Category Archives: Nature & Space

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Close mind

Some people are so—

And I don’t know what the right answer is for each person: fearful, angry, arrogant, prideful, selfish, wrathful, whatever—

that as long as there is some infinitesimal escape, some nano-fractional percentage that allows them escape the material certainty of a higher power…

They will grab it and cower behind it.

These people commit to a profoundly irrational conspiracy-within-themselves to avoid, at all costs, the Father.

They have that right.

And their choice, strangled as it is, will be honored.


Phosphorus and Molybdenum Problems for Life on Other Worlds

Stymied by attempts to find life-friendly conditions on surfaces of extraterrestrial planets and moons, astrobiologists have turned to increasingly exotic sites. Two such sites are (1) the upper atmospheres of planets and moons with thick atmospheres and (2) possible pools of liquid water below the surfaces of planets and moons. A nearby example of the former are Venus’s high clouds. Nearby examples of the latter are Europa and Enceladus, moons of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively.

A recent paper published by astrophysicists Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb in the Astronomical Journal casts doubt on the suitability for life in upper atmospheres and subsurface lakes or oceans.1 The paper explains how these sites are likely plagued with extreme shortages of phosphorus, molybdenum, and other life-essential elements.

What Life Requires

All conceivable carbon-based life-forms require the availability of both phosphorus and molybdenum. Phosphates are an essential component of DNA, RNA, ATP, and phospholipids. Molybdenum is essential for the functioning of several life-critical proteins2 and for animals it eliminates toxic reactions to sulfites in food.3

Four decades ago, biochemists discovered that any conceivable physical life-form must be carbon-based. Carbon is the only element in the periodic table that permits the chemical bonding diversity, complexity, and stability life molecules require.

Both phosphorus and molybdenum are relatively rare. Phosphorus comprises 1,050 parts per million by mass in Earth’s crust4 while molybdenum makes up just 1.2 parts per million.And yet Earth is extraordinarily rich in both of these elements. Compared to the rest of our galaxy and the universe Earth’s phosphorus to magnesium ratio is four times higher and its molybdenum to magnesium ratio is five times higher. Yet even with this great abundance of phosphorus and molybdenum, life productivity on Earth is limited by their availability.

Just-Right Phosphorus Abundances Needed

In their paper, Lingam and Loeb first cite research published a year ago6 that established that previous to 600 million years ago Earth’s abundance of oceanic phosphorus was less than a fifth of what it is today. What kept the phosphorus concentration so low was scavenging of phosphorus into ferrous minerals, absorption into iron oxides, and limited recycling in what was then an oxidant-poor ocean.

This paucity of phosphorus limited life in the oceans to microbes at an abundance and diversity level far below the present. What phosphorus existed in the oceans at that time came almost entirely from the runoff of rivers on the continental landmasses.

The Harvard astrophysicists then pointed out the obvious. Ice-covered worlds like Europa and Enceladus will not have any riverine input of phosphorus. Furthermore, the liquid water oceans that might exist below these worlds’ ice crusts very likely will have either a neutral or basic pH. A significant body of liquid water below a surface ice crust also implies the very high likelihood of hydrothermal activity at the bottom of the liquid water pool (see figure 1). Hydrothermal activity efficiently removes phosphorus from subterranean water pools.


Figure 1: Artist’s rendering of hydrothermal activity on the seafloor of Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Lingam and Loeb conservatively calculated that the abundance of phosphorus in subterranean oceans of ice-covered worlds will be 1,000 to 100,000 times lower than in Earth’s oceans. Such an extremely low abundance of phosphorus makes the survival of life, let alone the origin of life, a near impossibility.

Other Just-Right Mineral Abundances Needed

The researchers go on to address the availability of other life-essential elements in ice-covered worlds. They note that the only significant source of bioavailable nitrogen in ice-covered worlds will be submarine weathering. Though they were not able to produce a precise estimate of the amount of bioavailable nitrogen produced by such weathering, they conclude that it would be much below “the corresponding value for continental weathering by rain water.”

Next, Lingam and Loeb examine bioavailable iron. For Earth, virtually all the bioavailable iron in the oceans comes from eolian mineral dust, interplanetary dust, and subaerial continental weathering.8 None of these sources are available in subsurface ocean worlds. Thus, such worlds will lack not only the phosphorus abundance that life needs but also lack the nitrogen, iron, and possibly several other life-essential elements.

More Habitability Constraints

The pair of researchers did not address the problem of too much subsurface liquid water. If this water adds up to more than 1 percent of the mass fraction of a planet or large moon, the pressure from the water depth will form a thick, impenetrable ice layer on the ocean floor (see figure 2).9 For such worlds there will be no submarine weathering and, thus, no delivery of phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, copper, molybdenum, and other life-essential elements into the liquid water ocean.


Figure 2: Deep ocean water worlds. The subsurface ice layer prevents the weathering of rock and, thus, the delivery of life-essential elements into the liquid water ocean.
Image credit: Hugh Ross

Lingam and Loeb close their paper by considering the habitability of planets like Venus (see figure 3). For the past fifty years, astronomers have speculated that life could conceivably survive at those altitudes in the upper atmospheres of Venus-like planets where the temperatures would allow water to exist in the liquid state.10 However, neither the Galileo orbiter nor the Venus Express mission has found any evidence for molybdenum in Venus’s atmosphere.11 Without molybdenum and other bioessential trace elements life is not possible in the atmosphere of Venus or planets like it.


Figure 3: Venus and its thick clouds. Above Venus’s dense carbon dioxide layer is a thick layer of sulfuric acid. Image credit: NASA

The researchers do not rule out life in subsurface ocean worlds or Venus-like planets, but they conclude it is unlikely. However, given the degree to which the availability of phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, and molybdenum limits life on Earth, the case must be far more constraining for the exotic sites. The evidence Lingam and Loeb provide for all these nutrients being orders of magnitude less abundant in subsurface ocean worlds (and if the ocean is deep, nonexistent) and Venus-like planets than on Earth causes me to question whether life can survive on such worlds.

Earth’s Just-Right Abundance Levels

Scientists already know that plants and animals cannot survive on so little phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, and molybdenum. Laboratory experiments can settle whether there is any possibility for long-term survival of microbes.

In the meantime, these Harvard astrophysicists give us yet more reasons to be grateful that we live on such an improbable planet. Our planetary home has the most anomalous abundances of elements, especially when it comes to vital poisons. Earth’s crust contains just-right abundance levels of all twenty-two vital poison elements.12 Vital poisons are elements that if too abundant will kill life, but if too under-abundant will also kill life. So much “just-rightness” points to a supernatural Creator who has a special love for human beings.

Original article: Phosphorus and Molybdenum Problems for Life on Other Worlds

The Folly of Men and Spirits

Ignorance, arrogance, fear, hate, trauma and unbelief function in the human mind much like gravity does in a star.

The more of these vices you have, the more they are allowed to increase, your mind grows denser and denser, heavier and heavier, until every thought collapses under the weight of its own darkness.

And where the mind leads, the heart follows: a black hole in the soul.

Everything that enters such a cold cyclonic soul – logic, reason, science, hope, analytical fidelity, faith and even light – cannot escape.

The inestimable pressure of these vices eventually break all bonds of coherence – fairness, rationality, emotional stability, cause and effect, continuity of proofs, law of non-contradiction – until one is reduced to a babbling heap of relativism, a subjective hustler of legal and linguistic shell games that violate all logic, inference, deduction, induction, even math.

This is the inevitable result of turning your God-given free will against God who wills you to use it wisely.

The last phase of this collapse is always the same: calling evil good and good evil.

Angels died this death long before men did.

In time, all monsters are buried, but never in the same graveyard as their victims.

The Mountain of Souls

Atheists are fond of saying they have gotten rid of all the gods of history and that only one remains.

Like the majority of their pronouncements, they are backwards.

They have not arrived at the last god standing. They have arrived at the first one.

They just took a long circuitous route to get to Him.

All they did was clear away the demons.

Now, having chopped down all the trees—surprise!

There is a Mountain staring down at them.

Swing all you want, guys: your ax will never hurt so much stone.

When Did Modern Human Brains—and the Image of God—Appear?

When I was a kid, I enjoyed reading Ripley’s Believe It or Not! I couldn’t get enough of the bizarre facts described in the pages of this comic.

I was especially drawn to the panels depicting people who had oddly shaped heads. I found it fascinating to learn about people whose skulls were purposely forced into unnatural shapes by a practice known as intentional cranial deformation.

For the most part, this practice is a thing of the past. It is rarely performed today (though there are still a few people groups who carry out this procedure). But for much of human history, cultures all over the world have artificially deformed people’s crania (often for reasons yet to be fully understood). They accomplished this feat by binding the heads of infants, which distorts the normal growth of the skull. Through this practice, the shape of the human head can be readily altered to be abnormally flat, elongated, rounded, or conical.

For physical anthropologists, the normal shape of the modern human skull is just as bizarre as the conical-shaped skulls found among the remains of the Nazca culture of Peru. Compared to other hominins (such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus), modern humans have oddly shaped skulls. The skull shape of the hominins was elongated along the anterior-posterior axis. But the skull shape of modern humans is globular, with bulging and enlarged parietal and cerebral areas. The modern human skull also has another distinctive feature: the face is retracted and relatively small.

Anthropologists believe that the difference in skull shape (and hence, brain shape) has profound significance and helps explain the advanced cognitive abilities of modern humans. The parietal lobe of the brain is responsible for:

  • Perception of stimuli
  • Sensorimotor transformation (which plays a role in planning)
  • Visuospatial integration (which provides hand-eye coordination needed for throwing spears and making art)
  • Imagery
  • Self-awareness
  • Working and long-term memory

Human beings seem to uniquely possess these capabilities. They make us exceptional compared to other hominins. Thus, for paleoanthropologists, two key questions are: when and how did the globular human skull appear?

Recently, a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, addressed these questions. And their answers add evidence for human exceptionalism while unwittingly providing support for the RTB human origins model.1

The Appearance of the Modern Human Brain

To characterize the mode and tempo for the origin of the unusual morphology (shape) of the modern human skull, the German researchers generated and analyzed the CT scans of 20 fossil specimens representing three windows of time: (1) 300,000 to 200,000 years ago; (2) 130,000 to 100,000 years ago; and (3) 35,000 to 10,000 years ago. They also included 89 cranially diverse skulls from present-day modern humans, 8 Neanderthal skulls, and 8 from Homo erectus in their analysis.

The first group consisted of three specimens: (1) Jebel Irhoud 1 (dating to 315,000 years in age); (2) Jebel Irhoud 2 (also dating to 315,000 years in age); and (3) Omo Kibish (dating to 195,000 years in age). The specimens that comprise this group are variously referred to as near anatomically modern humans or archaic Homo sapiens.

The second group consisted of four specimens: (1) LH 18 (dating to 120,000 years in age); (2) Skhul (dating to 115,000 years in age); (3) Qafzeh 6; and (4) Qafzeh 9 (both dating to about 115,000 years in age. This group consists of specimens typically considered to be anatomically modern humans. The third group consisted of thirteen specimens that are all considered to be anatomically and behaviorally modern humans.

Researchers discovered that the group one specimens had facial features like that of modern humans. They also had brain sizes that were similar to Neanderthals and modern humans. But their endocranial shape was unlike that of modern humans and appeared to be intermediate between H. erectus and Neanderthals.

On the other hand, the specimens from group two displayed endocranial shapes that clustered with the group three specimens and the present-day samples. In short, modern human skull morphology (and brain shape) appeared between 130,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Confluence of Evidence Locates Humanity’s Origin

This result aligns with several recent archaeological finds that place the origin of symbolism in the same window of time represented by the group two specimens. (See the Resources section for articles detailing some of these finds.) Symbolism—the capacity to represent the world and abstract ideas with symbols—appears to be an ability that is unique to modern humans and is most likely a manifestation of the modern human brain shape, specifically an enlarged parietal lobe.

Likewise, this result coheres with the most recent dates for mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam around 120,000 to 150,000 years ago. (Again, see the Resources section for articles detailing some of these finds.) In other words, the confluence of evidence (anatomical, behavioral, and genetic) pinpoints the origin of modern humans (us) between 150,000 to 100,000 years ago, with the appearance of modern human anatomy coinciding with the appearance of modern human behavior.

What Does This Finding Mean for the RTB Human Origins Model?

To be clear, the researchers carrying out this work interpret their results within the confines of the evolutionary framework. Therefore, they conclude that the globular skulls—characteristic of modern humans—evolved recently, only after the modern human facial structure had already appeared in archaic Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago. They also conclude that the globular skull of modern humans had fully emerged by the time humans began to migrate around the world (around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago).

Yet, the fossil evidence doesn’t show the gradual emergence of skull globularity. Instead, modern human specimens form a distinct cluster isolated from the distinct clusters formed by H. erectus, Neanderthals, and archaic H. sapiens. There are no intermediate globular specimens between archaic and modern humans, as would be expected if this trait evolved. Alternatively, the distinct clusters are exactly as expected if modern humans were created.

It appears that the globularity of our skull distinguishes modern humans from H. erectus, Neanderthals, and archaic Homo sapiens (near anatomically modern humans). This globularity of the modern human skull has implications for when modern human behavior and advanced cognitive abilities emerged.

For this reason, I see this work as offering support for the RTB human origins creation model (and, consequently, the biblical account of human origins and the biblical conception of human nature). RTB’s model (1) views human beings as cognitively superior and distinct from other hominins, and (2) posits that human beings uniquely possess a quality called the image of God that I believe manifests as human exceptionalism.

This work supports both predictions by highlighting the uniqueness and exceptional qualities of modern humans compared to H. erectus, Neanderthals, and archaic H. sapiens, calling specific attention to our unusual skull and brain morphology. As noted, anthropologists believe that this unusual brain morphology supports our advanced cognitive capabilities—abilities that I believe reflect the image of God. Because archaic H. sapiens, Neanderthals, and H. erectus did not possess this brain morphology, it makes it unlikely that these creatures had the sophisticated cognitive capacity displayed by modern humans.

In light of RTB’s model, it is gratifying to learn that the origin of anatomically modern humans coincides with the origin of modern human behavior.

Believe it or not, our oddly shaped head is part of the scientific case that can be made for the image of God.

Original article: When Did Modern Human Brains—and the Image of God—Appear?

Discovery of Missing Atomic Matter Boosts Cosmic Creation Model

During my graduate school days at the University of Toronto I had the privilege of taking a short course from Princeton University astronomer and cosmologist Jeremiah Ostriker. In that course Ostriker spoke about the missing mass of the universe. The mass he was referring to was not the dark matter (aka cold dark matter; exotic dark matter) that is comprised of particles that do not interact or that interact very weakly with photons. Rather, he was concerned about atomic matter, matter comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons that has the property of interacting strongly with photons. Detection of such matter carries significant implications for the reliability of big bang models for the beginning of the universe.

Electrons contribute a trivial amount to the total mass of the universe’s atomic matter. Hence, astronomers refer to the missing atomic matter problem as the “missing baryons” problem, where baryons refer to both protons and neutrons (essentially, all matter that we experience in everyday life).

Back in the 1970s the missing baryons was a big problem because the big bang creation model predicted that there should be many more baryons in the universe—nearly ten times as many—as what astronomers at that time had inventoried. This dilemma led to lingering doubts about the validity of the biblically predicted big bang model1 for the universe.

In the 1970s Ostriker stated that many of these missing baryons likely lurked in the hot diffuse gas in the otherwise empty voids between galaxies. He also pointed out that these baryons would be extremely difficult to detect.

Absorption Spectra Detection of the Missing Baryons

In 1999 Ostriker and his Princeton colleague Renyue Cen published computer simulations they had run on gas movements in and between galaxies.2 They concluded that hot gas accumulates along filaments between galaxies. These filaments, they calculated, likely contained the missing baryons of the universe. They determined that this hot gas would be detectable in the absorption spectra (see figure 1) of quasars at X-ray wavelengths by the new generation of X-ray telescopes that were planned or scheduled for launch into Earth orbit.


Figure 1: Absorption Spectrum for Hydrogen. Hydrogen gas between the light source and the observer absorbs light at the spectral lines of hydrogen. The absorption lines from right to left are Hα, Hβ, Hγ, and HδImage credit: Hugh Ross

The gas between us and a bright quasar or galaxy will absorb some of the light of the quasar or galaxy if that gas is not too hot. Typically, astronomers determine the mass of the gas by measuring the absorption spectra of the two most abundant elements comprising intergalactic gas, namely, hydrogen and helium. (Hydrogen and helium make up 98–99 percent of the baryons in intergalactic gas.) This option, however, is out. The intergalactic gas is so extremely hot that it completely strips away all the electrons normally attached to hydrogen and helium nuclei. The resulting plasma of free electrons and hydrogen and helium nuclei do not absorb any light.

After hydrogen and helium, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe (see figure 2).3 Oxygen atoms have eight electrons compared to two for helium and one for hydrogen. It takes a lot more heat to strip away all electrons of oxygen than it does for helium or hydrogen. Ostriker and Cen calculated that the heat of intergalactic gas would be able to strip away only five, six, or seven of oxygen’s eight electrons. Therefore, the remaining electrons would produce an absorption spectrum that would permit a determination of the mass of the intergalactic mass.


Figure 2: Relative Mass Fractions of the Elements in the Universe. Hydrogen and helium comprise more than 98 percent of the universe’s element abundance. Image credit: Hugh Ross

Not until this year did astronomers gain the necessary instrumentation and observing time to detect (more than marginally) the oxygen absorption spectra of hot intergalactic gas. A team of 21 astronomers led by Fabrizio Nicastro performed a very long duration observation on the brightest known X-ray blazer, IES 1553+1334, with the X-ray multi-mirror Newton telescope(see figure 3).5 They detected the absorption spectrum of OVII, oxygen atoms with six of their eight electrons stripped away by the hot intergalactic gas. Thanks to their long observing time, Nicastro’s team achieved a high enough signal-to-noise ratio in their absorption spectra measurements to conclude that they had found all of the missing baryons.

The conclusion by Nicastro’s team, however, was based on a single object. The possibility remained that the density of the hot intergalactic medium might vary slightly from location to location. To be certain that they had found all the missing baryons, astronomers needed confirmation based on at least one other bright extragalactic source and preferably accomplished with a different X-ray telescope.

In a recent submission to the Astrophysical Journal, a team of six astronomers led by Sanskriti Das reported that they had achieved OVII absorption line measurements on the spiral galaxy NGC 3221 (see figure 4) using the Suzaku X-ray telescope (see figure 5).6 Though the signal-to-noise ratio of their measurements was not as good as that realized by Nicastro’s team, the Das team’s measurements were consistent with the conclusion that they found all the missing baryons.

Sunyaev-Zel’dovitch Effect on Detection of the Missing Baryons

At the same time that Nicastro’s and Das’s teams of astronomers were finding the universe’s missing baryons through the X-ray absorption spectra method, two other teams of astronomers found the missing baryons using a completely different method. They looked for subtle distortions in the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event.

As the radiation from the very early history of the universe streams across the cosmos, it can be slightly distorted by the regions of gas that it passes through. The electrons in the hot intergalactic gas will interact with photons from the cosmic microwave background radiation in a manner that imparts a little extra energy to those photons. Thus, astronomers should be able to see subtle distortions in their maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

The Planck spacecraft yielded the most detailed map of the cosmic microwave background radiation (see figure 6). However, for even this most detailed map, the distortions from the electrons in the hot intergalactic gas were too subtle to see.


Figure 6: Planck Spacecraft Map of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. The colors indicate tiny temperature fluctuations, with red regions warmer and blue regions colder by about 0.0002 degrees. Image credit: ESA/Planck Collaboration

While the Planck spacecraft was not able to detect the effect of intergalactic hot gas existing between any single pair of galaxies, astronomers found a way to enhance the signal by stacking images of different galaxy pairs on top of one another. First, they searched published galaxy catalogs and selected pairs of galaxies that were massive enough and the appropriate distance apart from one another that the astronomers expected there would be a dense web of hot intergalactic gas between them. Second, they went to the Planck map of the cosmic microwave background radiation and precisely identified the location for each galaxy pair. Third, they used digital scissors to clip the region for each galaxy pair from the Planck map. Fourth, they stacked all the clipped regions on top of one another so that all the pairs of galaxies were aligned in the same exact position. Fifth, they subtracted out the light from all the gas associated with the galaxy pairs from the stacked images, leaving just the signal from the intervening intergalactic gas. What had not been possible to detect based on a single pair of galaxies became visible when integrated over many, many pairs of galaxies.

In another research effort, a team of four astronomers led by University of Edinburgh’s Anna de Graaff stacked Planck map image pieces of a million pairs of galaxies on top of one another.7 The remaining signal after the subtraction of the signal from all the gas associated with the one million galaxy pairs was strong enough to enable de Graaff’s team to determine the mass of the hot intergalactic gas. That mass added up to the missing baryons.

Finally, an independent team of nine astronomers led by University of British Columbia’s Hideki Tanimura used 260,000 pairs of luminous red galaxies taken from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 12 and stacked their Planck map image pieces on top of one another.8Their measured mass of the hot intergalactic gas also added up to the missing baryons.

All together, astronomers have four independently achieved measurements of the mass of the hot intergalactic medium based on two completely distinct methods and using different telescopes and different databases of galaxies and quasars. That all four measurements add up to the missing baryons gives astronomers confidence that they really have found the missing baryons of the universe. The missing baryons problem of big bang cosmology has now been solved. Hence, the scientific case for the validity of the biblically predicted big bang creation model is more firmly established than ever before.9 Thus, we can all be assured that the God of the Bible personally created and designed the universe for the express benefit of human beings.

Original article: Discovery of Missing Atomic Matter Boosts Cosmic Creation Model