Update on Our Miraculous Moon

BY HUGH ROSS – AUGUST 31, 2020

How did the Moon form and why does it matter? Researchers have learned that the size of the colliding bodies that resulted in our Moon provides more evidence for lunar design.

I have written previously about the amazing fine-tuning in the formation of Earth’s Moon1 and the fine-tuned features it presently manifests that play crucial roles that make advanced life possible.2 The level of fine-tuning is so complex and exquisite that one Moon-formation expert wrote in Nature that it has caused “philosophical disquiet” among his colleagues.3 Now, new discoveries are sure to generate even more philosophical disquiet and hopefully greater acknowledgment of God’s role in designing the Moon for the benefit and destiny of humanity.

An Amazing Moon
Our Moon is like no other moon. Relative to the mass of its host planet it is 52 times larger than any other known moon. Thanks to the Moon’s extremely large mass relative to Earth’s, it confers these benefits:

  1. Earth’s rotation axis tilt varies by only ±1°.
  2. Earth’s rotation rate presently is 24 hours, slow enough to minimize pole-to-equator temperature differences and fast enough to maintain a stable rotation axis tilt.
  3. Earth receives extraordinary abundances of highly siderophile (iron-loving) elements (gold, platinum, palladium, iridium, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, and osmium) that are critical for sustaining high-technology civilization.
  4. Herbivores and carnivores on Earth have an optimal night light.
  5. Earth manifests an optimal ice age cycle for global civilization and a high human population.

Thanks to the Moon’s tiny iron core and porous crust, the Moon’s large mass is complemented by a low density. Hence, the Moon has a large diameter for its mass (it’s big but not heavy). Presently, the Moon subtends an angle in the sky from the perspective of Earth’s surface that is identical to the angle subtended by the Sun. This fortuitous and unique identity means that humans on Earth witness perfect solar eclipses. The opportunity for astronomers to observe perfect solar eclipses gives them a unique tool to study the solar corona as far away as 10° from the Sun’s visible disk. Perfect solar eclipses also permit detailed observations of the Sun’s atmosphere, chromosphere, and flares. Much of what astronomers have discerned about stellar coronae, chromospheres, atmospheres and flaring has come by observing multiple perfect solar eclipses. The timing of solar eclipses allowed historians to produce a calendar of events during humanity’s early history.

Perfect solar eclipses also provided the first confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Einstein’s theory asserted the universe had a finite age—it had a beginning, which implied that there was a cosmic Beginner, one that matches the Bible’s description of God.

If it were not for our Moon possessing precisely the features that it does, advanced life would not be possible. Furthermore, humans would not possess as much compelling scientific evidence as they do for God’s existence, character attributes, and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

New Discoveries Add Design Evidence
Over a decade ago, astronomers established that the Moon formed as a result of a planet that they named Theia, roughly the mass of Mars, colliding with the primordial Earth. However, a set of measurements indicated that both Earth and the Moon possessed the same oxygen isotope ratios.4 This identity either implied that the two planets had identical initial compositions or that during the collision their compositions got completely mixed together. For the latter scenario to occur, the masses of each body would need to be similar.

For the initial compositions of the pair to be nearly identical, Theia would need to form at the same orbital distance from the Sun as the primordial Earth. Though not impossible, such a scenario poses difficult challenges in attempts to model the dynamics of the early solar system. As for Theia and the primordial Earth possessing nearly similar initial masses, to date astronomers have been unable (with that assumption about masses) to produce a Moon-formation model that yields the present properties of the Moon and Earth.

In modeling the geochemical influences of the Moon-forming impact event on Earth’s mantle, three geophysicists showed that a Theia larger than 15 percent of Earth’s present mass always negated the present-day concentrations of the siderophile elements nickel, cobalt, chromium, and vanadium.5 However, a Theia that was only 11–15 percent of Earth’s present mass meant that the present Earth and Moon must, at least to some degree, possess distinct oxygen isotope compositions.

In a recent issue of Nature Geoscience, a team of three planetary astronomers presented high-precision oxygen isotope analyses of different lunar lithologies (rock units).6 Their analyses established that the Moon and Earth indeed have distinctly different oxygen isotope compositions. Specifically, the three planetary astronomers showed that while the crustal rocks of the Moon and Earth exhibit similar oxygen isotope ratios, rock samples derived from the deep lunar mantle are isotopically heavy compared to Earth. These findings imply that the deep interior of the Moon possesses the isotopic composition of Theia whereas the lunar surface and upper mantle has been completely homogenized by the Theia-primordial Earth impact event.

Philosophical Implications
The new discoveries have resolved the last remaining significant anomalies in models for the formation of the Moon. The new, reliable constraints on Theia’s mass are consistent with all the observed features of the present-day Moon and Earth. Quantitative evidence now permits Theia to form at an orbital distance different from Earth’s. These two discoveries mean that the previously demonstrated evidence for extraordinary, exquisitely fine-tuned designs in the Moon-forming collision event is now firmly established and, with it, evidence for a Moon-forming Fine-Tuner.

Image: Artist’s Conception of the Moon-Forming Event
Credit: NASA

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, “The Remarkable Design of the Solar System’s Youth, Part 2,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), June 6, 2011, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2011/06/06/the-remarkable-design-of-the-solar-system-s-turbulent-youth-part-2; Hugh Ross, “Increasing Lunar Coincidences Lead to ‘Philosophical Disquiet,’” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), February 3, 2014, https://www.reasons.org/articles/increasing–lunar–coincidences–lead–to–philosophical–disquiet; Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 48–59, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet; Hugh Ross, “Where Did Earth Get Its Fine-Tuned Supply of Water?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), August 6, 2018, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/08/06/where-did-earth-gets-its-fine-tuned-supply-of-water.
  2. Hugh Ross, “Solar and Lunar Tides Designed for Complex Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), March 25, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/03/25/solar-and-lunar-tides-designed-for-complex-life; Hugh Ross, “Lunar Designs Optimize Life for Both Predators and Prey,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 20, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/11/20/lunar-designs-optimize-life-for-both-predators-and-prey; Hugh Ross, “Thank God for Perfect Solar Eclipses,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), July 10, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/07/10/thank-god-for-perfect-solar-eclipses; Hugh Ross, “Rare Moon Just Got Rarer,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), June 5, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/06/05/rare-moon-just-got-rarer; Hugh Ross, “Yet More Reasons to Thank God for the Moon,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 22, 2016, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2016/11/22/yet-more-reasons-to-thank-god-for-the-moon; Hugh Ross, “Confirming the Moon’s Vital Role,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 10, 2008, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2008/11/10/confirming-the-moon’s-vital-role.
  3. Tim Elliott, “A Chip Off the Old Block,” in “Shadows Cast on Moon’s Origin,” Nature 504 (December 5, 2013): 90, doi:10.1038/504090a.
  4. U. Wiechert et al., “Oxygen Isotopes and the Moon-Forming Giant Impact,” Science 294, no. 5541 (October 12, 2001)é: 345–48, doi:10.1126/science.1063037; Michael J. Spicuzza et al., “Oxygen Isotope Constraints on the Origin and Differentiation of the Moon,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 253, nos. 1–2 (January 2007): 254–65, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2006.10.030; Edward D. Young et al., “Oxygen Isotopic Evidence for Vigorous Mixing During the Moon-Forming Giant Impact,” Science 351, no. 6272 (January 29, 2016): 493–96, doi:10.1126/science.aad0525.
  5. Hélène Piet, James Badro, and Philippe Gillet, “Geochemical Constraints on the Size of the Moon-Forming Giant Impact,” Geophysical Research Letters 44, no. 23 (December 2017): 11,770–77, doi:10.1002/2017GL075225.
  6. Erick J. Cano, Zachary D. Sharp, and Charles K. Shearer, “Distinct Oxygen Isotope Compositions of the Earth and Moon,” Nature Geoscience 13 (March 9, 2020): 270–74, doi:10.1038/s41561-020-0550-0.

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How Did the Sun End Up with Its Unique Rocky Planets?

by Hugh RossMay 17, 2021

It’s easy to take the solar system for granted, but our present, life-friendly configuration of planets and the Sun has not always been this way. Astronomers continue to discover anomalous properties of the solar system and how they reveal design.

Our solar system began with five rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Theia, Earth, and Mars; and five gaseous planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and an unnamed planet slightly smaller than Uranus. Theia merged with the proto-Earth to form the present-day Earth and Moon.1 The Sun’s unnamed gaseous planet either was ejected from the solar system or placed in an orbit about fifty times more distant from the Sun than Neptune.2

In their quest to find planets like ours, so far astronomers have discovered and confirmed 4,715 planets (exoplanets) beyond the solar system.3 Most of these planets are gaseous or what astronomers call super-Earths. While super-Earths may not be predominantly comprised of gases, nevertheless, their atmospheres are far too thick for any of them to be considered possible candidates to host life.

Based on what measurements are available, astronomers have developed two distinct definitions for a rocky planet. NASA defines rocky planets, also known as terrestrial or telluric planets, as planets with diameters less than 125 percent of Earth’s diameter where the masses, if known, are less than 1.4 times Earth’s mass and the orbital distances are less than 2.0 astronomical units from their host stars. (1 astronomical unit = Earth’s average orbital distance from the Sun: 149,597,871 kilometers or 92,955,807 miles.) Where astronomers know the measurements of the mass and diameter of a planet, a rocky planet is defined as a planet up to 110 percent Earth’s mass with a density greater than 3.0 grams/cubic centimeter. So far, astronomers have detected and confirmed 409 such extrasolar rocky planets.

The Sun’s Anomalous Rocky Planets
The Sun’s rocky planets orbit at greater distances than do rocky planets orbiting other stars. Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars orbit the Sun at distances of 0.387, 0.728, 1.00, and 1.524 astronomical units (AU), respectively. Their densities are 5.427, 5.243, 5.514, and 3.934 grams/cubic centimeter. Of the 409 detected and confirmed rocky planets orbiting other nuclear burning stars, the one that orbits its star most distantly, Kepler 367-c, orbits at a distance of only 0.253 AU. Of the 197 exoplanets with accurately measured orbital distances that have been classified as rocky planets, 94.4% orbit their host stars more closely than 0.10 AU.4 This statistic (of short orbital distances) can perhaps be partially, but surely not entirely, blamed on observational bias. Astronomers have detected small planets orbiting their host stars as distantly as 1.98 AU.

Astronomers expect the densities of rocky planets to decline with orbital distance. Greater orbital distance means there is less heat from the host star to drive off light gases and light elements. The solar system, with the exception of Earth, illustrates this correlation well. Earth is exceptional in that its collision/merger with Theia produced heat that stripped it of its gases, liquids, and many light elements.

Given how closely rocky exoplanets orbit their host stars, astronomers expected that their densities would far exceed those of the Sun’s rocky planets. Surprisingly, the average density of rocky exoplanets with measured densities is only 4.472 grams per cubic centimeter.5

Clearly, the Sun’s rocky planets stand radically apart from known rocky exoplanets. The big question is why? I’ll review some of the recent discoveries that explain how we got our anomalous planets. Feel free to skim and move to “Significance of the Sun’s Anomalous Elements and Rocky Planets” if you don’t need all the details.

Explanation of the Sun’s Anomalous Rocky Planets
In their search for a star that is a twin of the Sun, astronomers have recognized that the Sun is anomalous.6 Could it be that the Sun’s anomalous nature among stars may also explain the anomalous nature of its rocky planets?

The Sun’s relative abundance of elements is unlike that of any other known star. Several astronomical studies, when considered together, now explain the link between the Sun’s unique abundance of elements and unique configuration of rocky planets.

In one study, a team of astronomers led by Jorge Meléndez compared the Sun’s elemental abundance with that of 21 stars closely resembling the Sun.7 They found that the Sun is 20 percent more depleted than is typical in its ratio of refractory elements (those with high boiling points) to volatile elements (those with low boiling points). A follow-up study of 79 Sun-like stars affirmed this finding.8

In particular, the quantity of lithium observed on a star’s surface (photosphere) holds special importance. It serves as a sensitive indicator of the star’s interior characteristics and composition. Stars like the Sun are unable to manufacture lithium in their nuclear cores. What lithium they acquired in their formation process came from the nucleosynthesis that occurred during the first few minutes after the cosmic origin event. However, reactions operating within the stellar core and radiative zone act to destroy the lithium.

Elemental analysis of primitive solar system meteorites indicates lithium was relatively abundant in the gas cloud out of which the Sun and its planetary system formed. However, the amount of lithium on the Sun’s surface9 is far below that of the primordial solar system—roughly 170 times below that level.10 This large difference is exceptional, given the Sun’s relative youth—just 4.567 billion years of age.11 (Stars close to the Sun’s mass can sustain nuclear fusion for 9–10 billion years.)

Astronomical observations have established a strong inverse correlation between stellar rotation rate and lithium depletion. Stellar rotation affects the mixing efficiency of stellar matter at the boundary between the convective and the deeper radiative zones. The higher the rotation rate, the more effectively stellar material in the convection zone, in the form of penetrating plumes, is blocked from entering the inner radiative zone.

The influence of the Sun’s changing rotation rate on plume penetration makes perfect sense of the helioseismology data.12 It also explains observations of the Sun’s magnetic field and the Sun’s magnetic activity.13

Stellar rotation rates decrease as stars age. For stars of similar mass to the Sun, the observed rate of rotation accurately reveals the age of the star. The older the star and the more its rotation has slowed, the less lithium that remains in the star’s photosphere (surface).

The Sun differs, however, from the typical relationship between a star’s age and surface lithium abundance. A team of astronomers led by Marília Carlos measured the surface lithium abundance in 77 stars that most closely matched the Sun’s effective temperature, surface gravity, and metallicity.14 Their research affirmed a strong linear correlation between stellar age and surface lithium depletion, but the Sun’s surface lithium abundance proved far lower than that of any star in its age range, 4.1–5.1 billion years.

Carlos’s team noted that the most lithium-depleted stars in their sample of solar-like stars also had the fewest refractory elements. In this respect they appeared similar to the Sun. But this finding led to a question: How can such relatively metal-rich stars be so poor in terms of refractory elements?

In 2004, another team of astronomers, led by Garik Israelian, compared the surface lithium abundance of 79 stars that host planets with 38 stars that host none.15 They noticed greater lithium depletion in planet-hosting stars with effective temperatures between 5,600 and 5,850 Kelvin, closely matching the Sun’s effective temperature of 5,772 Kelvin. This severe lithium depletion, they explained, is the expected outcome of the transfer of angular momentum from a star to its protoplanetary disk and eventual planets. Such angular momentum transfer will have a braking effect on rotation in the planet-hosting star’s convective zone, thus deepening the zone and leading to greater penetration of plumes into the radiative zone.

In 2006, in a parallel study, astronomers Yu-Qin Chen and Gang Zhao affirmed that planet-hosting solar-type stars manifest greater lithium depletion than stars without planets.16 In 2009, in a follow-up study of 451 stars with effective temperatures similar to the Sun’s, Israelian and his colleagues found that 50% of solar-analog stars with no detected planets have, on average, 10 times more surface lithium than solar-analog, planet-bearing stars.17

In 2019, Carlos’s team clarified that the key difference maker is not just whether a star hosts planets but, rather, what kinds of planets it hosts.18 In particular, what matters is the total mass of rocky planets a star hosts and how far they orbit from the host star.

The solar system has the second-highest total mass of rocky planets of any known planetary system, exceeded only by the TRAPPIST-1 system.19 The seven TRAPPIST-1 planets, however, orbit their host star at distances ranging from only 0.01–0.06 AU, where the most massive planet in the system is only 15% more massive than Earth. Furthermore, five of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets are not actually rocky. They possess very thick “envelopes of volatiles in the form of thick atmospheres, oceans, or ice.”20 Therefore, the solar system differs from other known planetary systems in both the quantity of refractory elements and of angular momentum transferred from the host star to its system of rocky planets. (The angular momentum transfer is roughly determined by the masses and orbital distances of the planets.)

Astronomers now understand that the Sun’s exceptionally low abundance of lithium and refractory elements likely explains the Sun’s unique system of rocky planets. One team of astronomers concluded their research paper by saying the peculiar solar elemental composition “would imply that solar-like stars with planetary systems similar to our own are a relatively rare occurrence.”21

Significance of the Sun’s Anomalous Elements and Rocky Planets
What do all these atypical features tell us? The Sun’s anomalously low abundance of lithium and refractory elements together with the Sun’s mass and age help keep the Sun’s flaring activity level extremely and uniquely low.22 These solar features help account for the Sun’s exceptionally low levels of short ultraviolet and x-ray radiation, at present. Only because these levels and intensities of flares and of short ultraviolet and x-ray radiation are extremely low is global, high-technology civilization on Earth possible.

Theoretically, the enormous quantity of refractory elements and angular momentum transferred from the Sun to its rocky planets should allow for a high-mass, high-density rocky planet, orbiting as distantly as 1.0 AU. Such a transfer of elements and angular momentum does not guarantee that this planet would not also possess a relatively thick atmosphere, one at least twice as thick as Venus’s, and a thick hydrosphere. In reality, the Sun’s transfer of angular momentum and refractory elements to its rocky planets produced five distantly orbiting rocky planets, two of which orbited at a distance of approximately 1.0 AU.

The early collision between proto-Earth and the Sun’s fifth rocky planet, Theia, guaranteed that Earth would become massive enough, dense enough, and sufficiently stripped of gases and water that it could become a home for advanced life. This early collision also produced the Moon. It was the early coupling of the Moon’s magnetosphere with Earth’s magnetosphere that prevented Earth from losing all its atmosphere and hydrosphere.23

Earth’s orbit from the Sun is barely distant enough to prevent Earth from becoming tidally locked to the Sun and ending up with a long rotation rate like that of Mercury or Venus. Earth’s companion rocky planets play important roles in stabilizing the orbital architecture of Earth and the other solar system planets.

These discoveries about the Sun’s anomalous elements and anomalous rocky planets add to the weight of evidence for the rare Earth, rare Sun, and rare planetary system doctrines. These doctrines state that Earth, the Sun, and the solar system all are amazingly and uniquely designed to make it possible for humans and global high-technology civilization to exist and thrive on Earth.

Endnotes

  1. Hugh Ross, “Update on Our Miraculous Moon,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (August 31, 2020); Hugh Ross, “Increasing Lunar Coincidences Lead to ‘Philosophical Disquiet,’” Today’s New Reason to Believe (March 3, 2014).
  2. Hugh Ross, “Recent Research Strengthens the Creation-Friendly Grand Tack Model,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (February 1, 2016); Hugh Ross, “Is the Solar System Too Fine-Tuned for Modern Science?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (January 7, 2016); Konstantin Batygin, Michael E. Brown, and Hayden Betts, “Instability-Driven Dynamical Evolution Model of a Primordially Five-Planet Outer Solar System,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 744 (January 1, 2012): id. L3, doi:10.1088/2041-8205/744/1/L3.
  3. The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia—Catalog (accessed April 15, 2021), exoplanet.eu/catalog.
  4. Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia.
  5. Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia.
  6. Hugh Ross, “Our Sun Is Still the One and Only,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (April 17, 2017).
  7. Jorge Meléndez et al., “The Peculiar Solar Composition and Its Possible Relation to Planet Formation,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 704, no. 1 (October 10, 2009): L66–L70, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/704/1/L66.
  8. Meléndez et al., “The Peculiar Solar Composition,” L66.
  9. Marília Carlos et al., “The Li-Age Correlation: The Sun Is Unusually Li Deficient for Its Age,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 485, no. 3 (May 2019): 4052–4059, doi:10.1093/mnras/stz681.
  10. Walter Nichiporuk and Carleton B. Moore, “Lithium, Sodium, and Potassium Abundances in Carbonaceous Chrondrites,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 38, no. 11 (November 1974): 1691–1694, doi:10.1016/0016-7037(74)90186-0; D. Krankowsky and O. Müller, “Isotopic Composition and Abundance of Lithium in Meteoritic Matter,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 31, no. 10 (October 1967): 1833–1842, doi:10.1016/0016-7037(67)90125-1; James M. D. Day et al., “Evidence for High-Temperature Fractionation of Lithium Isotopes during Differentiation of the Moon,” Meteoritics & Planetary Science 51, no. 6 (June 2016): 1046–1062, doi:10.1111/maps.12643.
  11. James N. Connelly et al., “The Absolute Chronology and Thermal Processing of Solids in the Solar Protoplanetary Disk,” Science 338, no. 6107 (November 2, 2012): 651–655, doi:10.1126/science.1226919; E. G. Adelberger et al., “Solar Fusion Cross Sections. II. The pp Chain and CNO Cycles,” Review of Modern Physics 83, no. 1 (January 2011): 195–246, doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.83.195.
  12. I. Baraffe et al., “Lithium Depletion in Solar-Like Stars: Effect of Overshooting Based on Realistic Multi-Dimensional Simulations,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 845, no. 1 (August 10, 2017): id. L6, doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa82ff; J. Christensen-Dalsgaard et al., “A More Realistic Representation of Overshoot at the Base of the Solar Convective Envelope as Seen by Helioseismology,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 414, no. 2 (June 2011): 1158–1174, doi:10.1111/1365-2966.2011.18460.x; S. Basu, “Helioseismic Evidence for Mixing in the Sun,” in Chemical Abundances and Mixing in Stars in the Milky Way and Its Satellites, Proceedings of the ESO-Arcetri Workshop Held in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy, September 13–17, 2004, eds. S. Randich and L. Pasquini (Berlin: Springer Nature, 2006), 284–287, doi:10.1007/978-3-540-34136-9_93.
  13. M. Rempel, “Overshoot at the Base of the Solar Convection Zone: A Semianalytical Approach,” Astrophysical Journal 607, no. 2 (June 1, 2004): 1046–1064, doi:10.1086/383605.
  14. Carlos et al., “The Li-Age Correlation.”
  15. Garik Israelian et al., “Lithium in Stars with Exoplanets,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 414, no. 2 (February 2004): 601–611, doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20034398.
  16. Y. Q. Chen and G. Zhao, “A Comparative Study on Lithium Abundances in Solar-Type Stars with and without Planets,” Astronomical Journal 131, no. 3 (March 2006): 1816–1821, doi:10.1086/499946.
  17. Garik Israelian et al., “Enhanced Lithium Depletion in Sun-Like Stars with Orbiting Planets,” Nature 462 (November 12, 2009): 189–191, doi:10.1038/nature08483.
  18. Carlos et al., “The Li-Age Correlation.”
  19. Simon L. Grimm et al., “The Nature of the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 613 (May 2018): id. A68, doi:10.1051/004-6361/201732233.
  20. Grimm et al., “The Nature of the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets,” 1.
  21. Meléndez et al., “Peculiar Solar Composition,” L69.
  22. Maria M. Katsova et al., “Superflare G and K Stars and the Lithium Abundance,” The 19th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun (CS19), Uppsala, Sweden, June 6–10, 2016 (July 2016), id. 124, doi:10.5281/zenodo.59176; Y. Takeda et al., “Behavior of Li Abundances in Solar-Analog Stars, II. Evidence of the Connection with Rotation and Stellar Activity,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 515 (June 2010): id. A93, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/200913897.
  23. Hugh Ross, “Moon’s Early Magnetic Field Made Human Existence Possible,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (March 26, 2021).

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SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS (SIG) MOVING NATIONS UNTO HYPERCOMMUNISM

I had decided to stop harping on the orchestrations of special interest groups (SIG) who collect info on each private citizen, analyze the intimate info, and secretly distribute the info, targeting a private citizen(s) to their detriment even unto destroying their livelihood and raising the risk of losing their life from being targeted by SIG. I prematurely stopped harping on the fact that SIG is causing the phenomenon of mass killings; all except drug turf wars. It’s should be obvious that most of the mass killers are making a statement to the people that persons, strangers, friends, and alike, are invading his life and diminishing his self-worth, and causing humiliation and embarrassment. The snake organization (SIG) steals one’s joy and destroys the assessment by the targeted person’s first choice and even second choices that make them happy. All that the person likes or enjoys is tampered with and even destroyed. Why in the hell does any society tolerate such activity. SIG should not exist in a free society.

The person(s) that feel targeted should be encouraged to meet with concerned persons and organize to back-track unto the source of the collection and distribution of their sensitive info and decapitate the snakes in order to stop the mental anguish perpetrated upon targeted persons and to stop the ultimate destruction of our free society afforded by our U.S. Constitution. This should stop the mass killings. The snake organization (SIG) is the operative for hypercommunism whereas the government owns the virtual minds of the citizens that are mapped on computers. The right to be let alone becomes non-existent. The SIG snake organization is invading the inner sanctuary of each private citizen for big business and the government. SIG has gone from the psychological profiles of a group of people to anticipate the thoughts and movement of a targeted person.

 Yes, I believe that our nation is moving toward ruling, toward authoritarian rule as determined from our recent (in the age of our nation term) wiretapping of all private citizens and the actual targeting of certain private citizens to their detriment; liken unto public scrutiny which is always destructive to the targeted person. It’s special interest groups (SIG) moving into the average citizen’s arena because this is where the political power lye. Control the base of our economic structure politically; you have control of America. I believe that this shall be governed by hypercommunist who owns the virtual-minds of the populace.

There have been over 250 mass killings so far this year. I have rethought the stopping of my harping on the SIG snake criminal organization affects on our society. The SIG snake organization causes profusely the evil fruits of our human spirit to come out in a devastating means. The use of sensitive info being distributed targeting a private citizen is the cause of mass killings; a phenomenon that has begun recently in America relative to its age. This phenomenon has increased relative to the growth of the SIG snake in recent years.

The government and an estimate of 22 agencies are collecting sensitive and intimate info secretly about each private. This info is used to control the private citizen by intimidation and coercion to comply with the desires of SIG the snake. The invasion of the inner sanctuary of the mind perturbs the targeted individual while destroying his self-worth and self-esteem.; mostly stealing his joy and happiness without any relief in sight. It’s not a surprise that many offenders who assault the targeted person end up looking down the barrel of a gun. Do unto others what you want to be done unto yourself. Do NOT do unto others what you DON’T want to be done unto yourself.

The SIG snakes have pushed Christ Jesus out of public schools and workplaces in order to blind everyone to the truth. They are becoming our gods. The free, liberal democracy is very much threatened in America. Our free society is becoming poisoned by the snakes.

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Can Artificial Intelligence Think Like a Human?

by Jeff ZweerinkMay 29, 2020

How close are we to developing machines that can understand and learn anything that humans can? Could such inventions eventually become self-conscious?

A great wealth of information exists regarding the pursuit of what scientists call artificial intelligence. Every now and again, I run across an idea that helps clarify a crucial issue surrounding the pursuit of an intelligence similar to humanity. Computer scientist Judea Pearl articulated one of those ideas in his book, The Book of Why, and titled it “the Ladder of Causation.” This three-level abstraction (see image below) helps identify the key steps to move from an artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) to an artificial general intelligence (AGI), meaning the entity would be able to think like a human being.

Rung 1: Seeing/Observing (“Association”)

The first rung of the ladder entails the ability to see and connect inputs with outcomes. The inputs and outcomes can be complicated and the connections rather hidden, so getting computer programs to do this still represents quite an accomplishment. Everything currently termed artificial intelligence (Siri, Alexa, language translators, facial/voice recognition, even driverless cars) sits on this rung of the ladder. These examples (all are ANIs) operate by using the available data to find correlations in order to make a decision following a predetermined algorithm.

Rung 2: Doing/Intervening (“Intervention”)

The next rung up the ladder of increasing sophistication adds the ability to intervene in an environment and respond appropriately. Pearl illustrates this change by two questions.

  • Rung 1: What is the likelihood that someone who bought toothpaste will also buy dental floss? Correlations in existing sales data will answer this question.
  • Rung 2: What will happen to floss sales if we double the price of toothpaste? In order to find a good answer to this question, one must intervene in the system to gather new data that addresses the question or develop a model that extrapolates from known environments to this new environment.

Scientists routinely exercise rung 2 skills. They ask a currently unanswered question about how the world works, perform experiments or observations to gather appropriate data, and then provide an answer/model that answers the question.

Rung 3: Imagining/Understanding (“Counterfactuals”)

On this top rung, one has the capacity to understand environments that don’t exist. According to Pearl, the toothpaste question becomes: “What is the probability that a customer who bought toothpaste would still have bought it if we had doubled the price?” In other words, this rung requires the ability to imagine something different than the physical world that already exists.

Humans consistently and effortlessly operate on this third rung. We routinely think about how things would be different if we had chosen the “other” option. The theological importance of this level is that humans recognize our place in this physical universe as well as the existence of reality completely separate from it. All the evidence to date indicates that only humanity operates on this intellectual plane. This evidence aligns well with the biblical idea that humanity alone was created in the image of God.

Not only does Pearl’s ladder of causation provide a great image of the challenges that lie ahead in the quest for true artificial intelligence, it also highlights humanity’s unique understanding of our place in the cosmos. And that fact affirms the validity of Christianity.Human Origins & AnthropologyArtificial Intelligence

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Are Gorillas Closer Human Relatives than Chimps?
Are Gorillas Closer Human Relatives than Chimps?

One might invoke the last line from King Kong after hearing about a recent discovery asserting a closer connection between gorillas and humans. Does…Evolution

Monkey Business: Evolutionists’ Oversight
Monkey Business: Evolutionists’ Oversight

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Were Neanderthals People, Too? A Response to Jon Mooallem
Were Neanderthals People, Too? A Response to Jon Mooallem

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Things to Know about Artificial Intelligence

by Jeff ZweerinkApril 30, 2021

Do thoughts about artificial intelligence (AI) bring excitement or fear? Anticipation or dread? And how should we think about this as Christians? If these questions resonate with you, then you will want to check out the videos of RTB’s recent, three-session workshop, Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Impact, and Christianity

John Lennox started the workshop with an overview of AI. His talk discussed the difference between narrow AI and general AI. Narrow AI learns to do a specific task or group of tasks where general AI has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills. Although the latter seems relegated to the distant future, the former already exists and is becoming pervasive. As narrow AI continues to grow, we must recognize that the technology brings potential for good, but also harm. One key takeaway from Lennox’s session is the notion that many people are looking to AI to save humans from the perils that plague us, including death. However, Lennox notes that salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Next, Jason Thacker spoke in his area of specialty, the ethical concerns surrounding technology. And AI certainly raises a plethora of them. The pursuit of general AI raises the question of what it means to be human—which Scripture answers directly by stating that we alone are the bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). A second thing to consider as we pursue narrow AI is how to use it. We’ll be able to do facial recognition, automate various jobs, and develop autonomous weaponry. Although AI is a powerful tool, we can choose to use it for good or evil. Thacker wrestles with this question in the context of our postmodern society where ethics are difficult to determine and seem to vary from person to person. 

J. P. Moreland concluded the workshop by exploring the nature of intelligence and consciousness. The terms “weak AI” and “strong AI” are often used as synonyms for narrow and general AI. Moreland highlights one subtle but important difference between strong and general AI. Where general AI refers to an AI that has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills, strong AI possesses an awareness of its ability to learn rather than just the ability to mimic human learning. Moreland then proceeds to provide a philosophical framework for understanding strong AI dubbed “machine functionalism.” At the basis of any naturalistic philosophy of mind or intelligence, machine functionalism holds that consciousness ultimately reduces to some arrangement of matter and the interactions between that matter. As a consequence, machine functionalism will inevitably diminish our view of consciousness.

Each session consists of an overview talk, followed by two panelists asking questions raised during the talk. Overall, the workshop provides a broad framework Christians can use to engage this challenging and exciting area of research. In my assessment, the pursuit of AI is inevitable. More importantly, if we are to use this powerful tool for good while mitigating the potential harm, we need to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity and lead the way in providing ethical guidance for all.

Resources

Artificial Intelligence

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A Virtual “Self-Aware” Predator
A Virtual “Self-Aware” Predator

What do these movies have in common? Bicentennial Man, Tron, Short Circuit, WarGames, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, D.A.R.Y.L. If you guessed that artificial…Human Origins & Anthropology

Does Animal Planning Undermine the Image of God?
Does Animal Planning Undermine the Image of God?

A few years ago, we had an all-white English Bulldog named Archie. He would lumber toward even complete strangers, eager to befriend them and…Biology

Can Artificial Intelligence Think Like a Human?
Can Artificial Intelligence Think Like a Human?

How close are we to developing machines that can understand and learn anything that humans can? Could such inventions eventually become self-conscious?Human Origins & Anthropology

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Atomic Clocks Advance Cosmic Creation and Design Models

by Hugh RossApril 26, 2021

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. —Ecclesiastes 4:12

This Bible verse makes the point that a triple-braided cord or a group of three humans offers much greater strength and efficacy than a single-braided cord or a lone human. Physicists have discovered that this principle of three also applies to atomic clocks. Atomic clocks work by the natural oscillation of atoms, and each atom “ticks” at a different speed. These clocks have allowed the development of modern conveniences such as cell phones, GPS, and the internet. The clocks’ accuracy also carries significant relevance for exploring cosmic design features and developing more-detailed cosmic creation models.

Optical Atomic Clocks
Atomic clocks tick at a rate (billions of times per second) established by the frequency of light emitted or absorbed when an atom changes from one energy state to another. Atomic clocks based on different atoms run at different rates. An optical atomic clock is an atomic clock that runs at an optical frequency. There is growing experimental evidence that optical atomic clocks provide superior precision to cesium atomic clocks, which presently are the standard timekeeping devices for fundamental physics, global navigation satellite systems, and many other frequency standard applications.

Three of the world’s best optical atomic clocks are the strontium-87 clock at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) and the aluminum-27 and ytterbium-171 clocks at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), all in Boulder, Colorado. Each of these clocks has measured frequencies estimated to be correct within 2 parts per quintillion (2 parts in 1018) or better.1 These clocks gain or lose no more than 1 second over the entire age of the universe.

Potentially, optical atomic clocks are a hundred times more accurate than the best cesium atomic clocks. However, before the best optical atomic clocks can replace the best cesium atomic clocks as time-keeping instruments, physicists must first demonstrate reproducibility of optical atomic clock time measurements through a series of clock comparisons.

Optical Atomic Clocks Comparison Experiment
A team of 35 physicists at JILA and NIST, known as the Boulder Atomic Clock Optical Network (BACON) Collaboration, designed an experiment for comparing the timing measurements of the three optical atomic clocks in their possession.2 The comparison was especially robust because the three clocks are based on isotopes of three different elements, which means that each of the three clocks runs at a different rate.

The BACON Collaboration linked their optical atomic clocks (see figure) by two independent means: a 3.6-kilometer optical-fiber link and a 1.5-kilometer free-space link that sent laser pulses through the air between NIST and JILA. Both connection methods were successful. Clock comparisons were achieved by measuring clock frequency ratios using femtosecond-frequency combs (1 femtosecond = one quadrillionth of a second).

Figure: The Strontium-87 Optical Atomic Clock at JILA
Credit: NIST

The collaboration ran clock comparison experiments from November 2017 through to June 2018. The sum of the statistical and systematic uncertainties (2 methods, 3 clocks) in their frequency ratio measurements were 5.9 x 10-18 for the aluminum-27 and ytterbium-171 clocks, 8.0 x 10-18 for the aluminum-27 and strontium-87 clocks, and 6.8 x 10-18 for the strontium-87 and ytterbium-171 clocks (all tiny numbers). These measurements are the first reported clock frequency ratios with uncertainties below 1 x 10-17.

Scientific Applications and Philosophical Implications
Now that physicists possess clocks more than a factor of ten superior in their timekeeping capability, we can look forward to scientific advances, including some with broad philosophical and theological implications.

Climate Change
Some of the advances will provide more accurate and reliable determinations of the rates and locations of climate change. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Earth’s gravity causes the frequency of an atomic clock to vary with the altitude of the clock. The altitude difference between two optical atomic clocks like those used in the NIST–JILA experiments can be determined to a precision of about 1 centimeter. Therefore, it is now possible to measure, unambiguously and accurately, even tiny changes in sea levels and ice sheet thicknesses around the world.

Driverless Vehicles
The same optical atomic clocks can be used to greatly improve our global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation systems. Right now, publicly available GPS navigation systems can determine what highway or road one is driving on and where one is on the road to an accuracy of about 10 meters. The application of optical atomic clocks like the ones at the NIST and JILA make possible GPS navigation systems that can track the position and movement of a vehicle or a cell phone to an accuracy of about 1 centimeter. Such systems will not only know what lane the driver is in but whether or not the vehicle is drifting in the lane. Such systems will make possible driverless vehicles and the elimination of vehicular accidents.

Cosmic Features
Radio astronomers have a lot to look forward to. With clocks like the ones at the NIST and JILA, they will be able to use their long baseline radio telescope interferometers to measure astronomical distances and produce maps of galaxies, black holes, and other cosmic structures to unprecedented precision. They may even be able to probe the physics of quantum gravity.

Nature of Dark Matter
The BACON Collaboration achieved an immediate scientific advance in their experiments. They used the clock frequency ratios to search for signs of interactions between ordinary matter (protons, neutrons, and electrons that strongly interact with photons) and dark matter (particles that do not or very weakly interact with photons). If ordinary matter (atoms) were to interact with dark matter through electromagnetic forces, such interactions would cause slight changes in the optical atomic clock frequencies. The BACON Collaboration detected no changes. In so doing, they established an upper limit to interactions between ordinary and dark matter that was nearly ten times lower than what physicists previously had determined. Soon-coming advances in optical atomic clock technology hold the potential of revealing the nature of dark matter particles and possible additional evidences for cosmic design.

Creation of the Universe
Philosophers and theologians can anticipate benefits in addition to new evidences for cosmic design. For example, these clocks will provide more definitive tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which is the foundation for the theorems that establish that a Causal Agent beyond space and time created the universe.3 These clocks can test to even greater precision the biblical claims (see, for example, Jeremiah 33:25 and Romans 8:20–22) that the fundamental constants governing the laws of physics do not change.4 Thanks to the technological advance (of the three clocks’ superior measurements) achieved by the BACON Collaboration, we all can anticipate more evidence for God’s existence and the inerrancy and predictive power of the Bible.

Endnotes

  1. S. M. Brewer et al., “27Al+ Quantum-Logic Clock with a Systematic Uncertainty below 10-18,” Physical Review Letters 123, no. 3 (July 2019): id. 033201, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.123.033201; Tobias Bothwell et al., “JILA SrI Optical Lattice Clock with Uncertainty of 2.0 x 10-18” Metrologia 56, no. 6 (December 2019): id. 065004, doi:10.1088/1681-7575/ab4089; W. F. McGrew et al., “Atomic Clock Performance Enabling Geodesy below the Centimetre Level,” Nature 564 (December 6, 2018): 87–90, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0738-2.
  2. Boulder Atomic Clock Optical Network (BACON) Collaboration, “Frequency Ratio Measurements at 18-Digit Accuracy Using an Optical Clock Network,” Nature 591 (March 25, 2021): 564–569, doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03253-4.
  3. Christian Sanner et al., “Optical Clock Comparison for Lorentz Symmetry Testing,” Nature 567 (March 14, 2019): 204–208, doi:10.1038/s41586-019-0972-2; Masao Takamoto et al., “Test of General Relativity by a Pair of Transportable Optical Lattice Clocks,” Nature Photonics 14, issue 7 (July 2020): 411–415, doi:10.1038/s41566-020-0619-8.
  4. R. M. Godun et al., “Frequency Ratio of Two Optical Clock Transitions in 171Yb+ and Constraints on the Time Variation of Fundamental Constants,” Physical Review Letters 113, no. 21 (November 21, 2014): id. 210801, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.210801; Hugh Ross, “More Evidences for Biblical Claim of Unchanging Physics,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, June 22, 2020.

Laws of PhysicsParticle PhysicsUniverse Design

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How to Distinguish between Science and Scientism

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – MARCH 17, 2020

Science is truly one of the great intellectual enterprises that humankind has ever developed. But what exactly is science? Is it mainly a narrow method or practice for obtaining knowledge about the natural world? Or does it involve a broad philosophical system?

I respect and appreciate science and I enjoy interacting with scientists. But my background in logic and philosophy motivates me to ask critical questions that help me to understand just what science is and how it relates to beliefs, ideas, and truth in general.

Defining Science

According to the National Academy of Sciences, science is “the use of evidence to construct testable explanation and prediction of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.”1

The popular source Wikipedia offers a bit more of an expansive definition: “Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”2

These two sources seem to define science more as a practice or method that involves observing nature and then developing predictive models about the natural world that can be tested for their explanatory power. Science understood this way—as a basic practice—is limited in obtaining knowledge about the natural world. Focused narrowly, science does not deny that there may be other sources of knowledge—such as philosophical and religious-based knowledge. This narrow definition of science also does not speak directly to broader worldview concerns like metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics (the meaning and purpose-oriented issues relating to ultimate reality, goodness, and beauty).

Defining Scientism

Some secularists go further than just viewing science as a limited practice. They have adopted a full-fledged science-oriented philosophy known as scientism. According to scientism, science confers genuine knowledge to humanity. In terms of epistemology (relating to knowledge), scientism takes two forms: (1) strong scientism says science is the only path to knowledge, and (2) weak scientism says science is the best path to knowledge.

Well-known scientists and outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Peter Atkins seem to advocate a strong scientism. They affirm that science can indeed answer the big questions of life concerning humankind’s meaning, purpose, and significance. Strong scientism thus tends to deeply depreciate the belief that knowledge can come from moral, aesthetic, and religious experience and sources.

Strong scientism also generally accepts two foundational assumptions—one metaphysical (relating to reality) and the other epistemological (again relating to knowledge).

First, metaphysically speaking, this robust version of scientism asserts that the material, physical universe is the sole reality. For example, to quote astronomer and secularist Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”3 Scientists who adopt a more complex view of reality by affirming a multiverse or many-worlds hypothesis extend reality beyond this present universe, but ultimately all reality is still only natural (material and physical in nature).

Second, epistemologically speaking, science is the only way of verifying truth claims about reality. Therefore a belief that is not scientific or doesn’t pass scientific scrutiny is considered false or meaningless. So the foundational question becomes: “Can you prove it scientifically?” This approach, again, seems to make moral, aesthetic, and religious knowledge superfluous.

The claims of strong scientism are both breathtaking and logically incoherent. For example, the assertion that the material, physical world is all that exists cannot be shown by science. And the claim that all truth claims must be scientifically verified cannot itself be empirically verified by science. Both claims, therefore, stand as self-referentially incoherent and thus false. Strong scientism cannot back up its extravagant metaphysical and knowledge claims.

Christianity and Science

The powerful enterprise of science was birthed, established, and ultimately flourished within the context of the Christian worldview.4 Christian scholars view science as extremely effective in explaining aspects of the natural world. Nevertheless, its focus is limited. Thus, the Christian worldview provides other sources of knowledge (moral, aesthetic, and religious) that help augment the genuine knowledge derived from science. In this way, Christianity provides answers to big questions—for example, is life worth living? or why be moral?—that science does not address.

Reflections: Your Turn

Why is it important to distinguish between science and scientism? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes
  1. “Some Frequently Asked Questions From Reporters,” National Academy of Sciences (website), Accessed March 9, 2020, http://www.nationalacademies.org/newsroom/faq/index.html.
  2. “Science,” Wikipedia, last modified February 29, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science.
  3. Sagan’s 13-part television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980), opened with these words.
  4. For more about Christianity’s influence upon science, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 188–91.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Ancient Cave Art Strengthens Evidence for the Image of God

BY FAZALE RANA – MARCH 10, 2021MORESHARE

When our kids were little, we would decorate the refrigerator door with their artwork. They were so proud of their creations that they wanted them displayed for everyone to see.

Now that we have grandchildren, once again our refrigerator door has become adorned with what we consider to be artistic masterpieces made by little hands. Children seem to be born with an innate need to leave their mark on the world.

In fact, no matter how old we are, each of us is compelled to create. Some people produce art, music, and literature. Others design new technologies And others erect buildings. And, like little children, we want people to see and appreciate our work.

All human beings are creative. Creativity defines and distinguishes us from all other creatures that exist now—or ever existed. As a Christian, I view our capacity and compulsion to create as a manifestation of the image of God—a quality that every human being possesses and which makes each human life infinitely valuable.

Our capacity to create art, music, and literature hinges on our capacity for symbolism—an ability to represent the world around us with symbols. We even devise symbols to represent abstract concepts. And we can manipulate these symbols in countless ways to tell stories—stories about the way we think things are and imaginary stories about how we wish things would be. Our capacity to create art, music, and literature hinges on our capacity for symbolism—an ability to represent the world around us with symbols. We even devise symbols to represent abstract concepts. And we can manipulate these symbols in countless ways to tell stories—stories about the way we are. This open-ended generative capacity combined with our symbolic abilities even makes science and technology possible.

So, when did human symbolic and open-ended generative capacities first appear? Did they emerge suddenly? Did they appear gradually? Are these qualities truly unique to human beings or did other hominins, such as Neanderthals, possess them too?

If the biblical account of human origins is true, then I would expect that symbolic expression would be unique to modern humans and would coincide with our first appearance as a species. One way to address these questions is to seek after evidence of symbolism in the archaeological record. Artistic depictions serve as the most accessible proxy for symbolism among the artifacts left behind by modern humans and other hominids.

The Oldest Cave Art Discovered to Date
Recently, a research team from Australia unveiled the oldest figurative art discovered to date.1 Instead of being affixed to a refrigerator door, this artwork was depicted on the walls of the Leang Tedongnge cave, located on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Using a technique that measures uranium and thorium in the calcium carbonate deposits that have formed underneath and on top of the cave paintings, the researchers age-dated the paintings at over 45,000 years old.

These paintings were discovered in 2017 and consist of four warty pigs (Sus celebensis), creatures endemic to Sulawesi. The artists used red ochre, which gives the paintings a red/purple hue. Two hand stencils accompany the pigs. Only one of the pigs is complete. A large portion of the other three pigs has been lost due to erosion of the cave wall (which served as a canvas for the artwork). The intact pig measures over three feet in length. The head region of two of the three partial pigs has been preserved. Instead of facing in the same direction, the pigs appear to be facing off against one another. The researchers believe the artwork presents the viewer with a narrative of sorts, depicting social interactions taking place among the four pigs.

The Cave Art of Sulawesi
Prior to this discovery, archaeologists had identified and dated other art on cave walls in Sulawesi. Like the Leang Tedongnge cave art,  that work includes hand stencils and depictions of animals. But it was determined to be younger in age, dating to around 35,000 to 40,000 years old.2

In 2019, archaeologists published an analysis of a mural in a cave (called Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4) in the southern part of Sulawesi.3 The panel presents the viewer with an ensemble of pigs and small buffalo (anoas), also endemic to Sulawesi. This art dates to around 44,000 years in age.

The most provocative feature of the Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 artwork is the depiction of smaller human-like figures with animal features such as tails and snouts. Some of these figures are holding spears and ropes. Scholars refer to these human-animal depictions as therianthropes.

The presence of therianthropes in the cave art indicates that humans in Sulawesi conceived of things that did not exist in the material world. That is to say, they had a sense of the supernatural.

Because this artwork depicts a hunt involving therianthropes, the researchers see rich narrative content in the display, just as they see narrative content in the scene with pigs depicted on the walls of Leang Tedongnge.

When Did Symbolism First Appear?
The latest find in Leang Tedongnge solidifies the case that modern humans in Asia had the capacity for artistic expression as does other archeological evidence located throughout southeast Asia.4

And they used their artistic ability to tell stories.

The Asian cave art is qualitatively similar to the art found on the cave walls in Europe, yet it dates older. This insight means that modern humans most likely had the capacity to make art even before beginning their migrations around the world from out of Africa (around 60,000 years ago). In other words, this discovery pushes the origin of symbolic capacity closer to the time that modern humans emerged.

Anthropologist Christopher Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London notes that, “The basis for this art was there 60,000 years ago; it may even have been there in Africa before 60,000 years ago and it spread with modern humans.”5

This conclusion gains support from the recent discovery of a silcrete flake from a layer in the Blombos Cave of South Africa that dates to about 73,000 years old. A portion of an abstract drawing is etched into this flake.In fact, based on the dates of art made by the San, linguist Shigeru Miyagawa believes that artistic expression emerged in Africa earlier than 125,000 years ago.7

Consistent with the archaeological finds is recently discovered evidence that the globular brain shape of modern humans first appears in the archaeological record around 130,000 years ago.8  Some anthropologists believe that the globular brain shape correlates with the brain structures needed for symbolic expression. Interestingly enough, the Neanderthal brain shape was more elongated. This elongation forced a size reduction in the areas of the brain needed for symbolism. Nevertheless, claims of Neanderthal artistic expression abound in popular literature and appear in scientific journals, but a number of studies question these claims.9

When researchers assemble all the evidence from the fossil and archaeological records , a strong case can be made that only human beings display symbolism and open-ended generative capacity—scientific descriptors of the image of God. Of equal significance, the data also indicates that the origin of these two features occurs simultaneously and abruptly with our first appearance in the fossil record.

Far from challenging the biblical account of human origins and the biblical perspective on human nature, cave art demonstrates the scientific credibility of the biblical text—and this evidence is on full display for everyone to see.

Cave Art and the Image of God:

The Modern Human Brain:

Could Neanderthals Make Art?:

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Endnotes
  1. Adam Brumm et al., “Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi,” Science Advances 7 (January 13, 2021): eabd4648, doi:1126/sciadv.abd4648.
  2. M. Aubert et al., “Pleistocene Cave Art from Sulawesi, Indonesia,” Nature 514 (October 9, 2014): 223–27, doi:10.1038/nature13422.
  3. Maxime Aubert et al., “Earliest Hunting Scene in Prehistoric Art,”Nature576 (December 11, 2019): 442–45,doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1806y.
  4. Paul S. C. Taçon et al., “The Global Implications of the Early Surviving Rock Art of Greater Southeast Asia,” Antiquity 88 (December 2014): 1050–64, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Paul-Tacon/publication/259979235_Recent_Rock_art_Research_in_Southeast_Asia_and_Southern_China/links/56d8c26508aee73df6cd02dc/Recent-Rock-art-Research-in-Southeast-Asia-and-Southern-China.pdf.
  5. Pallab Ghosh, “Cave Paintings Change Ideas about the Origin of Art,” BBC News, posted October 8, 2014.
  6. Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., “An Abstract Drawing from the 73,000-Year-Old Levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa,”Nature562(September 12, 2018): 115–18,doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0514-3.
  7. Shigeru Miyagawa, Cora Lesure, and Vitor A. Nóbrega, “Cross-Modality Information Transfer: A Hypothesis about the Relationship among Prehistoric Cave Paintings, Symbolic Thinking, and the Emergence of Language,”Frontiers in Psychology9 (February 20, 2018): 115,doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00115.
  8. Simon Neubauer, Jean-Jacques Hublin, and Philipp Gunz, “The Evolution of Modern Human Brain Shape,”Science Advances4, no. 1 (January 24, 2018): eaao596,doi:10.1126/sciadv.aao5961.
  9. Ludovic Slimak et al., “Comment on ‘U-Th Dating of Carbonate Crusts Reveals Neandertal Origin of Iberian Cave Art,’”Science361, no. 6408 (September 21, 2018): eaau1371,doi:10.1126/science.aau1371; Maxime Aubert, Adam Brumm, and Jillian Huntley, “Early Dates for ‘Neanderthal Cave Art’ May Be Wrong,”Journal of Human Evolution 125 (December 2018),doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2018.08.004; David G. Pearce and Adelphine Bonneau, “Trouble on the Dating Scene,”Nature Ecology and Evolution2 (June 2018): 925–26,doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0540-4.

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I watched helplessly as my father died a Muslim. Though he and I would argue about my conversion, I was unable to convince him of the truth of the Christian faith.

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The Shroud of Turin, Part 1: An Examination of the Man

In this post, we’ll focus not on the Shroud of Turin’s origins but rather on a medical description of the man whose image it bears, including a forensic analysis and a comparison to known Roman crucifixion practices. Later, in part 2, we’ll examine the physical characteristics of the cloth, its age, and how the image may have formed.

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The Shroud of Turin, Part 2: An Examination of the Cloth

by Joseph BergeronApril 8, 2021

By Joseph W. Bergeron

The Shroud of Turin contains the faint image of a man identical to the biblical descriptions of the crucified Jesus. Interest in the Shroud of Turin intensified when a photograph in 1898 unexpectedly produced an enhanced, photonegative-like image of the man.1 In a previous post, “The Shroud of Turin, Part 1: An Examination of the Man,” we discussed a forensic medical examination of the man pictured on the cloth. In this post, we’ll examine the physical and chemical characteristics of the cloth and consider how the man’s image may have formed.

Examination of the Cloth
The Shroud of Turin measures 437 cm by 111 cm. The cloth is about 0.34 mm thick, with each thread containing 70–120 linen fibers.2 Microscopic examination reveals the man’s image is the result of yellow color found on the top two or three superficial fibers, each fiber ranging 10–15 micrometers in diameter, within the yarns of surface threads.3

Aside from blood stains and serum residue, bodily effluents were not found on the cloth.4 The blood stains contain heme, the oxygen-transporting porphyrin found in blood. Yellow-colored fibers forming the image were not found beneath blood or serum, indicating the image formed after the blood adhered to the cloth.5 The image formation did not damage the blood stains, indicating the image was formed by a mild process.6

Variation in color density on the image corresponds to the number of colored fibers per unit area rather than true color gradation. This is called the “half-tone effect.”7 Conversely, dye, paint, thermal energy, or gaseous reactants would have produced a color gradient.

Researchers found that “reflectance spectra, chemical tests, laser-microprobe Raman spectra, pyrolysis mass spectrometry, and X-ray fluorescence all show that the image is not painted with any of the expected, historically-documented pigments.”8 No fluid meniscus or cemented fibers were observed, ruling out the possibility of fluid application having been used to produce the image.9 No paints, dyes, or stains were discovered despite exhaustive testing.

Any form of radiation energy—thermal, electromagnetic, or particle—would have penetrated the fiber and altered the cellulose structure in order to produce the image. Cellulose was unaffected by the image formation, however.10

A fire almost destroyed the Shroud of Turin in 1532, applying a violent chemical test to the cloth in the process. The fire subjected the cloth to a thermal test which revealed that no pyrolysis products of medieval paint compounds were present, ruling out the possibility that the image of the man had been painted. And, despite water being used to douse the flames, the image remained unaltered, indicating it was not water soluble.11

How Old Is It?
In 1988 the cloth was carbon dated to AD 1260 to 1390, but this dating is considered invalid by many Shroud of Turin researchers due to flawed sampling protocol. All three test samples came from a single swatch of cloth cut from near the edge of the cloth rather than by random sampling.12 This area near the edge has anomalous weave patterns compared to the larger body of the cloth. Cotton fibers are mixed with linen in the radiocarbon samples, while the main body of the cloth is entirely linen. Moreover, cotton fibers appeared encrusted with pigment that nearly matches the color of the cloth.13 Altogether, samples used for the radiocarbon tests differ significantly from the main body of the cloth and suggest the samples came from a corner of the cloth that had been repaired by weaving cotton into the linen.

It is noteworthy that weaving clothing from two different materials goes against Hebrew law (Leviticus 19:19). Similarly, archaeological evidence indicates mixed material textiles were not used for Jewish burial shrouds in Jesus’s time.14

Physical and chemical characteristics of the cloth offer clues to its age that are not dependent on the carbon dating controversy. Making cloth in the first century started with spinning linen fibers into yarns of thread. When a spindle was full, the hank of yarn would be  bleached. Hanks of yarn were bleached separately, then woven into cloth stabilized with starch during weaving. The linen cloth was then washed with soapweed, Saponaria officinalis.15 Saponaria has hemolytic and preservative properties, explaining why the blood stains appear red rather than black.16

Linen threads within the Shroud of Turin are consistent with this ancient spinning and weaving method rather than medieval practices where bleaching was done after weaving the cloth was finished. Additionally, chemical tests on linen fiber growth nodes suggest the cloth is very old and predates the medieval period.17

One Possible Explanation
Evaporation drying after washing would leave a residue of polysaccharides (starch) on the surface of the cloth. Evolving amide gaseous compounds from the corpse could react with the polysaccharide residue by the Maillard reaction. Pigment byproducts from this reaction could bond to the starch residue and produce the image.

Chemical tests have confirmed the presence of starch on the cloth. The image color could be stripped off of linen fibers by adhesive tape, indicating that the color resides on a surface residue, not within the linen fiber. The color was removed with the reducing reagent, diimide, leaving unharmed colorless linen, indicating the image color was the result of complex double bonds.18 These findings are supportive of the Maillard reaction hypothesis. If the image was formed by the Maillard reaction, it would indicate the cloth was actually used as a burial shroud but removed from the body before liquid components of decay developed.19

Explanation and the Principle of Economy
Occam’s razor affirms that the hypothesis with the fewest special assumptions is most likely closest to the truth. Elaborate explanations involving radiation or thermal energy must be set aside when the image can be explained by a commonly observed low-temperature chemical reaction. The Maillard reaction offers a plausible explanation for how the image was formed.

The Shroud of Turin has physical and chemical characteristics consistent with an ancient burial cloth potentially dating to the time of Christ. It bears the image of a man unmistakably recognizable as the crucified Jesus. The image was not made by human hands. In spite of extensive scientific study, the Shroud of Turin has not been explained away as a fraud or hoax.

ENDNOTES
  1. Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of JesusA Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans), 205. The emulsion used by the photographer was more sensitive to blue color than the human eye, inadvertently producing an enhanced photograph. See also Raymond N. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective on the Shroud of Turin, ed. Barrie M. Schwortz (self-pub., Lulu, 2008), 17.
  2. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 174–75.
  3. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 14.
  4. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 240; Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  5. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 15–16.
  6. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 110.
  7. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 15.
  8. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  9. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 15; Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 242.
  10. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  11. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 12, 109.
  12. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 305; Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  13. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 303–13; Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 64, 66–68, 70, 76.
  14. Orit Shamir, “A Burial Textile from the First Century CE in Jerusalem Compared to Roman Textiles in the Land of Israel and the Turin Shroud,” SHS Web of Conferences 15 (February 27, 2015): 00010, doi:10.1051/shsconf/20151500010.
  15. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  16. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective,
  17. The age of the shroud can be estimated between 1300 and 3000 years old. Raymond N. Rogers, “Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin,” Thermochimica Acta 425, nos. 1–2 (2005): 192, doi:10.1016/j.tca.2004.09.029; full article available at it/ROGERS-3.PDF (accessed March 2, 2021). See also Raymond N. Rogers and Anna Arnoldi, “Scientific Method Applied to the Shroud of Turin: A Review,” shroud.com/pdfs/rogers2.pdf (accessed February 12, 2021): 15–16; Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 41–42.
  18. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 109.
  19. Rogers, A Chemist’s Perspective, 102.

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The Shroud of Turin, Part 1: An Examination of the Man

by Joseph BergeronApril 1, 2021

By Joseph W. Bergeron

The Shroud of Turin is a relic extraordinaire. It’s a linen cloth containing the front and back images of a crucified man matching the biblical descriptions of Jesus.1 Controversy surrounds the Shroud of Turin. Many believe it to be the cloth used to wrap Jesus’s body after crucifixion. Others wonder whether it’s merely an elaborate hoax.

In this post, we’ll focus not on the Shroud of Turin’s origins but rather on a medical description of the man whose image it bears, including a forensic analysis and a comparison to known Roman crucifixion practices. Later, in part 2, we’ll examine the physical characteristics of the cloth, its age, and how the image may have formed.

Roman Crucifixion
The crucifixion process began with the condemned being placed in the custody of a specialized team consisting of a group of soldiers supervised by a centurion. Scourges were made of leather strips with lead balls sown into the ends. Multiple soldiers participated in scourging the victim.2 Jesus’s beatings were doubly severe since he was beaten at the home of the Jewish High Priest before being delivered to the Romans for scourging prior to crucifixion (Matthew 26:67). Jesus was sentenced to death as a political insurgent: “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). This title heightened the ire of his Roman executioners who would have perceived Jesus’s crime as defiance of Caesar (Mark 15:16–20).

Roman executioners forced the condemned victim to carry the short, horizontal section of the cross (the patibulum) to the execution site. After nailing the victim’s hands to the patibulum, they lifted it with the victim attached and placed it on top of the stationary vertical section (the stipes) secured by a mortise and tenon joint. They then nailed the victim’s feet to the stipes.3

In most cases, the corpse was left on the cross to be eaten by scavenging animals,4 but upon request it could be obtained for burial instead. Prior to the body being released, it was likely common for the executioners to administer a coup de grâce to assure the victim was dead.5 Accordingly, before Jesus’s body was taken down a spear was driven through his chest (John 19:34). Additionally, the Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate required verification of Jesus’s death before the body could be released for burial (Mark 15:45).

Burial Preparation
It appears that the man in the Shroud of Turin was washed before being wrapped.6 This is consistent with known Jewish funerary customs in the Second Temple period. Burial was completed the same day as the death. The body was washed, anointed with oils or perfumes, and wrapped in a shroud. Spices were placed within the shroud, sprinkled over the bier, or left in the burial site.Jesus was buried according to the Jewish customs of his time (John 19:40). The Gospels state that his body was wrapped in linen cloth (Matthew 27:59Mark 15:46Luke 23:52).

Jesus was buried hurriedly after a cursory and incomplete preparation due to his death occurring late on Friday, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath during Passover week. Women returned to Jesus’s tomb on Sunday to complete the burial preparation with spices and perfumes they had compounded (Luke 23:52–24:1). According to biblical accounts, the women found burial cloths in the tomb, but Jesus’s body was gone (Luke 24:12John 20:2–9).

Examination of the Man of the Shroud
The Shroud of Turin bares front and back images depicting a naked, bearded, long-haired man about 183 cm (~6 feet) tall. 8 The man likely weighed  approximately 70 kg (~154 lbs). Tortuous streams of blood are noted in the matted hair, front and back.9 Hair appears by the sides of the face. The neck is not visible. There is swelling of the forehead, brows, right upper lip, and jaw. The nasal cartilage is separated.10 The right eyelid may be torn.11 Hands are placed below the umbilicus (navel). Thumbs are not visible. There are more than 100 scourge marks. The right shoulder is lower than the left with abrasions noted on both shoulders.12 There is a large oval chest wound between the right fifth and sixth ribs.13 Blood flow is visible from the chest wound, scalp, and both hands and feet.

Forensic Analysis
The Shroud of Turin images depict multiple blows to the face consistent with descriptions in the biblical account (Matthew 26:6727:30). Blood streams from the scalp indicate puncture wounds consistent with a crown of thorns (Mark 15:17). Scourge marks match the size and shape of the lead pieces Romans sewed into the ends of their whips. The scourge marks are also bidirectional, appearing to come from both sides of the body, suggesting a team of executioners (John 19:1Mark 15:15–16).14

The chest wound is consistent with spear penetration, which would collapse the lung and rupture the right chambers of the heart. Copious drainage from the chest wound suggests blood mixing with a pleural effusion (fluid collection around the lung, typically clear). The presence of a clear pleural effusion and subsequent cardiac rupture is also suggested in the biblical description (John 19:34). A smudge of dried blood or clot appears below the chest wound. Blood drains from the chest wound to the back, indicating the body was laid supine after being wrapped. Blood flow from the hands and feet are consistent with nail punctures ( John 20:24–27 ).

The neck and legs appear flexed. This is best explained by rigor mortis, which can occur rapidly when the victim is in a high metabolic state at the moment of death, often the case in violent death.15 Nails through the wrists would tether thumb abductor muscles, flexing the thumbs over the palms, which explains why the thumbs are not seen in the image. Rigor mortis at the shoulders was overcome in order to reposition the arms in front of the body.

The Greater Meaning
The Shroud of Turin portrays an accurate depiction of Roman crucifixion. Moreover, the image of the man matches the unique features of Jesus’s execution recounted in the biblical accounts. Questions of authenticity aside, the Shroud of Turin offers a visual representation of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and points to the greater significance of God’s forgiveness.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. —Ephesians 1:7

ENDNOTES
  1. Matthew 27:27–50; Mark 16:16–37; Luke 23:26–46; John 19:1–30.
  2. Joseph W. Bergeron, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Medical Doctor Examines the Death and Resurrection of Christ (Rapid City, SD: Crosslink, 2019), 92.
  3. Bergeron, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 93.
  4. Bergeron, 143.
  5. Bergeron, 178 n281.
  6. Frederick T. Zugibe, “The Man of the Shroud Was Washed,” Sindon N.S., Quad. No. 1, June 1989 (accessed February 2, 2021). See also, Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans, 2005), 218–27.
  7. Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 480.
  8. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 190–91.
  9. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 190–91.
  10. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 192.
  11. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 179.
  12. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 195.
  13. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 196.
  14. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 195.
  15. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 189, 212.

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