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What Spirit You Are

You do not know what kind of spirit you are, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.

Gospel of Luke 9:55-56


How the Sun’s Mass Affected Earth’s History of Life

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, December is a good time to remind everyone about the Sun. It is the month when the Sun spends the fewest hours per day above the horizon. Where I was raised in coastal British Columbia, December was also a month characterized by incessant rain. I remember several Decembers when the Sun never made its appearance in the sky.

The Sun has made a dramatic appearance in one of the December issues of Astrophysical Journal Letters. Three astronomers, Christopher Spalding, Woodward W. Fischer, and Gregory Laughlin, have published a paper in that journal where they propose using Milankovitch cycles to resolve an outstanding problem in our understanding of the Sun.That resolution may yield evidence for the fine-tuning of Earth’s features that make advanced life possible.

I have written about Milankovitch cycles before;2 they are tiny variations in the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis and the shape of Earth’s orbit about the Sun. The solar problem Spalding, Fischer, and Laughlin seek to resolve is known as the faint Sun paradox.

Faint Sun Paradox 

The faint Sun paradox is the conflict between the recognition that life has been present on Earth’s surface for the past 3.8 billion years and the fact that the Sun has brightened by 25–30 percent over the same time period. Scientists know that a decrease of only 1–2 percent in the Sun’s brightness, under current atmospheric conditions, would generate a runaway freezing that would transform Earth into a giant snowball. They also know that a 1–2 percent solar brightening would boil away all Earth’s rivers, lakes, and oceans and cook all life. Thus, scientists have been challenged to ask: How did life originate, survive, and ultimately thrive on Earth through billions of years of ongoing increase in the Sun’s brightness?

In previous blogs3 I wrote about how it takes a combination of adjusting the quantity of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, the Sun’s mass, the Earth’s albedo (reflectivity), and the quantity and types of life on Earth’s surface to have any hope of resolving the faint Sun paradox. In chapter 12 of Improbable Planet, I demonstrate how it takes a careful integration—over the past four billion years—of sixteen different compensating factors to resolve the paradox.4

Of the sixteen factors I addressed in Improbable Planet, the two most important are (1) the different kinds and quantities of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, and (2) the Sun’s mass throughout the past 3.8-billion-year history of life. I also described how paleoclimatologists now possess a good understanding of the past history of Earth’s greenhouse gases. Astronomers, on the other hand, while knowing that the Sun’s mass at the time of life’s origin must have been larger than it is today (the solar wind results in a steady loss of mass from the Sun), still lack an accurate measure of how much larger it was.

Determining the Sun’s Past Mass

The subject of Spalding, Fischer, and Laughlin’s paper is a method they have developed by which geologists and planetary astronomers can determine, in a straightforward manner, the Sun’s mass at different dates in its history. The trio first point out that even a slight change in the Sun’s mass can make an enormous difference in its brightness. The ongoing fusion of hydrogen into helium in the Sun’s nuclear furnace would cause the Sun to grow brighter by about 25 percent over the past 3.8 billion years, on the assumption that the Sun’s mass had not changed. However, if the Sun was about 5 percent more massive 3.8 billion years ago than it is today, and if the Sun lost mass at a continuous fixed rate throughout the past 3.8 billion years, then the Sun’s brightness would have been constant over that time.

For a number of known reasons that I explain in Improbable Planet,5 the Sun’s mass could not have been as much as 5 percent larger than it is today. There is no need, though, for it to be so large. Paleoclimatology data establishes that the quantities of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere were much greater than they are today. These additional greenhouse gases would have trapped much more of the Sun’s heat, thereby offsetting the Sun’s lower brightness.

The bulk of the three astronomers’ paper explains an observational proxy they have found to measure the Sun’s past mass at different epochs to a precision of greater than 1 percent. The observational proxy is to use sedimentary rock layers on Earth and on Mars to determine the specific period of oscillation of the variation in the orbital eccentricity for Earth and Mars, respectively (see figure 1).


Figure 1: Variation in Earth’s Orbital Eccentricity. The eccentricity or ellipticity of Earth’s orbit varies cyclically with a period that depends in part on the Sun’s mass. The blue orbital path shows Earth on a more eccentric orbit than the magenta orbital path. Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

Spalding, Fischer, and Laughlin showed that as the Sun’s mass decreases, the period of oscillation in the orbital eccentricity for both Mars and Earth increases. Figure 2 is taken from their paper showing how the period of the eccentricity variation for Earth and Mars increases over the past history of the solar system in the example of the Sun losing 5 percent of its mass over the past 4.5 billion years.


Figure 2: Increase in the Orbital Eccentricity Periodicity for Earth and Mars in the Case of the Sun Losing 5 Percent of Its Mass over the Past 4.5 Billion Years. Diagram credit: Spalding, Fischer, and Laughlin

Banding within laid-down sediments, in particular, shallow water carbonate platforms and banded iron formations, reveal the period in the cycle of Earth’s orbital eccentricity in deposits as old as 2.5 billion years.6 A limitation in measuring the period of Earth’s orbital eccentricity in deposits older than 2.5 billion years is that Earth’s plate tectonics and surface weathering have severely altered the banding in those deposits. This limitation is much less of a factor on Mars. Most of the Martian surface offers a pristine record of past sedimentary deposition that extends back to 4 billion years.

Evidence for Design Now, More to Come

As the team explains, measurements of the banding in ancient sediments on Earth and Mars will provide scientists with an accurate determination of the Sun’s mass throughout the past four billion years. This knowledge will not only show how the faint Sun paradox is resolved but also reveal the specific fine-tuning in the design of most of the sixteen factors I cited in chapter 12 of Improbable Planet. That design makes possible 3.8 billion years of life history on Earth that in turn made human civilization possible. In these exciting times, we can look forward to yet more evidence for the super-intelligent handiwork of the God of the Bible in preparing Earth and its life for the entry of human beings and their launch of global high-technology civilization.

Original article: How the Sun’s Mass Affected Earth’s History of Life

Hell – Canto 1

The Vision of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise


Dante Alighieri

In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover’d there.
How first I enter’d it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh’d
My senses down, when the true path I left,
But when a mountain’s foot I reach’d, where clos’d
The valley, that had pierc’d my heart with dread,
I look’d aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet’s beam,
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.

Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart’s recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully pass’d:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, ‘scap’d from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e’en so my spirit, that yet fail’d
Struggling with terror, turn’d to view the straits,
That none hath pass’d and liv’d.  My weary frame
After short pause recomforted, again
I journey’d on over that lonely steep,
The hinder foot still firmer.  Scarce the ascent
Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light,
And cover’d with a speckled skin, appear’d,
Nor, when it saw me, vanish’d, rather strove
To check my onward going; that ofttimes
With purpose to retrace my steps I turn’d.

The hour was morning’s prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars,
That with him rose, when Love divine first mov’d
Those its fair works: so that with joyous hope
All things conspir’d to fill me, the gay skin
Of that swift animal, the matin dawn
And the sweet season.  Soon that joy was chas’d,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, ‘gainst me, as it appear’d,
With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e’en the air was fear-struck.  A she-wolf
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem’d
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now.  She with such fear
O’erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appall’d,
That of the height all hope I lost.  As one,
Who with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gone, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o’er against me, by degrees
Impell’d me where the sun in silence rests.

While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discern’d the form one of one,
Whose voice seem’d faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,
“Have mercy on me!”  cried I out aloud,
“Spirit! or living man! what e’er thou be!”

He answer’d: “Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuana both
By country, when the power of Julius yet
Was scarcely firm.  At Rome my life was past
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false.  A bard
Was I, and made Anchises’ upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames prey’d on Ilium’s haughty towers.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return’st thou?  wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?”
“And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which such copious floods of eloquence
Have issued?”  I with front abash’d replied.
“Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conn’d it o’er.  My master thou and guide!
Thou he from whom alone I have deriv’d
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me.  See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!

“For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble.”  He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer’d, “Thou must needs
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst ‘scape
From out that savage wilderness.  This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death:
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain.  He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue, and his land shall be
The land ‘twixt either Feltro.  In his might
Shall safety to Italia’s plains arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He with incessant chase through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I for thy profit pond’ring now devise,
That thou mayst follow me, and I thy guide
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, for that they hope to come,
Whene’er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T’ ascend, a spirit worthier than I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne.  O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!” I to him in few:
“Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me, where thou saidst,
That I Saint Peter’s gate may view, and those
Who as thou tell’st, are in such dismal plight.”

Onward he mov’d, I close his steps pursu’d.

From Gutenberg: The Divine Comedy

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

In this episode of the Cold-Case Christianity Broadcast, J. Warner examines the statements of Jesus to see if He ever claimed to be God. While skeptics may acknowledge Jesus’ existence and even the value of His teaching, any assessment of Jesus’ instruction must account for his obvious claims of Deity. Jim looks at the cumulative case and assembles the evidence from the Gospels to demonstrate Jesus’ claims to Deity.

Original article:

I am far more tolerant of people challenging Christianity than I used to be. Coming from a fighter’s background, I used to go for the knockout. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that just makes people angrier. So, these days, I go for a much softer, gentler, dialog on the main points.

When people claim “Jesus never said He was God!”…

Well, it is just another example of having to be patient with people who have never read the book they are bashing, don’t understand Jewish customs, don’t regard tone, don’t consider grammar, ignore references, never studied Greek, don’t read Hebrew, disavow types, and so on and so forth.