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Traveling to the Stars, Part Three: Motives and Expectations

In part one we summarized what we actually know, by divine revelation, about the cosmos and its raison d’etre. We underscored the primary purpose of the heavens, so coldly and clinically called “outer space” by many. That purpose is to give glory to God. Our part is to recognize that glory, give Him thanks and praise for it, and to have magnifying His glory as our prime directive.

In part two we considered the logistics (especially the chronological ones) and known obstacles to be overcome in traveling to the stars. The most valiant effort at addressing the potentialities of such an endeavor is inadequate, for who dares claim a foresight that spans millennia?

Now, let’s examine our motives for wanting to visit Trappist-1 or Vega or Arcturus and their neighborhoods, and ask ourselves what benefit we can expect besides a mighty sense of accomplishment, which by no means is to be despised! Our knowledge about the true nature of the universe and the obstacles and logistics we have contemplated must guide our motives and inform our expectations about venturing so far from this Earth…this home God gave to us.

According to the apostle Paul at Romans 15:4, the record of the Old Testament is for our learning. After the Great Flood of Noah’s day (memorialized in ancient legends of peoples all over the globe) eight souls disembarked onto what was essentially a new world. We rightly infer that from that juncture an era of exploration, migration, and re-population of the Earth began.

Let’s compare the motives and expectations of Noah’s more immediate descendants with those of us his latter day descendants, contemplating explorations off this globe.

As He had commanded Adam and Eve, God commanded Noah and his sons to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Sin would eventually beget the imperialism and other evils, as the account of the tower of Babel makes clear. But at least in the earliest post-diluvian years, the divine mandate provided a great motive for the exploits of Shem, Ham, Japheth and their offspring. But we “go beyond what is written” if we believe we are called to fill the heavens as well. Can we expect God to bless our efforts to move on to other potential worlds in light of our stewardship of this one?

One eager hope of many regarding traveling to the stars is exemplified by SETI – the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Once again God’s word provides information about this. YES! Extra-terrestrial, non-human intelligent beings do exist. They are called angels and demons. Attempts to communicate with the latter are forbidden and dangerous. Communications from the former have always been at God’s instigation and according to His purposes (cf. Hebrews 1:14). Are there other orders of intelligent beings we can expect to meet?

Enter another truth we glean from the whole counsel of God. That is, the entrance of sin into the cosmos, and death by sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5). Because of man’s sin, the Earth was cursed and the creation subjected to a futility which one day will be removed (Romans 8, Revelation 21:5) . How would this apply to hypothetical intelligent or even animal life elsewhere in the creation? Speculation could go in several directions at this point. In this writer’s opinion, there is no scenario in which discovery of the existence of such life is likely. He does not say it is impossible.

In this as in all arenas of human endeavor, examination of motives is in order. Why do we want to travel to the stars, as opposed to continuing to observe them and learn more about them from Earth? Do we want to travel to the stars to glorify God and benefit humanity, or to exalt humanity and marginalize God? Can we travel to to other worlds without exporting the ravages of sin and death to them? Think of the surfaces of the moon or Mars eventually being littered with human garbage…grotesque emblems of the fallen condition of mankind.

Therefore here is the summation of one opinion on the entire matter. Travel to the stars by human beings will probably never happen, although we may achieve great things in our more immediate neighborhood, commonly called the solar system. The search for non-human intelligences other than those we already know about (angels and demons) is probably a vain one. And yet the drive to explore and learn as much as we can to the glory of God is a good thing.

May informed, disciplined, truly scientific and truly ethical inquiry and exploration into all realms of God’s amazing creation continue, for His glory and our good as He defines it!

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Traveling to the Stars, Part Two: Logistics and Obstacles

After reviewing the origin and purposes of the real universe, we concluded Part One of this three part series with this question: “What logistics obtain for traveling to the stars, and what obstacles are star travelers likely to face?” Let’s discuss some of those logistics, and ponder some of those obstacles…

The observable speed of light is 186,000 miles per SECOND. The greatest Earth-escape velocity yet attained by a man made device was that of the probe New Horizons, launched A.D. 2006. It reached 10 miles per second. That is staggering compared to the speeds that planes, trains, and automobiles can reach, but still 18,600 times slower than the unimaginably fast speed of light!

Voyager 1 – still voyaging out of Earth’s immediate neighborhood – attained a velocity somewhat greater than 10 miles per second, thanks to gravity assists from Jupiter and Saturn. Solar Probe Plus, scheduled for launch in A.D. 2018, is expected to achieve a whopping 120 miles per second thanks to the sun’s gravity. But like New Horizons those craft are unmanned, and in the case of Solar Probe Plus, not having the distant stars for a destination but the sun.

Nevertheless, let’s get a bit unhinged with sci-fi speculation. Suppose someday we can build a vessel able both to transport personnel and to reach what Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock would call a sub-light speed of 200 miles per second. That is “only” 930 times slower than the speed of light.

Now let’s sum up the math involved, and illustrate what we are up against. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second from the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, takes about 4.3 YEARS to reach Earth.

A rocket with humans on board traveling at the velocity of New Horizons (18,600 times slower than light) would have an E.T.A. to Alpha Centauri of 79,980 YEARS (18,600 X 4.3) from the date of its launch.

Our imaginary rocket cruising at 200 miles per second would arrive at Alpha Centauri in 3,999 years (930 X 4.3). But wait…to our knowledge, the Alpha Centauri star system has no planets!

The recently discovered Trappist-1 system, which some believe includes habitable planets, is about 39 light years from home. So 930 X 39 puts our imaginary rocket’s E.T.A. to Trappist-1 in the year A.D. 38,290 if it could be launched in A.D. 2020. That trip time is the equivalent of all history since the time of Christ, multiplied almost 20 times!

Warp drives, wormholes, and “folding space” as in Frank Herbert’s Dune universe are purely hypothetical. So are long term hibernation or suspended animation technologies…and a sleep of forty thousand years makes Rip Van Winkle’s twenty year cat nap look like the twinkle of an eye! So let’s go back to the drawing board and work with a plan of sending live people, who obviously would have to reproduce along the way. It would be their descendants, not themselves, who would actually reach the Trappist-1 system.

Even if we generously allow a period of one hundred years for each fully conscious star traveling generation, that’s four hundred generations of people – being born and dying, breathing an artificial atmosphere, eating, drinking, and recycling every bit of waste. Offer a sustainable model for achieving that, and don’t forget to consider how they would deal with the remains of their dead! It appears that we must conceive of a vessel that would need to be sized at least on the order of the Empire’s moon-sized “Death Star” from the fictional adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends.

And let’s consider the socializing and government of our star traveling new ethnic group…for is that not what they would become? Would this society with no possibility of immigration or emigration be able to maintain its vision and its will to attain the original goal? Knowing human nature which has not changed in all our history so far, is it not more likely that the mission’s vision and goal would become obscured or twisted? A scenario in which a revolutionary contingent arises in the fifth or tenth or twentieth generation, far removed from the zeal and idealism of the first, seems quite plausible, no? What about crime, disease, and catastrophes so unforeseen that we can’t even foresee what they might be?

Suppose revolutionaries overthrew the establishment and either destroyed the vessel in utter, suicidal despair, or made an effort at returning to an Earth populated by their very distant cousins who only knew of the existence of the star bound portion of humanity as a chapter of history? Even allowing for communication with Earth at the greater speed of light, the further the vessel went, the less relevant data transmitted either way would be at either end…and we’re assuming everything is peaches and cream on Earth, not nuclear winter.

And what about the procreating that would have to be ongoing for all those thousands of years? What size population would be required to prevent devastating inbreeding? How would the artificial environment effect the human body and psyche over many generations? Can the most advanced lamp substitute for a day on a sunny beach or an evening under a romantic moon? And no doubt cabin fever would take on a whole new level of meaning…

Lastly, figuring out how to put the brakes on something traveling that fast would be a huge, final hurdle. But we’re dreaming unhinged, remember?

Will we ever travel to the stars? Whether you tend to say yea or nay, Passengers (A.D. 2016, directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts) was a great flick! The motives and expectations involved in traveling to the stars will be discussed next week.

to be continued…

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Traveling to the Stars, Part One: The Real Universe

If you adhere consciously or unconsciously to the theories of origins which prevail in early 21st century western civilization, you will become skeptical or amazed if you read on. You might even become annoyed or worse.

The cosmogony and cosmology briefly sketched below unabashedly flows from commitment to the infallible veracity of the holy Bible, and the conviction that its veracity obtains for all matters it addresses or even touches upon indirectly. And it certainly addresses origins.

Genesis chapter one majestically summarizes the origin of the entire universe (the heavens and the earth). It tells of the beginning of the human race and in chapter three explains its current sad state of corruption. It teaches us about the provenance of other life forms on earth. It accounts for the seven day week, inherited by us moderns from greatest antiquity – but unlike the year, month, and day not established as a chronological measure by the heavenly luminaries.

Were we zeroing in on geology and anthropology, we would need to address the Noahic flood of about 4,500 years ago. That unique, global cataclysm is memorialized in the legends of hundreds of ethnic groups. We would also need to speak about the divine activity at the tower of Babel which explains the origin of diversity in human speech.

Unrevised history as given in Scripture speaks to other important matters as well, with God’s plan of salvation as the heart and soul of the whole. But at the moment we are considering the feasibility of human beings traveling to the stars.

Let’s begin by asking about the raison d’etre for the sun, the moon, and both “fixed” and “wandering” stars. Astronomy cannot tell us their purpose. That fine scientific endeavor can only describe what it sees using terms like giant balls of flaming gas, planets (from the Greek PLANETES, wanderers) satellites, asteroids, comets, novae, nebulae. The Bible transcends human observation with its accurate or inaccurate conclusions and reveals several purposes for the objects we see in the heavens. Consider these two passages:

From the 19th Psalm – “…the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”

From Genesis chapter 1 – Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth;” and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.

In short the revealed purposes of the heavenly bodies are (1) to display God’s glory to all nations at all times and in all places (what we can observe in the nearer heavens such as clouds, lightning, and other meteorological phenomena included), (2) to illumine the earth, (3) to establish units of time and (4) to serve as special signs. As to that last purpose, the star of Bethlehem comes to mind, as does the mighty miracle described in Joshua chapter ten.

What happens if our speculation about traveling far, far away from home despises or ignores this true and accurate knowledge of the origin and purposes of our destination? What if instead we plan our journey based on the myth that the universe came to be when a “cosmic egg” inexplicably exploded in a big bang? What if we view the heavens and the earth and everything in them as but the chaotic remains of such a primordial conflagration? If we do that, we are starting from complete falsehood; building on a speculation foundation of sand.

But creative speculation and inventing the tools by which we can realize our dreams is integral to who we human beings are! We are little creators made in the image of our own omnipotent Creator! So, beginning from the Bible’s sound and reliable launch pad, let’s boldly go – in our imaginations – where no man has gone before!

What logistics obtain for traveling to the stars, and what obstacles are star travelers likely to face?

to be continued…

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A Short Quiz

It only has one multiple choice question! Six Bible quotations follow; some words are bolded for emphasis. Please read the verses before taking the one question quiz below.

A. “The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” (Psalm 11:5)

B. “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 36:7)

C. “The LORD your God in your midst, the mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

D. “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:” (Proverbs 6:16; read on in Proverbs chapter 6 if you want to see what they are)

E. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6, Christ speaking. Cf. verse 15)

F. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Now that you have read the six citations, choose which of the following best expresses what YOU believe.

1. I believe B, C, and F are true. God is good, all the time…all the time, God is good, period! This is a good example of how the Bible has been edited over the centuries. Verses A, D, and E are obviously not genuine. Of course the loving God does not “hate” anything or anybody!

2. I believe there is some truth in all the statements. After all, the Bible is only a human writing like other books. The verses reflect the diverse experiences and thoughts of alleged giant killer David, Zephaniah who was taken for a prophet, wise Solomon, and John the apostle (or of people claiming to be them). All these statements are subject to the private interpretation of each reader, who might find life application or inspiration from other ancient religious texts, or from the arts and sciences, as well as from the Bible.

3. I believe that all the statements are true and non-contradictory. The entire Bible is the cohesive, inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God. God is the God of unfathomable love. God is the God of consuming wrath. By comparing these verses with one another, always considering context and the whole counsel of God in Scripture, our understanding increases along with a satisfied assurance of their veracity which comes from God Himself, Who is be loved and feared.

4. I believe A, D, and E are true. Just look at the state of the world! It is filled with all kinds of misery caused by humanity – against humanity and against other forms of life and against the earth itself. Why doesn’t your god do something about that? Innumerable, devastating natural catastrophes have occurred and probably will continue to occur. Why doesn’t your god stop them? I just can’t believe that B, C, and F have any truth to them, sorry. Your god must be hateful and I want nothing to do with such a being.

The quiz is self grading. May it help us all to pray and do according to two other Bible passages:

“Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2)

“Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:40)

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The Name of the Artist

“You can’t see the forest for the trees!” That charge is leveled against one so preoccupied with details that he misses the big picture.

Misers are hoarders of money. Obsessed with obtaining and holding it for its own sake, they miss the blessings which come from spending wisely, and the greater blessings of giving (Acts 20:35).

So it is with us and this vast universe with all it contains, including this beautiful earth with the superabundance and near infinite diversity of life teeming upon it. This theater of variegated glory is often called NATURE.

Are we getting the message written in this forest of magnificent beauty? Like Dickens’ character Scrooge (before his reclamation) have we abandoned the stewardship assigned to us, merely sitting on this treasure chest so deep and wide?

Admittedly, those two questions are pregnant with presupposition. They assume that someone wrote the message, and that someone assigned the stewardship. The signers of the American Declaration of Independence recognized that Someone, for they referred not only to nature, but to nature’s God.

The point is this. When we gaze with amazement at nature but go no further than admiration of nature, we are not seeing the “forest” (God’s glory) for the trees. When we are astonished by the intricate wonders of the wisely ordered creation but are not drawn to adore and thank the Creator, we have no excuse. Those who assign purposelessness and chaos to what we all see will learn their grave error, hopefully before it is too late for that schooling to do them any good.

Theologians have given us a helpful insight. They speak of special revelation and general revelation. Special revelation is verbal. When originally given, it was often attested by mighty signs and wonders which simply made manifest God’s perpetual, utterly sovereign control over creation and its ordinary rules and processes – such as Jesus walking on water.

This special, verbal revelation is on record: we call it the holy Bible. Not all humanity has knowledge of it, although thankfully in our time those who do not are becoming an increasingly tiny minority. And it is doing the majority a lot of good.

General revelation IS given to all humanity, through the creation. In fact, the primary purpose of creation is to reveal (give revelation of) its Creator! The Bible teaches this in portions such as the 19th Psalm, a song written by King David. David begins his doxology with “…the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”

Centuries later, the apostle Paul expounded on the purpose of general revelation. This is what he wrote to the early disciples of Christ in Rome: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”

Imagine seeing a masterpiece painting for the first time. You see no “special revelation” in the form of a placard below the frame providing the artist’s name, nor a title for the piece, nor any other information. Would you say that the painting just popped into existence out of chaos, or that it has no meaning or purpose? Would you deny that an artist produced the masterpiece?

That is exactly what those who fail to even acknowledge nature’s God are doing when they gaze upon nature and get no further. For this they will be held culpable, despite whatever alibis they offer in the name of philosophy or science. The very purpose of the entire universe is to showcase God’s eternal and unfathomable wisdom, power, and glory. He is the owner of this wonderful Earth (Psalm 24:1 et. al.) Who made mankind its stewards. And we will give account to Him of our stewardship.

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The Jonah Coin, Part Two

From last week:

Soon they were out on the waves, the sea breeze filling their lungs and the sun on their bare backs. At the proper time, they began to haul in their net. All of a sudden, Hosea’s end began to slip! “Careful, son, we’re losing it!”, shouted Eli. As both father and son lunged for the thick edge of the net, Hosea’s stater slipped out of the tunic rolled around his waist. It flew through the air. Hosea saw it land in the middle of the catch of fish which was quickly slipping out of the net. It disappeared. Eli grabbed the sagging end of the net and the three pulled in what was left of their catch. No one said a word for the rest of the day.

It was Hosea’s grandpa who broke the silence on the way home from the shore. “Hosea, I heard the Teacher once myself, you know.”

The sad boy looked in amazement at his strong and gentle grandfather.

“That’s right. And do you know what He said?” Hosea hoped that somehow the words of the Man from Nazareth would comfort him. His grandpa continued. “He said, `Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also.’ Do you know what the Teacher meant, Hosea?”

The boy struggled to hold back his tears. “I…I think so, grandpa”, he sobbed. “I…I guess He meant that my stater is not really a treasure… is that right? Does the Teacher mean that I should not be too sad about losing it?”

“That’s what He meant”, said the older Hosea. “Now why don’t you and I talk to God about this?” The two bowed their heads to pray. After his grandpa prayed, Hosea prayed. “Lord, help me to know the true treasures like the Teacher said”. He recalled how his grandpa had suggested that he leave his coin at home. “And please help me to listen to my grandpa’s good advice, Lord!” The older Hosea hugged his namesake as they went inside for the night.

Several days later, Eli, Hosea and his grandpa were mending nets by the shore of Galilee with some other fishermen. There was a small commotion as a man approached. “That’s Simon Peter!”, said Eli. “He’s one of the men who travels with Jesus of Nazareth!” Hosea was instantly interested. He wandered over to where Simon was speaking to some of the men.

“…So those who collect the two-drachma tax came to me and said, `Does your Rabbi not pay the two-drachma tax?’ So I told them He does. And when I went into the house, Jesus asked me, `What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ When I answered,`From strangers’, He said, `Consequently the sons are exempt. But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.’ So…here I am!”, continued Simon. “May I use someone’s line and hook?”

According to Jesus’ words, the large fish which Simon soon caught had a stater in its mouth. The future apostle went his thoughtful way and the astonished fishermen eventually went back to their nets, but only a certain new fisherman named Hosea knew the secret.

He could not wait until he had a chance to meet Jesus of Nazareth. He would tell Him all about it.

This short story is based on that portion of the sacred history recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 17

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The Jonah Coin, Part One

Hosea was an Israelite boy who lived during the earthly life of the Lord Jesus. He was named after the prophet Hosea, and his wise grandpa had the same name. Hosea’s grandpa as well as his dad, Eli, were fishermen. Hosea wanted to be a fisherman, too.

Today was a big day for Hosea. It was his first time to work on the fishing boat with his dad and grandpa! He was very excited as he walked toward the sea with all the fishermen from Capernaum, Hosea’s home town. Hosea easily picked out his family’s fishing boat from the rest, and he was the first one on board. Like a good seaman, he obeyed his dad as they prepared to sail.

“Make sure that net is bundled like I showed you, son”, his dad cried. Hosea scurried to see that the net was not tangled. “Are the oars stowed”? asked Eli. Soon the little boat joined dozens of others out on the sea of Galilee. It was a warm, sunny day. Hosea loved it. They laughed and talked and sang as they worked. It was over too soon for Hosea, but he was filled with joy as the three brought their catch home.

The next day and all that week, Hosea fished with his dad, grandpa, and sometimes other men of their family. Hosea learned so much! He not only learned about fishing, but he listened carefully as the older men talked about Jesus of Nazareth, the Teacher. Hosea’s older cousin Jacob knew a lot about Jesus.

“I knew two brothers, James and John the sons of Zebedee”, said Jacob. “They were fishermen like us. One day the Teacher asked them to come with Him. They left right away! I saw them again not too long ago, and they invited me to come and hear Jesus. I went, and now I want to see Him again. I’ve never heard any of the synagogue leaders speak like this Man!” Hosea made up his mind that one day he would like to meet Jesus, too.

On the last day of the week, the family brought their catch of fish ashore a little earlier than other days, and began the special work that would last until the sun went down. It was the day of preparation for the Sabbath the next day. At the very end of the day, Eli called Hosea aside.

“Son, you’ve done a great job for your first week on board! Here is your pay.” Eli gave his son one shiny coin. It was a stater, and worth four days pay for a man! “It’s not a full week’s pay”, continued Hosea’s dad, “but you will soon be earning the same as any man, if you keep learning and doing as well as you have.”

Hosea was delighted. He knew that his dad was not a rich man, and he did not expected to paid at all, at least not yet! Hosea’s grandpa winked at Eli as Hosea threw his arms around his dad and thanked him. The happy trio walked home to Hosea’s mom, Mahlah, and the dinner she had waiting for them.

On the first working day of the next week, the young fisherman again headed for the boats. This time he proudly tossed the bright coin into the air over and over. He hoped that some of the younger boys of Capernaum would see it. His grandpa noticed what he was doing.

“Don’t you think you should run back home and leave your stater there for safekeeping, Hosea?”, he asked.

“Oh, don’t worry, Grandpa”, replied the youth. Hosea ran ahead as the older man sighed and shook his head.

Soon they were out on the waves, the sea breeze filling their lungs and the sun on their bare backs. At the proper time, they began to haul in their net. All of a sudden, Hosea’s end began to slip! “Careful, son, we’re losing it!”, shouted Eli. As both father and son lunged for the thick edge of the net, Hosea’s stater slipped out of the tunic rolled around his waist. It flew through the air. Hosea saw it land in the middle of the catch of fish which was quickly slipping out of the net. It disappeared. Eli grabbed the sagging end of the net and the three pulled in what was left of their catch. No one said a word for the rest of the day.

to be continued…

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