiology, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Nature | | 7 Comments

The line in outer space

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day: An Extremely Thin Galaxy:

Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA

Grace and Peace

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Astronomy | , , | Leave a comment

Ice on the Moon

From Astronomy Picture of the Day 10/25/2010: Water Ice Detected Beneath Moon’s Surface

Blue is hydrogen-rich (probably water ice) and red is hydrogen-poor.

The explanation from the APOD site:

Is there enough water on the moon to sustain future astronauts? The question has important implications if humanity hopes to use the Moon as a future outpost. Last year, to help find out, scientists crashed the moon-orbiting LCROSS spacecraft into a permanently shadowed crater near the Moon’s South Pole. New analyses of the resulting plume from Cabeus crater indicate more water than previously thought, possibly about six percent. Additionally, an instrument on the separate LRO spacecraft that measures neutrons indicates that even larger lunar expanses — most not even permanently shadowed — may also contain a significant amount of buried frozen water. Pictured above from LRO, areas in false-color blue indicate the presence of soil relatively rich in hydrogen, which is thought likely bound to sub-surface water ice. Conversely, the red areas are likely dry. The location of the Moon’s South Pole is also digitally marked on the image. How deep beneath the surface the ice crystals permeate is still unknown, as well as how difficult it would be to mine the crystals and purify them into drinking water.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Space Exploration | , | Leave a comment

The best of young Earth creationism — part 2

Back in July I listed three blogs by young-Earth creationists that I think are pretty good. Of course I disagree with these brothers in Christ regarding the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood, but I appreciate them because they hold firmly to the Bible, have a good background in science, and, unlike many YECs, are willing to admit that not all that comes out of the mainstream YEC organizations is all that good.

Two of these blogs have recently said things that reinforce my appreciation of them:

Dr. Jay Wile, Proslogion

Dr. Wile authored a post called More Evidence Supporting The Young-Earth Theory of Earth’s Magnetic Field. Dr. Wile and I had a bit of a dialog in the comments section about this, each of us giving our reasons for and against his position. I thought my reasons were better, but I’ll write about that some other time. Another thing that caught my eye, however, was his response to an off-topic question from young-Earth creationist John Chaikowsky (a friend of mine):

You mentioned that Answers in Genesis had “theology leaves a lot to be desired”. What do you mean by that or what examples do you have that you don’t agree with? Just curious.

And here is Wile’s reply:

Thanks for the question, John. Answer in Genesis believes that the ONLY way to interpret Scripture faithfully is to say that the Genesis days were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. This is nonsense, of course, since some of the best theologians of the past and present use other interpretations, and since a 24-hour day wasn’t the exclusive view of the early church. This desire to force Christians to believe in a young earth puts them in some very shaky theological waters. For example, they claim that the idea of no animal death before the Fall is crucial for Christianity, when at best it is extraBiblical.

Now please note that I do believe the days in Genesis were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. However, I do not think it is the only orthodox way to interpret Scripture, and it is certainly not the only way to have a literal view of Scripture.

Christians of both the young-Earth and old-Earth varieties would benefit from this sort of theological openness and humility.

Dr. Todd Wood, Todd’s Blog

In the past, Dr. Wood, has admitted that

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I suspect that not all of his fellow YECs appreciated this.

This week Dr. Wood pointed out that Jason Lisle’s “anisotropic synchrony convention” —an attempt to explain how starlight from distant stars could have already arrived at Earth if the universe is only 6000 years old—fails to be a scientific theory:

Because Lisle’s anisotropic synchrony convention does not make predictions and cannot be tested, it really falls outside of the realm of science. It’s more like medieval philosophy, where theories of ultimate reality could be bandied about because there was no way to test them. Lisle’s idea reminds me of extreme forms of the idea of creation with the appearance of age. It’s logically possible that God created the universe 5 seconds ago, with people having vivid memories of lives they never lived and events that never happened. But that logical possibility doesn’t mean extreme appearance of age is scientifically or theologically useful.

And so ends my assessment of Lisle’s solution to the speed of light problem. It just isn’t science. As he seems to freely admit, anisotropic synchrony convention is all about logical possibility, but it doesn’t actually help us understand or explain galaxies or pulsars or redshift or cosmic background radiation. He seems content to assume God made the universe exactly as it is for whatever inscrutable reasons He had. Talk about ad hoc. I suspect that those creationists like me who are actually interested in science will just shrug their shoulders at the anisotropic synchrony convention. Whether it’s true or false, it just makes no difference.

Thank you, Dr. Wile and Dr. Wood, for your gracious attitudes and desires to weed out bad science and bad theology as you hold on to your young-Earth creationist beliefs.

Grace and Peace

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Astronomy, Biology, Creation in the Bible, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 10 Comments

Geocentrism lives

Here’s a conference I’m not going to: Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right — First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism.

Here are the talks:

  • Geocentrism: They Know It But They’re Hiding It
  • Introduction to the Mechanics of Geocentrism
  • Scientific Experiments Showing Earth Motionless in Space
  • Scientific Evidence: Earth in the Center of the Universe
  • Answering Common Objections to Geocentrism
  • The Biblical Firmament: Outer Space is Not Empty
  • Galileo and the Church: What Really Happened?
  • The Fathers and Exegesis of Scripture on Geocentrism
  • English Ideology, Newton & the Exploitation of Science
  • Carbon 14 & Radiometric Dating Show Young Earth

There are a few Evangelicals promoting this sort of stuff as well. Some time around 2000, a major Christian home school catalog had a book promoting geocentrism on its cover; I wish I had saved that.

Let it be the foolishness of the cross that drives people away from Christ if they so choose. We shouldn’t add our own foolishness.

Grace and Peace

September 22, 2010 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy | | 2 Comments

Stephen Hawking’s mistake

When Stephen Hawking writes a book, people pay attention. His latest volume, The Grand Design, coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow, has made a media splash because Hawking, who used “god language” in his earlier works, has come to the conclusion that there is no need for any sort of god to explain the origin of the universe.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing new or groundbreaking in this book. Instead, it is a very readable explanation of how the laws of physics—especially quantum mechanics and general relativity, which is the theory of gravitation—can explain how we got here with no need for divine intervention.

Basically, from the reviews I have read (I confess I have not read the book), Hawking argues that our universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is just one of a huge multitude of universes that have been spawned within the larger multiverse, which we cannot see. Each of these baby universes has its own laws of physics; ours just happens to be one that has laws that work well for forming heavier atoms, stars, planets, and life.

Let’s say the basic outline of the author’s story is all true, that there is a larger multiverse that contains or creates baby universes. Think of the Wood between the Worlds in The Magician’s Nephew in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. Let’s even say that this multiverse really did create the universe we live in. This still doesn’t solve the basic questions that Hawking and Mlodinow are seeking to answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? Is God Necessary?

This goes back to the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Every effect has a cause. What caused the universe? If the answer is, “the multiverse” or “the laws of physics,” then all the authors have accomplished is to put the question back one step. What caused the multiverse to exist? Has it existed forever? If so, why and how? Did it cause itself to exist? The same questions need to be asked of the laws of physics, or perhaps of the deeper, underlying laws of the multiverse. What is the origin of these laws?  To go back to the Chronicles of Narnia: Where did the “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time” come from?

To propose that “God” is the answer to these questions is certainly at least as rational as to propose that the multiverse has existed forever or that it created itself. I would say that the “God option” is in reality the most rational answer, as the first option—the multiverse has existed forever—doesn’t answer the “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question, and the idea of a self-creating multiverse is inherently illogical.

The Washington Post review of The Grand Design is here.

Grace and Peace

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Christianity, Origins | , , | 12 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 140 other followers