Creation astronomy from a rocket scientist
Readers may remember our 2015 interview with Dr Henry Richter,1 the development manager of Explorer 1, America’s first satellite. 90 years of age, Dr Richter recently drove from his home 120 miles away to deliver a speech at the 60th anniversary of Explorer 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
On that day in January 2018, he shared his unique insider’s perspective about the mission that launched America into the space race. Most employees at JPL working on missions today now have no memory of the early days of NASA and its famous spacecraft laboratory, where Richter helped make history in the late 1950s. His speech was heard by many at the lab and was very well received.
Since that interview, CMI has had the privilege of publishing a new book by Dr Richter, Spacecraft Earth: A Guide for Passengers—an educational, evangelistic book loaded with examples of intelligent design (see box). It describes wonders of creation all the way from the cell to the outer reaches of space, revealing to ‘passengers’ all the amazing features of our planetary ‘spacecraft’—its environment, inhabitants, and its mission.
Interspersed are Dr Richter’s own experiences in the early days of the space race, giving the book an appealing personal touch, ending with his testimony, “From one passenger to another,” where he tells how the wonders of creation and the circumstances of his life led him to follow Christ.
This real-life ‘rocket scientist’ was helped in this project by David Coppedge, a former JPL employee (also interviewed in this magazine,2 a few months before Dr Richter) who expanded and updated the material. David’s article here shares some of the material from the book. And as he told CMI, “What better authority to consult on creation astronomy than a bona fide rocket scientist and space pioneer, who is also a strong Christian and a young-earth creationist?”
Everything about our ‘spacecraft’ is designed for life. Our moon, our atmosphere, our magnetic field—all these features, and many more described in Spacecraft Earth, make complex life on Earth possible and point to the intentional work of a Designer, the God of the Bible.
Design in the earth
When the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) launched the Explorer satellites that Dr Richter managed in 1958, the team was puzzled by dropouts in the data collected by a Geiger counter at certain points in the orbit. These turned out to be the first evidence of high-energy radiation belts outside our atmosphere.
Later named the Van Allen Belts in honour of the instrument scientist involved, these radiation belts revealed a critical function of Earth’s magnetic field. It protects us from ‘killer electrons’ in the solar wind, a deadly stream of high-energy charged particles pouring out of the sun. Without protection from these particles, life on Earth could not survive.
The atmosphere acts as a second layer of protection, burning up most small meteors, absorbing many cosmic rays, and shielding life from deadly ultraviolet radiation. Even the crustal composition of the earth plays a vital role, by making the ingredients for life available at the surface, including rare minerals. The earth also cycles the necessary elements, including carbon, nitrogen, iron, oxygen, and even bromine—without which there would be no animals, one science team discovered.3 As the ‘water planet,’ Earth also has abundant quantities of that most vital requirement for life.
In his book, Dr Richter presents a cogent, up-to-date argument for a young earth. Years ago, he read a monograph by the late Dr Thomas Barnes4 about the decay of Earth’s magnetic field, and was struck by its implications: the earth could not have been habitable for millions of years. Using updated information from physicist Dr Russell Humphreys, he discusses this evidence, ruling out mechanisms proposed by secular geophysicists to keep the field from decaying. Richter concludes that not only is the earth young, but geology and physics have apparently ‘conspired’ together in this case for our benefit: to allow a window of time in which complex life can survive the onslaught of radiation.
Design in the solar system
Many have heard of the concept of a ‘habitable zone’ around a star where liquid water can exist, but there are actually many more factors required for habitability. This narrows the zone of habitability still more. Some of these are not well known, but have been reported as essential by astronomers. One of them is that the planet must not get locked to the star by tidal forces, resulting in one side always facing the star. Such a situation would prevent seasons, creating a hot side and a cold side, vastly decreasing the surface area for life-permitting temperatures. This one factor rules out most of the stars in the universe as having habitable planets. Another factor is the ‘eccentricity’ of its orbit; a planet must have a nearly circular orbit so that it stays in the temperature range for liquid water. Dr Richter lists more than a dozen such requirements for a planet to be habitable.
We know other planets exist around other stars, but if you do the mathematics, very few planets could meet all the requirements. Most planetary systems discovered by the Kepler spacecraft look nothing like our solar system. Many of them have large ‘hot Jupiters’ (gas planets) orbiting close to the star, or contain planets with highly eccentric orbits. Richter’s calculations for the probability of any planet meeting all the requirements, using reasonable estimates of the 15 or more essential factors, show that the earth may very well be unique in the universe.
Design in the stars
The physical nature of most stars does not in fact permit habitable zones. The large, hot blue stars give off far too much ionizing radiation, and the cool red dwarf stars (the most numerous) tend to tidally lock their planets. And not only are their zones for liquid water very narrow, red stars tend to produce deadly ‘superflares’ that would quickly fry any planets in the zone. Our sun is among the quietest, best-behaved star types known: a G2 main-sequence star, showing only a 0.06% variation in energy reaching the earth over a 32-year period of measurements.5
Spacecraft Earth also explores aspects of the well-known ‘privileged planet’ hypothesis of the ID scientists Gonzalez and Richards that indicate design. For instance, within our solar system, total solar eclipses appear to be unique to the earth,6 yet have allowed humans to understand the physics of distant stars. Our position in the Milky Way, between the spiral arms, gives an impressive view of the outer reaches of the visible universe. Were these factors not true of our position in space, our knowledge of God’s omnipotence would be severely diminished. But since the conditions are all met perfectly, we can see that the discoveries of modern astronomy serve to amplify the message of Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God”.
Design in the universe
In one chapter, Richter deals with the ‘big bang’ theory. He shares some of the logical and observational flaws of the belief among most secular cosmologists that the universe made itself by accident, without purpose or design. He shows that the various rescue devices to save the big bang, including inflation (faster-than-light expansion of space), have created even bigger problems than the ones they tried to solve. Challenges to the big bang, he says, have become so extreme, they have pushed many of its adherents to believe in a multiverse (i.e. that our universe is just one among an infinite array). But that cannot help, he shows, because it leads to logical absurdities and the abandonment of science itself.
The alternative to a meaningless, uncaused physical universe is intelligent design, and that is what the evidence supports. Dr Richter shares some of the amazing cases of fine tuning in physics that, if altered even slightly, would make the entire universe uninhabitable.
A recent book by cosmologists from the University of Sydney, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos makes the case even more forcefully than many creationists have—even though the authors accept the standard big bang cosmology!7 It seems that only a naturalistic bias against the ‘G’ word (God) prevents some astronomers from accepting the implications of fine tuning. In Dr Richter’s case, it was that very evidence that led him toward his faith in Christ. It eventually resulted in Spacecraft Earth, a treasure trove of fascinating details about the wonders of God’s creation—and not just in astronomy.
As Dr Ross Anderson of The Master’s University said, “This is not only an interesting read, but an informative read. I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to start a personal investigation into the real truth of creation and evolution.”
a guide for passengers
We hear so much today about how the universe, the earth and life all supposedly came about by chance events and processes. In this book, a bona fide rocket scientist, Dr Henry Richter—an aerospace pioneer—challenges these views by exploring what is required for us to exist in the universe. He shows that our planet can be thought of as a sophisticated spacecraft designed for our benefit. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand this fascinating book, so dive in and discover for yourself the truth about our amazing universe and how it came to be.
Some chapter headings:
- The Spacecraft: Planet Earth
- The Spacesuit: The Amazing Human Body
- The Other Passengers: Plants and Animals
- Explaining the Observations
- Populating the Spacecraft.
- The Final Frontier
- A Matter of Time
- From One Passenger to Another
Re-posted on homepage: 18 January 2023
References and notes
- Carter, R., NASA scientist comes face to face with creation, Creation 37(3):25–27, 2015. Return to text.
- Wieland, Carl., The Creation Safari man, Creation 37(3):18–20, 2015. Return to text.
- Richter, H., Spacecraft Earth: A guide for passengers, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs GA, 2018, p. 39. Return to text.
- Formerly Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Texas at El Paso. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 19; cf. creation.com/sun. Return to text.
- The fact that the ‘fit’ of the diameters and distances involved for the earth-moon-sun triad is such as to exactly permit this is often spoken of as a ‘remarkable coincidence’; see Cosner, L., Eclipses, Creation 40(1):38–39, 2018; creation.com/eclipses. Return to text.
- By Geraint Lewis and Luke Barnes, published by University of Cambridge Press, 2016. See review by Statham, D., A naturalist’s nightmare, J. Creation 32(1):48–52, 2018. Return to text.