Reasons to Believe

Connections 2004, Vol. 6, No. 4



Kidney Stones: Evidence for Divine Design
by Fazale (Fuz) Rana, Ph.D.

"It's the closest that a man will ever come to experiencing the pain of childbirth," the attending nurse proclaimed with a noticeable glee in her eyes. Her comment only added to my misery as I writhed in pain on a stretcher in the emergency room, waiting to pass a kidney stone.

Mineral deposits such as those that formed in my kidneys develop in one out of ten people during their lifetime and account for nearly ten out of every 1,000 hospital admissions.1 Stones can result whenever a chemical imbalance occurs in the kidney. The type of stone that forms depends upon the exact nature of the chemical imbalance and reflects different etiologies (causes). Calcium oxalate stones, the most common type, result from dehydration or excess levels of oxalate in the diet. (Oxalate is found in certain vegetables, nuts, berries, chocolate, and tea. 2) Sodium urate stones, a second type, are caused by an inborn error in metabolism that leads to excessive production of uric acid.3

Uric acid is the breakdown product of adenine and guanine (key components of DNA and RNA). As a normal metabolic activity, the cell turns over biomolecules-continually replacing "older" molecules with newly synthesized ones, thereby maintaining structural and functional integrity. The cell recycles most of the adenine and guanine generated from the breakdown of nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA and RNA) through what biochemists call the salvage pathways. Still, the cell targets a significant portion of adenine and guanine for breakdown and secretion in the form of uric acid.4

Uric acid possesses low solubility in blood serum, causing it to readily precipitate into the urinary tract if the body dehydrates or generates an excessive amount of the product (which can occur if the enzymes of the salvage pathway are defective).5

Except for primates, including human beings, all mammals further metabolize uric acid to a more soluble derivative. Evolutionary biologists suggest that the enzymes responsible for this transformation were lost in the evolutionary process that gave rise to primates (and humans).6 For these scientists, the elimination of adenine and guanine in the form of uric acid argues potently for evolution, since it appears to reflect poor design.7 Why would an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator put into place an imperfect biochemical process that leaves human beings so susceptible to kidney stones (and other disorders, like gout)? Evolutionists would maintain that the adenine and guanine elimination pathways represent nothing more than an evolutionary "kluge" job, an imperfection that barely gets the job done-not a Creator's perfect handiwork.

This perspective fails to consider, however, uric acid's full range of metabolic properties, some of which are beneficial. This compound is a potent antioxidant that scavenges the chemically corrosive hydroxyl free radical, singlet oxygen, and superoxide anion, all produced by the metabolic pathways that the cell uses to harvest chemical energy.8 The high levels of uric acid in the blood serum, though precariously poised to form stones in the urinary tract, also help prevent cancer and contribute to long human life spans. For other mammals, the conversion of uric acid to more soluble forms before elimination deprives them of a key antioxidant and limits their life spans.

When considered more broadly, it turns out that the primate adenine and guanine elimination pathways reflect an elegant, rather than a poor, design that finds an important use for a waste product. Though inborn metabolic error in the salvage pathway enzymes accounts for the less-common type of kidney stone, the more-common type is largely preventable by a balanced diet-which seems a small price to pay for cancer prevention and long life spans.

When the pain-killers finally took effect and I'd had a chance to research and reflect on what happened to me, I was able to muster thanks to God for kidney stones. But I don't think anyone will want me to share my story at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year.

References:

  1. http://www.yourmedicalsource.com/library/kidneystones/KS_whatis.html, accessed March 11, 2003.
  2. http://www.urologychannel.com/kidneystones/index.shtml, accessed March 11, 2003.
  3. Lubert Stryer, Biochemistry, 3d ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1988), 619-22.
  4. Stryer, 619-22.
  5. http://www.urologychannel.com/kidneystones/index/shtml, accessed March 11, 2003.
  6. Stryer, 619-22.
  7. Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), 19-26.
  8. Stryer, 619-22.


Mars Rover Findings--the Real Story
by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Enthusiasm and hope for a possible Martian origin of life have suffered a major scientific setback. The prestigious journal Science recently exploded most of the media's "life-site" hype over the latest-and still laudable-Mars mission.1 Twelve peer-reviewed articles tell the true story: no lake and no life chemistry. However, Spirit Rover's remarkable instruments did reveal at least five relevant discoveries.

First, if watery flows ever marked the Martian surface, such instances were minor and intermittent at best. Gusev Crater is not an ancient lake bed, but even if it had been, liquid water is but one of many requirements for life.

Second, although sulfate salts found on Mars are indicative of past liquid water, those salts formed during the late heavy bombardment era when comets pelted Mars with frozen water (4.0 to 3.8 billion years ago). Sulfuric acid emissions from Mars' volcanoes would have quickly turned that water to sulfate salts. That same sulfuric acid would work against any chance for life to emerge.

A third finding of the Mars Exploration Mission reveals that the dominant geologic processes on Mars are physical (meteor impacts and dust storms) rather than chemical. Without a high level of chemical activity, no naturalistic origin of life would be possible.

Another life-critical discovery uncovered by the mission shows that blockage of Mars' surface sunlight (from dust in the atmosphere) is highly variable-ranging from 50 to 90 percent in just the five-month period of study. Such blockage, as well as such high variability in the blockage, renders sunlight an unlikely energy source for life.

Finally, dust storms (with particles from 0.001 to 3.0 mm) repeatedly bury and uncover Mars' surface. During the burial episodes the dust depth varies from 5 to 60 cm. At the very least, this frequent deposition and removal of dust by storm winds reaching 300 miles per hour yields inhospitable conditions for life.

All of what the Spirit did find is exciting and helpful to planetary scientists interested in the details of the solar system's history and design. But the bottom line for astrobiologists is deeply disappointing-Mars is far less hospitable for life than anyone had envisioned. The hospitality of Earth seems all the more remarkable, more exquisitely rare, by comparison.

References:

  1. S. W. Squyres et al., "The Spirit Rover's Athena Science Investigation at Gusev Crater, Mars." Science 305 (2004): 794-99 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/794); J. F. Bell, II et al., "Pancam Multispectral Imaging Results from the Spirit Rover at Gusev Crater," Science 305 (2004): 800-06 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/800); J. A. Grant et al., "Surficial Deposits at Gusev Crater Along Spirit Rover Traverses," Science 305 (2004): 807-10 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/807); R. Greeley et al., "Wind-Related Processes Detected by the Spirit Rover at Gusev Crater, Mars," Science 305 (2004): 810-21 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/810); K. E. Herkenhoff et al., "Textures of the Soils and Rocks at Gusev Crater from Spirit's Microscopic Imager," Science 305 (2004): 824-26 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/824); R. Gellert et al., "Chemistry of Rocks and Soils in Gusev Crater from the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, Science 305 (2004): 829-32 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/829); P. R. Christensen et al., "Initial Results from the Mini-RBS Experiment in Gusev Crater from the Spirit Rover," Science 305 (2004): 837-42 (http:// www.sciencemag.org/ cgi/content/abstract/305/5685/837); Richard A. Kerr, "Rainbow of Martian Minerals Paints Picture of Degradation," Science 305 (2004): 770-71 (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/305/5685/770).

 


Human Curiosity as Evidence for God
by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Why do human beings ask why? Does this driving curiosity simply reflect humans' intellectual superiority? According to evolutionary theory, the distinctions between humans and other species are matters of degree, not of kind. What does careful observation reveal?

Even the most curious of animals are prone to explore their immediate environments, including nearby objects (or animals) roughly similar to their own body size. Humans, by contrast, explore and analyze the full range of physical reality from the very smallest part (such as subatomic particles) to the very largest (such as clusters of superclusters of galaxies), not to mention every living thing and every part of every living thing they encounter.

Other animals' curiosity extends little, if any, past the immediate moment. Even when creatures "store up" for the season or "prepare" for a coming event, such as a birth, they function in patterned ways according to their survival instinct. Humans, on the other hand, want to know about the earliest moments of life, of cosmic existence, and of the furthest reaches of the future. Particle physicists today spend billions of dollars to learn about cosmic conditions when the universe was only a fraction of a second old; other astronomers spend billions to learn more about what the universe will be like in a trillion trillion trillion years. Human curiosity extends even to a realm beyond time.

While animals attempt to explore and understand things and creatures in their habitat that can keep them and their offspring alive, human beings seek out the most desolate and even dangerous places on and in Earth-or beyond Earth-for the sheer adventure and pleasure of exploration, or as part of their undying quest to unlock the mysteries of their existence. While cats may be content to play with string and stones and bouncing crickets, humans want to understand everything there is to know about the string, stones, and crickets. Birds look to the star patterns in the night sky to guide them in their life-essential migrations, but humans seek to make sense of the patterns and understand starlight itself.

If the difference between human and other animals' curiosity were simply a matter of higher intelligence (a presumed survival benefit), one would expect to see this higher curiosity emerging gradually in the most intelligent and communicative animal species. Instead we observe only modest increases in the degree of curiosity among such animals. Dolphins learn tricks and solve puzzles. Chimps take simple things apart and put them back together.

Humans ask, What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it? Where did the universe and its life forms come from? Why is everything the way it is?1 Humans are the only animals to ask such questions, and some individuals invest (or risk) their lives to gain answers. The evolutionist must explain what feature in any other animal gave rise to such curiosity.

The willingness to risk all for the sake of curiosity would seem to contradict the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. From a biblical (creation model) perspective, however, human curiosity makes sense. God made people so intensely curious that in their drive to study all aspects of the cosmos, including their own minds and hearts, they would discover clues pointing unmistakably to Him.2

References:
  1.     Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 171.
  2.     See Psa. 19:1-4, 50:6, 97:6.


Integrating Argument and Virtue
by Kenneth Richard Samples

Scripture declares that human beings are made in the expressed image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and therefore possess unique, profound rational capacities. In light of this biblical truth, Christians are called to exemplify virtue in matters of the mind. God is honored when His people demonstrate such disciplines as study, reflection, discernment, and honesty (Acts 17:11; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 14:29; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:21). By contrast, intellectual sloth, credulity, prejudice, and especially dishonesty bring dishonor to Christ in the eyes of skeptics.

A critical intellectual virtue and a core principle of sound reasoning is the ability to handle the arguments of others (especially one's intellectual opponents) with fairness and integrity. This "intellectual golden rule" or "principle of charity" calls for treating others' arguments with the same degree of care and detailed attention as one expects to be shown toward his/her own. Observance of three rules of intellectual interchange can help ensure such respectful dialogue.

Rule #1: Take the Time and Effort to Get an Opponent's Argument Right

When a person intentionally (or unintentionally) distorts the argument of another and then proceeds to critique that misrepresented argument, he commits the informal logical fallacy known as the straw man. The logical error committed is a lack of relevance, for any criticism brought to bear on a misrepresented argument never really applies. The way people typically raise the straw man is either by making a position appear more extreme or by oversimplifying it. This fallacy is so named because just as it is easier to knock down a straw image of a man than it is a real man of bone and muscle, so it is easier to dispose of an exaggerated or simplistic argument than it is a well-balanced and substantive argument.

It is easy to commit the straw man fallacy in a face-to-face argument (especially a heated one) because a person is more likely to think about a response and less likely to listen carefully to an opponent. A good way to avoid misrepresentation and irrelevance is to restate an opponent's argument back to him. This practice can produce positive results, including better listening, clearer understanding, and more successful communication. People appreciate being heard and thus may become more open to other perspectives and possible critique. Attitude and demeanor, not just argument, effect persuasion.

This virtue applies to written polemics as well. When critiquing the writings of another it is important to give the writer a fair reading, to strive to understand and represent his true position. Again, anyone would certainly want his or her own writings treated in a similar manner.

If an opponent does raise a straw man, then it is proper to call attention to the distortion. A careful summary of the main point and main premises (supporting facts, evidence, or reasons) for an argument may help bring that opponent back on track.

Rule #2: Stay On Topic When Offering a Legitimate Rebuttal

Closely associated with the straw man error is the red herring fallacy. (The herring fish was allegedly used in English fox hunts to try to draw hunting dogs off track.) This fallacy is committed when an arguer diverts attention from the real issue at hand by focusing on extraneous or secondary matters. A change in subject (even if subtle) again results in a loss of logical relevance, an unproductive side trail.

Diversionary tactics such as the red herring violate the "appropriate response" principle spoken of by logicians-a critic's responsibility to focus any critique or rebuttals on the real question at hand. One can avoid being the victim of the red herring fallacy by consistently reminding an opponent of the authentic core of the debate.

Rule #3: Render an Honest and Fair Assessment of All Evidence for an Opponent's Position

Compounding the two aforementioned mistakes in argumentation is the commonly committed fallacy of suppressed evidence. This fallacy enters when an arguer emphasizes only the evidence that supports his or her position while suppressing counter evidence that may point toward-or even require-a different conclusion. The rules of logic and Christian morality compel Christians to deal honestly and transparently with facts, evidence, and data. If the evidence is ambiguous or points away from one's own position it is better-even obligatory-to candidly acknowledge it than to shade the truth or engage in intellectual dishonesty. A candid admission of tentativeness, for example, reflects a refreshing and attractive intellectual integrity. Unfortunately, the fallacy of suppressed evidence is easy to commit. The temptation to engage in (illegitimate) card-stacking is strong. Given this reality, when one thinks his opponent has ignored or diminished appropriate counter evidence, then he should by all means make the broader picture known.

Good argumentation presupposes such essential virtues as honesty, fair play, and charity. The passionate pursuit of truth demands nothing less than a commitment to sound reasoning and to God-honoring intellectual exchange.

For further study on these points of reasoning and argumentation, see the textbooks I use as a college instructor of logic: T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001) and Patrick Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 8th ed. (Belmont, CA: 2003).