Reasons to Believe

Connections 1999, Vol. 1, No. 2



Compiled by Hugh Ross, Ph.D. in astronomy, University of Toronto, with assistance from Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D. in astronomy, University of Washington.

Ancient Tree Answers Challenge to Genesis One

A new discovery provides a clearer and more potent argument on the side of biblical accuracy.

Secularists have openly and vociferously mocked the biblical creation account for placing the origin of "trees, seed, and fruit" as early as the third creation day. Biblical apologists point out that the ancient Hebrew words for "tree," "seed," and "fruit" are more broadly defined than we English readers assume as we study our translations.1 Hebrew linguists argue that any large plant containing fiber and producing some kind of food for its embryos would fit the words used in the text. Since such plants date far back in the fossil record, the claim of a contradiction between the biblical record and the scientific record seems questionable at best.

A new discovery provides a clearer and more potent argument on the side of biblical accuracy. The credibility of the third creation day has just become easier to defend. An international team of paleobiologists has determined that an extinct plant, Archaeopteris, matches the definition of "tree." It produces free spores very similar to the seeds and fruits of today's trees.2 How old is this early, perhaps the first, tree? It dates back 370 million years, more than a hundred million years before the first dinosaurs.

The findings suggest that Archaeopteris became established worldwide by the late Devonian era (390,000,000 years ago). Thus it supports the accuracy of Genesis 1:11 in describing Day Three events: "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees . . ."


A Twin or Not a Twin?

All the star-planet systems discovered so far represent extremely hostile environments for life. GAS GIANTS such as Jupiter lack the capacity to support life.

Until recent months, all the positively-identified planets outside our solar system (18 thus far) have been observed to orbit alone around one or two stars.3 Such planets bear little resemblance to our own and, thus, do little to support the case for extraterrestrial life. Things changed, however, in April of this year. Astronomers reported the discovery of multiple planets orbiting a hydrogen-burning star.4 In other words, they found a planetary system apparently similar to our own.

That news made headlines worldwide. It was broadcast as potent evidence for life's abundance in the cosmos. Additional momentum for the media stir came from reports that the parent star in this system, Upsilon Andromedae, is only a "little" younger, no more than a billion and half years younger, than the sun. All the other extra-solar planets are orbiting much younger (thus less stable) stars.

As exciting as this recent discovery is to the astronomical community, we must say that the resemblance between the two solar systems has been exaggerated.5,6 The three planets discovered are all "gas giants," the smallest at least 70% as massive as Jupiter, 225 times more massive than Earth. All three have drifted from wherever they formed toward the star, Upsilon Andromedae. The drift of such giants would radically destabilize the orbits of any other planets in the vicinity, including any with the hypothetical capacity to support life. Such hypothetical life could not survive such bouncing.

The smallest of the three planets has drifted so close to the star that it orbits seven times closer to the star than Mercury does to the sun - not a hospitable life zone. Neither is the neighborhood of the larger two, which exceed Jupiter's mass by double and quadruple (670 and 1500 Earth masses), respectively. We observe that their orbits are highly elliptical, i.e., elongated like a stretched rubber band. This orbital pattern again means instability for any nearby planets, thus no capacity for life support anywhere in the system.

One team of astronomers concludes that the system would tear itself apart within a million years or so.6 (If the planets are more massive than their proposed minimums, more rapid disintegration would result.) The planets may not even be indigenous to Upsilon Andromedae. Some evidence suggests that one or more of the three may have been captured (by the star's gravity).

From my perspective, the Upsilon Andromedae system demonstrates the uniqueness of our solar system. All the star-planet systems discovered so far represent extremely hostile environments for life. By contrast, our system seems "made for life" in every detail.


Symbiosis - More Complex Than We Knew

Biological symbiosis, the mutual dependence of two species on each other (such as bees and flowers) for survival, has often been cited as evidence supporting divine design. Symbiosis demands that two different but uniquely compatible species arise at the same time and in the same place with the morphological structures in place to support the interdependence.

As unlikely as that may be, imagine the improbability that three-partner symbiosis could occur by random process. But that is what scientists have discovered: three very different species each of which contributes vitally to the survival of the other two. This tripartate grouping includes leaf cutting ants, a type of parasol mushroom, and an antibiotic-producing bacterium.7

The ant-mushroom relationship works this way: The ants cut the leaves, chew them into a pulp, and lay the pulp down on a substrate from which the mushrooms grow. The mushrooms produce structures called gongylidia which the ants harvest as food.

Neither the ants nor the mushrooms can feed on the leaves directly. The leaves contain a biochemical insecticide dangerous to the ants, and the leaves are covered with a waxy coating the mushrooms cannot penetrate. The ants scrape away the waxy coating for the benefit of the mushrooms. The mushrooms digest the chemical insecticides, providing insecticide-free fungal tissue for the ants to eat.

This part of the symbolic relationship has been observed for several years. New research, however, reveals a more complex picture: A certain parasite attacks the mushroom gardens.8,9 This parasite is kept in check by antibiotics produced by a bacterium that grows on the ants' bodies. The bacterium depends on the ants for its life, the mushrooms depend on the bacterium for life, and the ants depend on the mushrooms.

All three species need each other. The complexity of this symbiotic system defies description, as well as all the laws of probability. Again, the numbers point to purposeful, intricate design rather than to mindless process.


Mutations Exceed Expectations

Ironically, modern "advances" could serve to hasten humanity's demise.

For the first time, geneticists have measured the proportion of harmful mutations arising in one generation of advanced species. The numbers are staggering.10,11 The harmful mutation rate among chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans is so high as to put all three species a1 risk for relatively rapid extinction. These findings call into question the naturalists' proposal that old, primitive species evolve naturally and gradually into new. advanced species.

The fact that human reproduction occurs sexually rather than asexually helps our survival. Individuals with the most mutations will either die before reaching reproductive maturity or will be unable to produce survivable offspring. Nevertheless, the high rate (three harmful mutations per person per generation) implies that humans today carry a significantly greater load of harmful mutations than did our ancestors and that, eventually, humanity will go extinct.

Ironically, modern "advances" could serve to hasten humanity's demise. The global increase in living standards means that more infants with high negative mutation loads can and do reach reproductive maturity. In addition, men are reproducing later in life, when their sperm contain higher numbers of negative mutations.

The biblical model of creation (see my book, The Genesis Question for more details) more closely fits the observations than does any naturalistic evolutionary model.11 These observations also call into question the evolutionary notion that cultural, intellectual) and economic advances will make homo sapiens a more survivable species.

References:
  1. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), p. 39.
  2. Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud, Stephen E. Scheckler, and Jobst Wendt, "Archaeopteris is the Earliest Known Modern Tree," Nature, 398 (1999), pp. 700-701.
  3. A regularly updated catalog of extrasolar planets is maintained at the website, http://wwwusr.obspm.fr//planets. The site now has an English language complement to the French original.
  4. The first extra-solar planets to be discovered were small dense bodies orbiting the pulsar PSR 1257+12. A total of five such objects now are known to orbit two different pulsars. Since pulsars are the dying cinders of supernovae eruptions, the bodies orbiting them are not true planets. No life is possible anywhere in the vicinity of a pulsar. See Facts & Faith, v. 8, n. 2 (1994), pp. 2-3, for details.
  5. G. Marcy, P. Butler, and D. Fischer, "Three Jupiter-Mass Companions Orbiting Upsilon Andromedae," paper presented at the 194th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 1999.
  6. P. Butler, et al, "Evidence for Multiple Companions to Upsilon Andromedae," Astrophysical Journal, 1999, in press.
  7. Jack J. Lissauer, "Three Planets for Upsilon Andromedae," Nature, 398 (1999), pp. 659-660.
  8. Ted R. Schultz, "Ants, Plants, and Antibiotics," Nature, 398 (1999), pp. 747-748.
  9. Cameron R. Currie, James A. Scott, Richard C. Summerbell, and David Malloch, "Fungus-Growing Ants Use Antibiotic-Producing Bacteria to Control Garden Parasites," Nature, 398 (1999). 701-704.
  10. James F. Crow, "The Odds of Losing at Genetic Roulette," Nature, 397 (1999), pp. 293-294.
  11. Adam Eyre-Walker and Peter D. Keightley, "High Genomic Deleterious Mutation Rates in Hominids," Nature, 397 (1999), pp. 344-347.


APOLOGETICS 101
"Evil" Argues For "Good"

How can someone imagine what "evil" is if there is no real "good" to measure it against?

By Krista Kay Bontrager

In the last issue of Connections, I began to address this familiar objection to the Christian faith: How does the Christian account for the existence of "natural evil" (the tragedy of destruction and death such as hurricanes and earthquakes cause) in a universe supposedly created by an all-loving, all-powerful God? In this issue I want to discuss how a Christian can turn this question around and challenge the questioner. The notion of evil, far from disproving God, can actually be used as an argument in favor of the existence of God, the biblical God.

First, we must face the possibility that the person raising this challenge has concluded, usually in response to personal loss, that if God does exist, He is either limited in love or limited in power - in which case, he/she/it is NOT the God revealed in Scripture. Any discussion of the objective evidences proving that the God expressed in nature is the God revealed in Scripture will be difficult, if not impossible, until and unless the person is willing to talk about the loss, the hurt, that led to his or her conclusion about God.

If, on the other hand, someone argues that the existence of natural evil means the nonexistence of God, a discussion of the logic issues can lead to meaningful conversation. A helpful start may be to set forth two basic assumptions about godless reality: 1) the material, physical universe is the only reality, and 2) the universe is the product of blind, non-purposeful, physical (material) processes.

The head-on collision with logic becomes immediately obvious. Simply by labeling natural disasters as "evil," the challenger appeals to some kind of unseen, ultimate standard that transcends the physical world. Evil is a nonentity unless goodness is also real. How can someone imagine what "evil" is if there is no rod of "good" to measure it against?

By what standard, then, does the nontheist say that death resulting from natural phenomena is bad? How can anyone conceive of "bad" or "good" if reality is purely physical? Moral judgments - and the term "evil" clearly represents a moral judgment - are nonphysical.

The challenger may try to escape this line of reasoning by saying that morality is real by cultural consensus. Since humans corporately agree that death as a result of natural forces represents an "evil," it is evil. This statement, of course, argues for a completely arbitrary morality. Such a morality has no transcendent or obligatory quality. Majority opinion might change a hundred years from now and decide that evil is actually good. Once again, we face the inconsistency of labeling something as "evil" or "good" apart from an objective, nonphysical standard.

Ironically, the unfolding of purely natural and accidental events should not trouble a nontheist at all. To remain consistent within his worldview, he can only say that "death and destruction happen." His worldview assumptions disallow any moral evaluation of natural phenomena and their consequences. He can only describe phenomena and their impact in physical terms.

When the nontheist raises "the problem of evil" as a challenge to Christianity, the Christian can logically respond, "What 'problem of evil'?" Evil is neither a real problem nor worthy of discussion unless we first assume the Christian's belief that an objective standard of "good" - and thus of "evil" - does indeed exist. Apart from God, the real and living essence of goodness, no moral judgment would be conceivable or possible.

The question about whether natural disasters can be judged as "evil" really constitutes a separate question, the question I addressed in last issue's article. What the question reveals, however, is the universality of our response to human death as a tragedy. Again, the nontheist betrays his intuitive awareness of biblical truth, the truth that life has meaning and purpose beyond mere physical function. Such concepts of "meaning" and "purpose" come from a reality beyond the physical universe. They come from the Source of the universe, the God who "intentionally" created it.
For further reading on the "problem of evil" see:

  1. C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe? Reason and Mystery As Pointers To God, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996). This book contains one chapter with an entry-level discussion to the problem of evil.
  2. Ron Nash, Faith and Reason, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House 1988).This book contains two chapters with an intermediate philosophical discussion of the deductive and inductive problem of evil.
  3. Alvin Plantinqa, God, Freedom and Evil, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977). This book is an advanced philosophical discussion of the problem of evil bv one of the world's leading philosophers.
  4. Hugh Ross, "Extra-Dimensionality and Evil and Suffering," in Beyond the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996; rev. ed., 1999).


PRESIDENT’S LAPTOP

Dear Friends,

If you were among the 300 guests who attended RTB's open house this spring, you saw our wonderfully equipped, newly completed recording studio right next door to my office. In the last seven days, I have used that studio three times for radio interviews (with top quality sound and only seconds, rather than hours, of travel time) and once for a meeting about the development of a syndicated radio program. Kathy says it may be my Scots heritage that heightens my delight in getting "more for less," in this case a ministry boon and bargain.

You who have been with us since the early days of Reasons know that audio tapes initially served as our primary means of outreach. Tapes kept us going until we could develop books, videos, the internet, and other means of communicating our message. For some time, however, we have limited our production and distribution of audio tapes because of our inability to produce them with the desired (in today's high-tech market, "necessary") quality. Thank God, the wait is over!

Last week's broadcasts matched the quality of in studio sessions. As we become more proficient in using the equipment, we can put as many as five people on microphones around the table. I think interaction makes interesting radio, and this we can now produce.

With our new studio we can capture (and edit) radio interviews formerly limited by broadcast region and make them available either on cassettes or as audio clips on our website. I feel especially eager to record scholar interviews, new testimony tapes, books on tape, and round table discussions on controversial issues and doctrines. Commuters stuck in freeway gridlock are not the only people asking for tapes. As you may have noticed, a large number of people prefer "hearing" books to reading them. If you have any "audio learners" in your family, you know what I mean.

Sincerely,

Dr. Hugh Ross


FIELD REPORT
Dr. Fazale Rana and Family Arrive From Ohio

By Kathy Ross

RTB's message has criss-crossed the continent by radio and has gone in person (via Hugh) to Montana, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico and California during the second quarter of 1999. Volunteers Alejandro Field led an apologetics training seminar at his church near Buenos Aires, Argentina, while Erica Carlson, Tom Williams, Roger Stanton, and many others led outreach events and on-going Bible discussion classes at churches, homes and schools across the U.S.

Dr. Fazale (Fuz) Rana, an official RTB staff member as of June 7, has come West with his wife, Amy, and their five young children after leaving an indellible impression on countless lives in Ohio. Even in announcing his decision to exchange a lucrative research position in the private sector for one as a missionary to skeptics and secularists, Fuz turned attention and hearts toward the Savior.

In Cincinnati, a successful professional woman and a young star athlete now paralyzed from the shoulders down, gave compelling accounts of their reasons to believe.

As I write this report, I look forward to sharing (in the next Connections) a brief account of the amazing story unfolding right now in Mongolia, where Hugh has been invited to address a gathering of several hundred (a majority of the nation's) high school and college educators. There will be more to report, too, from his stop in Japan for outreaches there. For now, I ask you to pray for those who are hearing about Christ and about the security of our faith for the very first time.