Mark Swint

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MH 370 – A Few Educated Thoughts

In airline_crash, current events, global warming, government, media, media manipulation, news media, social engineering, Uncategorized on March 30, 2015 at 10:37 pm

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by Mark Swint

It has been just over a year now since the disappearance of Malaysia flight MH-370 somewhere in Southeast Asia or over the Indian Ocean. Like the rest of you I have watched with avid curiosity waiting for one of commercial aviation’s greatest mysteries to unfold. Alas, it hasn’t and now it seems destined to go down in history as one of aviation’s greatest UNSOLVED mysteries. So, as a Boeing 777 Captain and as a commercial pilot who regularly flies over that portion of the world I think it is time for me to throw my thoughts into the ring.

As with all other media reporting of aviation events and disasters, the reporting and the conjecture on the fate of MH-370 was like chalk on a fingernail board – wait! – nevermind. You know what I mean. That sounds silly but no sillier than some of the things I heard ‘experts’ say on TV. In fairness to them I must admit or at least allow that maybe they were under some sort of constraints as to what they might say publically. I say this because some elements of this event were not nearly so mysterious as the reporting made it sound. Now, as I go through these points please remember that I currently fly 777s  and I know well how they work. I know what they are capable of and what they cannot do by themselves. One thing they cannot do is ‘go walkabout’ for six and a half hours wandering around the Indian Ocean, though that is what the media would have you believe. Let me explain how this works.

Airspace around the world is highly regulated and controlled. As the air traffic has increased over the years the need to reduce separation between airplanes became more and more necessary. To that end, the performance of airplane systems was tightened up and the requirement that the plane always be on autopilot at and above 29,000 was put in place. Now the autopilot (Actually there are three on the 777) is very good, even able to make remarkably good landings in very bad weather. Coupled with the autopilot is an extremely accurate GPS based navigation system that can keep the plane on a track no wider than a few feet all the way across the Pacific. Before the plane ever leaves the gate the pilots have entered the entire route for the trip into the navigation units and have verified the waypoints, distances, headings etc. Once airborne and on their way, and during the climb, the pilot flying engages the autopilot and from that point until the top of the descent the pilot’s s job is to monitor aircraft performance and navigation and to modify as required or directed by air traffic control and as weather might dictate. Otherwise, the plane flies blissfully along as the preprogrammed computers were tasked to do.

One of the things that pilots do get to do is regularly communicate with the controllers of the various sectors along the route. Kuala Lumpur airspace is controlled by Subang ATC (often erroneously called Kuala Lumpur center). As MH-370 departed K.L. the pilots first talked to K.L.departure control and at some point were handed off to Subang Center. They would have checked in with a report of their altitude and, if climbing, the altitude they were climbing to. It was late on the night of the disappearance and so the communications were probably minimal but at the boundary of Subang Control and Ho Chi Minh Control (Viet Nam), Also called the FIR boundary, Subang called  and Handed MH-370 off to HO Chi Minh saying something very much like “Malaysia 370, contact Ho Chi Minh now on XXX.XX Good night. MH-370 responded with something not quite SOP but good enough. They said something like  “OK good night”. Now, here’s what should be happening in the cockpit at this time. As Subang calls the plane the pilot monitoring the radios moves his hand to the radio, knowing a frequency change is coming, and as Subang gives him the frequency he is dialing that in on the ‘scratchpad’ half of the radio. As soon as he says ‘goodnight; he pushes a little button in the middle of the radio and the ‘scratchpad frequency becomes the active frequency. In almost the same moment the pilot would (Unless someone else was already talking on the frequency) say “HO Chi Minh Malaysia 370 level 350, indicating that the airplane was flying level at 35,000. This did not happen.

Of course this is where all the conjecture began for the news organizations. Let’s consider a few.

1. The plane blew up… Nope, we know from publically released records that the plane continued flying for approximately six and one half hours more. Additionally, the odds that a perfectly good 777 would blow up at exactly the instant between talking to Subang and trying to talk to Ho Chi minh are astronomically small.

2. The pilots became incapacitated…   Nope. A pilot capable of saying goodnight to Subang would certainly be able to say good evening to Ho Chi Minh one second later. I am unaware of any medical malady that could incapacitate both pilots that quickly.

Now, information trickled out rather slowly at first about those first few minutes of this event but regardless, conjecture on either of these two points was foolish from the beginning and the so called experts should have know this.

We now know that at the very same moment that the pilots supposedly became incapacitated, the airplane also suffered failure of the transponder and the ADS-B and the CPDLC. You don’t need to know what those are but just know that they are various ways the airplane communicates autonomously with various ground facilities for various reasons. Now ask yourself, what are the odds that the aircraft would lose communications at the exact same instant that the pilots would presumably became non-responsive. This fact alone was the flag that shouted “This was no accident!” Virtually all international pilots knew this from the very beginning. Yet the experts kept on talking nonsense on the 24 hour news cycles. Over and Over and Over.

EVEN IF these things had happened magically without pilot intervention what happened next is impossible. The airplane turned! And not just to any random heading! It turned to follow the FIR boundary exactly. The plane split the line between Subang and Ho Chi Minh perfectly, supposedly so that each agency would think the other was talking to the aircraft. Also, being virtually invisible electronically it is possible that both ATC centers might not even have seen the plane. Nothing could have been more deliberate. What you, dear reader, need to know is that there is no way the airplane would automatically turn like this.  If everybody on board suddenly died and the plane was left to itself it would continue on the pre-programmed course that was set back on the ground in Kuala Lumpur. The plane would have continued on to Beijing and then probably kept the same course until it ran out of gas. This is what happened to the Lear Jet that Paine Stewart died on.

So, make no mistake, one way or the other this plane was intentionally diverted and the transponder was intentionally turned off. Turning off the ADS and the CPDLC was more difficult and not many pilots would know how to do that – but it is not hard and can be done with a little bit of study. The one thing the pilots or the responsible parties did not do and probably did not know about was the automatic reporting the engines tried repeatedly to do to the home factories for the next six and a half hours. This was the element that let the world know that the airplane did not crash right away.

Now the real question: “What happen to flight MH-370?”

These questions are harder to answer; but not impossible. First of all there is absolutely NO precedent to suggest that a pilot bent on suicide or mayhem would steal a plane and then fly it around for six and a half more hours. Even the cowardly act of committing suicide takes a level of courage that doesn’t last long. Germanwings 9525 and EgyptAir 990 both went down quickly and before anyone else had a chance to intervene. Why would MH-370 fly around till sunrise? Maybe that is the answer! Sunrise! The only difference between when the plane disappeared and when it supposedly went down was that the Sun came up and the person at the controls could see. Why would that make a difference? Because maybe, just maybe the person at the controls needed to see in order to land the plane on some un-improved strip in Bangladesh, or Myanmar, or, pick your place. Somewhere. But, you say, they told us it went down in the middle of the ocean. Interestingly, we have not found a single life preserver, set cushion, piece of insulation or other buoyant object. You should know that if the plane went down under control A’la Captain Sully it would have remained intact. It would have floated for a considerable time; however, there are five emergency locator transmitters on board, anyone of which would have automatically triggered and begun sending out signals that would have been picked up by any number of satellites. If it crashed and broke up there would be debris, no matter where it hit the water. “But” you say, “All the news organizations say it went down in the middle of the ocean”. That doesn’t make it so.

Let me share with you a few things that are absolutely true, I swear.

1. The bad guys still want a big airplane. It is their number one goal. I was told this in recurrent training just before MH-370 disappeared and it has remained true every year before and since.

2. For life to continue and for economies to keep growing the public has to feel safe and secure. This means not letting the public know about every attempt by bad guys to hurt us. Let me tell you about a experience I had. I swear this is absolutely true. I had the opportunity to sit, on an airplane, next to one of the most powerful politicians in the U.S. One of the very most powerful. We were talking about all of the security measures, ie Homeland Security, the TSA and all of the security related restrictions we as Americans face daily because of 9/11. I asked him if this was really necessary? Was the threat really as great as it seemed? He looked me straight in the eye and with a seriousness that caught me off guard he said, “Oh yes. They try every day! Our security is just that good.” He then went on to share some additional insight with me. I realized that it was in the American public’s best interest to not know everything that goes on. Rather we just want to know that what ever is going on, we are being protected by people whose job it is to know.

3.Do we know where the plane is/was? Probably. A few years after 9/11 there was a raid conducted jointly by the Americans and the French in which some very high ranking Al Qaieda leaders were captured. A tremendous amount of intelligence was gathered at the same time but a French commander made a terrible blunder. In front of the cameras he held up a notebook that contained all of the phone numbers, computer passwords and contact information about all of the other Al Qaieda bad guys. The Americans were incensed because the release of the fact that we had the book immediately rendered it useless. It was tantamount to telling the Germans that we had decrypted the Enigma machine during World War II. I find it highly improbable that we don’t know where the plane was during the entire event. The U.S. has a number of spy satellites positioned all around the world. these are the ones that can read a license plane from 400 miles up. They are not really that secret. The first really good ones were called the KH-11 Keyhole satellites. I believe we re now up to KH-11 series 14. These are just part of the reconnaissance assets that the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) has at their command. I believe we can see anything on Earth that we want to. More on this in a moment.

4. It has long been rumored that a number of nuclear warheads from the former Soviet Union ‘disappeared’ from inventory with the break up of the USSR. Probably true. Lots of things go missing in government hands…sometimes accidentally, sometimes not. Now, let’s just suppose for a minute that the bad guys have one or two of these, I mean they had to go somewhere and that somewhere would certainly be into the hands of bad guys…right? They would probably be pretty easy to hide. I mean, look how long it took us to find Bin Laden. But even if bad guys had a nuke they would have no way to throw it at us, hence the desire to get a long range plane. So, back to the previous point; If we know that bad guys want a plane to deliver a nuke and we don’t know where the nuke is, BUT, we do know where the plane is, then the smartest thing we could do is keep our mouths shut, pretend we are looking for the plane in the middle of the Indian Ocean like everyone else, and wait until the bomb shows up. Then, just like any good James Bond movie, we send in the best we have and they take out to whole mess, plane, bomb and bad guys. And, just like any good James Bond movie, the world never knows how close they came to disaster! This is the formula for every good spy movie and novel, but it is not without merit. As my politician friend indicated, things happen everyday and we never know about them.

I could go on but you get the point. My belief is that the plane is no longer a plane. It was destroyed on the ground days or weeks later; not in the ocean that night. There is so much more I could write and in fact I am thinking about writing a fictional novel giving the whole plot but I’ll spare you that today. Thanks for reading and sticking with me through this whole thing. Now, go think about it for a while. It just might give you chills.

Germanwings Flight 9525

In airline_crash, current events, media manipulation, Uncategorized on March 25, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Oculus book cover

 By Mark Swint     Author of “OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

I must step away from the normal issues of this blog to speak about the crash of Germanwings flight 9525 in France yesterday. As many of might know, I am a senior captain for a major U.S. Airline and I fly Boeing 777s. In fact, I am in Hong Kong on a trip right now.

I have listened, as have many of you, to the endless analysis on the 24 hour news media. I am appalled by the things I hear and I suppose those of you who are not pilots might be even more confused than I. Let me clear a few things up for you.

Anytime an aircraft is above 29,000 feet it must be on autopilot. the autopilot will maintain the aircraft on its planned course and keep it at its last assigned altitude until given fresh commands by the flight crew. Secondly, while the door on today’s airliners are very secure there is a code that will give a pilot on the outside access to the cockpit UNLESS the pilots in the cockpit actively deny that code. Denying the code will lock the door for 30 minutes from any further attempt to enter via code entry. So, the fact that the pilot who left the cockpit could not regain entry to the flight deck indicates that the pilot inside was actively keeping him out. Now, Richard Quest on CNN was adamant that the highest probability was that the pilot at the controls most probably had a medical event of some kind. I respectfully disagree. If the pilot on the flight deck had, for example, passed out, the pilot on the outside would have been able to enter the cockpit 30 seconds after entering the proper code. Also, the autopilot would have continued to fly the plane on its planned course and at its assigned altitude. The fact that a pilot made a normal radio contact with the controllers and then went radio silent at about the same time that the plane began an unusually steep descent indicates that this was an intentional act of hijack, piracy, terrorism…call it what you may. the aircraft descended for eight minutes until impact at a rate of descent greater than that possible with the autopilot  in control. In fact, the aircraft would have had to either deploy the speed brakes on the wings (Which is done manually) or the plane would have had to exceed its maximum airspeed limitations in order to get a 4,000 foot per minute rate of descent.

I find it odd that the news agencies have all the details on the flight hours of the pilots and their years of experience and yet will not give us their names. Why is this? I fear political correctness is interfering or ele political pressure is being exerted to quash that information. Either way this whole thing stinks. But make no mistake…this was not an accident.

Is Science the Enemy of Religion?

In Bible, creation, current events, Genesis, Geology, God, Moses, news media, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on February 14, 2010 at 11:19 pm

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

 

I know I have declared this blog to be dedicated to exploring biblical claims with a scientific eye but I think a brief diversion from that goal is warranted this week.
I was watching a discussion on climate change and global warming issues on FOX News (which I actually DO think is fairly fair and balanced). To my great surprise however, the issue somehow got turned around to a discussion of how religion and climate skeptics went hand in hand and scientists (read, anti religionists) and AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) were similarly connected.
I did not know that the increasingly controversial AGW claims were merely another face of the Science/Religion disconnect. In fact, I do not think they are and I have still to find out how the participants in the aforementioned discussion got to that point.
What really got me though was a statement, issued matter-of-factly, by the moderator who said, without the slightest degree of hesitation, “Of course, science is the enemy of religion”. Those of you who have read my posts can well imagine how I feel about this proposition. To say that I categorically disagree with this position goes without saying but I feel that I must respond a few thoughts and I beg your indulgence and patience. I promise to be short and will try to be interesting.
A calm and dispassionate look at scriptural claims, edicts and prophecies, free from individual dogmas and biases – or from impassioned preachings of sincere and fervent ministers and priests, can be quite revealing.
Specifically, let’s look at Moses, since he alone is responsible for the first five books (or Pentateuch) of the Bible including Genesis, which gives us the most complete biblical account of the creation and early days of the Earth and it’s early inhabitants. Moses, while certainly well educated in Egypt, was nevertheless basically a desert dwelling Bedouin! Oh don’t be confused by the term; Bedouin is a perfectly good description of the desert roaming lifestyle of those who chose to remove themselves from the cities and wander throughout the land herding sheep and goats, living in tents and using camels – regardless of their ethnic or genetic heritage.
Anyway, back to the point. Moses, while certainly well educated, was not well educated in things about which there was no knowledge in those days. No one,(at least from the records we have, had any full accounting of the creation, or at least how or why it was created (We do now have various versions of the ‘book of Enoch’ and a few other ancient manuscripts that have come to light in the last century that do wander into similar territory previously occupied only by Moses). But, we must be careful not to place too much burden of proof on Moses for the things he wrote. You see, Moses NEVER claimed to know or say HOW or WHY the elements of the creation he wrote about came to pass nor did he ever say that the seven creative periods he called days were the only periods of the creation, (in fact in the Haggadah we find that early Jews used over twenty creative periods to recount the creation story). You see, Moses was only an observer; He was a reporter, simply stating facts that were revealed to him or shown to him. The method or means is really immaterial. According to his writings he was shown the creation in a vision and the record he left in Genesis is an account of what he saw. Nowhere in that record does he say how or why the events he recorded came to pass – only that they did occur. He gave us the WHAT (the exoteric) of the creation without giving us the WHY (the esoteric – see my previous post “Exoteric and Esoteric knowledge).
When Moses said that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared he apparently had no idea HOW that happened, only that it did. He did not know that 4,000 years later scientists would figure out the theory of Plate Tectonics which would, in fact, tell us how the event that Moses observed came to pass.
This is how science has worked for as long as there have been scientists, and before them, natural philosophers. The world was full of people who made observations of things that incontrovertibly were, but about which nobody could explain. This is how it always has been. The very first inhabitants on this planet saw and realized that birds could fly. This was a truth and nobody denied it. Neither could anybody explain how birds flew, they only knew that they did. It was millennia before people figured out the science of aerodynamics and at last could explain how birds flew. Their discoveries did not change anything about the truth that birds fly but did at last provide the explanation about how they fly so that we could no more wonder about something we knew to be true.
This is and always has been the purpose and place of science in our life. Everything about this earth was, at first, a mystery. Early people watched in awe and horror as normally solid and still mountains suddenly erupted and spewed fire and death with the lava that flowed out of their great gaping maws. Lightning flashed from the sky and started fires and killed people and animals – nobody knew how or why but it surely did! The sun came up each day and set each night. So too the moon, except that it changed through the month being sometimes full, crescent, waxing and waning. It even disappeared for a day or two each month. The stars also traveled across the sky each night and then there were a few that wandered against the otherwise fixed and steady star field. All these things and more caused wonder and fell to the scientists to explain. The function of science is to give us the esoteric knowledge and understanding of the things that we can observe on our own.
Why was I so incensed over the statement that science is the enemy of religion? Because in my world the scriptures exists to tell me, and all of us, what is what. The bible is a collection of statements of things as they are and as they were. It tells me who I am and who created me (or my spirit if you like). But, nowhere in the Bible can I find the declaration that it’s purpose or intent is to tell me how and why these things are. It, in essence, says to me, “look I will tell you what happened and what is what and leave it to you to decide, first, do you need to know how it is so and, second, if you do then leave you free to explore, experiment, seek and search unto you find out how it is so.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that among us believers there are those who adopt a very strict and very narrow interpretation of the things that Moses and others said. This is certainly the privilege of any and all who choose to exercise a degree of faith. But, any reasonable person must admit that two or more very sincere and equally studious scriptorians can disagree and argue interpretations on the same scriptural passages – so why can’t we acknowledge that there can be incorrect theology, just as in disciplined science there are equally rancorous disagreements and debates and scientists can be wrong? Indeed, the very foundation of the scientific method is that one researcher or theoretician issues an hypothesis and then stands back while every other scientist tries to disprove it. Only when the best minds in the scientific discipline have exhausted their best efforts to disprove a theory without success is a theory then deemed valid and true.
Certainly there exists bad theology just as there has always existed incorrect science. I submit that science is only an enemy to bad religion just as correctly interpreted revealed truth is an enemy to bad science. I believe absolutely that good science is the partner of good theology and will, in time, prove to be a good and close friend of the believer.
Of course faith, in both science and religion is the first and most important element in our continuing journey on our quest for understanding and truth but let us not make science or theology mutually exclusive of each other, for if we do we stand to miss out
on the richest parts of both.

Yin & Yang

In Bible, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on November 25, 2008 at 11:49 am

  

by Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Opposites attract. It’s an adage as old as time itself. Sir Isaac Newton made it one of the foundational statements of the universe when he published his laws of Motion; he said, in essence, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is not to be confused with the statement by the author Bob Wells who said “for every action there is an equal and opposite government program.” It is this opposite force that give impetus for all motion on earth. Rockets soar and airplanes fly expressly because of Newton’s law. In fact the energy exerted by a rocket motor is expressed in units called ‘Newtons’. When we stand up, or walk, it is because our feet have exerted a force against the earth which ‘pushes back’. Since we are smaller than the earth it is we who move against a fixed surface (the scientific literalist will tell you, not incorrectly, that the earth also moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction when we walk). By the way, you do realize that the Earth is bi-polar?

Since the beginning of civilization the idea that everything has its opposite has existed in everything we do. yin-yang-jpegThe Chinese Yin Yang was born of this notion and reflects the nature and necessity of opposition in everything in life. The actual Yin Yang concept is exemplified by a mountain whose east side is illuminated in the morning by the Sun while its west side lies in shadow, occluded by the mountain itself. In the afternoon, as the Sun makes its way westward, the opposite becomes true and that which was dark is now light and that which was light is now in shadows.

 In the Book of Mormon a father speaks to his son of this issue and states that not only is opposition a fact of life but a requisite fact of life. He says “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” He goes on to explain that without sadness we could not experience joy, that we must know the bad to appreciate the good, the bitter to know the sweet, and that without sin there is no righteousness, without law there is no wickedness.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger!” He was simply stating, in a most poetic form, the universal law of opposition recognized by all others before him. In his most literal context he explains how we build muscle through exercise. The lifting of heavy weights is designed to tax our muscles beyond their normal strength. This actually causes muscle tissue to be torn down and damaged. It rebuilds stronger and more able to exert the forces demanded of it and we grow stronger. We all know, and have experienced the growth that comes through trials. It is the challenges we face that either defeat us or make us stronger. No one ever grew stronger by simply laying on a beach all day drinking Mai Tais. Similarly, our expression for someone who does nothing all day, every day,  “Couch Potato”,  implies the inherent weakness that befalls one who does not rise to take on and meet a challenge or at least become actively engaged. Boredom, sloth and indolence are all conditions that befall the inactive and unmotivated mind while energy, sharpness and acuity are all traits enjoyed by those who stay active and enthusiastically and aggressively engage with the world, taking on whatever challenges it may throw at them.

Nature, at its most elemental state recognizes the need, nay, the necessity of opposition. The atom is itself is a composite of positive and negative forces. Each proton in the nucleus is balanced by an electron whirling in a cloud above it. It is the combination of Protons and Electrons, positive and negative, that make up every element in the universe and that give us substance (Yes, Virginia, there are also Neutrons but their contribution is to the stability of the nucleus and they do not establish the nature of the element nor its chemical properties). Strip away all the negative electrons from the positive protons and you are left with a mass of nothingness Stephen Hawking first called a “Black Hole”. A Black Hole is a mass of gravity that sucks everything into it and lets nothing escape. It is lifeless and the epitome of death and oblivion.

So, why do I go on and on about this? It is because of the conundrum of life. Life appears to ignore the most basic laws of the universe and has no tangible place or justification within the laws of physics. Life exists in defiance of the universe and it fends off every attempt by the universe to defeat it.  Eventually everything dies, but not before it has replicated itself and left another to carry on the battle. Nature throws hurricanes, and tornados, and blizzards, and droughts at us constantly but we survive. The Sun, which ironically injects the energy into the world that we ultimately use to exist, bombards us with radiations of various sorts trying to kill us. The universe gets in on this conspiracy by constantly bombarding us with cosmic radiation equally willing to kill us and burn us up.

As if that weren’t enough we are faced with the very laws of the universe which declare that we should not be. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, first postulated by French physicist Sadi Carnot, is also referred to as the Law of Entropy. While it is somewhat complex, it basically states that all things return to their most basic and fundamental state. Cold warms up to neutral. Hot cools down to neutral. Mountains eventually erode and fall while valleys slowly fill up and disappear. It is the law of Entropy at work that makes your car rust and the paint on your house fade. It is Entropy that takes a brand new, nicely paved road and eventually turns it into a cracked and weedy path. If left untended, all roads ever built would eventually break up and return to the basic earth upon which they sit. The great pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Mayans are stark reminders that the glory that man erects to his pride and ego will all, one day, crumble and disappear. At its most basic interpretation Entropy makes organized things return to a disorganized state to chaos. As the Bible says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 So consider the miracle of life. In seeming defiance of Entropy, life takes unorganized matter and organizes it! A seed sits in soil and with a little water and a little sunshine it slowly extracts minerals and elements from that soil and organizes them into stems leaves and flowers of every color, emitting fragrances that please the nose and attract other living creatures that unwittingly help the plant reproduce itself. Similarly, a mother carrying a fertilized egg eats a piece of fruit or a vegetable and a little protein and a baby forms within her belly. There is bone where there was no bone and there is blood and skin and organs where there was none before. The process of gestation and birth is miraculous on so many levels, but among them is the fact that unorganized matter becomes organized onto life, in defiance of Entropy! What a great victory for life.

But just what is life? I mean, we take dirt and rock and water and turn it into cement with which we erect soaring skyscrapers. We refine aluminum and titanium and magnesium and turn them into airplanes that soar above the earth at 600 miles per hour! Is this not also organized matter? Does this not also defy Entropy? Indeed! And can the skyscraper build itself? Can the airplane build itself? No, these things are the products of living beings who created them first in their minds and then with their hands. So, what is life? From where does it originate? How does it happen to be?

The author Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” makes a wonderful observation. He says; “It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were top pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would end up with a mound of atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” So, where is life. Where did it come from? What makes it alive? Who or what struck that spark? Lightning? Maybe, but not likely. You see, it’s not a matter of electricity! Electricity is just the flow of unbound electrons. We have plenty of electrons. Everything in the universe is comprised, at least in part, of electrons. It is not electricity that makes life. It would be more accurate to ascribe life to proteins and amino acids that make up the substance of cells and living organisms. We could narrow it down to a couple of long chain polymers comprised of nucleotides made up of segments called chromosomes constructed of four basic components identified by their first letters G A T and C. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine combine to define the DNA formula that makes and defines us; what we are, what color our hair is, how tall we are etc. etc. proclaiming that a lightning strike is responsible for this is akin to claiming that the dictionary is the product of an explosion in a print shop ( a well worn analogy I admit but it fits).

And yet, in the grand scheme of things isn’t life just the Yin to the Yang of the cold, stark, bleak emptiness of Space? Is it not the light to balance the dark? We are looking and nothing less than Extropy to balance Entropy. While it is true that individual life blinks out as quickly as it starts, life in general goes on and life forms – biomass if you will – continue to exist and procreate. Is this not the pattern for inanimate matter as well? On the quantum level we allow for matter to blink into and out of existence continually. Matter is constantly changing to energy and back again. Yet to the larger, visible world it appears static. So too life remains constant in the face of death. We fly over a large city and everyday it looks the same, even though some have died and some have been born.

So, here’s the deal! Why not God? Why can’t there be a deity? We tend to refer to God as a supreme being. Is this wrong? No! Of course there is a supreme being. That is a fact that happens the instant you have more than one species of life. Is not an Orchid of a higher order than a fungus? Is not a bug of a higher order than a microbe? In intelligence, is not a dog smarter than a slug? Is not a human more creative than a cow? You see, everything exists in a hierarchy, the one above the other in some manner or measurement. Philosophy aside, living creatures exist on differing planes, each within their own realm and each with their own biological imperatives. So who gets to say that that hierarchy stops with Homo Sapiens, with Mankind? Who made us the Supreme Being? Is that not arrogance of the first degree? Can the system not support even one more level of supremacy? Or two, or three, or a hundred more? Is it so totally out of the realm of possibility that a higher life form might exist on a higher plane than we? Is this not tantamount to us living on a plane of existence incomprehensible to a worm?

I would posit that it is the fool who sees nothing beyond his own existence and the bigger fool who loudly proclaims that there can be no existence higher than his own.

I don’t know. I could be wrong.

 

In The Beginning

In Bible, God, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, Renaissance, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on October 28, 2008 at 10:10 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

           This Blog is sure to generate controversy so let me say right up front that I do not in any way mean to pick on or poke at any particular belief or creed. I want to explore, in a general conversational way, the history of the conflict between Science and Religion. I realize that any look at historical events is always subjective and I admit that try as one might, it is impossible not to view past events through some type of filter, whether it be acquired bias or experiential perception.

This is a very dicey discussion because whether we like it or not certain religious movements have had a greater or lesser effect on the events of world history and human events. It is impossible to discuss some topics without treading on sensitive ground and I do not, in any way, wish to criticize or offend. On the other hand, I do willing admit that I believe individuals throughout history have used the cloak of organized religion to forward their own personal agendas, often to the detriment of the organization. Such, I believe, is the case with the conflict between Science and Religion.

To begin though, let’s talk about happier times, times when theologians and natural philosophers – the name given to people we now call scientists – were not only on the same page but actually complimented each other’s work. You see, the natural philosopher was devoted to trying to explain observed and accepted realities. For example, since the beginning of time (Whenever that was) people have observed that birds – admittedly heavier than air creatures – could fly. Men wondered at the graceful way that an eagle or an albatross could soar without even flapping their wings and stay aloft seemingly endlessly. Human experience taught that all other things that were heavier than air fell to the ground when released. Why then did birds dance aloft in seeming defiance of the universal laws of gravity that influenced everything else?

The ‘Science’ of natural philosophy attempted to explain the ‘truths’ that people observed. Both human experience and the teachings (admittedly often wrong or superstitious) of theologians left the populace with a set of ‘facts’ that existed without explanation or understanding. What were the stars? Why did the sun rise higher in the summer than in the winter? How did the moon cycle through a complete period of new to full every 28 days? Who was God? To whom did the prophets speak when they received revelation? Who were the angels and the demons that both blessed and plagued the people? All matters of the natural and the unseen world were the source material with which the natural philosophers worked.

Aristotle was perhaps the most accomplished at his trade, leaving his mark on a form of science known as Aristotelian Physics which lived on for over 2000 years before a timid little Englishman named Isaac Newton dared challenge him. There were others though, even before Aristotle, who made remarkable observations and posited insightful theories about the things around them. Democritus gave us the term Atom (from the Greek ‘Atomos”) millennia before John Dalton found it through the gasses he studied. Archimedes took a bath and comprehended displacement thus forwarding the science of ship building and further defining the difference between mass and volume.

So too, early philosophers took ideas and statements from the Bible to be fact. Their faith in biblical declarations ultimately led to discoveries in astronomy and cosmology. However, just as with misperceptions about the nature of the observable world around them, early philosophers often strayed far afield due to interpretational errors of scriptural revelation. Other times local traditions and religious practices would be modified to adapt to the conclusions of the philosophers. One example of this was with the earliest scientists, then known as ‘Astrologers’.

Astrologers fulfilled a far more crucial and legitimate purpose in those early years than they do today. It was their observations of the solar and lunar cycles that determined much of the pattern of early agrarian life. They told farmers when to plant and when to harvest. Their observations of weather patterns led to the first weather forecasting. As they built a body of observations about the world we live in their conclusions found their way into scripture and spiritual teaching. The traditional wisdom ” red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night sailor’s delight”  comes from the New Testament statement by Jesus to the Pharisees as found in Matthew 16:2,3;

 

When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.

And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering.

 

This early observation found its way into religious teaching after natural philosophers and astrologers noticed the pattern of approach and retreating weather patterns and their effect on the morning and evening skies.

Science and religion enjoyed a generally peaceful partnership for many centuries, the one explaining the ‘how and why’ to the other’s ‘what’. It was a partnership that was to continue more or less uninterrupted until the 4th century A.D.

As Christianity took hold around the Mediterranean, and more specifically throughout the Roman Empire, it was at first met with resistance from the governing bodies. Religion had always been perceived as a wonderful way to control large masses of people. It was therefore a threat to have a religion, or more correctly, a religious movement, take hold without government sanction. Any power base that arose without the support of the governing power was automatically deemed a threat to the stability of the society and efforts were expended to put it down before full blown rebellion erupted. Thus it was for the Roman Empire.

Constantine, last emperor of the Roman Empire, at first tried to quell the rising fervor of the emerging Christians. As his efforts failed to have the anticipated affect he made the bold and audacious move to adopt the movement as the new official theology of the previously polytheistic Roman society. Simultaneously, the Roman Empire ceased and the Holy Roman Empire emerged.

The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor was more than a simple name change. All the Roman Emperors had struggled with the challenge of maintaining their tenuous grip on the disparate components of their far flung empire. The adoption of a single religious movement, one that was spreading fairly simultaneously throughout the Mediterranean was a unifying move that brought the individual groups together. Or at least that was the plan.

The first task that Constantine had to undertake was to unify the individual Christian groups doctrinally.  During the three hundred plus years since the crucifixion of Jesus, Christianity had taken hold throughout the land. It grew quickly but differing people had adopted individual and differing interpretations of what Christianity was all about. Constantine convoked a grand council in Nicaea in Bithynia (Now Turkey) in 325 A.D.to address this issue.  At this council he charged the gathered pastors and bishops with the mandate to begin the process of establishing a single, unified or ‘Catholic’ doctrine. This council of Nicaea was the first of a series of convocations called synods that met to ultimately create one unified doctrine for everything under the Sun – literally! They had to address issues such as whether or not space was a vacuum, or the nature of the stars and their motions, or the Sun itself; just what was it? Of course the synods decided ecclesiastical issues as well, such as the nature and place of Mary, mother of Jesus; issues of life and death and birth and baptism and the proper observance of Easter and so on and so on. This was a formidable task – and a noble one. It should have been the crowning achievement of the Roman Empire; except for one –make that two things! At the conclusion of the effort to find their Catholic doctrine they included two doctrines that set in motion a conflict that would be the cause of such horror and death as the world had seldom seen.

The first offending doctrine was essentially that the doctrine was infallible, it could not be wrong, and anyone who disagreed with it, or taught a doctrine contrary to it, was considered heretic and subject to the judgment of death. The second doctrine was that the Pope was infallible and could never do or be wrong. Again, anyone who disagreed with this doctrine was considered heretic and faced death, often by the most gruesome and inhuman manner.

For a while these doctrines were survivable and the church flourished, expanding the reach of the church and the Roman Empire significantly. This reach endured for a thousand years, until the fourteenth century.

The renaissance began, more or less, in Florence Italy in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century. Cosimo Medici and family began a series of patronages of artisans, thinkers and scientists who eventually changed the world. Men like Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Galileo changed how people viewed the world. Collectively they sought order and reason against a backdrop of what had become tyranny and abuse afforded by absolute power. Unrighteous men were wielding the power of the church in unrighteous ways. This caused conflict among a populace too afraid and too cowed to speak up, but not too unaware to notice that the things they saw and suffered through were wrong.

Men of science were beginning to observe things that didn’t fit within the Catholic doctrines but they faced horrific persecutions when they voiced their findings. In what should have and could have become a period of rich enlightenment for the church darkness reigned instead due to the inflexibility of the doctrine held infallible by declaration. To change doctrine to fit the observable truths becoming evident would have been to admit that the doctrine had been wrong. This would have implied that the church was wrong when it declared that the doctrine was true in the beginning. The church could not be wrong or every part of it could be held up to scrutiny and modification. Instead of growing with the growing body of knowledge, the church had to stick stubbornly to its dogma. Because of this good men and women died. Men like Copernicus, who simply wanted to understand the mechanics of the stars and planets revolving around him, were persecuted and censured by the church. Copernicus’ work was soundly condemned by the church and Galileo was rebuked for forwarding Copernicus’ ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.  Another follower of Copernicus, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600.

Galileo’s crime and condemnation is the perfect example of the growing rift between science and religion. It occurred in several steps but perhaps the seminal event occurred when Galileo turned his newly fashioned telescope on the brightest planet in the night sky. Jupiter is probably the easiest identifiable object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. What Galileo saw when he focused his invention on it was shocking! He saw four distinct lesser stars next to it. He continued to observe Jupiter every night for a time and he recorded his observations in a book. After a month or so his conclusion was undeniable, the objects next to Jupiter were moons and they were orbiting Jupiter! This was heretical because of the doctrine that said that every object in the sky orbited Earth – the center of the universe – and no object could orbit anything else. Galileo chose to believe his own eyes over the decisions made by unlearned men over a thousand years before. Those four moons, forever known as the Galilean Moons, were orbiting Jupiter and no priest, bishop or Pope could make it otherwise.

The church’s unwillingness to adapt its doctrine to accommodate emerging technology put it at odds with observant men and women who saw conflict in other areas of doctrinal confusion. Soon, people realized that the church could talk about spiritual things but it was no arbiter of observable and verifiable truths that were becoming more and more discoverable. Really for the first time, scientific method and observation had to step outside of the church to continue. This, in spite of the fact that the church had, and still maintains to this day, the Vatican observatory where many good and valid observations were made. In fact, the calendar we use today, the Gregorian Calendar was made to correct errors that had crept into the Julian Calendar ever since 46 B.C. That effort was ordered by Pope Gregory XIII who directed his Vatican Astronomers to correct the calendar according to the solar cycles so that the correct observance of Easter could be held.

Other scientists broke free of the shackles of the church and brought forth new truths about the world. One of Galileo’s admirers, Evangelista Torricelli, determined that, contrary to established dogma, the atmosphere was indeed finite and ended with the vacuum of space.

The rift between science and religion was growing and the church made no attempt to stem it other than to condemn those who practiced the ‘dark arts’. Scientists, on the other hand, grew bolder, often holding in derision the superstitious and foolish beliefs of the church. By the time the church came around and began to embrace undeniable truths it was too late. The idea that religion could hold any truths worthy of scientific study quickly faded.

Sadly, today many in the scientific community- though not all to be sure – view religion as the domain for the foolish and the uneducated. This is grossly unfair but understandable. The tragedy is that common perception places on the Catholic Church in particular, and religion in general, the stigma of ignorance as to things of the world. I would propose that well intended efforts of sincere but uneducated men unfairly placed the stink of error and falsehood upon the scriptures when, in fact, the scriptures could just as easily have been misunderstood and misinterpreted but which, at their core and with the proper interpretation, are true!

Let us not condemn the whole because part of it may or may not have been correctly deciphered. The scriptures – correctly interpreted – may yet hold many wonderful truths and great treasures waiting to be mined.

Angels & Demons

In Albert Einstein, Bible, God, Philosophy, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on October 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

 Oculus book cover

With all due respect to Dan Brown, I have borrowed the title of his next movie and last book to continue the discussion started with the last post (Resurrection – You 2.0) as I continue my look at the subject of the Afterlife. Once again I should state for the record – I am a person of faith, I believe I am a person of great faith, and my faith guides my life. I also am a person of considerable scientific background and I have faith in good science. I acknowledge that there is such a thing as bad science and also such a thing as bad theology. My sole purpose in taking your time by asking you to read these blogs is to attempt to demonstrate that the perceived incompatibility between science and religion isn’t necessary and really only exists in the minds of people who adopt stances so immovable and so entrenched that they are unwilling or incapable of considering that they might possibly have taken a position that is even slightly off the mark, thereby leading to conflict with other positions, maybe also only slightly off the mark, that lead to the popular notion that science and religion are completely and irrevocably diametrically opposed to each other. Whew! Talk about run on sentences! Enough of that! The point is I believe there is common ground. In fact I believe religion, like nature and the observable world, gives us exoteric knowledge; it gives us the ‘what’ in life. It, like the observable world, tells us how things are – things like the fact that birds fly, and flew, long before humans understood how something heavier than air could soar gracefully upon the wind currents. Religion, in all its permutations tells us that there is a God and there are angels, and also that there are spirits of people now departed.

We dispute and argue among ourselves as to the nature of God, and to His purposes, but most of us believe that there is someone whose hand is over us. Exoteric knowledge only tells us the ‘what’ of stuff. Esoteric knowledge tells us the why, the how of the what. For the most part the Bible is full of exoteric knowledge. When Moses tells us in Genesis that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared, he did not tell us how that happened; oh, he said God commanded it to be so but I mean he didn’t tell us how God did it. Moses was merely an observer, recording what he saw in vision without a vast knowledge of astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, or even the mind of God. The best Moses could do was say that God commanded it and it was so. I have no problem with this and I adhere to the idea that faith is a requisite commodity to understand and take advantage of the things of God. However, I believe God left clues to his handiwork in everything he made and I think the various disciplines of science, without knowing it, are the efforts dedicated to uncovering those clues, that is, the esoteric understanding of the exoteric truth.

How the exoteric and the esoteric sides of life got so far apart makes for fascinating study but we’ll save that for another day. The bottom line is I believe we can bring them back together, or at least stop the war between them.

Life after death. Perhaps no other aspect of religion raises the hackles of scientists and atheists alike as the idea that we go somewhere when we die – or that we are even continue on in some sentient state after this mortal death. Their principle repulsion of the idea is born of the misguided notion that if we can’t see or sense something, then it can’t really exist. After all, they exclaim, we have measured and weighed the human body as the life goes out of it and we see no measurable difference! Oh, I know, you all remember the movie ‘27Grams’ starring Naomi Watts. The 27 grams referred to the supposed weight loss when a person dies. The 27 grams was supposedly the weight of the spirit. It was a clever plot device but one fabricated solely in Hollywood.

Scientists are loath to acknowledge the existence of anything that can’t be observed, weighed, measured and quantified so how could they possibly believe in the human spirit, or angels, or demons, or ghosts? Or, for that matter, 90% of everything in the universe! That’s right! Scientists cannot find, measure, explain or describe almost 90% of everything – matter and energy – that they know must exist in the universe. All of this stuff, all of this unseen matter and energy is conveniently categorized into two groups with equally non committal names; Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

Scientists know dark matter and dark energy have to exist because of the behavior of the galactic clusters and all of the stuff of the observable universe. They are certain that the motion and the interaction they see between stars and galaxies, and their relative motions to each other, cannot be generated by the relatively measly amount of stuff that they can see. The only explanation that fits is that there must be much more stuff than what we see.

This brings up several intriguing points for discussion but what I would like to focus on here is the idea of unseen stuff. The truth is there is lots and lots of unseen stuff all around us in our everyday world. Let me tell you what is going through your mind right now as you read this. First of all, there are several thousand cell phone signals – actual conversations passing right through you at this moment. That old idea that there are voices in your head is actually more literal than you might think. Next, depending upon where you live, there are several hundred satellite television transmissions all around you (and yes, it even includes porno). Even the cable companies get their signals from down linked satellite transmissions. Don’t forget about air traffic control transmissions between controllers and airplanes flying high over head. We can only guess at the number, quantity and type of transmissions that come from spy satellites and other secure military and government communications. Then there are radio transmissions, both AM and FM, and we haven’t even started on GPS signals that are literally everywhere.

Now, we should also consider all of the various electromagnetic fields that envelope us constantly. Where do they come from? How about your television screen? Or the computer screen you are looking at right now. Did you know your cell phone is constantly sending out pings to locate and lock onto the closest cell tower? Are you sitting by someone right now? How about a pet nearby? Did you know that all living things, or any warm thing for that matter, emit infrared radiation. Then, besides the sunlight that we all see, there is the unseen world of the non-visible light and energy spectrum emitted by the Sun. We are constantly bombarded by ultraviolet light and various types of solar radiation. This goes along with the cosmic radiation that bombards the earth and everything on it constantly and from almost every direction.

Well, you get the point. There is lots and lots of stuff that is invisible to our eyes and to most human senses but which nevertheless exists. Now, here’s the amazing part; all the things that I have listed are detectable not by us but by sensors and receivers specially tuned and calibrated to receive their own special part of the unseen world. The radio in your car can pull AM, FM and maybe even XM or Sirius right out of thin air. You can’t feel it but they can and they can even differentiate between one frequency and another so that you get multiple channels for your listening pleasure. Your cell phone can see the unseen phone calls travelling through the air and through you. It sits and watches until it see one that is addressed to you and then it grabs that one call and alerts you to its presence. And so on and so on for all the various and different devices that clever man has invented to take advantage of the unseen world.

Now, all this stuff is only unseen to us, not to our devices. But none of these devices detect the ‘dark matter’ and the ‘dark energy’ that we opened the discussion with. And remember, that stuff makes up 90% of everything!

So, what about angels and demons? I don’t know and I don’t want to appear that I have all the answers. But this much I do know; cosmic radiation, gamma ray bursts and ultraviolet radiation existed long before mankind had the ability to detect them – or even the suspicion that they existed. Why is it so hard to believe that a departed spirit or an angel or a demon or whatever you visualize couldn’t exist right here right now, standing in front of you this very second. What if all it took was some special kind of glasses that we haven’t invented yet? You know, kind of like the fact that infrared is all about us but we never saw it until we figured out how to make a lens that could sense it?

What if the lens that can detect denizens of the unseen world is actually some sensor within our own bodies? What if that sensor is operated by some process we don’t understand but which we can tap into through the exercise of faith, or belief, or some kind of trance or whatever? I don’t know what the specific mechanism is but the scriptures imply, to me at least, that faith – real faith – has powers that the world doesn’t understand. I am sure that someone reading this blog has had some very sacred experience that they won’t share with anyone – but whoever you are you know what I am talking about! I have experiences I won’t share here. They are sacred to me but I assure you they are real.

One other possibility we haven’t touched on yet addresses the implications of the fact that physicists all accept the fact that besides the three dimensions of perceptible space there is a fourth dimension and that dimension is time. The recognition by Albert Einstein that time was indeed a dimension was described by his theory of Special Relativity (interestingly Special Relativity came before General Relativity). That realization opened up a whole new realm for physicists and philosophers alike to explore. In very simple terms let me give you an example of what the dimensionality of time means to you and me.

We exist right here where we are, in this particular space right now. Some of us live in Cleveland and some live in Calcutta but we all live right here right now – at this very instant. Our existence occupies these particular coordinates of space at this particular instant in time. The moment in time when you started reading this post is now in the past. It is vacated by us and no longer of any use to anyone who lives in our world. It is down the road as they say. Physicists and philosophers alike say that all that means is that a completely different world, inhabited by a completely different set of people could now inhabit these very same coordinates that we inhabit except that they are one minute, or three minutes, or ten minutes behind us. There is no conflict because we have moved out of their way. We are still here but here isn’t here anymore for them. Just like the fact that we may at this moment be occupying a moment that was just vacated but another earth one minute ahead of us with people much happier than we because they aren’t going through elections right now and they don’t have to see political ads every 28 seconds. Now, ponder this! How much time must elapse between worlds? One minute? One second? How about a nanosecond? That is one billionth of a second. A nanosecond is so short that if a nanosecond were one second then one second would be 32 years! Maybe it only takes a nanosecond of time to allow for a completely different universe. Could this allow for the statement that ‘Worlds without number have I created”? Could this allow for life to continue on for eternity without filling up space?

I don’t know the mind of God but, when the scriptures speak of such esoteric things and I have no idea how they work I can at least take comfort in the fact that there is plenty of room for all of the unseen things  – like God, angels, spirits and demons.