Friday, March 31, 2017

Finding Exoplanets

An artist's rendering of Kepler-34b, an exoplanet believed to orbit two stars. 
Credit: David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics

It has been 85 years since the discovery of the planet Pluto, and astronomers want to find a new planet by looking for a pulsar. A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star or white dwarf, that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation.

By carefully observing the light from a distant star, astronomers can detect the changes in the wavelengths of light called redshifting and blueshifting. They detect an exoplanet by observing over years the orbital wobble the occurs due to gravitation pull between the planet and the star.

An instrument called HARPS-North helps NASA's planet-scouting Kepler spacecraft confirm new planets.This spectrograph detects the tiny radial velocity signal induced by planets if they orbit close to their star.

"HARPS" stands for "High-Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher." A spectrograph splits the light from a star into its wavelengths or colors, similar to the way a prism splits wavelengths and produces a colorful array. Chemical elements absorb light of specific colors, leaving dark lines in the star's spectrum. Those lines wobble slightly due to the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet on its parent star.

There are 5 ways to find an exoplanet. They are described in this NASA presentation.

Related reading: The TRAPPIST-1 System

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Medical Care in the Ancient World

These bronze surgical instruments date from 40 B.C. to 400 A.D.  The privately owned collection includes spoons used to scrape out wounds (lower right), a forked probe (among the spoons), knife and scalpel handles (center), spatula probes for working in wounds (lower left), forceps (upper left), hooks used to hold the skin back (left of center), and cupped tools used to clean wounds (top center).

Photo: Zev Radovan

These tools would have belonged to priest-physicians, as medicine in the ancient world was the work of these specialists. The sick were brought to them at the temples and shrines, and some temples and shrines were especially famous places of healing.

Plants and minerals were used to prepare ointments and medicines for disorders ranging from indigestion to headaches. Bees wax and honey were used to seal wounds as these help to prevent infection. The Nubians laced their beer with the antibiotic known today as tetracycline.

Surgical procedures are described in the Edwin Smith papyrus, the world's oldest known surgical document (c. 1600 BC). It is written in the hieratic script and gives detailed descriptions of anatomy, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of forty-eight types of medical problems. It describes closing wounds with sutures, preventing and curing infection with honey and moldy bread (both known to contain antibiotics), application of raw meat to stop bleeding, and treatment of head and spinal cord injuries.

Another papyrus that describes medical treatments is the Ebers Papyrus (1550 B.C.). One of the remedies described in this papyrus is medicinal clay made from red and yellow ochre. The Ebers papyrus has a treatment for asthma. The patient was to sit over a mixture of herbs heated on a brick and inhale the fumes.

It appears that the priest-physicians specialized. Writing in the first century B.C., the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, observed: "The study of medicine with them was divided between specialists; each physician attending to one kind of illness only. Every place possessed several doctors; some for diseases of the eyes, others for the head, or the teeth, or the stomach, or for internal diseases." (Bibliotheca historica, i. 91)

Diodorus Siculus also reports that there were embalming specialists at the temples and shrines. "The men called embalmers, however, are considered worthy of every honour and consideration, associating with the priests and even coming and going in the temples without hindrance, as being undefiled." (Lacus Curtius, p. 313). The embalmers used palm wine, cedar oil, myrrh, and cinnamon.

There is evidence that some of the healer-priests practiced dentistry. Below is an image of a 2.5 millimeter wire in this tooth’s canal. This was discovered in a grave at Horvat En Ziq, a Nabatean fortress in the northern Negev. The incisor contains a bronze wire filling, dating to about 200 B.C.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

The teeth of people buried roughly 2,000 years ago in an ancient cemetery called Al Khiday 2 had surprisingly few cavities, abscesses, or other signs of tooth decay. Researchers found that these people were cleaning their teeth with Purple Nutsedge, a weed that has antibacterial properties. It appears that this was medical knowledge received from their ancestors. People buried at Al Khiday 8,700 years ago also consumed the Purple Nutsedge tubers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What Happened to the Cedars of Lebanon?

“But the righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow big like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Psalm 92:12)

Lebanon once had great forests of cedar trees. The flag of Lebanon is emblazoned with an image of a great cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani).

The cedars of Lebanon are mentioned more than 70 times in the Bible. The Hebrew word for “cedar” is 'erez. These tall evergreen trees were valued for the high quality of the wood and for the fragrant cedar oils and resins that were used to prepare medicines, perfumes, and ointments. The wood of the Lebanese cedar is resistant to rot and insects, has virtually no knots, and produces straight lumber. The old forest cedars grew to heights of over 160 feet.

Today the cedars can been found in Lebanon, southern Turkey, and Syria. A few have been found on the island of Cyprus. However, compared to the ancient cedar forests, the number of Lebanese cedars today is small. Reforestation efforts are being made in Lebanon.

The cedars of Lebanon were almost depleted 1700 years ago. Depletion of the cedar forests can be explained, in part, by the high demand among the ancient rulers. The rulers of many kingdoms used Lebanese cedars for their royal building projects. These included the kings of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Tyre, Sidon, and Israel. The ports of Tyre and Sidon played a special role for shipments of Lebanese cedar heading to Egypt and Israel.

The Palermo Stone indicates that cedar was imported to Egypt during the reign Sneferu (B.C. 2613-2589). The resin of the cedar was used in mummification of the dead. Modern science has shown that the resin extracted from the bark of Lebanese cedar contains antimicrobial properties that would help to preserve the bodies.

The Egyptians used the cedars of Lebanon to build their ships and they had a large fleet of ships for commercial purposes. The tall cedar logs were ideal for ship masts. This is mentioned Ezekiel 27:5, “And they took a cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for you.”

Sargon of Akkad (B.C. 2334-2279) used Lebanese cedar for his royal building projects and King Nebuchadnezzar (B.C. 605-562 ) ordered the construction of a route through the mountains to bring the cedars from Lebanon to Babylon.

The king of Tyre was named Hiram. Hiram used cedar to build palaces, temples and the royal treasury. An intriguing Bible passage describes the king of Tyre as full of wisdom: 
"Son of Man, raise a lament over the king of Tyre and say to him: Thus says the Lord God: 'You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and flawless beauty. You were in Eden, in the Garden of God; every precious stone was your adornment... and gold beautifully wrought for you, mined for you, prepared the day you were created.'" (Ezekiel 28:11-19)
This connects the Horite rulers of Tyre and Israel back to Eden, a vast, well-watered region that extended from the Upper Nile to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. 2 Samuel 5:11 explains how "King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs, carpenters, and stonemasons. They built a palace for David."

David's son, Solomon, also used cedar to build his palace and the temple in Jerusalem. The walls of the inner sanctuary of Solomon's temple were covered with cedar panels from floor to ceiling, and the ceiling beams were made of cedar.

The cedar timbers were imported into ancient Israel from Lebanon. They were brought overland to the seaport of Tyre and then floated as rafts to Joppa on the coast of Israel. From Joppa, the logs were hauled overland to Jerusalem. King Hiram sent this message to King Solomon:
"My servants will bring them down from Lebanon to the sea, and I will make them into log rafts to go by sea to the place that you designate to me. I will have them broken up there, and you can carry them away. In exchange, you will provide the food that I request for my household.” (1 Kings 5:9)

The commercial interests, ship construction, and royal building projects of the ancient rulers lead to the near-total denudation of the Lebanese cedars. The Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) was so alarmed at the depletion of the Lebanese cedar forests that he designated what remained as a protected Imperial preserve. But the unsustainable logging of the cedars continued under the Ottoman Turks who used the wood to build railroads. During the First World War, the British and the Turks used most of the cedar that remained for the war effort. Is it any wonder that the cedars of Lebanon almost disappeared from the surface of Earth?

Related reading:  Trees of the Bible: Trees of Prophets; Trees as Boundary Markers

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Trees of Prophets

Alice C. Linsley

In the Old Testament we find that trees are associated with wise counselors known as morehs, prophets, or judges. The word "Torah" means instruction and is associated with a prophet or a seer sitting under a tree. These trees were important landmarks.

Women prophets, like Deborah, sat under the date nut palms and male prophets sat under oak trees. In Judges 4:4-6 we read that “Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment."

Deborah's duties included settling disputes, instructing leaders, providing guidance to people, and rallying the people to defend themselves in battle. According to Judges 4 and 5 the people of Israel had peace for forty years under Deborah’s rule.

Deborah judged from her palm tree (tamar) between Bethel and Ramah, on a north-south axis. Deborah's tree was between two important shrines. It marked the "sacred center" between Ramah to the south and Bethel to the north. Ramah means high or lifted up, and Bethel means house of God.

Abraham pitched his tent at the “Oak of Moreh” (Gen. 13), between Ai to the east and Bethel to the west. The Oak of Moreh, or the Oak of the Seer, is described as “the navel of the earth” in Judges 9:37. Here we find a parallel to Deborah's palm tree at the sacred center. The oak was an important landmark near Shechem where Abraham camped after he arrived in Canaan. It is likely that he went there seeking divine guidance. Sacred oaks were known elsewhere, according to Deuteronomy 11:30.

Ramah was Samuel's hometown. The elders of Israel came to Ramah to demand that Samuel appoint a king to rule over them. David fled to Ramah for Samuel's help when Saul was pursuing him to take his life. Ramah and Bethel were important shrine cities long before the time of David. As Samuel's father was a Horite Hebrew priest, we might assume that Ramah was a Horite Hebrew shrine city.

Deborah's tree was at the center of a north-south axis between Ramah and Bethel. The oak where Abraham camped was at the center of a east-west axis between Ai and Bethel. It appears that among the ancient Hebrew, the date nut palm (tamar) and the the north-south axis were associated with the feminine while the oak and the east-west axis of the solar arc were associated with the masculine.The pillar-like oak resembled the male reproductive organ and represented masculine virtues. The open nut of the tamar resembled the female reproductive organ and represented feminine virtues.

Trees as Boundary Markers

Alice C. Linsley

Trees served as border markers for the ancient Hebrew.  Terebinth trees marked the northern and southern boundaries of Abraham's territory between Hebron and Beersheba. Sarah, Abraham's half-sister wife, resided in Hebron, and Abraham's cousin-wife resided in Beersheba. The wives' settlements marked the northern and southern boundaries of Abraham's territory in ancient Edom.

Hebron and Beersheba (where Keturah lived) are in Idumea (Edom). 

The Horite Hebrew rulers of Edom are listed in Genesis 36. Abraham's territory was entirely in the region of Edom. It extended on a north-south axis between Hebron and Beersheba and on an east-west axis between Engedi and Gerar. This region was called Idumea by the Greeks which means "land of red people."

One of the rulers of Edom was Seir the Horite. He was a contemporary of Esau the Elder. He married Adah. Esau the Younger is described as red and hairy. He married Oholibamah.

After offering Isaac at Mount Moriah, Abraham didn’t return to Sarah in Hebron, but instead went to live in Beersheba with Keturah (Genesis 22:19). There he had built an altar and planted a terebinth. A terebinth marked the northern end of Abraham's territory (Gen. 12:6) and after Abraham formed a treaty with Abimelech, he planted a terebinth at the southern end of his territory (Gen. 21:22-34).

People often were buried under oaks and terebinths (Gen. 35:8; I Chronicles 10:12). This helped to ensure that the boundaries were observed since people stayed away from burial grounds, fearing the spirits of the dead.

Related reading: Edom and the Horites; Trees of the Bible; The Trees of Prophets; What Happened to the Cedars of Lebanon?

Trees of the Bible

Alice C. Linsley

The Bible contains a great deal of information about trees and tree symbolism. In Psalm 1:3 we read that the person who delights in the Lord is "is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers."

In Genesis 3:3 we read about the Tree of Life that grew in the middle of the garden. The idea inspired C.S. Lewis. The Tree of Life appears in different forms in Lewis'd tales; sometimes as an apple tree and sometimes as a lantern. Lewis places the tree and lantern "in the midst of the garden" (Gen. 3:3) or in the midst of the wood. Here Lewis builds on a detail in Genesis which places the Cross or Tree of Life at the sacred center of the cosmos. The tree and lantern in the Narnian wood are symbols of the Jesus Messiah, who comes from another place (heaven) and gives light to the world. The Church Fathers regarded the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden to be a symbol of the Cross upon which Jesus Christ died to give life to the world. Peter declared to the Jews gathered for Passover, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging Him on a tree." (Acts 5:30)

The Tree of Life is very old motif as is evident from its wide diffusion across Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. In Anthropology, the principle of diffusion states that the oldest culture traits, beliefs, or practices are those that are most widely diffused globally.

In Genesis we read how the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In ancient images the serpent is often appears with a tree, as in the image below.

Ra's cat killing Apophis at the tree of life.

The trees known to have grown in the region of Abraham’s ancestors include acacia, cedar, date nut palms, sycamore fig trees and baobab. Let's consider the significance of each of these.

An acacia tree in East Africa

Acacia (Hebrew: sittah; Egyptian: sunt) and cedar (Hebrew: 'erez; Egyptian 'arz) were used in the construction the Tabernacle and later in the construction of the Temple built by Solomon. Both trees are drought resistant and fragrant. Acacias grow into spreading shrubs and thorny trees with clusters of fragrant, yellow-orange puffball flowers that attract bees. Cedar is in the pine family and once grew in abundance in the mountains of Lebanon. The sea-faring Egyptians used cedar to build their ships and they used cedar oil in embalming the dead.

Women prophets, like Deborah, sat under the date nut palms and people came to them for wise counsel. Judges 4:4-6 tells us, “Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment."

Some scholars believe that the fruit eaten by Eve in Eden came from Sycamore Fig tree (Ficus sycomorus). In many works of art the fruit is shown as an apple. An older tradition maintains that the fruit was a fig growing on the Sycamore figs trees which grew near the rivers in the region of Eden. This tradition is also represented in paintings by the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve's private parts.

Range of the Ficus sycomorus

The Syacmore fig is a large edible fruit which ranges from green to yellow or red when ripe. In its natural habitat, the tree can bear fruit year round, peaking from July to December. Jesus “cursed” the Sycamore Fig tree when it failed to produce fruit. In Mark 11:12-14, we read:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

The baobab tree was an important tree for Abraham's people. It looks as if it grows with its roots up (see image below). This story surrounding the baobab warns against never being content:
The baobab was among the first trees to appear on the land. Next came the slender, graceful palm tree. When the baobab saw the palm tree, it cried out that it wanted to be taller. Then the beautiful flame tree appeared with its red flower and the baobab was envious for flower blossoms. When the baobab saw the magnificent fig tree, it prayed for fruit as well. The gods became angry with the tree and pulled it up by its roots, then replanted it upside down to keep it quiet.

In the wet months the baobab stores water in its thick, corky, fire-resistant trunk for the long dry period ahead. The water is tapped when drinking water becomes scarce in the dry months.

1000 year Baobab tree in Africa

The bark of the baobab tree is used for cloth and rope, and the leaves are prepared as condiments and medicines. The baobab’s fruit is called "monkey bread." This tree has a spongy bark because it retains water which desert nomads are able to extract by slicing the bark. In the Sahara and in the arid parts of the Arabia this tree sustains life. The motif of water flowing from a tree is found across the ancient world and is associated with the Tree of Life. This idea of waters flowing from a tree is found in Revelation 22:1-2.

Egyptian image of water flowing from a tree.

This image of water flowing from a tree is found in India.

Related reading: Trees in GenesisAntarctica Once Had Baobab TreesThe Fig Tree in Biblical SymbolismTheories About the Tree of LifeThe Tree of Weeping; Cedars of the Lord; Trees of the Prophets; What Happened to the Cedars of Lebanon?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ian Hutchinson: Christian Plasma Scientist

Modern science is already, in a very serious sense, Christian. It germinated in and was nurtured by the Christian philosophy of creation, it was developed and established through the work of largely Christian pioneers, and it continues to draw Christians to its endeavors today.--Ian Hutchinson

Ian Hutchinson

Jesse Pome’ (Grade 8)

Ian Horner Hutchinson was born 7 June, 1951. He is a nuclear engineer and physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He holds an M.A. in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University (1972), and a Ph.D. in Engineering Physics from the Australian National University (1976), where he was a Commonwealth Scholar.

He first became interested in plasma physics as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. In a June 2003 article that appeared in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, he wrote:
"My conversion as an undergraduate was founded on a conviction that the Christian faith made intellectual sense of the world, of history, and of personal experience. For me, despite the expectation of my secular friends, there was no inherent contradiction between a thorough Christian commitment and the pursuit of natural science. That harmony of thought is something I have sought and treasured through my professional life and in my service of God, though it always has not been easily maintained."

To young people interested in science careers, especially to young Christians, Dr. Hutchinson offers this message: "The scorn sometimes heaped on Christians by scientists and by other students is unjustified. There is no inherent incompatibility between science and Christianity. However, there are some interpretations of the Bible as if it were as scientific text book (which it isn't) that science has shown to be mistaken."

Dr. Hutchinson has written extensively about the relationship between science and religion. He authored a book on the philosophy of science in which he argues against scientism-- the view that all real knowledge is knowable by science alone.

Throughout his professional career, Dr. Hutchinson has spoken about science and the Christian faith to university and church groups. At Veritas Forum, he engages students in conversations about modern life and the relevance of Jesus Christ.

At MIT, Dr. Hutchinson founded the Faith of Great Scientists Seminar, which explores how the Christian faith has influenced many scientists throughout history. He has assisted the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, and he is a Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Here is text of his 2002 address to the American Scientific Affiliation.

Professional Life

Dr. Hutchinson has made a number of important contributions to the fields of nuclear engineering and nuclear physics. His primary research interest is plasma physics, especially the magnetic confinement of plasmas (ionized gases). He and his MIT team designed, built and operate the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, an international facility with one of the earliest tokamaks to be operated outside of the Soviet Union. He directed the facility for 15 years. The magnetically confined plasmas, with temperatures beyond 50 million degrees Celsius, are prototypical of a future fusion reactor.

Dr. Hutchinson did research for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. He returned to MIT in 1983 as a faculty member in the department of Nuclear Engineering Department, and served as the Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics and Engineering from 2003 to 2009.

The second edition of Dr. Hutchinson’s monograph book Principles of Plasma Diagnostics was published by Cambridge University Press in 2002. This book presents a "systematic introduction to the physics behind measurements on plasmas. It develops from first principles the concepts needed to plan, execute, and interpret plasma diagnostics."

Dr. Hutchinson has served as editor-in-chief of the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, and was the 2008 Chairman of the Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society.

Hutchinson is the author of the computer program TtH a TeX to HTML translator, a program for web-publishing of mathematics. He has written more than 160 journal articles on plasma phenomena and nuclear fusion. He was the 2008 Chairman of the Division of Plasma Physics group of the American Physical Society. Hutchinson is a contributor to the BioLogos Foundation.

Faith and Family

About his conversion to Christian faith, Ian Hutchinson has said, “Many of my secular friends thought that I was committing intellectual suicide by my conversion to Christianity. I can't say that I was surprised by their reaction - I was perfectly aware of the antagonism between much modern thought and Christianity - but I definitely had no sense of repudiating my intellect. If God and Christ were true, as I had come to believe, then that truth must be consistent with intellectual truth and I would with time understand how their respective claims might be reconciled.”

Dr. Hutchinson and his wife, Fran, have been married for 35 years. They have two adult children. Dr. Hutchinson is an enthusiastic choral singer. He sings baritone/tenor with the Newton Choral Society. He is a squash player and a fly-fisherman. Dr. and Mrs. Hutchinson worship at All Saints Anglican Church in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Related reading: Ian Hutchinson's Professional Page; Ian Hutchinson's Personal Page; Science: Christian and Natural by Ian Hutchinson Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Volume 55, Number 2, June 2003.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mars Rover Curiosity

Curiosity's broken wheel
Credit: NASA

NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is beginning to show wear and breakage on its solid aluminum wheels. Curiosity had driven 9.9 miles (16 kilometers) on Mars since its August 2012 landing. The rover is currently exploring a region known as Vera Rubin Ridge on a mountain known as Mount Sharp. Read more here.

Some History about the Mars Rovers

NASA had a huge database of information about Mars because of the rovers that have landed there to explore and take samples of the air, dirt and rocks. The rovers send images and climate reports back to NASA headquarters. At the moment, NASA has more data about Mars than it has about planet Earth.

Mariner 4 arrived at Mars on July 14, 1965 and passed within 6,118 miles of the planet's surface. It provided 22 close-up photos showing the red planet's cratered surface. The thin atmosphere was confirmed to be composed of carbon dioxide and a small magnetic field was detected.

Mariner 9 arrived at Mars on November 3, 1971 and was the first US spacecraft to enter an orbit around a planet other than Earth. A huge dust storm was in progress when Mariner 9 arrived at Mars and this delayed many of the scientific experiments. Mariner returned the first hi-resolution images of the moons Phobos and Deimos and confirmed river and channel like features.

The Mars Pathfinder delivered a stationary lander and a surface rover to the Red Planet on July 4, 1997. The six-wheel rover, named Sojourner, explored the area near the lander. The mission's primary objective was to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost landings on the Martian surface.

The Phoenix Mars Lander landed on Mars on May 25, 2008. Phoenix was designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic’s ice-rich soil. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later. The mission was officially ended in May 2010.

Read more about missions to Mars here

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Scientist Who Opposed Scientism

"Scientism is taking the mantle of science and claiming for it an authority that it doesn't have." -- Austin L. Hughes

Austin L Hughes is an evolutionary biologist who believes that science is not adequate to the task of answering all questions. He wrote an article for The New Atlantis that has become the manifesto for people who accept the limitations of science and reject scientism. This may be one of his most important contributions.

Scientism is the belief that science alone can answer all questions and any questions that cannot be answered by science are not important questions. Philosophically speaking, this idea was first advocated by Logical Positivists in the early 20th century.

Logical Positivism can be traced to the Vienna Circle (1922), a group of philosophers in Austria who held that experience is the only source of knowledge, and logical analysis using symbolic logic is the proper method for solving philosophical problems. Logical Positivism was popularized in Great Britain by A. J. Ayer and in the United States by Rudolf Carnap.

Logical Positivism held two key beliefs: (1) absolute confidence in empirical experience as the only source of knowledge; and (2) logical analysis performed with the help of symbolic logic is the single method for solving philosophical problems. This group of philosophers attempted to exclude metaphysics from philosophical investigation in favor of strict logical and mathematical analysis. They also stripped ethics of important aspects, such as conscience, intuition, emotion, sense of duty, moral categories of right and wrong, good and evil, etc. The result was a materialist skepticism about all truth claims. Hughes argued that such people must ultimately deny their own truth claims.

Read this interview with Austin L Hughes. He first became aware of the intolerance of scientism while doing graduate studies at Harvard. Hughes had been a Philosophy major at Georgetown University before going to Harvard. He recognized that what was being hailed as science at Harvard was really the philosophical heir to logical positivism.

Austin Hughes died on October 31, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was 66. He was a Roman Catholic and he often helped the priest of his church distribute Holy Communion. 

Here are some remarks about him and the importance of his work:
“The premature death of Austin came as a shock to the Department of Biological Sciences at USC. He was a world renowned scholar and a much-liked teacher and colleague.
His scholarly work is known all over the world, and has been cited more than 9,000 times by other scientists. He was a Carolina Distinguished Professor and we had just nominated him for the SC Governor's Award for Scientific Excellence.
When Austin started teaching courses in Domestic Animal Nutrition and Bird Biology, he quickly gained a reputation as an excellent and passionate teacher who cares for his students. In the words of one of his student evaluators: Dr. Hughes is one of the best biology professors I've had at USC.
We are saddened by the tragic passing of Austin. He will leave a gap that will be difficult to fill. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife Andrea and his family. We wish you much strength to go through these difficult times." -- For the Biology Department at USC,  Johannes Stratmann, Chair

"It is impossible to exaggerate the importance Austin Hughes’ fundamental contributions to molecular evolutionary theory and practice. He was a prolific researcher whose work covered such disparate topics as coevolution, phylogenetics, repetitive DNA, and more recently the application of population genetics to clinical research. Austin had an incredibly sharp mind, an imitable scientific intuition, and an abundance of impatience for bad science, faulty logic, and demagoguery. Debunking unwarranted generalizations and “accepted” theories was one of his fortes. His writing was crystal clear; I wish he had written a manual of writing style for scientists. He was also fluent in the Welsh language (Cymraeg) and wrote both poetry and prose in this ancient tongue. His untimely death deprived me of a friend and colleague; science was deprived of a great biologist who knew living systems inside and out at all levels, from the molecular to ecological. I’ll miss you, Austin. Gorffwys mewn hedd."  —Dan Graur, University of Houston

"Austin Hughes was that rarest of rare birds in academia: a distinguished scientist with the soul of a humanist. At the foundation of his scientific labors was a philosophical and, indeed, theological conviction: the supreme importance of seeking and attaining truth. It was this that motivated and sustained his work. And because he was aware that this (only) rational motivation for scientific inquiry is not itself something that can be grasped by deploying scientific methods, he eschewed philosophical empiricism and scientific reductionism. He knew that non-scientific methods of inquiry are as necessary as scientific ones in the House of Intellect. For Austin, scientists and humanists were—are—not inhabitants of “two cultures,” much less “cultures in conflict”; they are, rather, friends and collaborators in the comprehensive project of truth seeking. —Robert P. George, Princeton University

I remember Austin fondly—an unusual individual to say the least. He held deep religious convictions and yet was a rigorous scientist. I would call Austin, talk to him about whatever subject, and he would come up with some form of analysis. He was a rare scientist who bridged both biology and computing; his passing is such a loss to the field. Not that his relationship with my lab members was always plain sailing. His intolerance of naïve graduate students was legendary! I would ask them, with a smile on my face, to talk to Austin about their ideas. Almost always, they would be back in my office, despondent and demoralized! But once they got to know Austin, their disposition would change. I never, ever, had a single issue with Austin. Always ready and excited to help with new analyses, and entertaining to talk to—really a wonderful colleague and friend.
—David I. Watkins, University of Miami

Related reading: The Trouble With Scientism

Georges Lemaître: Father of the “Cosmic Egg”

Ethan Ruble (Grade 8)

Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was born on 17 July 1894, in Charleroi, Belgium. His parents were Marguerite Lennoy and Joseph Lemaitre.

Lemaître was a Roman Catholic priest and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. He is considered the “father” of the Big Bang theory, though his theory of the expansion of the universe has been attributed wrongly to Edwin Hubble.

Lemaître spent 1924 at Harvard College Observatory in Massachusetts and earned a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was a pioneer in applying Albert Einstein's 1916 theory of general relativity to cosmology. Lemaître's model of the universe received little notice until it was publicized by the English astronomer Arthur Eddington. Eddington described it as a "brilliant solution" to the unresolved questions in cosmology.

Lemaître imagined that the universe had to be expanding from somewhere and some point in time. His idea of the universe at the very beginning pictures all matter compressed in a single point that he called a “superatom.” He hypothesized that the expansion of the universe resulted from the superatom’s explosion by which force matter was hurled in all directions. The initial force of that explosion set the expansion of the universe in motion. Lemaître presented his theory at a conference in the 1930s. Hearing Lemaître’s theory, Albert Einstein reportedly said, "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened." Einstein greatly respected Lemaître.

Lemaître gained international fame after the 1927 publication of a paper entitled “A homogeneous universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae” in the journal Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles. In this paper he presented the idea of an expanding universe and also the first statement of what would later become known as “Hubble’s Law.”

In 1931, Lemaître’s theory was translated and reprinted in the “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.” He called his superatom the "primeval atom" or "the Cosmic Egg, exploding at the moment of the creation.” He developed this further in a report published in the journal “Nature” later that year.

Newspapers described Lemaître as the leader of the new cosmological physics, and Einstein recommended Lemaître for the Francqui Prize, the most prestigious Belgian scientific distinction, which King Léopold III awarded to him in 1934.

Lemaître retired in 1964, though he continued to publish interesting papers, such as “The expansion of the Universe” (1967), and “The principle of continuity according to Jean-Victor Poncelet” (1967). R N Tiwari summed up of Lemaître's contributions, and poses some questions to consider.

“Lemaître graduated in engineering, and his studies were interrupted due to World War I. He joined the army and, to quote from the author's statement, "after 53 months of war ordeals and military camps, he lost interest in a professional career and decided to become a priest"; this ultimately resulted in a change from engineering to the mathematical sciences, particularly to general relativity, which marked a very notable turning point in Lemaître's life. Whether this change of mind was due to war or the seed of such a thought was inherent in him and germinated at the appropriate time, and whether the environment of the Church and its a priori principles had any influence on his scientific discoveries (such as the evolution of the universe from a primordial atom, the existence of singularity at the initial epoch, etc.) cannot be inferred conclusively. The sequence of events narrated by the author shows, however, that time and again Lemaître was accused (especially by Einstein) of using scientific reasonings "to defend a (religious) dogma of the Church". Was it really so? Was Lemaître the scientist being guided by Lemaître the Catholic priest? The author leaves these points for readers to decide for themselves. However, he remarks that "for modern scientific cosmologists, although they may feel uneasy about this primordial singularity, the objectivity of the thinking of its initiator is beyond doubt".

Lemaître on science and religion

Lemaître viewed religion and science as distinct ways of interpreting the world, both of which are equally valid. He wrote:

"We may speak of this event as of a beginning. I do not say a creation. Physically it is a beginning in the sense that if something happened before, it has no observable influence on the behavior of our universe, as any feature of matter before this beginning has been completely lost by the extreme contraction at the theoretical zero. Any preexistence of the universe has a metaphysical character...The question if it was really a beginning or rather a creation, something started from nothing, is a philosophical question which cannot be settled by physical or astronomical considerations."

Lemaître used to say, “God cannot be reduced to the role of a scientific hypothesis.”

As to the seeming conflict between science and religion, Lemaître stated: “Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes."

He said, “The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses.”

Georges Lemaître died in Leuven on 20 June 1966. In 2014, a commemorative plaque was unveiled in his honor. The inscription in English, French, German and Dutch reads: “Here worked Georges Lemaître, the (spiritual) father of Big Bang.”

Commemorative plaque for Georges  at Premonstreit College in Leuven
Courtesy of Danar Abdulkarim

Related reading: Lemaître: Beligum Astronomer; Georges Lemaître, Father of the Big Bang

Nüshu, a Gender-Specific Script

In the the 19th and 20th centuries some women of the southwestern Hunan Province in China wrote using a script that no man could read or write. The writing system allowed these women to keep autobiographies and swap stories and poems between “sworn sisters" but the script is vanishing. 

A sample of Yi Nianhua’s Nüshu writing
CREDIT: Cathy Silber

Cathy Silber, a professor at Skidmore College in New York, worked to decipher and study the written language. She worked with 80-year old Yi Nianhua, one of the last remaining writers of Nüshu. Yi died in 1991 at the age of 85.

“Out of the thousands of scripts that are gender-specific to men, here we have one that we know is gender-specific to women,” says Silber, who has been researching Nüshu since 1985.

The practice of Nüshu was passed down from mother to daughter. Not many Nüshu documents can be found because the script was used mainly in southwestern China and some women had their writing buried with them, leaving few surviving original scripts. 

Nüshu’s elongated lines are in contrast to the wider blocks of Chinese characters. “It’s more efficient than Chinese because it’s phonetic,” says Silber. “A single symbol would represent every syllable with the same sound. So you get more bang for your buck with each character.”

The last woman known to possess knowledge of Nüshu was Yang Huanyi, who died in 2004. Linguists believe that the writing system began in Jiangyong County, where Yang was born. She learned to read and write the language as a little girl. Before her marriage, she exchanged letters in Nüshu with the eldest of the seven "sworn sisters"of Jiangyong County. Yang spent three years with the seven sisters to learn the language, and after all seven sisters died, she was the world's last expert on the language.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Origami in High Tech

origami dragon

The Japanese tradition of folding paper into three-dimensional shapes is inspiring a scientific revolution. Folding is a natural phenomena. Leaves fold, wings fold and flowers fold. Folded paper can actually support great weight because the weight can be distributed across a surface.

Robert Lang is a physicist who worked with lasers at NASA. He has 46 patents on optoelectronics. He's best known for his intricate origami designs, and the principles of origami folding apply in engineering. His scientific approach helps him make folds once thought impossible. Each of Lang's origami creations is the result of software that Lang pioneered. Thousands of mathematical calculations are needed to produce a "folding map" of a single creature. Watch this video.

Tips for doing origami projects: 
Print and cut out patterns carefully.
Fold with clean, dry hands.
Follow the instructions.
Study the diagrams and be patient.
Fold each crease precisely, flattening the creases by running your fingertip over the fold. Folding the paper away from you is easier than folding towards you.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

James Clerk Maxwell: Father of Electromagnetic Theory

James Clerk Maxwell
(June 13, 1831 - November 5, 1879)
Edinburgh, Scotland

From an early age, James Clerk Maxwell had an astonishing memory and an unquenchable curiosity about how things worked. His first teacher, his mother, encouraged him to "look up through Nature to Nature's God":
His knowledge of Scripture, from his earliest boyhood, was extraordinarily extensive and minute....These things were not known merely by rote. They occupied his imagination, and sank deeper than anybody knew.1

After growing up mostly on an isolated country estate, young Maxwell entered the Edinburgh Academy in 1841. The other boys made fun of his mannerisms, accent, and wardrobe, but he soon befriended Lewis Campbell (his future biographer) and Peter Guthrie Tait. Both would become notable scholars, and remained his lifelong friends. While at Edinburgh, Maxwell won medals for mathematics and Scripture biography.

At age 14, he wrote Oval Curves, a paper on the properties of ellipses and curves. It was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh by James Forbes, a University of Edinburgh professor of natural philosophy, since Maxwell was "too young" to present it himself. Maxwell entered the university at age 16 and produced Rolling Curves. Once again he was considered too young to present it to the Society, so the paper was read by his mathematics professor, Philip Kelland.

In October 1850, Maxwell left Scotland for Cambridge University, where he accomplished a significant portion of his translation of electromagnetism equations, the work for which he is best known. He also laid out the principles of color combination in Experiments on Colour--on which occasion he was finally allowed, in March 1855, to present his own paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He became a fellow of Trinity College that October, and the following year applied for and eventually accepted the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College in Aberdeen.

When the college merged with the University of Aberdeen's King's College in 1860, there was no need for two chairs of natural philosophy, so Maxwell was laid off. He lost an Edinburgh professorship to his childhood friend Tait, but was granted the Chair of Natural Philosophy at King's College in London.

His color research garnered Maxwell election into the Royal Society of London in 1861. He often lectured at the Royal Institution, where he regularly conversed with Michael Faraday. At King's College, he produced his most significant work in electromagnetism, a multi-part paper called On Physical Lines of Force. He also published papers on electrostatics and displacement current, the latter focusing on the phenomenon known as the Faraday effect.

He resigned from King's College in 1865 and returned to his childhood home at Glenlair, where he wrote the textbook Theory of Heat and an elementary treatise called Matter and Motion. In 1871, he became the first Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge. He died at 48 in Cambridge of abdominal cancer on November 5, 1879.

Darwin's Origin of Species was published during Maxwell's lifetime. Maxwell was not convinced evolution was a viable theory of origins, nor was he afraid to speak on the matter:
No theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies continuous change, and the molecule is incapable of growth or decay, or generation or destruction.…Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing.2

Maxwell is to this day held in high regard in the scientific community, but few know or acknowledge his strong Christian roots or his faith in the authority of God's Word. Virtually every part of his brief, but remarkable, life was spent exploring the wonder of God's creation.


Campbell, L. and W. Garnett. 1882. The Life of James Clerk Maxwell: With Selections from His Correspondence and Occasional Writings. London: Macmillan and Co., 32.
Ibid, 359.

Cite this article: Dao, C. 2008. Man of Science, Man of God: James Clerk Maxwell. Acts & Facts. 37 (9): 8.

Technology-STEM Discovery for Spring 2017

Students are expected to check this site daily and to read the articles about technology and developments in STEM throughout history.

This elective is a research-based course in which students gain exposure to various sciences and technologies. The objective of this course is to help students learn about technology, both modern and ancient.

The purpose of this course is to awaken reason and to investigate the claims of the Bible and the "real sciences" so that students might grow in faith and in intellect. Consider what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape to his nephew demon Wormwood:
"Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology…"
The curriculum does not impose Darwinian evolution or Young-Earth Creationism. Instead, students are to discover how the data of the Bible and the data of science aligns. This is essential for an effective defense of the Biblical worldview in a society that values science.

The Technology-STEM elective consists of these 3 components:

Component One

Rules of Good Digital Citizenship
Function keys and other shortcuts
Glossary of computer terms (intermediate level)
Students create new header for the class blog (Ro Little tutorial)
Image archives: Haiku Deck,, Public Domain Pictures
Animation: Pow Toon, Generator, Animoto
Digital storytelling: Toontastic tutorial (setting based vs. character based)
Power Point and Google Slides - Students prepare in-class presentations on topics of interest from the approved list:
Earth's Two Highest Mountains
The Three Longest Rivers of the World
The Tides
The Great Barrier Reef of Australia
The Mariana Trench
The Dead Sea
The Afar Rift
Plate Tectonics
Monuments of the Biblical World
Archaic Technologies Related to Combat
Circles of Standing Stones
Pyramids of the Ancient World
Theories of Time and Eternity
Time Measuring Devices Throughout History
Snowflakes (related to work of Wilson Bentley

Component Two

An estimated 60% of pioneers in STEM have been Christians. Component Two introduces some of these people. Students research the lives of the persons they select, write a script about the person's life, and then produce either a video about the person or an article for publication.

Select a Christian in STEM from the list below. This research project will take about 7 weeks to complete. Write what you are learning about the person in the Research section of your Technology-STEM elective.

Robert Grosseteste 1168-1253
Athanasius Kircher 1601-1680
Blaise Pascal 1623-1662
James Clerk Maxwell 1831-1879
Georges Lemaître 1894–1966
Oliver R. Barclay 1919-2013
Victor Elving Anderson 1921-2014
John Polkinghorne 1930-present
Austin L. Hughes 1949-2015

Ruth Bancewicz
Nola Stephens
Rhoda Hawkins
Katharine Hayhoe
Leslie Wickman
Jennifer Wiseman
Robin Pals-Rylaarsdam
Katherine Blundell
Ruth Hogg

Component Three

Students select a card from the Bible Technology Card Box. These cards provide background information and context for students to research up to 3 questions per card related to science, technology, engineering and math in the Bible. Students are to complete 12 cards per semester (or 6 cards per quarter). The cards are color coded as follows:

Anthropology - gold
Archaeology - light blue
Architecture - pink
Astronomy - green
Biology - dark blue
Climate Studies - purple
Earth Science - black
Genetics - red
Linguistics - brown
Materials - bright yellow
Medicine - orange
Navigation - white
Zoology - salmon

Confirmation of Biblical Populations
Getting the Facts About Human Origins
The Rising Star Expedition
Rising Star Expedition Update
Science in Progress: The Rising Star Expedition
Noah's Sons and Their Descendants
More About Noah's Descendants
Nahor and His Descendants
The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People
The Mighty Men of Old
The Pyramid Builders
The Genesis King Lists
The Antiquity of the Edomite Rulers
Two Named Esau
Edom and the Horite Ha'biru
Priests, Shamans and Prophets
Three-Clan Confederations and Twelve-Clan Confederations
Some Marks of Prehistoric Religion

The Stone Age
Symbols of Archaic Rock Shelters
David's Zion Found
Jerusalem Virtual Pilgrimage
What Are Bullae?
3000 Year Temple Seal
Yahu Seals
Purity Seal From Herod's Temple
2400 BC Tomb of Purification Priest (Also read this.)
Sudan is Archaeologically Rich
Sixteen Pyramids Unearthed at Kushite Cemetery
70,000 Year Settlement Found in Sudan
Why Nekhen is Archaeologically Significant

The Pillars of Solomon's Temple
Monuments of the Ancient Kushites
Kushite Shrines
Petra Reflects Horite Beliefs
Prehistoric Obelisk Found in Judah
Circumcision and Circles of Standing Stones in the Judean Hills
Horite Temples
The High Places
The Shrine City of Nekhen
77,000-Year Settlement in Sudan
Europe's Oldest Prehistoric Town Unearthed in Bulgaria
The Trapezoid in Ancient Architecture
Sheep Cotes

The Sunlight Cycle in the Northern Hemisphere
Priests of the Ancient World Studied Astronomy
The King Planet's North Pole Has Changed to Gold
The Celestial Dance Observed by the Magi
Who Were the Wise Men?
Horite Expectation and the Star of Bethlehem
The Sun and Moon as a Binary Set
The Sun and the Sacred
Ancient African Astronomers
Threshing Floors and Solar Symbols
Solar Imagery
A Tent for the Sun
The Sun and the Sacred
The Sun and Celestial Horses
Marcus Byrne: The Dance of the Dung Beetle

Genesis Has No Evolutionary Framework
Questioning the Common Ancestry Hypothesis
What is Meant by the Term "Kind" in Genesis?
Cambrian Explosion: The Binary Feature Signals Greater Diversity 
The Genetic Difference Between Humans and Apes

Mega-Lake Chad
Mega-Lake Beneath the Sahara From Nile Overflow
Katherine Hayhoe on Climate Change
Climate Cycles Indicate a Dynamic Earth
Complex Climate Changes
In Search of Green Arabia
When the Sahara Was Wet
Saving the Animals in Times of Flooding
Antarctica Once Had Baobab Trees
Volcanic Eruptions and Climate
South American Glaciers Growing
Climate Data Fudge Factor
Kansas Bill Calling for Objectivity in Climate Science Fails
Reality Climate Ideologues Won't Face
Climate Change and Genesis
Lower Solar Irradiance, Higher Atmospheric Temps?
Climate Cycles and Noah's Flood
Climate Studies and the Book of Genesis
Genesis and Climate Change
Two Environmentalists Knock Heads
Climate and Wealth Redistribution
Climate Change and Human Innovation
Antarctic Ozone Hole Smaller
America's Wake Up Call on Climate

Earth Science
The Pillars of the Earth
Volcanic Eruptions
Earth's Magnetic Pole Reversals
Reversals of Polarity: The Magnetic Flip
Afar Rift
The Lake Suigetsu Varve
Walking Rocks
The Atacama RockTumbler

Genetic Types: A few basics
Haplogroups of Interest to Biblical Anthropologists
R1b Profile of 64% of European Men
Ashkenazi Represent Judeo-Khazar Admixture
The Sub-Saharan DNA of Modern Jews
DNA Confirms Mixed Ancestry of Jews
A Kindling of Ancient Memory
The Bible and the Question of Race
80,000 Year Ancestor of Chinese Men

What is a Phoneme?
Phoneme Study Pinpoints Origin of Modern Languages
Early Written Signs
Ancient Canaanite Inscriptions
Symbols of Archaic Rock Shelters
The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y
Is Hebrew an African Language?
The Aleph as Ox/Bull Head
Technology to Preserve Languages on the Verge of Extinction
Conversation about the Beginning of Spoken Language
Navajo-Ket Linguistic Connection
Dr. Nola Stephens on Linguistics and Faith
The Generative Divine Word

Archaic Shell Technology
"Easter" Eggs in Antiquity
Stone Work of the Ancient World
Stone, Shell and Egg Technologies
Noah's Ark
The Religious Symbolism of Gold
The Gold of Ophir
Kushite Gold
A Silver Lining at Abel Beth Maacah
Paradise of Ancient Memory
Afro-Asiatic Metal Workers
Red and Black Smiths
Why Zipporah Used a Flint Knife
Afro-Asiatic Metal Workers
Ancient Miners Venerated Hathor

Medical Care in Ancient Egypt
Prehistoric Humans used Plants Medicinally
The Ancient Nubians Used Antibiotics
Neolithic Medical Care
Herbs Used for Healing in the Bible
Dental Health of Ancient Sudanese

Noah's Ark
Pythons Used for Sea Navigation
The Ancient Egyptians were Seafaring
4500-Year Harbor at Wadi al-Jarf
Boats and Cows of the Nilo-Saharans
When the Nile Was a Mega-River
Swimming and Diving: Activities of Archaic Peoples
Boat Petroglyphs in Egypt's Central Eastern Desert

Dogs in the Bible
The Animals on Noah's Arc
The Ostrich in Biblical Symbolism
The Rooster in Biblical Symbolism
Religious Symbolism of Long Cow Horns
Why Cows Were Sacred in the Ancient World
Cows of the Proto-Saharans
The Fatted Calf
The Red Heifer
Ram Symbolism of the Ancient World
Jesus: From Lamb to Ram
Elephants in the Time of Abraham
Abraham's Camels
Sea Birds Use Sense of Smell to Navigate
Celestial Horses
Noah's Birds
The Lion and Judah
Animal Totems Used to Trace Ancestry

Additional helpful reading:

INDEX of Topics at STEM Discovery Course
Who Laid the Foundations of Science and Technology?
Using the Bible to Test Hypotheses
When is the Evidence Sufficient?
I Really Did That Work: Notable Christian Women in Science
Why Biblical Anthropology?
INDEX of Topics at Biblical Anthropology
INDEX of Topics at Just Genesis
The Key to Science and Scripture Alignment
Ancient Seats of Wisdom
Science and Technology in the Ancient World
The Oldest Known Calculator