Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

This essay was written in 2004 as part of the final exam for the Course entitled “The Religion of Biblical Israel” at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. Click the thumbnails for a full-sized view of the photographed pages. See my Jewish Studies Page.

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Beginning now and continuing through May, pretty much every planet except Saturn is involved in a celestial dance party visible just before dawn. You may read about it at Journey To the Stars,, Sky and Telescope, and Yahoo! News. It’s easiest to observe in locations considerably further south than my location, but I’ll be trying to view the festivities just the same.

Far from the above-mentioned planetary gathering, Saturn orbits grandly by itself, nicely visible every clear evening for the next few months. In fact, get this: Saturn currently is closer to the Earth than it is to any other planet! It gets closer to Jupiter than to any planet, but not right now, because Jupiter and Saturn are currently almost exactly on opposite sides of the Sun from each other. The next “grand conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn does not happen until December 2020. I haven’t taken any new photos of Saturn since 4-14-11, so here’s a rerun: Saturn at 3:23 AM CDT 4-14-11 (8:23 UTC), 8″ reflector, 17mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow:

Here is a lunar series for March and April, 2011. A few of these photos are repeats from previous posts. I haven’t included the distance and angular diameter info that I sometimes do, but note these dates:
March 6, 2011: Apogee (furthest distance from Earth)
March 19, 2011: Perigee (closest to Earth; the close coincidence with Full Moon caused the “Supermoon” event)
April 2, 2011: Apogee
April 17, 2011: Perigee, once again close to the Full Moon, but not as dramatically close as in March, and it was cloudy that day here, so I have no pictures. Unless otherwise noted, all following pictures are with 8″ reflector telescope and 25mm eyepiece. Compare the March photos with this montage by Raven Yu at “Journey To the Stars.”

8:33 PM CDT 3-13-11 (1:33 UTC 3-14-11)

11:31 PM CDT 3-16-11 (5:31 UTC 3-17-11)

3:34 AM CDT 3-19-11 (8:34 UTC), the “Supermoon”

7:27 AM CDT 3-26-11 (12:27 UTC)

7:16 AM CDT 3-27-11 (12:16 UTC)

7:22 AM CDT 3-28-11 (12:22 UTC), shining amongst tree leaves

7:21 AM CDt 3-29-11 (12:21 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

7:03 AM CDT 3-30-11 (12:03 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

12:45 AM CDT 4-12-11 (5:45 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

3:15 AM CDT 4-14-11 (8:15 UTC)

6:04 AM CDT 4-21-11 (11:04 UTC), through haze, as clouds were moving in

6:06 AM CDT Easter Morning, 4-24-11 (11:06 UTC). The Western Church reckoning of Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Thus, the Moon is always waning at Easter, and it was a beautiful part of a glorious morning. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

6:22 AM CDT 4-25-11 (11:22 UTC)

Three minutes after the above photo at 6:25 AM, with 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece, and 2x Barlow, yielding about 130x magnification. Closeup of the southern part of the Moon. All five craters which form an arc within Clavius are visible.

I took this low-definition video at 6:33 AM that same morning on 4-25-11, just to show what it’s like to aim my cell phone camera into the eyepiece:

6:03 AM CDT 4-29-11 (11:03 UTC)

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click photos for larger view.

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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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