Galactic Collision Is Coming!

Andromeda Galaxy on Galactic Collision Course
Andromeda Galaxy

A skeptic remarked to me, “If a wise God created the universe, it would have been designed better. Our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy are on a galactic collision course. They are going to smash into each other and tear each other apart. That’s the end of life on Earth. You’re God must not be very smart.” What could I say? Yes, it’s true that astronomers have determined that there will be a galactic collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies resulting in the destruction of both. But there is more to the story.

Recently I read an article about scientists who are studying two black holes that appear to be orbiting each other 750 million light-years from Earth. The scientists are watching them to see what will happen when two black holes collide as they spin into each other. The reason for the scientists’ curiosity is they want to know what will happen when the black holes in the center of the Milky Way and Andromeda come together. (It seems that most galaxies have black holes in their center.) Of course, the center of the galaxies will not meet until long after the outer spirals have destroyed each other, and Earth as well. Still, the scientists want to know what will happen when black holes collide. Will they swallow each other and become a super-super-massive black hole? Will they disappear? Who knows?

The scientists have been watching those distant orbiting black holes for about 12 years now. How much longer will they have to wait to find the answer? They estimate that those black holes orbit each other every 24,000 years. How many orbits will it take for them to converge in a catastrophic explosion of energy? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that it’s going to take a lot longer than 12 years, or even 12 hundred, or 12 thousand, or maybe even 12 million. The scientists working on the project will not be around to learn the answer.

Let’s get back to the expected Milky Way-Andromeda catastrophy. When will it happen? Oh, let’s say in a billion years or so. We have many more important things to worry about than the coming galactic train-wreck. So why was the skeptic saying that there can’t be an all-wise, loving, and powerful God because our two galaxies may be destroyed in a billion years? That’s a very weak excuse for not believing in God. The point is that God never intended for this universe and our planet to last forever. He even told us so. (See 2 Peter 3:10-12.) God had a specific plan in mind to give us a chance to learn to love and serve him and to grow toward becoming the people he called us to be. There is a much better universe coming. (You can read about it in Revelation 21.) There is no need to worry about a galactic collision. In the new universe: There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
–Roland Earnst © 2017

A Quiet Neighborhood is a Good Neighborhood

Beyond the Quiet Neighborhood
At a June 7 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Benjamin Hoscheit presented information gained from studying 120,000 galaxies. The study agreed with earlier findings that our Milky Way galaxy is located in the largest cosmic void that we can observe. When scientists look one billion light-years out into the universe, they find that the cosmic density becomes much greater. The conclusion they have reached is that the Milky Way is in a relatively open area of space about two billion light-years across. We live in a quiet neighborhood.

The computer image from the Millennium Simulation Project illustrates the dense filaments of dark matter stretching through space. Galaxies are mostly clumped along the filaments. The Milky Way resides in one of the voids between those strands. What are the implications of that? Galaxies tend to be in clusters, and our cluster is called the Local Group. A typical galaxy cluster will have 10,000 galaxies close together. (Close by cosmic standards.) The Local Group has only forty galaxies, and all of them are dwarf galaxies except the Milky Way and Andromeda which are medium-sized. If there were large galaxies close to us, their gravity could distort the spiral structure of the Milky Way making advanced life on Earth impossible.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy—the only kind of galaxy capable of supporting advanced life. Star formation drives the spiral motion. Star formation requires the infusion of gas and dust which the small galaxies provide. Clusters of galaxies reside inside superclusters. Our Local Group cluster is on the outer fringe of the Virgo supercluster. If it were near the center of Virgo, the massive clusters there would absorb the Local Group and make life impossible. Also, our solar system is located in the best position within our galaxy at about two-thirds of the distance from the center. In the center of the Milky Way (and most galaxies), there is a massive black hole that would swallow our solar system if we were anywhere near it. If we were farther out in the spiral, the solar system would be subject to massive instability, again making life impossible.

Of course, Earth is also located in the solar habitable zone where we are not too close or too far from the Sun. One final thing to note is that in this cosmic void and the position in our galaxy, we are at the optimum location for observing all of the things I mentioned. We have an excellent view of the universe. We are in more than a quiet neighborhood. We are in the “Goldilocks Zone” where everything is “just right.”

You could say that we got lucky and all of these things, and many others, are merely freak accidents. We believe that God had a reason for putting us where we are, and has given us a purpose for being here.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Asteroids Have Value

Vesta, Largest of Asteroids

What happened to the dinosaurs? The prevailing theory for the extinction of dinosaurs involves an asteroid collision at Chicxulub in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Whether you accept that theory or not, there is no question that there are vast numbers of asteroids in space. They are apparently leftovers from the formation of the planets. At least nine times an asteroid has hit the earth leaving a crater that can be studied and mapped today. Some of the craters are huge. The largest is a crater 186 miles (300 km) wide in South Africa called the Vredefort crater. The question is, “Why would God allow such objects to exist knowing they could become a threat to life on Earth?”

First, we need to realize that such collisions are incredibly rare and so far they have never impacted humans. There are more than half-a-million known asteroids. The largest is Vesta (pictured) which is 329 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter. The smallest are only 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter. Objects smaller than that are called meteoroids. According to NASA, the total mass of every known asteroid is less than the mass of our Moon.

Scientists are studying their chemical composition of asteroids. What they have found is that they are very rich in rare-earth metals as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. In the future, we may replace depleted resources on Earth by mining asteroids. Experts have estimated that the value of minerals in asteroids is in the trillions of dollars. Two American companies are gearing up to pioneer asteroid mining operations–Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.

We think too small when we think that God planned for humans to be limited by the resources of Earth. What appeared to be a threat in the past may turn out to be an incredible blessing from God in the future.
Data from Discover Magazine, July/August 2017, pages 50-51 and https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/asteroids/indepth.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gravitational Glue

Carousel and Gravitational Glue
As scientists study the motions of things in space, a great mystery continues to grow. The fact that everything spins at very fast rates allows stability in the cosmos. Galaxies, which are island universes containing billions of stars, spin fast enough that they don’t collapse into their cores and yet they don’t fly apart. Scientists call the force that makes this possible “gravitational glue.”

If you were sitting on a carousel horse and spinning at ten rotations per second, there is no way you could hang on. You would be thrown off the carousel. Galaxies spin so fast they should fly apart, but they don’t. Attempts to explain the glue that holds them together have included exoplanets, galactic gas clouds, and black holes–all of which we can’t see. The problem is that they are all too weak to do the job.

Adding to the mystery, we see light bending as it travels through space and we call that “gravitational lensing.” There is not enough visible mass in the cosmos to bend the light as much as we observe. Massive filaments of gas connect groups of galaxies, and they are controlled by something invisible.

There are two proposals of subatomic particles that could be the cause of these mysteries. One is WIMPS, which we have discussed previously. WIMPS is an acronym for “Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.” These particles would have to be heavier than protons and neutrons. The other proposal is Axions. They would be “ghost particles” that have a low mass but are super-abundant. So far all attempts to detect either of these possible explanations have failed. To find the answer will require a very complicated detection system.

This is just one more example of why the creation of the cosmos cannot be explained by naturalistic chance. The complexity of such simple things as having a planet in a solar system within a galaxy defies any chance explanation. This complex system can better be explained by God designing from a dimension far beyond the four dimensions we see. Proverbs 8:22-32, authored by Wisdom, suggests the wisdom in the design of the universe.

The gravitational glue that holds everything together is just another wonderful creation of God that allows us to exist.
Data from: Discover Magazine July/August 2017, page76.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

TRAPPIST-1 Star System Revisited

TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup - NASA
TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup – NASA Illustration

We commented in a previous post about extra-solar planets (planets orbiting other stars), and whether those planets could have life on them. The media seem to convey the idea that there are hundreds of “earths” all containing life-forms similar to us. They suggest that if there are many Earth-like planets with life on them, then that indicates that Earth and the life on it came about by chance processes. In February, NASA called a special news conference to announce that they had found a star they call TRAPPIST-1 which had seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it in the “Goldilocks Zone.” The Goldilocks Zone is the area where water could exist in the liquid state. Many media sources were quick to announce that NASA had found seven planets that were “Earth twins” and almost surely would be inhabited.

Let us emphasize again that finding life in space is not an issue of whether God exists. If scientists find life in space, it will have been created by God and will have a purpose in existing. This particular find, however, is just another example of how quickly and irresponsibly the media will jump to promote an agenda that will sell. As more data has become available, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this seven-planet system is not an ideal place for life. In fact, any life form that happened to be there would be destroyed by the properties of the system.

TRAPPIST-1, the star that serves as the “sun,” is a very cool dwarf star. That means it gives off a very limited spectrum of light. The critical wavelengths required for photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are simply not present. The masses of these planets range from .4 to 1.4 times the mass of Earth. That means the smaller planets will almost surely not have an atmosphere since they are smaller than Mars. The length of time for the planets to orbit their star varies from 1.5 days to 20 days. That makes a very short year. They are all less than 6 million miles from their parent star. That means all activity on the star would likely be lethal to life-forms on the planets. For a comparison, Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun is separated from it by 36.8 million miles. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun.

God may have prepared other Earth-like planets, and they may have even been equipped with life. The point is that it is easy to see our planet’s uniqueness, design, and careful planning. We haven’t yet found anyplace like it in other star systems.
Data from Astronomy, July 2017, page 8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Outside of Time and Space

A view outside of time and space
As physicists and astronomers gather more data on the nature of the cosmos, the more they realize one important thing. They realize that the cosmos came into being by agencies outside of time and space.

Einstein’s famous concept of gravity and mass as depressions in the fabric of space/time assumes that the view is being made by an observer outside of space/time. There is a famous illustration which shows a bowling ball and a soccer ball sitting on a mattress. The bowling ball makes a bigger dent in the mattress than the soccer ball does. Its mass is the explanation of the deeper impression than the soccer ball. All of that can only be seen by an observer looking at the mattress from a position outside of the frame of reference of the mattress.

In the mathematics of quantum mechanics and string theory, the equations suggest more than the traditional four dimensions of X, Y, Z, and time. In string theory, the equations suggest eleven spacial dimensions. This is another interesting agreement between science and faith. God is described throughout the Bible as existing in a higher dimension than X, Y, Z, and time. In Acts 17: 23-28 Paul talks about “the unknown God” and portrays the real God as one “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Science and the Bible agree that there are more dimensions than three spacial dimensions and time. All evidence says that the creation process involved an entity or entities in higher dimensions than X, Y, Z, and time. Time and space could only be created by an entity outside of time and space. The disagreement is whether that entity is personal or impersonal. The properties of a personal creator would involve purpose, beauty, design, intelligence, and order. The properties of an entity that is not personal would have no purpose, would be totally chance-driven, would show no design, and would have no reason for beauty.

A cosmos created by that which is in a higher dimension gives another strong evidence for the existence of God. We were created with a sense of and need for purpose, beauty, color, and design. Our very being reflects that creation in glowing terms. We are not androids or robots. We are creatures created in the image of the Creator who has a love for those beings that reflect His nature.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Asteroid 2015 BZ-509

Jupiter And Asteroids
Jupiter And Asteroids

A recently discovered asteroid is raising new questions. The cosmos is one of the great evidences for the existence of God. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Psalms 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork…” We see a constant stream of new proposals year after year giving possible scenarios about how the solar system and Earth were produced. In the nearly 50 years that we have been writing, we have seen a dozen or so theories advanced and discarded because they couldn’t account for new observations.

This month Science News (May 13, 2017, page 5), carried a story about a strange asteroid. This will once again cause some rearranging of the current best guesses as to how the solar system and the Earth were formed. Research reported in Nature magazine (March 30, 2017) shows an asteroid that revolves around the Sun backwards, even though it is in Jupiter’s orbit. If you were to look at the solar system from the north star, you would notice that everything revolves around the Sun in a counterclockwise direction. Moons, asteroids, and planets are basically all in one plane and all moving the same way. Jupiter is the most massive planet in the solar system, and it has a multitude of rocks called asteroids that orbit around the Sun in the same direction. Now we have an asteroid that is in Jupiter’s orbit but revolves clockwise around the Sun.

If you think about that for a minute, you will see that it would logically follow that in the first orbit this asteroid would have slammed into Jupiter like a car driving the wrong way down a one-way street. In time at least, Jupiter should have sucked in this wayward hunk of rock. The orbit of asteroid 1015 BZ-509 is such that in one orbit it goes on one side of Jupiter and on the next orbit it goes on the other side of Jupiter, so the gravitational jerk of Jupiter is canceled out. Computer simulations show that this arrangement is permanent. It has been going on for a long time and will continue into the future.

We are not suggesting you invent a God to explain this oddity, but theories about the creation have to include anomalies like this one. Every day new observations are made, and on a regular basis they add to the complexity we see in the cosmos. The Creator had to know about, produce, and control all of these things for us to exist. For Bible students, these things do remind us of the truthfulness of Psalms 8:3-4, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained; what is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him…”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Einstein TV Series

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
One of the major weaknesses of our culture is the obsession we seem to have with celebrities. People who are gifted in one area of life seem to be looked on as experts in all areas of life. Often the celebrity is happy to use their notoriety to promote a cause or to oppose something. A classic example is Richard Dawkins, who is a famous biologist and is gifted in his scientific expertise. Unfortunately, he is incredibly ignorant about the Bible and spiritual matters, but he is regarded as an authority by many people, especially those looking for a way to deny the existence of God.

National Geographic is now running a ten-episode series on Albert Einstein titled “Genius.” There is no question that Einstein was a gifted scientist in areas related to physics and cosmology. Science has been changed in many ways by the work of Einstein, and no one should denigrate his scientific contributions. However, Einstein’s education, morals, and early life were not exemplary. His views on sex and marriage are similar to much of what is being taught in our secular world today and are a recipe for disaster. His political and ethical activities were not what contribute to a world order that is positive. The series will undoubtedly get a lot of attention and probably win some awards, but not much of Einstein’s life is a good model for young people to follow.

If you watch the series, we encourage you to be aware of the real Einstein as a person, while appreciating his gift as a scientific mind. There are two books that are worth reading if you are interested in Einstein. One is Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson. The other is Ideas and Opinions, published by Crown Publishing and written by Einstein himself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

God of Creation

Father-Daughter Bible Reading
When we hear the word “creation,” we think of the Genesis account of God’s creation of “the heavens and the Earth.” But God did much more than just position things in space and on the surface of this planet. Quantum mechanics has enlarged our understanding of how the creation of the physical world takes place. For many years atoms were thought to be the smallest particles of matter, but now particle physics takes us into much smaller and more amazing realms. As we learn more about such basic things as charge, mass, and gravity, a whole new set of laws and principles comes to light. As we learn about fermions and bosons and principles of “simultaneity” and “parity,” we grow in our understanding of all that is involved in the physical creation presented in those few words in Genesis 1:1. We begin to appreciate the wisdom involved in the process as described in Proverbs 8:12, 22-30 and Isaiah 40.

The biblical concept of creation also refers to the creation of human consciousness, our appreciation of beauty, our awareness of self, and our spiritual makeup. These things are not accidents or commonplace occurrences. The Hebrew word bara meaning to create is used to describe the process of creation of man and woman in the image of God. Bara is a word that never refers to something a human can do. The Bible does not use bara for the making of the physical human body. The word used there means “formed” (yatshir Genesis 2:7), which describes the molding or shaping of something from materials already in existence. The most important part of human creation is the spiritual image of God, and that is where bara is used. (Genesis 1:27) To show the effect of God’s image displayed in humans Genesis 4:21 tells us that a man named Jubal was the first to handle musical instruments. In the next verse, we are told that a man named Tubalcain was the first to be an “artificer of brass and iron.” These and other passages refer to human creativity which results from our being created in the image of God.

Creation also involves the food that would sustain life. This process is described in Genesis 1:29-30 and referred to again after the Flood in Genesis 9:1-3. In 1 Timothy 4:3 it is described as a conscious creation of God, and that all of God’s created things were made for our use. Creation is also involved in God’s plan for marriage. In Genesis 2:24 the oneness of man and woman is introduced, and it is detailed in 1 Corinthians 7 and 11 with the sexual and emotional needs of both men and women being detailed.

The most important aspect of God’s creation for us is the creation of the Church and of the opportunity for us to be restored to God in the same relationship Adam and Eve had in the beginning. Our purpose for existing is spelled out in Ephesians 3:10 and 6:12. Isaiah 65:17 begins us on the road to understanding that God will create a new heaven and new earth for us. The fulfillment of that promise is described in Revelation 21. Ephesians 4:24 lets us know God can change us, if we were willing, into new people for the purpose of good works (Ephesians 2:10). In Psalms 51:10 the writer asks God to “create” a clean heart and renew a right spirit in him. The Hebrew word bara is used here again because that can only be done by a creative act of God. That new creation is what the promise of Acts 2:38 is all about. Christianity is a system for removing the sin and guilt that result from our bad choices. The renewal that comes through Christ is an act of re-creation by the God who created us and who is indeed a God of creation.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Our Unique Planet

our unique planet
Earth is very different from any other planet we have discovered inside or outside of our solar system. One key factor that makes our planet habitable is our Moon. The Moon serves several important roles, including holding Earth in a stable rotation. The Moon can be a stabilizer for Earth because of its relatively large size. Other planets have moons that are much smaller in comparison to the planets they orbit. Also, other planets in our solar system have multiple moons which make conditions less stable.

Many of the planets discovered outside of our solar system are huge and located incredibly close to their stars with highly eccentric orbits. A solar system in the constellation Serpens was found with a planet seventeen times as massive as Jupiter. Someone might respond with the observation that we can only see the big planets because those systems are so far away. That observation misses the point. These huge, Jupiter-sized and larger planets are located as close to their stars as we are to our Sun or closer. If there is a small planet in the vicinity, it would be twisted and wrenched about by the influences of the large planet. The problem with highly elliptical orbits and life is that there would be too much variation in the amount of energy that the planet receives from its star. Earth’s orbit is only slightly elliptical giving us stable temperatures. If we had only one planet in our solar system with a radically elliptical orbit, there would be a danger of it crashing into our planet. Circular orbits are important for stability. The instability produced by highly eccentric orbits of large planets would make the area sterile and void as far as life is concerned. Everything we see indicates that our solar system is a cosmic oddball.

There are many properties of our planet, Sun, solar system, and the galaxy in which we live that have to be exactly as they are for any kind of life, not just intelligent life, to exist. The galaxy has to be the right type of galaxy, we must be in the right position in the galaxy, and our Sun has to be the right type of star and at the right age in its life process. Our planet must have the right size, mass, tilt, magnetic field, distribution of land masses, chemical makeup, atmosphere, distance from the Sun, and much, much more.

To calculate the overall probability, you must multiply the probability of each of the dependent variables. Every time scientists find a new variable that has to be precisely determined for a life-sustaining planet to exist, that probability is multiplied by all the other probabilities. Considering all of the required factors and the probability of each and multiplying them all together, the total probability of another planet like Earth is exceedingly small. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” takes on a whole new level of meaning as we continue to gain knowledge about the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017