Truth, Understanding, Insight

Why Lightning is a challenge

28th October 2012, hej


This article is going to perhaps test you a little. Is it 'superstitious' to believe the God of the Bible can cause lightning, and might more often than not do so, or is it ignorance to believe science has the answers?

While making strides in the complexity of mechanisims, when it comes to 'origins' science without God is being left with bigger and bigger gaps in the knowledge. How lightning forms is one of those gaps.

The BBC published an article by a reasonably well known science writer, Philip Ball. He is quoting research he has access to, and he has very good access to leading edge research. So the article headlines,

Scientists are still puzzled as to what triggers a spark during a thunderstorm. The latest attempt to answer the question only adds to the intrigue. BBC What causes Lightning

He then goes on to write,

It seems hard to believe that we still don’t understand what causes lightning during thunderstorms – but that’s a fact.

It is a fact also reported in a 'Weather' published 2008,

Lightning is the result of a build up of opposite electrical charges within a cumulonimbus cloud. Exactly how this happens is not yet clear, but it seems that ice crystals, which form the upper part of the cloud are generally positively charged while water droplets which tend to sink to ..are normally negatively charged.. It may be that updrafts carry the positive charges up... As this build up occurs a positive charge also forms near the ground under the cloud and moves with the cloud. p50, The Five Mile Press.

Ball then refers to the key finding of Benjamin Franklin that lightning is a natural electrical discharge. This finding was made in 1752.

In some ways we’ve not got much further since Franklin. It’s not yet agreed, for example, how a thundercloud gets charged up in the first place.

He understates it. As the article goes on to say what they have recently found, it might be now understood that we know so much now we are further from understanding than in 1752. In 1752, there might be some excitement in thinking it possible, but now its more and more intractable. The following explains how great an understanding of the mechanics humans have,

Somehow the motions of air, cloud droplets, and precipitation (at that altitude, ice particles) conspire to separate positive from negative charge at the scale of individual molecules. It seems that ice particles acquire electrical charge as they collide, rather as rubbing can induce static electricity, and that somehow smaller ice particles tend to become positively charged while larger ones become negatively charged. As the small particles are carried upwards by convection currents, the larger ones sink under gravity, and so their opposite charges get separated, creating an electrical field.
A lightning strike discharges this field. It is basically a gigantic spark jumping between the “live wire” and the “earth” of an electrical circuit, in which the former is the charged cloud and the latter is literally the earth.
While many details of this process aren’t at all clear, one of the biggest mysteries is how the spark gets triggered. Since the electrical fields measured in thunderclouds don’t seem nearly big enough to induce a lightning discharge spontaneously, something is needed to “seed” it. ...

You can see how the 'how' question is answered very well, as we can measure it, but the “why?” is “mystery” and “somehow.”

Is it possible rain thinks so it may “conspire”? Then Ball sets the reader up so you think they have an idea..

One idea is that they are triggered by cosmic rays streaming into the atmosphere from space.

Then you read further,

To do that, the researchers have worked through the equations describing the chances of cosmic-ray collisions, the rate of electron production and the electric fields this induces. The equations are too complicated to be solved by hand, but a computer can crunch through the numbers. And the results don’t look good for Gurevich’s hypothesis: runaway electron avalanches produced by cosmic-ray showers just don’t seem capable of producing electrical breakdown of air and lightning discharge.
However, all is not lost. As well as the particle cascades caused by collisions of high-energy cosmic rays, the atmosphere can also be electrified by the effects of cosmic rays with lower energy, which are more plentiful. When these collide with air molecules, the result is nothing like as catastrophic: they simply ionise the molecules. But a gradual build-up of such ionised particles within a thundercloud could, according to these calculations, eventually produce a strong enough electrical field to permit a lightning discharge.

But nobody has proved it and it looks unlikely. After lots of research, they are further from answering why lightning exists. They don't know the origin of lightning. They have made no progress on that key question since 1752. They now know lots about the mechanics of what happens when lightning exists, and lots of ways in which it can't happen, but they don't know why it exists. And Philip Ball would know.

This is just another one of the “origins” questions further from an answer, like the origin of life itself....

But interestingly, the Bible does not go on much about things we might term 'science'. The Bible is a specific history of a human and Divine interaction. But it does mention lightning. OK after 260 years of brilliant minds and an advance in measuring equipment that can capture atoms at high speed, and its still a mystery... we might now listen to an eye witness account.

The ancient text we have shows there were four witnesses when Job heard a voice out of whirlwind, and they all knew he was healed after it. That voice spoke of a number of things, all specific and all logically arranged, and one of them was lightning.

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light parted, which scatters the east wind upon the earth? Who has divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; (Job 38:22-25)

In this the Divine, the God of the Bible, who says he made the way for the lightning. This is precisely what modern researchers are seeking. There is a 'path', there must be a 'way' it forms. But there is more, there is an outright statement about origins.

Know you the ordinances of heaven? can you set the dominion thereof in the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover you? Can you send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto you, 'Here we are?' (Job 38:33-35)

The implication is that the God of the Bible can send lightnings. King David who was a brilliant warrior, composer, and able to draw the Temple his son Solomon built wrote,

The LORD thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning, and discomfited them. (2 Samuel 22:14-15)

King David of Israel also wrote,

Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them. (Psalm 144:5-6)

When Ezekiel is shown a vision of Divine Glory he is shown infolding fire and lightnings (Ezekiel Chapter1).

It might be rather fashionable to think the ancients weren't very bright, that somehow humans have gained intelligence and knowledge. But the ancients navigated to places via the seas only re-discovered again in the modern world solely by the stars, and with not much evidence of effort built massive structures which mystify as to how they could have made them. And the earth's circumference was known reasonably accurately and widely before the years AD. It might seem there was a learning curve in the modern world, until we remember what was forgotten by some in the Dark Ages and the things we can't know that the ancients knew. Was it 'superstition' that so many ancient peoples believed a Divine origin of the lightning, or is it they knew something we have forgotten?

Only the Hebrew scriptures have so simple and clear a description of how God can cause the lightning, that he makes a “way” for it, and can send it. The Hebrews associated blinding light, consuming Power and Might, in modern words energy with their God. It's a good cause. Now tell me which Bible believer is going to say there is not much power to know of every lighting strike? When people pray for God to watch over their life, is not this one thing people would believe and pray that God would control?

From modern science 2012, Philip Ball who has a career of making sense of scientific findings for lay people summarises the position,

“one of the biggest mysteries is how the spark [of lightning] gets triggered”

Ball is saying so far humans have measured all aspects, and if there is no input of some sort, there is no lightning. Now there is a lot of lightning about the globe each day. We can measure this phenomena, and now we know for sure it needs some input. It is a precise input, as it is white light producing temperatures that exceed 22,000 degrees Celsius about it. Where this input comes from is a “mystery” to science. In addition the input required for every strike is related to energy, specifically potential energy of an a opposite electrical charge forming: a bit like a huge LED light. . It took 50 yeas for humans working on it experimentally to go from making red LED to white LED light.

The Bible has an answer in some detail. Not only is Job told that God makes lightning, but in very simple language we can all understand he was told how its done. God makes a 'way', Hebrew derek, 'a mode of action', 'pathway', 'through' and 'toward'. Thanks to 200 years of the invention of measuring devices, we might know, if we build evidence-based faith, that he makes opposite charges to make a pathway from heaven to earth for blinding light.

If we start from the logical premise that the Bible is a history, and that as usual in simple communication, it is intended to communicate real experience, then what was written in the book of Job is useful evidence at the very least of ancient knowledge. The text could not have been invented unless someone had the brilliant idea. It happens to be precisely right. The question is where did the brilliant idea in Job come from? Did the ancients know more than we do, or were they shown it?

If you believe the Bible, if you seek the salvation in it, you might consider that it is logical to think that indeed God makes, moment to moment, the way for the lightning. Thank God for such a powerful caring God.

Next time you see lightning, and you know it's a massive charge such as needs huge equipment to make, a charge that has consequences for your life, you might be amazed at how science has shown the great power of God. Then also we might ponder the meaning of God making a pathway from heaven to earth for light. In an analogy it is like light in his word. Not the light of the sun, but a light that turns night to day.

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