The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Is anybody out there?

No, this is not a post about SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence).

A few months ago, someone emailed me asking for links to blogs that are similar to mine. I said that I didn’t know of any. The only other science-related blog by a Christian that I regularly read is The Evangelical Ecologist, but it has a narrower focus than this blog does.

Perhaps Intelligent Design the Future is in this category, but I don’t regularly read it. It doesn’t allow comments, so it isn’t a typical blog.

I don’t know of any others. Does anybody have any links?

Grace and Peace

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Blogs, General | Leave a comment

Hubble Art

New Hubble Space Telescope pictures were released today, in honor of the 17th anniversary of deployment of the orbiting observatory by the space shuttle Discovery. Absolutely astounding, as always.

hubble_carina_nebula

The image here fails to do justice to the detail that can be seen in these images. Check it out in more detail at:

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Hubblesite.org

Centripetalnotion.com (thanks Glenn for this link)

Grace and Peace

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | 3 Comments

Life on Gliese 581c?

The headlines:

Science Daily: New Planet Could Have Life

Yahoo News: Potentially Habitable Planet Found

Scientists have discovered more than 200 extrasolar planets (planets orbiting stars other than our sun) since the mid-1990s, and the numbers will certainly continue to increase as instruments improve. In regards to suitability for life, a vast majority of these planets are too large, too hot, or too cold; this is called the Goldilocks problem. Today, astronomers at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) announced that they have discovered a planet that might be “just right.”

The planet orbits a red dwarf star named Gliese 581, and it has been given the name Gliese 581c. Red dwarfs are smaller and cooler than our sun, and 581c orbits within what is called the “habitable zone,” which is the region around the star where it is possible to have liquid water on the surface—neither too hot nor too cold. The astronomers believe it is one of three planets that orbit Gliese 581; the others are designated 581a and 581b. The telescopes we have are not powerful enough to directly view extrasolar planets, but the astronomers infer their existence by watching the stars “wobble” under the influence of the gravity of the planets.

How does this relate to life in the galaxy? It is widely believed among exobiologists—those scientists who speculate about life elsewhere in the galaxy (certainly not to be confused with UFO-ologists)—that in order to have life, one needs liquid water. If a planet is too close to its star—or too far away—then conditions are not right to have living organisms, at least not on the surface of the object.

It also needs to be made clear that these astronomers are not talking about intelligent civilizations on worlds like Gliese 581c. The universe might have an abundance of places that are suitable for bacterial slime, and Gliese 581c might be one of them. The conditions required for advanced life—anything more complicated than a Paramecium or Amoeba—are likely to be exceedingly rare in the universe.

My thoughts:

  1. The results are very preliminary. We don’t have any direct measurements of the planet’s temperature. If it has a CO2-rich atmosphere, it could still be too hot, even being within the habitable zone.
  2. In the future, as instruments become more powerful, it might be possible to analyze light from planet such as this. If spectrographic analyses indicate presence of both water and atmospheric oxygen, this would greatly increase the probability that there is life of some sort on the planet.
  3. I would not see the discovery of primitive life on a world such as Gliese 581c as having any negative theological implications. Everything from Genesis 1:2 on is very Earth-centered, and so the Bible doesn’t say anything one way or the other about whether life exists on other worlds.


Artist’s conception of a planet orbiting a red dwarf, from hubblesite.org

Grace and Peace

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Astrobiology, Astronomy, Origin of Life | Leave a comment

Carbon Credit Craziness

One of the methods that has been put in place to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide is the idea of carbon credits. If your factory produces too much CO2, then you can compensate by purchasing a “carbon credit,” which is a promise made by some other entity that they will somehow make up for the CO2 you produce. So, the factory can reduce its impact on the atmosphere, not by actually reducing CO2 output, but by paying a nature reserve in Africa to plant more trees (which consume CO2 during photosynthesis).

It is sort of like a wealthy community that exports its toxic wastes to poor Indian reservations in the United States. In an effort to make it look like everybody wins, they point out that not only does this make their own community cleaner, it contributes economically to the impoverished tribe. They forget to point out that the tribe ends up with the toxic waste dump.

One of my coworkers left an article from Time magazine in the teacher’s lounge today that does a great job of tearing apart the concept of carbon credits, at least how they are presently implimented. The article is Limosine Liberal Hypocrisy, by Charles Krauthammer, and here are some excerpts:

Remember the Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore global-warming pitch at the Academy Awards? Before they spoke, the screen at the back of the stage flashed not-so-subliminal messages about how to save the planet. My personal favorite was “Ride mass transit.” This to a conclave of Hollywood plutocrats who have not seen the inside of a subway since the moon landing and for whom mass transit means a stretch limo seating no fewer than 10.

Leo and Al then portentously announced that for the first time ever, the Academy Awards ceremony had gone green. What did that mean? Solar panels in the designer gowns? It turns out that the Academy neutralized the evening’s “carbon footprint” by buying carbon credits. That means it sent money to a “carbon broker,” who promised, after taking his cut, to reduce carbon emissions somewhere on the planet equivalent to what the stars spewed into the atmosphere while flying in on their private planes.

In other words, the rich reduce their carbon output by not one ounce. But drawing on the hundreds of millions of net worth in the Kodak Theatre, they pull out lunch money to buy ecological indulgences. The last time the selling of pardons was prevalent–in a predecessor religion to environmentalism called Christianity–Martin Luther lost his temper and launched the Reformation.

I like the reference to the Reformation. Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences, which were certificates saying that said someone’s time in purgatory could be reduced, for a price. “As soon a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Martin Luther responded by posting the 95 Theses on the church door, and the Protestant Reformation was underway. Souls cannot be saved with money. Likewise, a gluttonous lifestyle cannot be offset by poor people planting trees in Uganda. The article continues:

Sergey Brin, zillionaire founder of Google, buys carbon credits to offset the ghastly amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Google’s private Boeing 767 but confesses he’s not sure if it really does anything.

Which puts him one step ahead of most other eco-preeners who actually pretend that it does–the Goracle himself, for example. His Tennessee mansion consumes 20 times the electricity used by the average American home. Last August alone it consumed twice as much power as the average home consumes in a year. Gore buys absolution, however. He spends pocket change on carbon credits, which then allow him to pollute conscience-free.

What is wrong with this scam? First, purchasing carbon credits is an incentive to burn even more fossil fuels, since now it is done under the illusion that it’s really cost-free to the atmosphere.

Second, it is a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the poorer segments of humanity in the Third World.

Carbon credits, properly administered, could be part of the solution to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, but the current system only eases consciences without actually doing much.

Grace and Peace

April 24, 2007 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

Will the T.P. police knock on your (stall) door?

From BBC News:

Crow calls for limit on loo paper

Singer Sheryl Crow has said a ban on using too much toilet paper should be introduced to help the environment.

Crow has suggested using “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”.

Hmmmm. I’m all for protecting the environment, and perhaps if someone is using half the roll they might want to consider cutting back a bit, but I suspect there are more substantial things I can do to “save the earth.” And how will this be enforced? Hidden cameras in toilet bowls?

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

Image Quiz

What is this a picture of?

A. Scanning electron microscope image of a cockroach dropping?
B. Fossilized owl pellet?
C. Image of underwater landslide debris following the recent earthquake in the Solomon Islands?
D. A loosely consolidated asteroid?

To find out, keep on reading…

Continue reading

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Misc | Leave a comment

Earth Day 2007 — Stewardship of the Environment

This item was originally posted in December 2006 which wasn’t all that long ago. In honor of Earth Day, it is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries. The original entry was a follow-up to a blog entry on The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy also produced a document called The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application. Article XVI of this statement is about the environment:

Article XVI: Stewardship of the Environment

We affirm that God created the physical environment for His own glory and for the good of His human creatures.
We affirm that God deputized humanity to govern the creation.
We affirm that mankind has more value than the rest of creation.
We affirm that mankind’s dominion over the earth imposes a responsibility to protect and tend its life and resources.
We affirm that Christians should embrace responsible scientific investigation and its application in technology.
We affirm that stewardship of the Lord’s earth includes the productive use of its resources which must always be replenished as far as possible.
We affirm that avoidable pollution of the earth, air, water, or space is irresponsible.

We deny that the cosmos is valueless apart from mankind.
We deny that the biblical view authorizes or encourages wasteful exploitation of nature.
We deny that Christians should embrace the countercultural repudiation of science or the mistaken belief that science is the hope of mankind.
We deny that individuals or societies should exploit the universe’s resources for their own advantage at the expense of other people and societies.
We deny that a materialistic worldview can provide an adequate basis for recognizing environmental values.

I heartily endorse this kind of thinking. It states the high value of creation without minimizing the importance of humans. Many in the environmentalist movement deny or minimize the value of humans. May we in the Christian community not go to the other extreme, only giving lip service to the value of the creation.

Grace and Peace

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application is found at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website.

April 21, 2007 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment | Leave a comment

Earth Day 2007 — Christian Environmentalism

This item was originally posted for Earth Day, 2006 (Earth Day is held on April 22nd). It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries.

We all seem to like nature–we teach our children to throw their trash in trash cans and send them to summer camp in the mountains or woods–but beyond this, Christian response to environmental issues is varied. I’ll try to give some additional thoughts about the environment as the week progresses.

A good internet article summarizing a Christian perspective on the environment is Christian Environmentalism by Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries. Here are some quotes from the article:

What we fail to realize is that Christians have a sacred responsibility to the earth and the creatures within it. The earth is being affected by humans in an unprecedented manner, and we do not know what the short or long term effects will be.

But while pantheism elevates nature, it simultaneously degrades man and will ultimately degrade nature as well.

A true Christian environmental ethic differs from the naturalistic and pantheistic ethics in that it is based on the reality of God as Creator and man as his image-bearer and steward. God is the Creator of nature, not part of nature.

Nature has value in and of itself because God created it.

But a responsibility goes along with bearing the image of God. In its proper sense, man’s rule and dominion over the earth is that of a steward or a caretaker, not a reckless exploiter. Man is not sovereign over the lower orders of creation. Ownership is in the hands of the Lord.

An effective steward understands that which he oversees, and science can help us discover the intricacies of nature. Technology puts the creation to man’s use, but unnecessary waste and pollution degrades it and spoils the creation’s ability to give glorify to its creator. I think it is helpful to realize that we are to exercise dominion over nature not as though we are entitled to exploit it but as something borrowed or held in trust.

The source of our ecological crisis lies in man’s fallen nature and the abuse of his dominion.

Our often uncontrolled greed and haste have led to the deterioration of the environment.

We have spoken out loudly against the materialism of science as expressed in the issues of abortion, human dignity, evolution, and genetic engineering, but have shown ourselves to be little more than materialists in our technological orientation towards nature.

By failing to fulfill our responsibilities to the earth, we are losing a great evangelistic opportunity. Many in our society are seeking an improved environment, yet they think that most Christians don’t care about ecological issues and that most churches offer no opportunity for involvement.

Grace and Peace

April 21, 2007 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment | Leave a comment

Driving directions: New York to London

The folks at Google are not only creative, they have fun. Take for instance the “Get Directions” option at maps.google.com. If you type in your address and your destination address, it will give you both a map highlighting the route from point A to point B, and driving directions: Turn left on Elm Street, drive 1.2 miles and turn right on 4th Avenue, etc…

It will even give you directions for going from New York to London. Check out step 23!

It doesn’t just work for NY to London; it even gave me directions from Billings, MT to Bucharest!

(I got this idea from geology.com/news)

Grace and Peace

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Fun, Geography, Maps | 1 Comment

Lost in space

Gene Edward Veith had the following post on his Cranach blog today:

Jesus as space traveller

Our guest pastor, Charles St.-Onge, must have left a strong impression, since he brought up so many things that are still on my mind. He told about astrophysicist Carl Sagen trying to shoot down the Ascension of Christ. He said that even if Jesus could attain the speed of light, He would still be only 2000 light years away from earth, and not anywhere near Heaven.

Notice how atheists, trying to debunk our faith, embrace the most childish notions of what God, whether He exists or not, even is. They haven’t got a clue as to what or how believers believe, nor that the spiritual realm–if it exists–would have to be at least as complex and unfathomable as the material realm now turns out to be.

All I can say is that a brilliant person such as Carl Sagan can still be an utter fool.

Grace and Peace

April 16, 2007 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy | Leave a comment

Giant gypsum crystals

It is an amazing world!

Here’s the cover of the April 2007 issue of Geology, published by the Geological Society of America. These crystals of gypsum were discovered in a cave at a lead-silver-zinc mine 100 km from Chihuahua, Mexico. The crystals are up to 11 meters (36 feet) long, and were submerged in water beneath the water table before pumping of water occured as the mining went to greater depths.

A description of the image can be found here, and the technical abstract can be found here.
Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Geology | Leave a comment

Earthquakes and the End Times

This item was originally posted on April 18, 2006 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries.

April 18, 2007 will, of course, be the 101st anniversary of this earthquake.

Since today is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake…

“There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Matthew 24:7,8 ESV

A common “fact” proclaimed in Bible end-times prophecy books (Hal Lindsey and others), radio broadcasts, and on numerous web sites is that the number of severe earthquakes is increasing, and that this is a sign that Christ will soon return.

Now, I believe that Christ is returning, and that it could be at any time. However, as a geologist I always questioned the validity of these reports, but never had the time to look into it for myself. Fortunately, others have done the research for me. Steven Austin, of the Institute for Creation Research, and Mark Strauss, of Bethel Seminary San Diego, wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal in 1999 called “Are Earthquakes Signs of the End Times?: A Geological and Biblical Response to an Urban Legend” (CRJ, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 30-39). I don’t think that article is available online, but a longer version is on the internet: Earthquakes and the End Times: A Geological and Biblical Perspective.

To summarize their arguments:

  • The prominent end-times authors have been very sloppy in referencing their data sources. They will often make broad statements like, “According to the USGS…” rather than citing specific sources.
  • Since 1898, there has been a worldwide network of seismographs capable of detecting any earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater. According to earthquake data from the USGS, there were more large earthquakes in the first half of the 20th century than in the last half. There has been no increase in the frequency of large earthquakes.
  • Christ’s prediction in Matthew 24 can be interpreted in more than one way. Many premillenialists interpret the passage as referring to a period of time within the seven-year tribulation, and therefore not applicable to the present time. Others, and I favor this view, look at the passage as referring to events that occur throughout the time from Christ’s ascension to his return. We will have wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes throughout history until Christ returns in glory.

Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Geology | Leave a comment

Moons of the outer solar system — Death Star in orbit around Saturn

Saturn’s moon Mimas resembles the Death Star of the Star Wars movies. This is a coincidence, as the images of Mimas were taken after the first Star Wars movie came out.

Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy, Fun | Leave a comment

Moons of the outer solar system

My middle school students will be working on reports on the moons of the outer solar system this week. When I was in middle school, the gas giants had what we thought were a lot of moons, but that number has greatly increased as telescopes have improved and probes have been sent to the outer solar system.

Planet Number of moons (1975) Number of moons (2007)
Jupiter 12 63
Saturn 11 48-60
Uranus 5 27
Neptune 2 13

As more moons are discovered, their diameters are becoming smaller. The following table shows the average diameter of moons discovered in orbit around Jupiter for various time periods:

Time period Average diameter of moons discovered (km)
1600s 4208
1800s 262
1900-1970 55
1970s 37
2000s 3

Some questions:

  • How many moons will we say Jupiter has when we can observe rocks only 100 meters in diamter?
  • Will there be another astronomical crisis when Jupiter has 1000 moons? Will astronomers have to debate the question, “What is a moon?” just like they had to go through the “What is a planet?” issue?

Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Yippee!!!

I had a busy week at school, with several 12-14 hour days.

I preached this morning at our church, Biserica Trinitatea (Trinity church), and preparation for that consumed the rest of my life.

Now I have a few hours of freedom (I think).
Yippee!!!

Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | General | Leave a comment

Moons of the outer solar system — images

Here are a few of my favorite images of the moons of the gas giant planets, all taken by the various probes that have gone through the outer solar system in the past thirty years:


Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s four large moons, and the body in the solar system that is the most volcanically active. The dark spots are each an active volcano.


Two volcanic eruptions occuring on Io; one on the upper horizon, and one just below the day/night terminator line (the faint spot bottom center). Material can be ejected several hundred kilometers above the surface.


Europa is one of the four large moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in 1610. Its surface is made predominantly of water ice.


More detailed image of the surface of Europa, showing large flat blocks of ice frozen in place.


Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, and the largest moon in the solar system.


Callisto, one of the four large moons of Jupiter.


Enceladus orbits Saturn


Miranda is one of the five medium-sized moons of Uranus. Many of the moons of Uranus are named after characters in plays by William Shakespeare.


Triton, the one large moon of Neptune. It has geysers on its surface which erupt either liquid nitrogen or liquid methane.

Grace and Peace

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Simple Cells?

This item was originally posted in March, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The GeoChristian now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries.

Having read a number of technical books and papers on the topic of the origin of life, I believe that there is more here than a “god of the gap” kind of argument. Experiments have shown that conditions may have been present on the early Earth for the formation of a few basic building blocks for life in the primeval oceans, such as amino acids. But the complexity required for a metabolizing, reproducing cell to develop is an enormous leap beyond this. We can argue against the naturalistic origin of life not because of our ignorance–this is the idea of invoking the “god of the gaps”–but because of our knowledge of just how improbable this occurrence would be.

Prominently displayed in the back of my science classroom at Bucharest Christian Academy is an oversized poster showing biochemical pathwaysthe enzyme-mediated processes that occur in all cells, in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. The poster presents an incredible amount of information, outlining processes such as electron transport in the mitochondria (in eukaryotes), and the synthesis and degradation of amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleotides. The poster is a little overwhelming to my middle school and high school students, but that is part of my purpose for having it. Even the most simple living cells are incredible machines, and I want them to have a glimpse of what that means.

For the web site of the week, I have chosen a similar metabolic pathways poster from the ExPASy Proteomics Server. By clicking on individual tiles on the poster, you can zoom in to see details of various processes, with the names of the enzymes that control molecular transformations in blue.

biochem_chart

From discussions with biochemists, my understanding is that the simplest cell that could perform the basic functions of life (such as respiration, digestion, reproductionprocesses that define life) could do without some of the processes diagrammed on this poster. However, this primitive cell would still have to include about 60% of the processes depicted on these types of posters. This defines the magnitude of what needs to be explained in any naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.

Grace and Peace

I did find one article (I’m sure there are many) on the internet that puts a lower limit on the number of proteins in the most primitive cell at 300. Note that on the metabolic processes poster I have here, only the blue names, the enzymes, are proteins. The other substances are all substances that are produced or modified by those enzymes.

My biochemist friend Glenn added this comment when I posted this last year:

There’s an additional complexity issue that’s not reflected in the 2D network map of biochemical pathways: the 3D structure of the cell is critical for enzyme function and the transport of substrates/products. Many of these enzymes are membrane-associated, for example, and their orientation in the membrane defines their overall function. Experimental data suggests that very few enzymes are “floating” around in a cellular soup; it’s a viscous, structured arrangement. So you could put all the enzymes on the chart into a tiny test tube, and add all the substrates in solution, but it wouldn’t operate as a cell does. Yes, enzymatic reactions would occur. But it’s not a sustaining cellular system.

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Biology, Blog Recycling, Chemistry, Origin of Life | Leave a comment

Mars World Wind

I’ve been enjoying using NASA’s WorldWind software to help my 7th/8th grade Physical Science students understand the solar system a little better. Mars especially has an amazing variety of features and landforms formed by tectonic events, meteorites, running water, groundwater, ice, and wind. (I’ve written about Mars WorldWind before, but I’m having so much fun with it…)


Computer-generated relief map of Mars using WorldWind. The white areas are the highest elevation, and are enormous volcanoes. The blue areas represent the lowest elevations.


Faulted areas (“grabens”) at the western end of Valles Marineris, a large fault-formed canyon that is ten times the length and width of Earth’s grand canyon.


Channels formed by running water at some time in Mars’s past.


Tectonic features, volcanoes, and craters.

Grace and Peace

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy | 1 Comment

A New Hypothesis Regarding the Ridges and Grooves on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Jupiter’s moon Europa is covered with grooves and ridges. The common hypothesis is that the crust of Europa is composed of thick sheets of ice which float on a liquid water layer deeper in the satellite. As these plates of ice move around, ridges and cracks form.


NASA/Astronomy Picture of the Day

This is a reasonable hypothesis, but it is best in situations like this to keep the “multiple working hypotheses” principle in mind. Here’s my proposal: Europa is a giant cheese ball or it is covered with chip dip. The image of a plate of potato chip dip shown below inspired this alternative hypothesis. Note the ridges, and how they intersect at a variety of angles, just like the ridges and grooves on Europa. I propose that we call these landforms chipsuri ondulate, as the ones on my plate were formed by Lays Ruffles potato chips (literally undulating chips in Romanian).

Grace and Peace

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Astronomy, Fun | Leave a comment

The Purpose of the Universe

This item was originally posted in March, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries. This entry highlights the truth that the universe is not about us, but about God.


Galaxies, Hubble Space Telescope ultra deep field, NASA/JPL

There are an estimated 1021 stars in the universe. Doesn’t this make Earth, and the humans who inhabit it, seem rather insignificant? Yes, and no. 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.

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Blog Recycling | Leave a comment