The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

The time-lapse video below does a wonderful job of recording the beauty of fog. Most of us don’t remark on it in “real time”; it just seems to sit there and brood. Like clouds, fog is dynamic and undulating, moving so slowly that it rarely catches our attention. If time is collapsed, as is done in this video, the fog seems to flow like a river over the landscape, sometimes cascading like a waterfall. It is a beautiful sight. Put this in your wonder and awe file.

Praise the LORD, you from the earth,
fire, hail, snow, and fog, winds and storms
that carry out his command.
(Psalm 148: 7-8)

Fog: One of God’s wonderful creations!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

There is a fundamental precept among climate change activists and radical environmentalists that man is an interloper in the natural world. All would be pristine if it weren’t for us. There seems to be little appreciation that humans are part of creation, that we are supposed to be here, part of the interplay among living organism in which there is both giving and taking.

The role of the human person in creation is developed quite explicitly in the Bible. In the very opening pages of the Scriptures we read of Adam and Eve:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:28-31).

Man is no mere observer or denizen of creation; he has the authority of a steward. The Hebrew word used in this passage is a strong one: kabash (subdue). It means to bring something into submission, to impose a kind of order. Scripture also says, Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2:15).

It is remarkable that these things are said even before Original Sin. Thus, even in the paradise of Eden there is something imperfect, something undone. Man was to work with God in the ongoing work of maintaining creation and helping it reach its potential and achieve its goals.

Original Sin harmed both man and the rest of creation. God said to Adam, Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:17-18). In spite of this, God reiterates the role of the human person:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:1-3).

It is this sovereign stewardship that is celebrated in Preface Five for the Sundays of the year:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you laid the foundations of the world and have arranged for the changing of times and seasons; you have formed man in your own image and set humanity over the whole world in all its wonder, to rule in your name over all you have made and forever praise you in your mighty works, through Christ our Lord.

And so, with all the Angels, we praise you,
as in joyful celebration we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy …

All these texts are an answer to the modern, secular, extremist notion that reduces man to an unnatural intruder in the created world. We are not. We are meant to be here. The world was made for us by God, and we are to exercise a dominion that brings order and greater productivity to the created order by God’s grace.

In our best moments, we have done this beautifully. Advances in agricultural science have almost miraculously raised crop yields such that abundant food can be made available worldwide for billions. Forest management has permitted us to reap the benefits of trees while keeping our forests from being depleted through replanting and other measures. Fisheries, animal husbandry, wildlife management, nature conservancies, and national parks bless millions and encourage appreciation for the natural world. We have developed an amazing ability to use the raw minerals and materials of the earth to build and make wonderful things.

Further, the rise of hospitals in the early Christian era and medical study that followed in the West has driven back disease, dramatically lowered infant mortality, and relieved an enormous amount of human suffering. Modern Western economies have raised the standard of living for huge numbers of people, drawing many out of crushing poverty and subsistence living and making food and consumer goods available in rich variety.

There surely have been times when we have polluted, been wasteful, destroyed forests, and engaged in agricultural policies that contributed to crises such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, we have also learned much, especially in the modern age.

It is unjust to demonize humanity in the name of environmentalism. We are tasked by God to take the world He gave us and make good decisions about how it should be used: some land for farming, some for forests, and some for cities and other developments. It is our role to help unlock the full potential of the natural world by using its resources to make everything from medicine to food, from paint to steel, from grapes to wines and jellies.

It is important to resist accepting the premises of an increasingly radicalized movement. Man is not the enemy. Too many activists propose morally unacceptable solutions such as abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia in the name of “population control.” Other proposals include heavy-handed government intrusion to limit family size, eliminate entire industries, and ban certain fuel sources violate subsidiarity and are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Creating hysteria about climate change and warning of impending extinction is an old tactic of this movement. I have been hearing similarly dire predictions all my life, but here we still are. Believe what you want about climate change and its causes, but be careful to note what this movement has become and the dramatic, anti-human policies it has adopted.

Humanity is the crowning glory of this planet. We are not intruders into the world of nature. God made this world and put us here in it. Irresponsible stewardship is a sin, but extremist solutions are also a sin—against the dignity of the human person.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

On the Cosmology of Fireworks

One of the great paradoxes of creation and our existence in God’s world is that many blessings are unlocked by explosive, even violent, forces. The cosmos itself is hurtling outward in a massive explosion. Here we are, living part way through that explosion.

When I consider the fireworks on the Fourth of July, I often think that each of those beautiful, fiery explosions is a miniature replica of the cosmos. Everywhere in the universe, the burning embers we call stars and galaxies glow brightly as they hurtle outward at close to one hundred million miles per hour. Yes, from one great singularity, God sent the power of His fiery, creative love expanding outward, giving life, and seeming almost limitless. The cosmos is unimaginably large, but its creator is infinitely large.

Even here on Earth, a relatively cool and stable bit of dust compared to the Sun, we stand upon a thin crust of land floating over an explosive sea of molten, fiery rock. The Book of Job says,

As for the earth, out of it comes bread; Yet underneath it is turned up as it were by fire (Job 28:5).

This fiery cauldron produces the rich soil in which we grow our very bread. The smoke and gases of the fires provide essential ingredients of the atmosphere that sustains us. The molten fires beneath us also create a magnetic field that envelops Earth and deflects the most harmful of the Sun’s rays.

Yes, all around us there is fire with its explosive violence, yet from it come life and every good gift.

To small creatures like us, God’s expansive love can seem almost violent. Indeed, there are terrifying experiences near volcanos and from solar bursts that remind us that love is both glorious and unnerving. It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31).

In some of our greatest human works, we too use violent means. The blades of our plows cut into the earth, violently overturning it. We raise animals and then lead them to slaughter for food and/or clothing. We break eggs to make omelets. We stoke fires to cook our food and warm our homes. We smelt iron and other ore we violently cut from the earth. Even as we drive about in our cars, the ignition of the fuel/air mixture in the engine causes explosions, the energy from which is ultimately directed toward propelling the vehicle.

Violent though much of this is, we do these things (at least in our best moments) as acts of love and creativeness. By them we bring light, warmth, and food. We build and craft; we move products and people to help and bless.

Yes, there is a paradoxical “violence” that comes from the fiery heat of love and creativity. The following is an excerpt from Bianco da Siena’s 14th century hymn to the Holy Spirit, “Come Down, O Love Divine”:

Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming
.

Fire—can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Let the fire burn; let the seemingly transformative “violence” have its way. It makes a kind of paradoxical sense to us living in a universe that is midway through its fiery, expansive explosion of God’s love and creativity.

Disclaimer: I am not affirming gratuitous violence for selfish and/or merely destructive ends. The term “violence” is used here in a qualified manner, as an analogy to convey the transformative and creative power of love phenomenologically.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: On the Cosmology of Fireworks

O Tempus! Time Belongs to God, Not to Us

The ancient Greeks had at least three different words for time:

Chronos is close to what we call “clock time.” It answers the question of where we are on the scale used to note sequential time. For example, 3:00 PM refers to an agreed point in the middle of the afternoon.

Aeon refers to the fullness of time or to “the ages.” It is akin to our notion of eternity, not as an inordinately long time but as a comprehensive experience of all time summed up as one. Only God experiences this fully, but we can grasp aspects of it. For example, we can look back on our life as a whole and see how many different things worked to get us to where we are now. In so doing, we can come up with a comprehensive meaning to the events of the past. Although the future is hidden from us, we can still conceive of it and steer our lives intelligently toward it. God sees the past, present, and future all at once. Only God lives in pure aeon, the fullness of time.

Kairos is related to our concept of something being timely. There is often a particularly fitting or opportune moment for something. We might say “It was time to move on,” or “It was time to retire.”

This famous passage from Ecclesiastes sets forth the kairos notion of time and ends with a reference to eternity:

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

… I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. God has made everything appropriate to its time … (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a).

Yes, there is a time for everything. We like to think we determine when that is, but more often events and time itself determine what is timely and appropriate. We are not the master of time and events. Something bigger, caught up in God’s providence, sets the agenda. We may wish to laugh or celebrate, but sometimes there comes the awareness that now is not the right time. Even a happy occasion like a birthday or an anniversary can be overtaken by other events and a time to laugh becomes a time to cry.

In my spiritual reading I recently came across the following mediation on time in Jesus’ own earthly life. It is worth pondering, especially to the degree that we think we can be the master of time:

When Luke writes that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Lk 2:52), he is saying by this that Jesus respected time. He was not in a hurry. He could wait until “time” was right. This is also abundantly clear from his unusually long, hidden life at Nazareth.

We, on the other hand, are, in practice, inclined to deny time. We try to step over time, make decisions that we are not ready to make, and carry out task that have not been given to us ….

Everything good comes from God, but he does not give everything at once. Sin is to want to have something that God does not yet wish to give, … to seize immediately what he wishes to bestow only gradually.

… The New Testament speaks insistently about patience. It is a question of waiting, of staying awake, of being prepared. We cannot go into the wedding feast whenever we wish, but only when the bridegroom comes (Matthew 25:1-13). Another text warns “Behold I am coming like a thief.”

(Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D. in Eternity in the Midst of Time, pp. 39-40)

Thus, time and the Lord of Eternity insist that we wait and that we be ready. Time belongs to God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).

Every Easter we bless the Paschal Candle, which denotes the Year of the Lord. As the priest uses the stylus to cut or denote the year, he says,

Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to him,
and all ages;
to him be glory and power,
through every age and forever. Amen
.

Yes, all time belongs to Him. He has set the limit of our days. He has always known us (see Jeremiah 1:5). He summoned us to be; He knit us together in our mother’s womb and every one of our days was written in His book before one of them ever came to be (see Psalm 139). He is the Lord of time and history. He is the Lord of the present, and our future has always been present and known to Him.

We do well to remember all of this and to be grateful and humble. Our language about time bespeaks a certain pride and even a sense that we can beat or master time somehow. Consider some of these saying regarding time:

    • Making time for things
    • Killing time
    • Wasting time
    • Turning back the hands of time
    • Fighting against the clock
    • Being behind the times
    • Having too much time on our hands
    • Being a day late and a dollar short

Yes, we often think we can make time, or alter it, or know how much time we should have. Instead, we should humbly admit that we cannot alter time, turn it back, kill it, or make it.

Other expressions speak to our recognition that certain things are appropriate to certain times. Why exactly this is remains mysterious. Thus, we say things like this:

    • It’s high time
    • No time like the present
    • Right time, right place
    • This is the moment of truth
    • This is my hour of need
    • I’m having a hard time
    • I’m having a moment
    • I’m having a whale of a time
    • We had the time of our lives!
    • I finished in the nick of time
    • The time is ripe
    • Time flies
    • It will happen in due time
    • It has stood the test of time
    • Time is on our side
    • For the time being
    • You caught me at a bad time
    • Time is of the essence
    • God will bide his time
    • He’s doing time (in jail)

Expressions such as these show how time frames us and shapes our experience. Time is experienced, not altered or mastered. Time belongs to God; by it, He frames our life and shapes our experience. We sense time’s passage, its appropriateness, its givenness.

Be humble about time. You are not its master, God is.  Festina lente!  (Make haste, slowly).

The video below is set to Carl Orff’s composition of “O Fortuna,” which contains a far darker assessment of fate as the wheel of fortune turns. The world and all its glories are fading!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: O Tempus! Time Belongs to God, Not Us

If You Think You’re in the Fast Lane, You’re Right!

Have you been feeling a little rushed lately? Well, you might be surprised to find out how fast you’re actually moving, even when you think you’re “standing still.”

      • Earth, at the latitude of Washington, D.C., is spinning at a rate of about 750 miles per hour [1].
      • At the same time, the spinning Earth is rotating around the Sun at approximately 67,000 miles per hour [2].
      • And the Sun around which we move so rapidly is itself rotating around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at about 483,000 miles per hour [3].
      • Finally, the entire Milky Way Galaxy is spinning and moving outward at about 1,339,200 miles per hour [4].

It’s dizzying to consider our speed and motion: a spinning planet, rotating around a sun, which is rotating around the center of a galaxy, which is careening through space. So, if you think you’re standing still, think again; we are actually hurtling through space at mind-boggling speed.

Yes, you’re on the move. You’re moving so fast that you met yourself coming back! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re loafing.

Here are some biblical “speed texts.” Hurry up and read them!

      • Look! The Lord advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles (Jer 4:13).
      • I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands, O Lord (Psalm 119:60).
      • Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop! (1 Sam 20:38)
      • God has told me to hurry (2 Chron 35:21).

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: If You Think You’re in the Fast Lane, You’re Right!

Behold the Stars

The video below is another one for your wonder and awe file. It is a time lapse of the stars as they move across the sky. While their movement is due more to the spinning of Earth on its axis at nearly 1000 miles per hour (at the equator, less north or south of it), if you think they are just standing still out there, you are mistaken. At the same time, our rotating planet is orbiting the Sun at approximately 66,000 miles per hour, while the Sun around which we move so rapidly is itself revolving around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at about 483,000 miles per hour. Finally, the Milky Way Galaxy is moving through the universe at about 1.3 million miles per hour [1].

It is all dizzying to say the least. Most of us in or near light-polluted cities see little of the stars, but all around us are billions of galaxies each with billions of stars. I am not sure why God made a universe that is so immense; perhaps it is just His immense love.

Enjoy this video and be amazed.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Behold the Stars

The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

The time-lapse video below does a wonderful job of recording the beauty of fog. Most of us don’t remark on it in “real time”; it just seems to sit there and brood. Like clouds, fog is dynamic and undulating, moving so slowly that it rarely catches our attention. If time is collapsed, as is done in this video, the fog seems to flow like a river over the landscape, sometimes cascading like a waterfall. It is a beautiful sight. Put this in your wonder and awe file.

Praise the LORD, you from the earth,
fire, hail, snow, and fog, winds and storms
that carry out his command.
(Psalm 148: 7-8)

Fog: One of God’s wonderful creations!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

Rare Jewel: Earth-Like Planets May Be Very Rare

As we conclude our mini-series on the Genesis accounts of creation and the fall, I would like to ponder God’s magnificent work. We are not here by accident; God has carefully arranged things so that we can exist and flourish. In this regard, I have written a good bit over the years about what is known as the “Rare Earth Hypothesis.” Let’s review some of the basics of this hypothesis.

While most people, including most scientists, believe that there may be billions of inhabitable planets capable of sustaining complex life, the Rare Earth Hypothesis suggests that such a large number is overstated.

This is because there are not just a few things that come together to support life here on Earth—there are many. Here are some:

  1. Earth is at just the right distance from the Sun so that water is warm enough to melt, but not so hot as to boil and steam away into space. Water is also able, in this habitable zone (the so-called “Goldilocks” region), to both evaporate and condense at lower levels in the atmosphere, thus permitting a more even distribution of water, and the cycle of water over dry land known as precipitation.
  2. For suns to spawn Earth-like planets they must have sufficient “metallicity,” which is necessary for the formation of terrestrials rather than gaseous planets.
  3. Earth is in a “habitable zone” within the galaxy as well. Closer to the center of galaxies, radiation and the presence of wandering planetoids make life there unlikely.
  4. Earth exists in a disk-shaped spiral galaxy (the Milky Way) rather than in an elliptical (spheroid) galaxy. Spiral galaxies are thought to be the only type capable of supporting life.
  5. Earth’s orbit around the sun is an almost perfect circle rather than the more common “eccentric” (elongated) ellipse. Steep elliptical orbits take a planet relatively close to and then relatively far from the sun, with great consequences for warmth and light. Earth’s stable, nearly circular orbit around the sun keeps our distance from it relatively constant, and hence the amount heat and light does not vary tremendously.
  6. Two nearby “gas giants” (Jupiter and Saturn) attract and catch many wandering asteroids and comets and generally keep them from hitting Earth. The asteroid belts also keep a lot of flying rock in a stable orbit and away from us.
  7. Our molten core creates a magnetic field that holds the Van Allen radiation belts in place. These belts protect Earth from the most harmful rays of the sun.
  8. Earth’s volcanism plays a role in generating our atmosphere and in cycling rich minerals widely.
  9. Our sun is just the right kind of star, putting out a fairly steady amount of energy. Other types of stars are more variable in their output and this variance can utterly destroy life or cause it to be unsustainable due to the extremes caused.
  10. Earth’s fairly rapid rotation reduces the daily variation in temperature. It also makes photosynthesis viable because there is enough sunlight all over the planet.
  11. Earth’s axis is tilted just enough relative to its orbital plane to allow seasonal variations that help complex life but not so tilted as to make those variations too extreme.
  12. Our moon also has a good effect by causing tides that are just strong enough to permit tidal zones (a great breeding ground for diverse life) but not so severe as to destroy life by extreme tides.

There are many more items on the list (see the first video below), but allow these to suffice. The conditions that come together on this planet such that it is capable of sustaining complex life are complicated, remarkable, and some argue rare in the universe. The ability to support life here is the balance of many fascinating things. We cannot but be amazed at the complexity of life and the intricacies required for it to flourish here. It would appear that for complex life to be sustained, many factors must come together in just the right way. The sheer number of these factors sharply decreases the number of possible Earth-like planets, despite the billions of galaxies and stars.

All this background information leads us to a blog at discovermagazine.com: Earth-is-a-1-in-700 quintillion kind of place. (700 quintillion is 7 followed by 20 zeros!) The blog references a study by Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden.

Here are some excerpts:

Zackrisson’s work suggests an alternative to the commonly held assumption that planets similar to Earth must exist, based on the sheer number of planets out there …. Current estimates hold that there are some 100 billion galaxies in the universe containing about 10^18th stars, or a billion trillion …. Probability seems to dictate that Earth-twins are out there somewhere.

But according to Zackrisson … Earth’s existence presents a mild statistical anomaly in the multiplicity of planets …. Most of the worlds predicted … orbit stars with different compositions—an important factor in determining a planet’s characteristics. His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist …. Researchers are confident in the broader implications of their model: Earth is more than your garden-variety planet.

I write on this topic more in wonder and awe than anything else. Our faith does not require that we believe ourselves alone in the universe. God can, and even might have, created intelligent beings on other planets, beings with whom He interacts and whom He loves.

Neither should we too quickly assume that Earth is not a rare jewel. Statistically, it would seem that we and Earth are rare jewels. Humble amazement at all that it takes to sustain life on our planet is a proper stance at this stage of the evidence. The more we learn, the more it seems that the convergence of all the factors we enjoy on Earth is rare rather than commonplace. Consider well all that God and nature—sustained by God—have done so that you and I can exist. Be amazed; be very amazed!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Rare Jewel: Earth-like Planets May Be Very Rare