Friday, November 27, 2015

Cheshire Cat, Einstein and God

"Chester Cat" Galaxy group
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical - NASA/STScI
Smiling mysteriously like the Chester Cat in Alice in Wonderland these galaxies are really far away in the deep space some 4.5 billion light-years from Earth. That is close to the current estimation of the birth of the Solar system. The image combines X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes.
The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass dominated by dark matter.

In fact the two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues.

Gravitational lens
A gravitational lens refers to a distribution of matter (such as a cluster of galaxies) between a distant source and an observer, that is capable of bending the light from the source, as it travels towards the observer.

This effect is known as gravitational lensing and the amount of bending is one of the predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. (Classical physics also predicts bending of light, but only half that of general relativity's.

Although Orest Chwolson (1924) or Frantisek Klin (1936) are sometimes credited as being the first ones to discuss the effect in print, the effect is more commonly associated with Einstein, who published a more famous article on the subject in 1936.

Fritz Zwicky posited in 1937 that the effect could allow galaxy clusters to act as gravitational lenses.

It was not until 1979 that this effect was confirmed by observation of the so-called "Twin QSO" SBS 0957+561.

The Twin Quasar
"QSO B0957+0561" by ESA/Hubble & NASA
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
The Twin Quasar (Twin QSO or Double Quasar or Old Faithful, also known as SBS 0957+561, TXS 0957+561, Q0957+561 or QSO 0957+561 A/B), was discovered in 1979 and was the first identified gravitationally lensed object. It is a quasar that appears as two images, a result from gravitational lensing caused by the galaxy YGKOW G1 that is located in the line of sight between Earth and the quasar. Wikipedia

Einstein and God
No - I am not going to argue here about Albert Einstein's Jewish heritage or his relationship with the God of Israel. The point I am emphasizing has nothing to do with Einstein's personal views on science and religion.

The theological significance of gravitational lensing is in the way the phenomenon was discovered. So many things in Creation have been found by careful observation, logical theory formation, testing and double-checking the observation.  But not in this case. Einstein figured out gravitational lensing by pure mathematical thinking without any experimental evidence at hand.

It is remarkable, that while Einstein suggested the bending of light already in the general theory of relativity in 1915, the conclusive proof that he was right was found 61 years later in 1976. Accordingly, there is a hiatus of more than half a century before such equipment had been engineered that could be used to test experimentally this particular aspect in Einstein's theory. But even with best instruments it was still not a simple matter to find that needle in the haystack, evidence of gravitational lensing among billions of stars and galaxies.
The quasars QSO 0957+561A/B were discovered in early 1979 by an Anglo-American team around Dennis Walsh (1933–2005), Robert Carswell and Ray Weyman, with the aid of the 2.1 m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona/USA. The team noticed that the two quasars were unusually close to each other, and that their redshift and visible light spectrum were surprisingly similar. They published their suggestion of "the possibility that they are two images of the same object formed by a gravitational lens".
In the New Testament we have a genuine letter that was written by apostle Paul to the Christians in the capital of Rome in the 50'ies AD.  Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit while writing and scribbles down on papyrus immortal words about the God of Israel - for there is no other real God. while talking about the fallen state of humanity Paul emphasizes the deep thinking of the Creator which is obvious to all in His works. In modern terms we can express this by saying that Creation reflects the mathematical genius of the Creator.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 NIV
With his extraordinary brain Einstein figured out in his mind in a radically new way gravity fields and concluded that they also bend light. Because he achieved this feast just by thinking something in his mind must have reflected the deep reality of the Creation.

I do not want to use this "found by thinking" argument as proof that God exists as has been done by many over the centuries. Because true faith in God does not come from intelligent reasoning - it is born from the Word of God and is a gift given to some. However, gravitational lensing has spirituality and even holiness, the nobility and genius of human mind at its sharpest and the sanctity of God of Israel, who has created that mind.

This text was originally published in my Space theology (Astrotheology) blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notes on Nativity stories in the four Gospels

One of world's foremost sopranos sings one of the most beautiful songs ever written

All four Gospels mention the mother of Jesus, Mar but only two of them - Matthew and Luke - tell about events related the birth of Jesus.

Evangelist Mark begins from the moment when already adult Jesus of Nazareth comes to John the Baptist. Mark has been called :passion of Christ with introduction". It contains no materials about the birth or childhood of Jesus.

The Gospel according to John has a magnificent opening which is deeply theological. After these famous Logos paragraphs the narrative focuses on Jesus and John the Baptist. There is no material about the birth or childhood of Jesus.

Matthew has a number of short but powerful texts that reverberate throughout the Christendom every Christmas.

Matthew focuses first on Joseph, the husband of Mary. Rather surprisingly from  a literary point of view, the Gospel opens with his genealogy from patriarch Abraham to Jacob Ben Matthan, the father of Joseph.

Next Matthew tells about the difficulty Joseph had with Mary who became pregnant while they were only engaged ("plegded to marriage"). The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told what was going on. The angel commanded Joseph to take Mary as his wife. The point of view in the Gospel is decidedly on Joseph. We get the impression that Matthew expects the reader to know about the events from Mary's side and complements the picture in this way.

There is no mention of Nazareth in the story about Joseph and the unexpected pregnancy of Mary. Matthew tells that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea during the time of king Herod (Herod the Great  74/73 – 4 BC).

After the birth of Jesus Magi came from eastern lands (eks anatole) to worship him. This focuses on the wise men and king Herod, who had evil plans in his mind. Joseph is not mentioned, they saw the child and his mother Mary. Because the lavish presents included three things, gold, myrrh and frankincense, church traditions have it that the visitors were three kings.

Joseph sees the angel of Lord another time at night and is told to escape from Bethlehem. The holy family travels to Egypt being safe from king Herod's wrath when all two year old and younger boys are murdered in that city. They returns after Herod's death but since the new king is Herod's son Archelaus (23 BC – c. 18 AD) they move to live in Nazareth.

After these narratives about the birth of Jesus the Gospel of Matthew focuses on Jesus and John the Baptist.

Luke concentrates largely on Mary, mother of Jesus.

The narratives about the birth of Jesus begin in the Judeaan hills near Jerusalem where Zechariah and Elizabeth were living. While serving in the temple Zechariah is told that he will get a son and must name him John.

Next Luke tells in detail of a very private moment in the city of Nazareth in Galilee that was witnessed only by virgin Mary herself. No other human was present. Accordingly, the only way these intimate details could have reached Luke is that Mary herself has told about it to someone.  Angel Gabriel tells her about the coming pregnancy, about the majesty of this baby boy and that she must be called Jesus.

Mary now visits Elizabeth in Judean hills (traditionally the beautiful valley village of En Karem near Jerusalem). When Elizabeth sees Mary the child in her womb kicks in happiness and the mother is filled with Holy spirit.

Next Luke gives a beautiful and theologically loaded Song of Mary that is a rare example of very early Judaeo-Christian hymns.

After John the Baptist is born Zechariah says a prophecy about him in Holy Spirit.

Luke says that Jesus was born in Bethelhem of Judea, the city of David, during the time of a census ordered by Caesar Augustus (63 BC–14 AD). Everyone had to travel to his original home place to be taxed by the authorities there. Joseph and pregnant Mary came to Bethlehem for this reason, as Joseph had royal blood in the line of king David.

The shepherds (traditionally from the green valleys of Beit Sahour east of Bethlehem at the edge of the Judean Desert) were the first visitors to greet the newborn baby. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the shepherds south of Jerusalem raised lambs for the Passover meals in Jersualem where there could be over 100.000 pilgrims during the feast. The angelic song about whichLuke tells from the shpeherd's field is heard every Christmas all over the world in countless languages.

According to Jewish tradition, Jesus is circumcised on the eight day after birth. Matthew does not mention this ancient crucially important ritual for Jewish boys. It has been suggested that Theophilus to whom Luke addresses the Gospel may have been a high society Sadducee, so this particular detail is important.

Finally, Luke tells about the sacrifice in the Temple that the Law of Moses orders to all firstborn boys. The choice of two pigeons indicates that Joseph was not particularly wealthy.

It is in human nature that we wish to create a single logical and seamless Christmas texts contained in Matthew and Luke. But this is not the correct approach.  Would Holy Spirit want to give us a single narrative without any internal contradictions and other problems He would have done so. A single Gospel would have been enough for that.

Instead, we have four different books, three of which look at the things from similar point of view (synoptics) but differ in many details and the fourth looking at events like an eagle from up in the sky seeing a much larger picture. The four complement each other but also challenge us creating a genuinely human collection of memories with the feeling of genuineness and wonder. 

The Christmas narratives in the Gospels do not call us just to memorize and repeat what is written but they challenge us study, question, doubt and believe growing in us and nourishing us as we grow up mentally and spiritually.

Freedom of expression
Yes, birth of Jesus can be told in many ways .There is great be artistic freedom to express what is felt important and no need to only repeat literally what is written.   These narratives inspire us in powerful way and they are so fresh from Christmas to Christmas.

Especially we enjoy the joy in children's eyes when they here about these wonderful and mysterious events of incarnation.

Please, father and mother, push that pagan santaclaus aside and give priority with your children to  moments by the Bible and the true Christmas story!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Bible, Ben Carson and Sarah Palin

Image Alternative Egypt. Guide for the Independent Traveller
Two prominent United States politicians have said things relating to the Bible that are still reverberating throughout the media. Undoubtedly, these statements are in harmony with the religious right wing of the Republican party, a significant group of would be voters. What other motive could there be to say such things?

Ben Carson and the pyramids
Ben Carson is the currently leading Republican candidate in 2016 presidential elections. In 1998 he told in a graduation speech in Andrews University that Israelis built the great pyramids as grain silos under the guidance of Joseph. He still believes so today.
"It’s still my belief, yes,” Carson said, on Wednesday, when CBS News asked him if he still held to this theory. Then, with an almost pitying smile, Carson explained again, as if to a child, that “the pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments. You wouldn’t need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulchre. You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time.”
The New Yorker November 5th, 2015

Sarah Palin and the dinosaurs

This photograph of a Creation Museum exhibit, similar to the photograph in National Geographic,
depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with a dinosaur.
Image Answers in
The 9th governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was the Republican Vice President nominee in 2008 elections alongside Arizona Senator John McCain.
After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.

Palin told him that "dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time," Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said "she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks," recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.
Los Angeles Times 28. Sept 2008

Why such ignorance?
These two US politicians with presidential ambitions, Ben Carson and Sarah Palin, are honestly expressing what they believe. At the same time, by making such statements they hope to increase their popularity among the Christian believers in the Republican electorate. Such tactics indicate that their opinions about biblical matters must be quite widespread among the American public. How come?

The ignorance about the real contents of the Bible and God's creation can only be explained by the lack of proper education. US public and private schools do not give American children proper Bible teaching.  This black hole in "religiously neutral school system" leaves the youth vulnerable to all kinds of religious groups educating them outside the perimeters of the schools operating under Federal and State legislation and teaching programs.

The US national failure of teaching the Bible properly has truly catastrophic spiritual consequences. The tip of the ice berg are statements by well meaning election candidates whose statements cause world wide mockery to the holy name of the God of Israel.

The truth will set you free
Jesus Christ in John 8:32

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Creation and God's wrath in Romans 1

The guilt
The reason given by Paul for God's wrath is surprising in itself and very different from our natural conscience and feeling of justice - bad deeds are the reason why God gets angry at us and punishes us, is that not true?

The prophetic words about sinful humanity in St Paul's letter to the Romans is very surprising. He writes that the reason to God's wrath is essentially not the wickedness and bad deeds of humans but what the very fact that they do not: give glory to the true Creator of the world, God of Israel. Instead, idolatry rules, as Paul could see by his own eyes in Athens, Rome and elsewhere.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:18 - 23
The punishment
Speaking about God's wrath leads our thoughts naturally towards heavenly punishments against sinners such as natural catastrophes, physical illnesses and pandemics, horrors of wars. Isn't this pattern of crime and punishment how divine wrath is understood in religions? Humans try to find ways to guarantee that highest forces are satisfied with us and bless rather than punish.

St Paul writes tough words but there is in them something very different from the natural pattern of crime and punishment underlying much of human religious behavior.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 1:24 - 32
Not very politically correct but definitely powerful words and totally surprising on closer reading.

God's wrath
Curiously, St. Paul sets the reason of human wickedness to God's respond to not being glorified as the Creator.

From our natural religious perspective things are upside down in Romans 1: instead of human wickedness being the cause of God's wrath the reason is idolatry, not recognizing the true God even He is so obvious in His deeds.

In response to human idolatry God Himself

  • gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another
  • gave them over to shameful lusts
  • gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

St Paul sees little hope for flesh, children of Adam and Eve. They will never be able to glorify God as He should be respected in His immensely wise deeds of Creation. According to the Letter to the Romans, something totally radical must happen to human individuals before they sing the glory of God as their Creator wishes and is worthy of.