News items in the media in early March have made the spectacular announcement that “life material” has been found on Ceres, an asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Technically that announcement is correct, with the weasel word being “life material.” NASA was very careful to announce that they have “not actually found any signs of life on the dwarf planet.” What they have found on Ceres is a spectrograph of light reflected from the surface giving the same pattern as seen in hydrocarbons on Earth–specifically kerite and asphaltite.
We have pointed out repeatedly that finding life in space is not a biblical issue. The Bible doesn’t tell us that God did not create life elsewhere, and He very well may have. There is a deeper motive for announcements like this one. If you are going to teach that life began in a primeval soup full of organic molecules, you have to find the molecules to put into the soup. Amino acids have been found in meteorites and in dark nebulae, but most have been small and very limited in complexity.
An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. At the time that I am writing there are 3,565 known exoplanets, but by the time you read this, there could be over 4,000. In spite of what the media says, there have been no “Earth-twin,” “habitable,” or “Earth-like” planets found. These are cliches the media throws around which have very little scientific validity. When a scientist identifies a planet as being in a habitable zone, it simply means that water could exist on the planet in a liquid form. Scientists consider water, carbon, and oxygen essential for life. But there are many other variables that must be carefully chosen before an “Earth-like” planet could actually have life on it.
The exoplanets that have been discovered so far are an incredibly varied group. Most are too big, too hot, too gassy (like our gas giant Jupiter), or they have orbits that are too eccentric (ovals, not circles) to support life. Some planets are so hot that they rain glass. Others are so cold that no biological organism could exist on them. The stars around which these planets orbit are also an incredibly varied group with enormous ranges in size, activity, temperature, and radiation levels. In most cases, those stars are orbiting other stars making life nearly impossible.
Popular movies portray travel in space as just being a matter of solving simple propulsion problems. The truth is that cosmic radiation is now better understood as a huge risk to space travel. In Scientific American (February 2017, page 54) Charles Limolihas wrote an excellent scientific discussion of the dangers of cosmic radiation.
Galactic cosmic rays are charged atomic nuclei flying at nearly the speed of light, probably coming from the supernova remnants of dead stars. Our Sun generates a great amount of radiation, but the cosmic rays are much more of a hazard. When these atomic nuclei hit molecules in our body, they ionize atoms, knocking electrons off the atoms and causing the atoms to become charged. These charged atoms hit other atoms, and there is a domino effect that is greatly magnified because of the extra energy involved. In human bodies, there are clusters of damage from such radiation, and just trying to duplicate the process in the laboratory has turned out to be incredibly difficult. Limolihas and his fellow researchers have shown that there is a much greater effect on brain tissue than anyone imagined.
The Earth is designed to handle this huge radiation by having two levels of shielding. The Earth’s magnetic field sweeps galactic cosmic rays away from the areas of the planet where most people live, and the atmosphere stops much of the rest. The amount of cosmic radiation we receive on the surface on Earth’s surface is relatively harmless. When you travel in space beyond Earth’s magnetic field, you, have virtually no protection, and that is going to be a huge challenge for space engineers to solve.
Around 500 B.C. there lived a famous Greek philosopher by the name of Pythagoras. He gained a sect of followers in a place called Crotone in southern Italy. The Pythagoreans taught that the planets (including an Anti-Earth on the other side of the Sun), the Moon, and the Sun were fastened to great spheres of crystal, rotating around a central fire. They believed that the motion of these spheres created an exquisite harmony which ordinary people cannot hear. Pythagoras and his followers believed they could tune instruments by mathematical calculations so the instruments would resonate with the spheres. Dancing to the music of the spheres was an activity that occupied much of the time of the ancient Pythagoreans.
Although the ideas of the Pythagoreans were not accurate in many ways, from a scientific standpoint, we can see the harmony of the spheres of stars and planets today. You could say that the music to which the spheres dance is loud and clear. Our solar system moves with definite rhythms, following a “musical score” written with incredible precision and purpose. As our knowledge and understanding has improved, the incredible complexity of the musical score has become obvious. Isaac Newton gave us the original score, and Albert Einstein fine tuned it. Both gained their understandings by looking at the grand design. We have learned that the Moon helps to hold Earth at the proper tilt. We have seen that the large Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) help to shield Earth from intruding comets. We know that the very substances of which we are made had their origin in the stars.
Dean Overman in his book A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization showed the fallacy of trying to explain everything we see in the cosmos by chance. It has been suggested that a large number of monkeys typing on a large number of typewriters would eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. Overman shows that the chance of monkeys typing a section from Macbeth containing only 379 letters would have a probability of 10 to the 536th power. When you consider that there are only 10 to the 80th power atoms in the known universe, you can see that the chances are very small. Mathematicians consider anything with a probability of 10 to the 50th power as a mathematical impossibility.
In May of 2016 astronomers using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (called TRAPPIST) announced the finding of three planets orbiting a single star which has been labeled “TRAPPIST-1.” On February 22, 2017, astronomers released to the media a report stating that they have discovered four more planets orbiting Trappist-1. The planets are small, and their location in relation to the star they orbit indicates that they could have liquid water on them. The media has picked this up and USA Today (February 23, 2017, page B1) has headlined “Newly Discovered Network of Planets Could Harbor Life.”
This is just another example of media sensationalizing and misapplying a scientific study. Let us point out before going any further that we have repeatedly said that there may be life elsewhere in the universe. We have also pointed out that chance is an unworkable explanation for the creation of life anywhere. The Bible doesn’t say this is the only place where God has seen fit to create life, so the question of life in space is moot.
On February 23, 1987, a historic explosion was witnessed by astronomers on Earth. A massive star known as Sanduleak -60 degrees 202 exploded. What was previously classified as a supergiant star became a supernova. For the first time since A.D.1054, there was a supernova close enough to the Earth for scientists to observe first-hand what was happening.
Students in high school physics and earth science classes study a diagram known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It is simply a scattergram of the temperature of stars plotted against their luminosity. Stars begin as very hot blue giant stars. As they cool, they turn white hot, then red, then brown. Then they may become a cinder. In the case of larger stars, the internal processes change, and they become giant stars which in some cases explode. Because these processes require a very long time, we don’t live long enough to see a single star go through all of these phases. But we can see stars in all of these stages. Seeing a star explode is a very rare event (about once a century), and Sanduleak -60 degrees 202 was thus a fantastic opportunity to see in detail what happens when a star explodes.
There is much to learn from Supernova 1987A. Exploding stars seed space with the heavier elements. We are learning how the elements that make up our world were formed. For those of us who believe God is the engineer of all of this, we can see how God made iron, copper, gold and the materials of the Earth’s crust. The incredible energy and power of the process testify to God’s power and creative wisdom. As we compare this supernova with the one that happened in A.D. 1054, which produced what is now called the Crab Nebula, we see it is different in many ways. In 1 Corinthians 15:41 the Bible tells us that “one star differs from another” and we now know that is true even of exploding stars. This supernova also gives us another tool to measure the size and age of the universe. We have several methods of measuring how far away this supernova is, but they all give us the same answer. The explosion took place 160,000 light years away from us, or 160,000 years ago. We are safe from the incredible radiation because of the huge distance.
Everyone seems to have a fascination with dinosaurs. For kids, it may just be the old “monster under the bed” type of obsession, but adults have similar desires flavored by wanting to know more. Trying to suggest that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, as some creationists do, stretches credibility to the breaking point. Not only is there no credible evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together (although the number of attempts never seems to diminish), but the conditions under which the dinosaurs lived would be virtually impossible for humans to survive. Temperatures, the composition of the atmosphere, and the efficiency of the dinosaur predators make most people at least doubt the cohabitation of humans and these huge reptiles. Movies like Jurassic Park help reinforce the difficulties of such a co-existence.
We have suggested that taking the Bible in a very literal way eliminates the need for trying to make a T. Rex a household pet. The Hebrew words used in the creation week all refer, if they are taken literally, to animals that Moses knew and/or had control over. Behemah in Genesis 1:24 refers to a cow, not a T. Rex. Kanaph oph in verse 21 refers to a chicken, not a pterodactyl. The creation week is an explanation to the Israelites about God’s creation of the living things they knew and depended on. Duckbilled Platypus is not in the creation week, nor are phytoplankton, bacteria, viruses, penguins, worms, arthropods in general, or dinosaurs. References to living things in passages like Exodus 20:11 are referring back to the creation week in the choice of words and the purpose.
Genesis 1:1 talks about the miraculous creation of the universe and the Earth in particular. The word for Earth (erets) normally refers to a functional planet–not a blob of gook. The method God used to produce the Earth is not given. Proverbs 8:22 discusses this in some references to God’s wisdom and planning, but not the mechanics of how God did what He did. The use of living ecosystems to produce a functional Earth is not out of the question, and the evidence shows that this is how God did it. Dinosaurs were the gardeners of prehistoric Earth, with some dinosaurs pruning and spreading the seeds of plants that produced coal and other resources humans would need.
In verse two of Genesis 1, we are told that the Earth became empty and wasted and that darkness came on the face of the Earth. The Hebrew tohu bohu choshek is normally used to address a destructive change. If in fact, biological systems were preparing the Earth for humans in verse 1, then verse 2 indicates a change. The evidence strongly supports this understanding. In Science News for February 4, 2017, pages 16-26, there is an excellent article by Thomas Sumner reporting on new research into the demise of the dinosaurs. It is titled “Devastation Detectives, ” and it reports on new data that backs up the asteroid impact that made the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan. It also shows that in addition to the asteroid strike, massive volcanic eruptions were taking place on the opposite side of the planet that contributed to the renovation of the Earth. The evidence is that the destruction was complete. Fish have been found with their gills filled with silicon dust, and the atmosphere seems to have been so full of ash and materials from these catastrophes that the Earth was in darkness. The congruence of all this and the biblical account is too complete to ignore.
The planet Uranus was observed by scientists as early as 1690. For over 100 years astronomers watched this “last planet” in the solar system with wonder. The problem was that the orbit of the new planet did not follow the rules. The eccentricity of Uranus’ orbit told the astronomers that there was something very large and forceful that was having a real impact on what Uranus did and how it behaved. As time went by, better telescopes were built. Astronomers had watched Uranus long enough to know where the great influence was, so they turned their instruments to that part of the sky and were astounded to see still another planet–Neptune! The orbit of Neptune was established and studied, and it too did not quite obey the rules, so astronomers turned their most powerful instruments even further out and discovered Pluto. Most modern discoveries in astronomy are related to influence. We know where to look and what to look for because we see the influence of an object long before we see the object itself.
Every time some unusual signal from space is discovered, we see headlines in newspapers about aliens being the source of the signal. In August of 2016, reports came out of a radio telescope in Russia known as the RATAN-600 that had picked up a strong signal in the 11 gigahertz band. This was coming from a star known as HD 164595 and was first detected in 2013. Since that time the RATAN telescope and SETI have listened for repeat signals, but none have been detected. Headlines in the media have been things like “Baffling Alien Signal Detected.” Dr. Eric Korpela who works with SETI says, “There’s always the problem that scientific vocabulary is different from the public vocabulary. Detection, to me, means something was detected. To the public, it may translate as ‘We found aliens.’” It turns out that the signals have several possible natural explanations, none of which involve aliens.
The question remains as to why the public is so obsessed with the theme of aliens. We have pointed out repeatedly that finding life in space doesn’t have anything to do with the existence of God. If God chose to create life in other places for reasons we don’t fully understand, that is no issue. The Bible deals with humans and our existence on Earth. It is becoming obvious that there are no higher forms of life anywhere close to us, so the question is moot. This is not a question that has implications for the existence of God or the credibility of the Bible.
In 1931 a Belgian astronomer named Georges Lemaitre proposed that the universe emerged from the decay of a single supermassive particle which he called “The Primeval Atom.” Since that time there have been a variety of similar explanations with the “Cosmic Egg” proposal being popular in the 1950s. The “Big Bang” was a label conceived by Fredrick Hoyle as measurements of the temperatures of various regions of space became known, and as radiation from the start of the cosmos confirmed a very hot singularity at the beginning of the cosmos. Hoyle’s label was actually making fun of some of the theories of his day, but the label stuck.
As more and more data has become available, the evolution of thought about the origin of the cosmos has changed. Quantum mechanics is now suggesting a whole new physics to describe the creation. While this has been happening, the evolution of words and their meaning has also taken place. A “singularity” is no longer understood as a point in space and time. It is not a single particle or kind of object. It is a condition of the cosmos in which space and time came into existence, containing ultra-hot and ultra-dense particles. The current theory says that a trillionth of a second after the singularity came into existence the temperature was a billion times hotter than the core of the Sun, and the energy density was more than 10 to the 36th power kilograms (hat’s10 followed by 36 zeros) in every cubic meter of space. To make it that dense, you would have to compress the Sun to the size of a marble.
Jeremiah 10:12 is typical of the descriptions the Bible gives of God’s creative acts. “He has made the earth by his power, he established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by his discretion.” Just as physics now turns to quantum mechanics to comprehend processes at a subatomic level beyond what we can physically see with our eyes, so too does the Bible describe God not in human terms, but in multidimensional terms. Acts 17:28 is a good example with the description of God being totally non-anthropomorphic, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Other passages such as Jeremiah 23:23-24 and 2 Chronicles 2:6 give a similar view of the nature of God as a being outside space and time.