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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Lots of people don’t think so:

Fringe View: The World of Jesus Mythicism

You don’t have to be a Christian like me in order to believe that there are good reasons for believing that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Watch this site in upcoming months for a serial expose on the shoddy astronomy of Zeitgeist, which attempts to argue that Jesus never existed, but they only show themselves to be out of touch with the sky.

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Above: the thin, lovely waning crescent Moon in the predawn sky, 6:56 AM CDT October 24, 2011. Unfortunately clouds soon moved in and thwarted a closer look.
Below: 7:45 AM CDT October 22, 2011 (12:45 UTC), 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

As promised, I shall offer a few notes in hopes of clarifying for the layperson what is said, and what is not said, in this paper by professional astronomer Dr. Lorenzo Iorio:

On the anomalous secular increase of the eccentricity of the orbit
of the Moon

An earlier edition of the same paper may be found here.

For over a year I’ve been aware that many people visiting my site have been seeking answers regarding an alleged shift in the Moon’s orbit, as well as alleged changes or shifts in the orientation of the Moon’s surface. Often this is connected with concerns and fears about catastrophic events coming up in the year 2012.

See these previous posts for background:
The Moon’s Eccentric Orbit and Changing Apparent Size

Reports of the Moon’s orbit changing are somewhat exaggerated – 11-3-10

The Moon on 3-13-11; “Proof of Moon Shift” indeed!

Waxing gibbous Moon October 9/10, 2011; lunar field rotation; post announcement re: Dr. Iorio and the Moon’s orbit

Nearly Full Moon October 11, 2011; J.M. Talbot’s “Pleiades and Orion”

There are also those who believe that the alleged shifts in the Moon’s orbit and orientation represent “signs” in the Moon, which fulfill in part the prophecy in Luke 21:25:

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. (NIV)

For example, between about 8:50 and 12:00 in this half-hour video, author and speaker L.A. Marzulli and the program host make the following assertions:

– People are seeing signs in the Sun and Moon, and saying that “this doesn’t look right.”
– Marzulli and others sought answers about the Moon’s orientation in the sky from several prominent astronomical institutions, and basically had the door “slammed” in their face.
– Dr. Iorio’s paper says that the lunar surface is doing “things we normally we do not see,” and says that foreign objects are coming into our solar system.

At the end of this post I will explain more of my own motivation as a Christian for responding to these allegations. Meanwhile, I think we ought to do Dr. Iorio the courtesy of looking carefully at what he does say, and what he does not say.

First, from the Introduction, Page 2:

Anderson & Nieto (2010), in a review of some astrometric
anomalies recently detected in the solar system by several
independent groups, mentioned also an anomalous secular
increase of the eccentricity1 e of the orbit of the Moon
e˙meas = (9 ± 3) × 10−12 yr−1 (1)
based on an analysis of a long LLR data record spanning
38.7 yr (16 March 1970-22 November 2008) performed by
Williams & Boggs (2009)

Translation: Ever since the Apollo astronauts placed laser reflectors on the Moon, ultra-precise measurements have been made of the Moon’s distance from the Earth. Gradually over long periods of time, the Moon’s orbit, already elliptical, is becoming more elliptical and comet-like, at a greater rate than previously known or predicted. This amounts to a gradually, steady variation in the Moon’s orbit of about nine parts per trillion per year. To help you visualize better just how small and slow this variation is, someone called CLPrime mentions in this online discussion:

In fact, I just did the math, and that works out to 8.4 millimetres per year.
In the 38.7 years they’ve been observing this, the moon’s apogee has gained a sixth of a metre while the perigee has lost as much …

… Over time, this could become a much more significant effect… especially in 89 billion years, when it causes the moon to come crashing down on the earth.

Since astronomers predict other catastrophic events such as the Sun’s Red Giant stage in “only” five billion years, I’m not alarmed about what might happen in 89 billion years!

What Dr. Iorio does not say:
Yes, this paper does describe a “change” or “shift” in the Moon’s orbit, but it is not a sudden change, and nothing in this paper suggests that it is an accelerating change. It is a change in our knowledge of the Moon’s orbit, not a sudden shift in the Moon’s orbit itself. Dr. Iorio is not saying that the Moon’s orbit shifted suddenly in 1970, or 2008, or 2011. He’s saying that the Moon’s orbit has been gradually changing all along at the rate described, and that it was happening even before we had the ability to make these precise measurements.

Next, from Page 5 of Dr. Iorio’s paper:

A promising candidate for explaining the anomalous increase of the lunar eccentricity may be, at least in principle, a trans-Plutonian massive body of planetary size located in the remote peripheries of the solar system: Planet X/Nemesis/Tyche (Lykawka & Mukai
2008; Melott & Bambach 2010; Fern´andez 2011; Matese & Whitmire 2011).

Translation: One explanation for unexpected perturbations in the Moon’s orbit would be a not-yet-discovered massive object. Perhaps Dr. Iorio’s paper would have drawn less reaction if he had not mentioned the word “Nibiru,” which today is pregnant with 2012-related connotations. Yet in itself this proposal is simply calm science at work; it was through analysis of perturbations of the orbit of Uranus that Neptune was discovered in 1846, so it makes sense for Dr. Iorio to consider this possibility as he goes through the checklist of possible explanations. And please note Dr. Iorio’s conclusion on this topic, from Page 5:

Actually, eq. (40) is totally unacceptable since it corresponds to distances of X as absurdly small as dX = 30 au for a terrestrial body, and dX = 200 au for a Jovian mass (Iorio 2011).
We must conclude that not even the hypothesis of Planet X is a viable one to explain the anomalous increase of the lunar eccentricity of eq. (1).

Translation: A body with enough gravity to perturb the Moon in this way would have to be an Earth-sized object in the vicinity of Neptune and Pluto, or possibly a Jupiter-sized object 6-7 times that far away. Either way, this proposal would be “absurd” because such an object would already have been easily detected, optically as well as by its massive perturbations of other objects in the solar system. Thus it is clear from this statement that Dr. Iorio rejects the “Nibiru” explanation rather than supporting it, as some seem to think.

Note Dr. Iorio’s concluding paragraph:

Thus, in conclusion, the issue of finding a satisfactorily
explanation of the observed orbital anomaly of the Moon
still remains open. Our analysis should have effectively restricted
the field of possible explanations, indirectly pointing
towards either non-gravitational, mundane effects or some
artifacts in the data processing. Further data analyses, hopefully
performed by independent teams, should help in shedding
further light on such an astrometric anomaly.

Again, this is sober science at work. New data comes to light that challenges us because it isn’t completely explained by current theory. So we search for the explanation. Sometimes it results in small adjustments to our theories, and sometimes it results ultimately in revolutions in scientific thought. I recommend an excellent book that describes this process, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn.

As a Christian, I believe that we have a special responsibility to listen carefully to what people like Dr. Iorio say, and not misrepresent their words. In John 21:20-23, the author of John describes a case in which people read something into Jesus’ words that wasn’t really there:

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (NIV)

Since Jesus also says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” I think we ought to “do for” Dr. Iorio by reading and listening carefully to what he really says and be careful not to read into his words things that he did not really say.

This is a special responsibility for Christians who influence many others, such as L.A. Marzulli. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Judged more strictly not only by God, but by others. I solemnly, earnestly urge L.A. Marzulli to stop citing alleged “Moon shifts” and Dr. Iorio’s paper as evidence that “signs” are happening in the Moon. It only gives non-Christians reason to scoff and ridicule when Christians in influential positions make unfounded and untrue statements.

As a Christian I believe that the words of Jesus in Luke 21:25 are true, and in time it will become abundantly clear how they are fulfilled. But as a careful, long-time observer of the Moon, my testimony is that nothing unusual is happening to the Moon. I’ve been observing the Moon closely since I was a kid in the 1970s, and since mid-2010 I’ve been building a library of simple but authentic images of the Moon and other solar system objects, which may be viewed on this site. I cite this as evidence that I’m indeed a careful, persistent, consistent observer of the Moon, and that if anything unusual happened it would not escape my notice.

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UPDATE: See my further response to the subject of alleged “Moon shifts” by clicking HERE: “A Layperson’s Guide To Dr. Lorenzo Iorio’s Paper On the Moon’s Orbit.”

Clouds stood in the way of my hoped-for view of Mercury this evening, but my consolation prize was a nice view of the waxing gibbous Moon, shining through thin clouds very high in the sky. Though in my pictures it is “leaning over,” its disk was actually oriented pretty much evenly north-south in the sky:


8:33 PM CDT 3-13-11 (1:33 UTC 3-14-11)
31.83′ angular diameter, 61.3% illumination, 60.1 Earth radii distant
8″ f8 reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece

The following closeups were taken using the 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece, and 2x Barlow. Three interesting craters all were highlighted near the terminator:


Plato and surrounding area, 8:27 PM.


Copernicus and surrounding area, 8:29 PM.


Clavius and surrounding area, 8:24 PM.

Clavius is a fascinating crater and one of my very favorites. Below is a closeup of the above picture:

Compare with the view below, taken at 10:33 PM CDT 9-18-10 (3:33 UTC 9-19-10):

This picture clearly reveals all five of the arc of interesting internal craters, which from largest to smallest are designated Clavius D, C, N, J, and JA.

Perhaps I’ve now achieved my fifteen minutes of fame, as my site stats for 3-13-11 totaled 235 clicks, over three times my previous record. Somewhat dazed, I investigated and found that 188 of these visits were for one post from this last 11-3-10, entitled “Reports of the Moon’s orbit changing are somewhat exaggerated – 11-3-10
.”
Investigating further, I found that someone had given the link to my post in the following discussion:

Here Is Proof of Moon Shift!!!! View PDF before it “Disapears”.,

On page 3 of the thread, someone called “berada” gives the link to my post, saying “This is interesting.” Thanks, berada!

The discussion concerns the following scholarly paper by an Italian astronomer named Lorenzo Iorio, readable here via pdf:

On the anomalous secular increase of the eccentricity of the orbit
of the Moon

Be aware that it is a highly technical paper, written by and for people with a graduate-level knowledge of astrophysics and mathematics, and I’m not hesitant to tell you that most of it goes way over my head. A careful reader, however, may understand much of the opening abstract as well as the summary and conclusions at the end.

Anyway, in this conversation thread at “abovetopsecret.com,” which I’d never heard of before, some express opinions and fears that a major shift in the Moon’s orbit is, or will be, responsible for various catastrophic events. Other voices in the discussion are trying to quell needless fears with scientific fact. The general gist of Dr. Iorio’s actual paper is that observations of the Moon’s distance from the Earth over nearly 39 years, using the Lunar Laser Ranging data gained from the laser reflectors brought to the Moon by Apollo astronauts, reveal a slightly larger than predicted increase in the eccentricity of the Moon’s orbit. This increase in eccentricity isn’t explainable by a number of explanations offered, ranging from “Rindler acceleration” (don’t know what it is) to “Pioneer acceleration” (ditto) to effects of Kuiper Belt objects, to effects from some massive, unknown hypothetical object in the outer Solar System. Dr. Iorio’s conclusion is simply to observe that this anomaly has not yet been explained.

How much is this larger-than-expected increase? One math-savvy person called CLPrime points out: “In fact, I just did the math, and that works out to 8.4 millimetres per year.
In the 38.7 years they’ve been observing this, the moon’s apogee has gained a sixth of a metre while the perigee has lost as much.”

So, what difference does this level of increase make? A bit later CLPrime again observes, “The paper is interesting, though. Over time, this could become a much more significant effect… especially in 89 billion years, when it causes the moon to come crashing down on the earth.” Considering that astronomers project the Sun’s future lifespan to be a fraction of that amount of time, I’m not too concerned about it.

Dr. Iorio’s paper is not an example of scandal or coverup, but simply an example of science at work: evidence is found that can’t be entirely explained by current scientific knowledge or theory, and so the hunt for an explanation begins, sometimes resulting ultimately in a revolution in scientific thought. A fascinating account of this process is found in Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

I lack access to any laser reflectors on the Moon, and I don’t know that much about the physics of orbital dynamics. But with the humble scientific equipment I have, I will continue to perform my simple, independent observational experiment, which consists of repeatedly photographing the Moon with the same telescopes, the same eyepieces, and therefore at the same magnifications, from the same spot on Planet Earth. So far I’ve observed nothing out of the ordinary as it appears larger at perigee and smaller at apogee. If anything changes I’ll let you know, but don’t hold your breath.

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On their website (click text to view the article and photo gallery):

The Dead Sea Scrolls—the oldest known surviving biblical and extra-biblical texts in the world—are slated to be scanned with high-resolution multispectral imaging equipment and shared online, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Google announced Tuesday, when this picture was taken in an IAA lab.

Discovered in caves near the Dead Sea in the 1940s and 1950s, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek scrolls date to between 150 B.C. and A.D. 70. They include copies of nearly every book in the Old Testament as well as others that are not part of the traditional canon, such as the Gospel of Judas (time line of early Christianity).

No! The Gospel of Judas is not part of the Dead Sea Scrolls! It was a more recent find in Egypt, which has much more in common with the Nag Hammadi Library. Considering that National Geographic themselves spearheaded the publication of an edition of the Gospel of Judas, they should know better. They should know better simply because they are, supposedly, a scholarly organization, but now I have my doubts. This is the kind of error that nonscientist journalists make when trying to make head or tail of unfamiliar subjects, and it is shameful for National Geographic to goof up in this way.

H/T to James R. Davila of Paleojudaica.

UPDATE: I emailed them about this matter shortly after posting this post, but as of today, November 21, 2010, nearly a month later, they have not fixed the error.

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This curiously shaped spot is on the painted concrete floor of a room in the building where I work. To me it looks like the silhouette of a Scottish Terrier, nose to the upper left. Do you agree?! What does it look like to you?

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Here’s the uncropped image of the waning crescent Moon at 6:08 AM CDT, September 6, 2010 (see this post):

60mm refractor, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. I used the small refractor instead of the usual 8″ reflector, as the lower magnification shows Earthshine more clearly. Briefly, the dark part of the Moon can be faintly but clearly seen because it is illuminated by the Earth, which is in a nearly full phase as viewed from the Moon, thus shedding much sunlight upon the Moon.

On another subject, renowned scientist and acclaimed author Stephen Hawking is in the news these days with the publication of his new book The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow and currently ranked #1 on Amazon.com. I haven’t yet read it; I have no doubt that it is engaging, as was the 1988 book that made Professor Hawking’s name a household word, A Brief History of Time. ABC News reports about the new book with this provocative headline: Stephen Hawking: ‘Science Makes God Unnecessary’. The headline quote is not from the book, but from the ABC interview, in which Professor Hawking said, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, But science makes God unnecessary.”

Further excerpting from the ABC article linked above:

According to Hawking, something can indeed be created from nothing. He believes our universe was created from nothing. Hawking writes in his latest book: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Hawking, arguably the greatest scientific mind of our time, said he believes the laws of physics and not the hand of a god explain why we are here. He said that physics can explain why the Big Bang happened. He writes: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

As I said, I haven’t yet read the book, and let me be the first to warn against making judgments about what Professors Hawking and Mlodinow have to say without reading their actual words, in context, not just excerpted from a news article. The Bible says in James 1:19, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” I’ll tell you the question I have, though, that I will have in mind when I do read the book: how closely does gravity, or M-Theory, or any other scientific theory or natural force, bring us to the “Bottom Turtle?”

Stephen Hawking tells this version of an often-told story in A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

I, for one, agree with the scientist that the Earth is an orbiting orb and not a plate on a turtle’s back! But ultimately both theories face the challenge of infinite regress. The “Turtle Theory” always requires yet another turtle underneath, unless there’s a Bottom Turtle that’s just floating or something, and even then there are the endless questions of “where,” “how,”, and “why.” the “Orbiting Orb Theory” does an exponentially better job of explaining the phenomena we see, yet each scientific answer still begets more questions of “why” and “how.”

I don’t doubt that Hawking and Mlodinow have some engaging, thought-provoking, and informative things to say in their new book, but as an armchair thinker and amateur scientist I doubt that a truly new chapter has been opened in the story of science and religion. I already agree with Professor Steven Dutch that “it is impossible to settle the existence of God conclusively by any achievable observation, experiment, or chain of reasoning.” It really doesn’t make any difference to me whether science can explain, without invoking God, how something could come from nothing. (By the way, nowhere in Genesis 1 or any other Bible passage does it say that God created something from nothing. That doesn’t mean He didn’t, it just means that the subject isn’t addressed in the Bible. That’s an interesting thing I learned in Jewish Studies.)

I believe in YHWH, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, not because of scientific proof, but because I believe the testimony of those who saw Jesus, and because I know Him myself. I believe the central epistemological statement of the Bible is not any quasi-scientific or rational proof of God’s existence, but the principle that every matter be established by “two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, etc.). Bible verses such as Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 assert that YHWH’s glory and attributes may be seen in what He has created, and I believe that they are pieces of evidence of His existence, but that’s not the same thing as proving conclusively that God exists.

I believe many Christian apologists make an irrational and unbiblical leap by saying, essentially, that believing in an eternal, self-existing deity brings the search for the “Bottom Turtle” to an end. But can one not ask yet more questions? How can there be an eternal God with no beginning and no end? Why? The Bible doesn’t dig into those kinds of questions, does it? It just says that YHWH exists and has acted in history, particularly at the Exodus and in the coming of Jesus Christ, and that people were there to see it happen.

My 2 1/2-year-old grandnephew Ayden has recently discovered that powerful word and eternal question, “Why?” Only his strength and short attention span limit his capacity to ask “why” one more time, whenever an answer is given to his previous “why” question. And every question “why” is just as sensible as the last one, exasperating as his line of questioning may be. I do not believe that Ayden, or Stephen Hawking, or anyone else, has found the last possible “why,” the Bottom Turtle.

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