Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Star, A Star Dancing in the Sky

NASA Photo, retouched

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) So said the wise men to King Herod as they mistakenly sought the newborn king in Jerusalem. When they were directed by the religious leaders to the small, nearby village of Bethlehem, “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed.” (verse 9) We do not know how many wise men (magi) traveled to see the Jewish king but biblical scholars think they were from Persia and familiar with the Book of Daniel. God had revealed to Daniel, an exiled Jew in Babylon (530 BC) many mysteries and secrets, which were part of the wisdom literature or astrological records in Persia.

The Magi: Could it be that the magi, while observing the heavens and studying the book of Daniel, noticed an astronomical phenomena which they associated with the impending birth of a Jewish king in Judea? Did they see a conjunction, which occurred on June 17, 3 BC, between Venus and Jupiter in the constellation of Leo, near the star Regulus? Leo was the tribal sign of Judah. Jupiter was the king planet for the Babylonians and the name for Regulus was Sharru the king. Also Venus, named Ishtar, was the chief Babylonian goddess associated with femininity.  Note that they did not follow the star but rather told Herod that they had seen the star in the East. This portion of their trip then could have been based on a natural phenomenon (with the timing ordained by God; see Gal 4:4).

The historical records: There are several historical reference made in the Bible related to the birth of Christ: a census ordered by Caesar Augustus; the rule of Quirinius, governor of Syria; and finally Herod, the king of Judea in Jerusalem. The death of Herod while young Jesus was in Egypt together with his parents is also mentioned. All these point to a time period that extends between 6 BC and 1 BC. The traditional date for Herod’s death has been set around 4BC, which in turn sets the birth of Christ at 6BC. However, a recent exhaustive study has brought the date of Herod’s death closer to 1 BC, or even 1 AD (see PSFC December 2012). During the period 3-2 BC , some astronomical data has identified the occurrence of  a number of planetary conjunctions one of which could have been the star that the magi saw in the East.

Trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem: The star reappears during this segment of the trip and seems to be a supernatural  phenomenon.  Why? Because it seems to have led them and stopped over the place where the child was. All this happened only after the magi were willing to travel to Bethlehem, away from center of power, in obedience to what the scripture had predicted in Micah 5:2. A miracle then occurs as a result of their perseverance. God honored the faith of the magi by directing them to the exact location of the Christ child. The Wonder of the Star is God’s providential timing, including both natural events and supernatural guidance, in order to fulfill his grand purpose for mankind: “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son that all those who believe on him shall not be lost but have eternal life” John 3:16  

For a short, more detailed description of the Star of Bethlehem see: What was the Star of Bethlehem?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Living Forever

Turritopsis Nutricula

The question of eternal life has intrigued humans from the beginning. In fact, concern about life beyond death seems to be one of the distinguishing marks of being human. Although we live within a linear time framework with a beginning and an end, our souls long for more, for eternal significance, meaning and life. God has made us in his image and given us his ‘nephesh’ (breath of life) which pulls us toward Him as the source of all that is eternal. Perhaps at one time mankind had the potential to live forever. After sin entered the Garden of Eden through Eve and then Adam, God said, “Man (Adam) must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  (Genesis 3:12) What was this 'Tree of Life’? How would it have enabled Adam to live forever? Could it be something genetic and could the science of genetics eventually unlock this key?

There is a member of the animal kingdom that can potentially live forever? It is a tiny hydrozoan (about 0.18 inch maximum diameter) that lives at the bottom of the ocean and is called the ‘immortal jellyfish’ (Turritopsis Nutricula). When adverse conditions threaten the Turritopsis, it is able to reverse its sexual mature medussa stage and return to the immature polyp stage through a process called cellular transdifferentiation, where one type of cell changes into another type. In this way it is able to begin the growth process again, like the fictional character Benjamin Button, who began to grow younger after reaching maturity. The process is poorly understood by scientists and it is not known whether stem cells are involved.

The author of Ecclesiastes looks long and hard at the meaning of life, often with a skeptical eye. He writes, “For everything there is a time, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot....” Following a poetic description of the significance of the passage of time, he adds,  “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccl 3:1-3, 11)

Although the idea of living forever in my physical body on earth is not particularly appealing, nor is the idea of endless cycles of reincarnation, the vision expressed by Apostle Paul offers a hope that gives meaning and direction to my life. “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)

To learn more about the Turritopsis nutricula (or dohrnii) see the New York Times article: Can a jellyfish unlock the secret of immortality?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Biomimetics: Learning from Nature (continued)

Peregrine Falcon in flight

Electric eels: When an eel locates its prey, it opens a series of cellular gates, through which ions (potassium) flow. This movement of charged ions creates an electric current when the eel is in a conductive solution, such as water. Researchers have experimented with artificial proto-cells that, like real living cells, have membranes that control the flow of ions similar to the eel’s. As reported in Advanced Materials (see News in Science), the researchers were able to generate electricity, which could eventually be used in a new battery design.

Insects and Aerodynamic Maneuverability: There are insects that are capable of taking off backwards, flying sideways, and landing upside down. The physiological and anatomical specialization of these insects is poorly understood. However, the greatest puzzle is how flapping wings can generate enough force to keep the insect in the air. Wind tunnel tests of insects show that simple flapping of the insect wing does not generate enough force to let the animal fly. Their secret was found to lie in the fact that insect wings add two rotational mechanisms that provide a potent force for the insect to remain aloft (Science 18, June 1999, Vol 284, pp 1954-1960).

The Peregrine Falcon is considered the fastest creature in the animal kingdom. When the falcon locates its prey while in flight, it tucks in its wings and dives towards the prey at speeds exceeding 150 miles an hour! With that speed, the falcon reaches its prey with precision, catches it with its claws and takes off. This bird’s flight skills are the envy of pilots, who are limited to rigid-wing aircraft. In a previous Blog on feathers, we described the unusual aerodynamic features of bird feathers, which are partly responsible for the falcon’s speed. The Goshawk on the other hand, can fly through dense forests inches above the ground with great speed and such delicate maneuverability that its wings do not touch the trees through which it flies. This allows the hawk to literally cruise through a challenging obstacle course with ease. ThIs 3 minute video (Peregrine Falcon & Goshawk in flight) shows these two hawks in flight, captured by Australian photographers. The capabilities of these creatures demonstrate again God’s design and care for His Creation, the wonder of his works.  

Psalm 104:24 speaks of God’s special care for all his of creatures. “In wisdom you made them all, the earth is full of your creatures”. As we study nature, we find many designs that can be mimicked by engineers and scientists in their work. It would be wonderful if these scientists would also give credit and honor to the ‘patent holder’ – God.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning Innovation from Nature - Biomimetics


The term biomimetics comes from the Greek word ‘bios’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘mimetic’ which means ‘having an aptitude for mimicry”. It was coined by Otto Schmitt during the 1950’s to describe a process being used by scientists and engineers. Biomimetics is the science of studying the structure and function of biological systems in order to develop models for designs in material science, machines, medicine and other fields.

As they gain understanding of how plants and animals function in nature, engineers and scientists find mimicking these functions often creates more efficient technologies. Below are two interesting examples.

The scorpion’s armor in harsh, desert conditions. Machines in the desert are subject to erosion through particles of dirt and sand that work their way into moving parts. It was discovered that scorpions protect their bodies with bumpy, grooved exoskeletons in serious desert sand storms where manmade machines would quickly breakdown. To reduce rubbing from airborne sand, the patterns on the scorpion’s armor modify the way that air flows over the scorpion’s back, thus reducing damage to the exoskeleton. Engineers have found that simulating these natural patterns found on scorpions helps to avoid sand damage on machines.

Sunflower heads, and optimum arrangement of mirrors in solar power towers. Solar power stations operate with a large number of mirrors arranged around a tower, focusing solar energy on a central tower. The working fluid on the top of the tower converts the liquid into steam, which then turns a turbine thus generating electric power. The distribution of these mirrors (exceeding 400 in number) requires large acreage. Seeking to reduce the space required for the mirrors, engineers stumbled on a design pattern used by sunflower heads, which follows Fermat’s principle, i.e, a spiral in which each element is set at a constant angle of 137 degrees. When researchers programmed their model to arrange these mirrors around the tower, the new spiral arrangement improved the efficiency of the solar energy collection process by reducing the space required.

Both the scorpion and the sunflower, not often considered important in our fast-paced lives, demonstrate the care with which they were designed. As he taught the crowds gathered on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus said, “Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29) If God so carefully designed these living things, does He not also have a design for your life?  "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  (Jeremiah 29:11)

References are from Sci American podcast, News in Science, The Economist (on the Fermat’s spiral-Google).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Miracle in the Womb


"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depth of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

Psalm 139:13-16

Friday, November 2, 2012

Birth and Death of Stars

Orion Nebula & Star Cluster

Stars, like all life on earth, go through the cycle of birth and death, with a finite life span in between. Physics Today recently published an article describing this cycle for stars and clusters of stars. The article speculates that the number of stars in the million year age group, reveal that star formation has increased in the past 10 million years. Our sun is one star that belongs to the so-called main sequence group that constitutes mature stars. Unstable young, hot stars and cooler red stars that are in the twilight of their lives constitute the other groups. 

The phenomenon of giant gas clouds giving birth to stars is especially strong in the constellation of Orion. Most constellations visible to the naked eye are composed of stars at vastly different distances from the earth. They do exhibit patterns that have been named from antiquity, such as the Big Dipper. If one takes the statement given in Genesis 1:14 literally (“Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years"), some of these constellations may represent signs in the sky of events that have taken place or will do so in the future. For astronomers however, these are ‘chance juxtapositions of stars at vastly different distances’. However, there are two constellations, the Orion Nebula cluster and the Pleiades, famously known as the Seven Sisters, that form true physical associations. What is fascinating about these clusters, especially the Orion Nebula cluster, is that new stars are being formed in these clusters today. They are classified by astronomers as young ‘OB associations’, which represent the hottest stars in the universe. 

The life and death cycle of stars is controlled by the well-known Second Law of Thermodynamics. This simply states that all natural phenomena proceed from an initial stage of order to one of disorder. In other words, the universe as a whole is slowly winding down, from an initial burst of super energy at creation. Psalm 102: 25-26 states: “…in the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth and heavens…they will all wear out like a garment”What is even more fascinating is that Orion and the Pleiades are the two constellations mentioned explicitly in the book of Job (38:31) where God tells Job: “...can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?” Today we find that both constellations have special significance for astronomers, as true clusters where young stars are being born. Here again we see the wonders in the universe, as  observed and analyzed by astronomers, and those wonders mentioned in Scriptures as part of God’s eternal plan.

For details see Physics Today, October 2012:Physics Today

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rainbows: Optical Wonders


The awe-inspiring sight of a rainbow has brought comfort and hope to people for thousands of years. Wordsworth wrote in an 1802 poem, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky…” Though the rainbow can cause us to look up in wonder, it can be easily understood scientifically. 

The two basic ingredients of a rainbow are sunlight, particularly from a low angle, and water droplets. That is why rainbows appear after a rain shower. When the sun appears through the clouds, sunlight enters millions of water droplets bending at a slight angle because of the different densities of air and water (index of refraction), bounces off the back surfaces (reflection) of the droplets and then fans out into different colors in different directions upon exiting the droplets, deflected in the process (dispersion). This dispersion happens because each color has a different wavelength. White light is composed of a mixture of wavelengths each of which will refract at a different angle, thus creating the rainbow effect. 

The visible colors of the rainbow are always arrayed in the same order beginning from the outer bow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Sometimes you can see a secondary rainbow, above the primary one. Its color order is reversed because the light within the droplet is refracted twice before it is dispersed. Rainbows can be circular. The ground cuts our rainbows in half, but if you view from above the ground, perhaps from a hot air balloon, you can see the full circular rainbow. 

After Newton explained the optical science of rainbows, the poet John Keats was dismayed. He wrote a poem in 1820 entitled Lamia, declaring that the scientific explanation had removed all the beauty and mystery from this wonder. 
“…Philosophy (science) will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air and the gnomed mine – 
Unweave the rainbow.”

Rather than removing the wonder, understanding the optics only adds to the awe of the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of God’s love for the world (Genesis 9:12-16) and at the same time, demonstrates the amazing science of optics.

For more detailed analysis of the optics of rainbows, open this link in Wikipedia: Snell's Law of Refraction

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Leaving in Glory


Here in the Rocky Mountains we are enjoying glorious fall colors as the aspen shimmer in the sunshine, flinging their golden leaves to the winds. These trees exhibit an explosion of color before the white curtain of winter snow descends. As I enjoy the artistry of this annual event, I ponder what I can learn from these beautiful trees about life and death?

The yellow color of the aspen leaf (carotenoid) has been present all through the summer, but remained hidden by the stronger green. Chlorophyll, the molecule that causes the green color, has been busy all summer photosynthesizing (putting together with light) sunlight and carbon dioxide, which produces glucose (sugars) and oxygen. This process is necessary for growth and life. But when the sun dips in the sky and the nights grow longer, the connection between the branch and the leaf is slowly cut off, corked up ‘so to speak’. As the amount of chlorophyll subsides, the yellow carotenoid becomes visible. When the sun shines through the golden aspen leaves on a clear day, the tree almost glows. It is beautiful.

Recently I attended a funeral for a friend, taken much too early by lung cancer. Although his life was shortened by cancer, he still touched many, from the homeless, to farmers, suburbanites, pastors, Bible teachers, and beyond. As his friends gathered to remember this dear Christian brother, a humble, gentle scholar, I was struck by the way he blessed us all, even in his death. I left the service feeling spiritually fed.

As the aspen tree begins to close down for the winter, preparing for the harsh days ahead, it does so with a glorious burst of color. I am reminded that soon my life will also end. My prayer is that, like the golden aspen leaf, as my life on earth grows weaker, the glory of Jesus Christ might grow stronger. John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30) In allowing Him to increase, His glory will become evident bringing joy and blessing to others.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rising to the Top


What lifts around 4 tons of water to a height of 300 feet every day, silently and without any moving parts?  This amazing feat is accomplished by the millions of tiny tubes called xylem, micrometers in diameter, in the trunk of the Giant Sequoia tree. Three natural processes combine to enable water (with nutrients) to reach the farthest reaches of these magnificent trees.

Capillary action: The cohesive properties of water make capillary action possible. The simple water molecule, H2O, happens to be electrically polarized, which means it acts like a tiny magnet. When a group of water molecules stick together, surface tension results. Surface tension is one reason rain drops form round shapes, or insects can glide over water. This polarity also helps water molecules adhere to certain surfaces, like glass. Conversely, water is repelled from other molecules like oil. Water in a thin glass tube hugs the interior glass surface and moves up the tube forming a meniscus.  This demonstrates what is called capillary action. The thinner the tube, the higher the water can rise. This is how water behaves in the xylem of the tree.

Adding to the strength of capillary action, trees along with all other plants are made up of cellulose, which is also polar. (Cellulose is made up of oxygen-hydrogen and hydroxyl chains. It is the hydrogen-bonding interactions between water and cellulose, with its hydroxyl side-chains  that provide an energetic gain against the gravity.) This allows the water to ‘hug’ the cellulosic part of the tree as the water climbs. In fact, trees are ‘masters of microfluids.’ The tiny tubes get narrower as the tree grows taller, allowing for water to continue climbing until its pressure decreases as it fights it own weight (gravity). This limits the height of the tree.

Two other processes contribute to the rise of water in the tree: evaporation in the leaves of the tree pulls the water up; osmosis in the roots of the tree pulls water and nutrients into the tree. All this is done without the tree making a sound or using any moving parts. In fact on a global scale, the movement of water through plants makes a major contribution to the hydrologic cycle by providing the particular pathway by which water moves from soil to the atmosphere (see Ref. below).

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.” (Jeremiah 17:7) Jesus said if we believe in him “streams of living water will flow from within.” (John 7:37)  The amazing process that occurs silently within trees, illustrates the power that is ours in Jesus Christ, as we allow the living water of his spirit to flow through us.
For more information see: ‘Transporting water to the tops of trees’ Physics Today, January 2008; Tree Physics 1: capillary action, the height of trees and the optimal placement of branches:/npand.worpress.com/2008/08/05/tree-physics-1; and also www.dacid1neslon.md/zadero/Trees&Capillary Action.htm

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Stones Cry Out

Small portion of Last Supper mosaic in St. Isaac's Cathedral
During his final week on earth, Christ entered Jerusalem as a King - riding on a donkey! This graphic and unexpected entry enraged the ‘powers that be,’ particularly the religious leaders. Here was a man, a miracle-working man, who spoke with authority and had a large following, entering their territory, with humility and riding on a donkey. It was too much! They were beside themselves when the people bought into the narrative and shouted out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They urged Jesus to tell his followers to shut up! But Jesus replied, “If they keep quite, the stones will cry out.” How can an inanimate aggregate of minerals cry out? How can the ‘stones’ reflect God’s glory?

In 1985 we visited Russia, then under the sway of Marxist-Leninist atheistic philosophy. Most of the churches had either been closed, or were used for storage or as museums. One of the most beautiful churches in all of Russia, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, was open as a tourist attraction. A Foucault Pendulum had been hung from the highest point of its dome and the church was being used to show the superiority of science, the god of the Soviet Union. While foreign tourists stood in the center of the church, watching the swinging ball, local Russians stared at the cathedral’s walls. On its walls were the most exquisite mosaics I have ever seen, depicting scenes from the Bible. In those days, it was impossible to find a Bible in Soviet Russia, so this was the only ‘bible’ the people had. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, the atheistic leaders of Soviet Russia miscalculated when trying to suppress God’s glory - and the stones were crying out. 
St. Isaac's Cathedral; painting by Surikov

Stones or ‘lithos’ (Greek) have two characteristics which make them wonderful symbols. First they are long-lasting, almost eternal when viewed from our short life span. Second, they are firm or steady and represent a solid foundation. Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his life on ‘the rock.’ Jesus is represented in the Bible as the ‘stone which the builders rejected,’ but those who build their life on him have an eternal, firm foundation and cannot be shaken. “I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Four Amazing Features of Feathers

Male Indian Peafowl (Courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Field biologist Thor Hanson recently published a book on the nature and functions of bird feathers and their amazing structures. The four functions feathers perform and their complex structure are marvels of ingenuity that defy the most advanced human technologies, to such a degree that they clearly indicate a master designer.

The four primary functions identified by Thor Hanson are:
1-Insulation, protecting the fragile bodies of birds
2-Water proofing for birds that swim
3-Aerodynamic features to enable a smooth, energy conserving flight
4-Ornamental colors, for attracting mates (mostly males attracting females).

Feathers are made of fibrous proteins called keratin. As they start to grow they are connected to blood vessels over the skin of baby chicks for transporting nutrition and aiding growth. Once mature, they are disconnected from the blood source. The insulating properties of feathers are legendary. No wonder the warmest blankets are stuffed with feathers! When Hansen carefully plucked the feathers of a tiny, dead wren, he counted as many as 1500 feathers covering the body!

The waterproofing feature of a water-adapted bird, such as a duck, is just as marvelous. The water repellent function of these feathers is not only based on their oily-ness but is also a result of a unique structure. Even after washing the feather with a mild acid solution, it still retains its waterproof qualities.  As for the aerodynamic features of these feathers, it has been shown that each individual feather has the shape of an airfoil, the very engineering design that enables airplanes to fly! In fact, the wings of eagles have such an amazing aerodynamic design that the bird easily flies, even in turbulent weather.  Airplane pilots avoid such weather, but the eagle uses it to soar! The incredible variety of colors adorning a bird is itself a miracle to behold. The ultimate example of extravagance in color and beauty is the peacock.

Such a common thing as a feather declares the artistry and engineering genius of the Creator God. No wonder scripture uses the metaphor of feathers to express some of God’s most intimate care and protection of His children. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:4

Thor Hanson's book, Feathers: the Evolution of a Natural Miracle, can be found on Amazon. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chance or Design? Amazing Feats inside the Human Body

Purkinje neurons - masters of motor coordination
Photo by: Annie Cavanagh

Amazing Feats inside the Human Body

I never stop being amazed at the complexity, intricacy and engineering marvel of the human body. The human body contains upwards of 10 trillion cells. Each cell, too small for the naked eye to see (0.001 cm3), works as a chemical factory performing thousands of functions, often in a fraction of a second, coordinating each function with thousands of neighboring cells. Each cell can replicate itself within 24 hours. The cell controls hundreds of millions of biochemical and biomechanical events per life cycle. When replacing its DNA, the tiny bacterium E. Coli, copies 1000 nucleotides per second with very few mistakes. Compare this to the robots we have sent to Mars, which are called ‘marvels of human design’. They are about the size of a small car (a billion times larger than a cell), able to do many hundreds of functions, but unable to replicate themselves. Yet atheistic evolutionists consider the cell a result of undirected, random processes.

The information content of these trillion cells operating as a ‘well oiled machine’ is more than all accumulated knowledge  of mankind (estimated to contain bits of information with ten raised to the  two millionth power). Our brain, the organ that processes information, controls the body functions and is the seat of our consciousness is made up of 80-120 billion neurons. Each neuron made up of 100,000 molecules, and each neuron has thousands of connections to  its neighbor neurons (called axons and synapses).

Another critical organ, the human heart, pumps 22 liters (6 quarts) of blood through 96,000 miles of arteries and capillaries, beats 100,000 times in 24 hrs and continues to do so for an average lifespan of 80 years, without repair. Which man-made pump can match such a feat? And yet, some consider this unique organ to be the result of unguided, random processes developed over eons of time.

These are just a few examples of the wonders in God’s world exhibited in our own bodies. The Psalmist wrote in worship and wonder, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful”. Psalm 139:14.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who is El-Shaddai?


There are a number of attributes that characterize  the  God of the bible. To help one appreciate and remember His greatness, four outstanding characteristics can be expressed using four words, all starting with the letter “P”.
God is Powerful: He created trillions upon trillions of stars, in a trillion galaxies spanning the vastness of the universe. An average star emits energies at its surface, equivalent to multi-megaton hydrogen bombs - every second! Prophet Isaiah informs us in chapter 40, that God measures the vast universe with the palm of his hand, and calls each star by name, such that none may be lost (in science we call this the law of conservation of mass and energy).
God is Purposeful: He is the intelligent designer that has created everything in nature purposefully. Our privileged planet, the earth, is just one example among many. Its precise distance from the sun allows water to exist in liquid form, which in turn allows for life to emerge and prosper. The location of the sun at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, and its distance from other suns, allows for stable planetary orbits. In addition, the distance from nearby stars allows for a dark night to exist on earth and enables astronomers to explore the heavens and discover its mysteries.
God is Personal: He created mankind in his image in order to be able to communicate with us, both through his creation and through his Word. He endows his creatures with wisdom and honor to enable them to become creators and communicators themselves.
God is a Provider: He cares for his creatures through his love exhibited in nature and in his Word.  Although he can count and name the trillion upon trillion stars, he assures us that even the hairs on our head are counted! Again, in chapter 40 of Isaiah, it says that ”he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The most incomprehensible demonstration of his love happened when he visited planet earth in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered and died to save mankind from death and who offers instead, abundant life, to all who accept his gift.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Porous Boundaries


What is the largest organ in the human body? The usual answer is ‘the lungs’ or ‘the intestines’ or ‘the stomach’. But surprisingly, the largest organ in our bodies is our skin! It is so much a part of our being that we forget it is there. Yet the skin is our first line of defense against infection, warns us of danger through its trillions of neural endings and keeps us comfortable through temperature regulation. Our skin provides a physical boundary between us and the outside world. Boundaries are sensitive areas. Geopolitical boundaries are defended vigorously and often violently. Personal boundaries, when crossed, are met with resentment. We need boundaries to establish our limits as well as to restrain the evil of which we are capable. 

When we look beyond our earth’s boundary, the atmosphere, and gaze at the heavens, boundaries seem to disappear. Space appears infinite. Apart from the stars, galaxies and gases, the universe appears to consist of vast areas of empty space. One of Einstein’s amazing insights was that space and time are intimately connected, and that space is not empty, but provides the structure for objects to move through time. Space is not nothing, but can be likened to a fabric that can bend, ripple and stretch. (The illustration above shows how planet earth alters the fabric of space. It also shows the Gravity Probe B, which provided the final proof of the space-time hypothesis.) Perhaps the illustration we can best understand is to compare space to water. A fish is not aware of the concept of water, but feels its effects and interacts with it naturally. For a fish, water is the medium through which he moves.

This new understanding of space is called the space-time continuum. In a recent Nova program on PBS titled “The Fabric of the Cosmos”, Brian Greene explores the new physics, which is beginning to show just how porous and interactive the boundaries are in our universe. It is fascinating stuff!  The Apostle Paul, when speaking to a skeptical audience in Athens said, “(God) determined the times set for mankind and the exact places where they should live. (He set boundaries.) God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26-28) I love to think of God, the creator of space and time, surrounding us like space. Although in our daily lives we don’t see space or even think about it, it is there. Perhaps if we only had the eyes to see, we could see a reality all around us, close enough to touch. Imagine being able to reach out through the porous boundaries of the space-time continuum and touch God.

To watch the PBS program in full (55 minutes)What is Space? featuring Dr. Brian Green
For a shorter explanation of space see:  PBS Interview with Dr. Brian Greene

Monday, July 30, 2012

The God Particle

ATLAS Experiment 2012 CERN

What happens when we cut matter into smaller and smaller pieces? The ancient Greeks asked this question and came up with the word ‘atomos’, which means ‘uncuttable’  as a description of the smallest unit. Not being experimentalists, the Greeks had no way of verifying what the smallest unit of matter was.

Some 2,000 years later, thanks to huge advances in experimental physics, we now know that the atom is not indivisible. Using electron microscopes that can actually photograph single atoms, and by building bubble chambers and powerful accelerators, scientists were able to ‘split open’ the atom and find a zoo of smaller particles that make up matter. They found 12 elementary particles, which seem to occur in families of three: 6 quarks and 6 leptons.

Looking at a single atom, each is composed of electrons, protons and neutrons (except hydrogen that has 1 electron and 1 proton). Every proton and neutron is made up of even smaller particles called quarks which exist in groups of three. In addition, there are two other elementary particles: the first is the electron (3 types) and the second is neutrinos (3 types) called leptons, which in Greek means 'small'. These particles have no further structure that we know of and are called elementary particles. They are the very ‘building blocks’ of all matter. In addition, there exists particles called bosons such as the photon that transmit forces among the elementary particles. For example, light is made up of photons, the better-known boson responsible for mediating the electromagnetic force. In this figure the 4 purple boxes represent 4 bosons that transmit forces.

And now we come to the Higgs boson, which stands out from all other bosons, because it does not transmit forces like the other three types of bosons. It transforms energy into matter, as in Einstein's equation, E=mcThe British physicist Peter Higgs, almost five decades ago, hypothesized that a boson should exist that would be responsible for giving mass to the particles created at the Big Bang. The existence of this boson was recently proven experimentally at CERN and was named after the scientist who predicted its existence – Higgs.

The photo at the top of this posting is a simulation of data collected following a collision of 2 protons. A Higgs boson is produced which decays into 2 jets of hadrons (heavy particles) and 2 electrons. The Higgs boson is responsible for holding everything together in the universe because by giving particles mass, they become subject to gravitational force. Otherwise, without mass, particles would simply fly apart. Scripture says, “He (God) is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) Perhaps that is why the Higgs boson is called the God Particle. It holds the universe together and without it, nothing material would exist.

To watch a simplified explanation of the Higgs boson see: Dr. Don Lincoln from Fermi Labs explains the Higgs boson