Reasons to Believe

Connections 2005, Vol. 7, No. 1



New Clues to a Genesis Mystery
by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Medical doctors say if you live long enough you'll probably get cancer. Cancer is one reason why none of us can live much beyond 120 years.1 How is it possible, then, that humans (before Noah) could have lived 900 years or more, as the Bible says? Reduced exposure to cancer risk factors may provide at least a partial answer.

One major cancer risk is radiation. The deadliest radiation comes from cosmic rays and the decay of radioactive isotopes in Earth's crust. Crustal components that pose the greatest risk are igneous rocks. Avoidance of such rocks reduces dangerous exposure. According to the Bible, humanity's habitat before the Genesis Flood was limited to the Mesopotamian Plain, where igneous rocks are rare and the exploitation of igneous material (concrete, asphalt, granite, etc.) for building had not yet developed.

Cancer-causing cosmic radiation comes mostly from supernova remnants-thousands of them scattered throughout the disk of our galaxy. Electrons and protons make up most of this radiation, which constantly showers the Earth. But, as two astronomers recently discovered, there's more to the picture.

Since 1996 Anatoly Erlykin and Arnold Wolfendale have studied the particle energy spectrum of cosmic ray showers, focusing on extremely high-energy particles (above a quadrillion electron volts per nucleon).2 Their research has revealed two peaks in the radiation spectra, peaks identified with oxygen and iron nuclei. Such features, they claim, are the signature of one local, recent supernova.3 This massive nearby stellar explosion accelerated the nuclei of oxygen and iron in its shock waves.

Initially Erlykin and Wolfendale estimated that this particular supernova occurred within 3,000 light years of Earth and within the last 100,000 years.4 These rough limits made the Vela supernova (distance = 936 light years5; eruption date = 20,000-30,000 years ago6) a likely candidate. However, improved data has refined their view. Erlykin and Wolfendale now believe this supernova occurred so nearby that the solar system resides just inside the shell of its remnant.7 The remnant, they point out, occupies as much as 40 degrees of the sky and thus would be very difficult for any astronomer to distinguish from the galactic cosmic ray background.8

The local, recent supernova event that Erlykin and Wolfendale have identified may help explain the long life spans of the first humans-and the subsequent shortening of life spans. Humans living before such an event would have been exposed to a much lower incidence of the high-energy, heavy-nuclei cosmic radiation most clearly associated with cell damage and cancer. Given this lower radiation environment, the Creator could have granted early people a higher level of telomerase activity (a mechanism that maintains chromosome length and thereby permits a longer maximum life span but, under current radiation conditions, allows more cancers to grow). This higher telomerase activity in concert with other slight biochemical adjustments9, combined with a just-right diet (low calorie, low oxidant, high antioxidant)10 and the avoidance of igneous rocks, may be what allowed humans in the era before the Genesis Flood to live much longer than people since then, even by as much as 800 years.

References:

  1. Genesis 6:3, The Holy Bible.
  2. A. D. Erlykin and A. W. Wolfendale, "A Single Source of Cosmic Rays in the Range 1015 - 1016 eV," Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics 23 (1997): 979-89; A. D. Erlykin and A. W. Wolfendale, "High-Energy Cosmic Gamma Rays from the 'Single Source,'" Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics 29 (2003): 709-18; A. D. Erlykin and A. W. Wolfendale, "Spectral Features and Masses in the PeV Region," Nuclear Physics B-Proceedings Supplements 122 (2003): 209-12. For a complete reference list see the enhanced version of this article on the RTB website.
  3. Erlykin and Wolfendale, "A Single Source of Cosmic Rays in the Range 1015 - 1016 eV," 979-89; Erlykin and Wolfendale, "Spectral Features and Masses in the PeV Region," 209-12.
  4. A. Erlykin and A. Wolfendale, "High Energy Cosmic Ray Spectroscopy. I. Status and Prospects," Astroparticle Physics 7 (1997): 1-13; Peter L. Biermann, "Not-So-Cosmic Rays," Nature 388 (1997): 25.
  5. R. Dodson et al,, "The Vela Pulsar's Proper Motion and Parallax Derived from VLBI Observations," Astrophysical Journal 596 (2003): 1137-41.
  6. B. Aschenback, R. Egger, and J. Trumpler, "Discovery of Ecplosion Fragments Outside the Vela Supernova Remnant Shock-Wave Boundary," Nature 373 (1995): 598; A. G. Lyne et al., "Very Low Braking Index for the Vela Supernova," Nature 381 (1996): 497-98.
  7. Erlykin and Wolfendale, "Spectral Features and Masses in the PeV Region," 209-12.
  8. Erlykin and Wolfendale, "High-Energy Cosmic Gamma Rays from the 'Single Source,'" 709-18.
  9. Fazale R. Rana, Hugh Ross, and Richard Deem, "Long Life Spans: 'Adam Lived 930 Years and Then He Died,'" Facts for Faith 5 (Q1 2001), 18-27 (http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/2001issue05/index.shtml#long_life_spans).
  10. Rana, Ross, and Deem, 18-27.

 


Award-Winning Protein Discovery Reveals Design
by Fazale Rana, Ph.D.

Each year the Nobel Foundation gives awards for accomplishments that benefit humanity. The 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to biochemists Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko (from Israel) and Irwin Rose (America) for ground-breaking work in understanding the molecular basis of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's.1

The Nobel Laureates' award-winning research also benefits humanity in another way¾one that extends beyond biochemistry and biomedicine. Their work provides powerful evidence that the cell's biochemical systems are the handiwork of a Creator.

During the early 1980s, the team identified one of the most important pathways used by the cell to break down vital molecular components, namely proteins. This destruction takes place when proteins are improperly made by the cell's machinery (which happens from time to time), when they become damaged as a result of normal wear and tear, or when they have outlived their usefulness.

Proteins, the workhorse molecules of life, take part in virtually every cellular structure and activity. Proteins catalyze (assist) chemical reactions, store and transport molecules, harvest chemical energy, and assemble and become part of the cell's structures.2 Simply put, every structure and activity inside the cell involves multiple proteins.

Proteins are chain-like molecules that fold into precise three-dimensional structures. The protein's three-dimensional shape uniquely determines its functional and/or structural role.3 If a protein's three-dimensional structure is compromised, the protein does not function properly and becomes a detriment to the cell.

Ciechanover, Hershko, and Rose discovered a biochemical system inside the cell that recognizes, and then "labels" structurally distorted proteins with a small protein called ubiquitin. This ubiquitin "tag" earmarks the nonfunctional protein for destruction and removal.4 This critical process keeps the cell's biochemical systems functioning efficiently, preventing the cell's interior from becoming cluttered with damaged, defective, and useless debris. Such removal also keeps harmful protein aggregates from forming inside the cell. Damaged proteins with distorted structures frequently combine with one another to form massive aggregates. As an example, protein aggregates are part of the etiology (cause) of Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases.5

The "ubiquitination" of defective proteins functions as an elegant quality control and waste management system. Ubiquitin labels provide the cell's machinery with a way to distinguish properly functioning proteins from defective ones and to eliminate them from the cell. (The ubiquination pathway is just one of many quality control operations inside the cell.) Quality control procedures are hallmark characteristics of well-designed systems. By analogy, it is reasonable to conclude that the cell's quality control pathways, as well as the rest of the cell's biochemical systems, are designed as well. Perhaps the greater benefit for humanity in the team's laudable work is to highlight this truth.

References:
  1. Jim Giles, "Molecular Kiss of Death," News@Nature.com, http://www.nature.com/news/2004/04/004/full/041004-9.html, accessed October 6, 2004; "Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Proteins Labeled for Destruction," Sciencedaily.com, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/04/006084215.htm, accessed October 7, 2004.
  2. Robert C. Bohinksi, Modern Concepts in Biochemistry, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1983), 86-87.
  3. Harvey Lodish et al., Molecular Cell Biology, 4th ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000), 54-60.
  4. Lodish et al., 66-67.
  5. Lodish et al., 67.

 


Creation Model Passes Big Test
by Fazale Rana, Ph.D.

This past fall I took part in a pro football "pick'em" contest. For readers unfamiliar with this game, let me explain that the contestants demonstrate their football "smarts" by predicting the outcome of NFL games played each week. Even though I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable about football, I finished dead last. No matter what, I just couldn't predict the winners. (I guess there's always next year.)

In some ways, science operates like a football pick'em contest. Scientists develop hypotheses, theories, and models to explain some aspect of nature's workings. These ideas have logical consequences that lead to predictions about what scientists should have already discovered and what they will uncover in the future.

Scientists consider a theory to be valid only if it harmonizes with current scientific data and successfully predicts future scientific advances. Those theories that repeatedly fail to make successful prognostications must be reconsidered. They are not merely relegated to "last place," as I was; they are rejected.

As an example of how this process works, a new fossil discovery from an ancient rock formation in South Africa weighs in on the predictions game. In our book, Origins of Life, Hugh Ross and I developed a scientific model for life's origin based on Genesis 1:2 and Deuteronomy 32:9-12.1 Reasons To Believe's creation model makes several predictions that can be used to evaluate its validity. For example, the model predicts that life should appear early in Earth's history and that the first life forms should be inherently complex.

Evolutionary origin of life models, on the other hand, require a long "percolation" time, perhaps up to 1 billion years, before life can emerge from a primordial soup. These naturalistic scenarios also predict that the first life forms should be relatively simple.2

Numerous lines of fossil and geochemical evidence indicate that life was present remarkably early in Earth's history, possibly as far back as 3.8+ billion years ago.3 (Prior to about 3.8 billion years ago, life would have been impossible on Earth, because the planet's conditions were "hellishly" unsuitable for life.4) In spite of the weight of evidence in favor of early life on Earth, some origin-of-life researchers have questioned the authenticity of the most important and high-profile examples. These scientists maintain that the markers for early life are actually artifacts produced by inorganic processes.5

In the face of this challenge, RTB's model predicts that future discoveries will strengthen the evidence for early life on Earth. Such a discovery was made recently by two scientists from Stanford University.6 These investigators recovered new fossil and geochemical evidence for early life on Earth in a 3.416 billion-year-old rock formation from South Africa. Their data indicate that anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria produced the biological remains found in these ancient rocks. Even though such microbes are single-celled, their biochemical makeup is remarkably complex.

In support of RTB's model, this new discovery confirms the early appearance of complex metabolic life forms on Earth. These facts find ready explanation if a Creator intervened to make Earth's first life forms. At the same time, this discovery of early life runs counter to the predictions of evolutionary models. I guess there's always next year-but origin-of-life research isn't football pick'em.

References:
  1. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 35-46.
  2. Rana and Ross, 47-60.
  3. Rana and Ross, 63-79.
  4. Rana and Ross, 81-92.
  5. Rana and Ross, 63-79.
  6. Michael M. Tice and Donald R. Lowe, "Photosynthetic Microbial Mats in the 3,416-Myr-Old Ocean," Nature 431 (2004): 549-552.



Starting Points
by Krista Bontrager

Sometimes the hardest part of dialoguing with nonbelievers involves finding a place to start. "Should I begin the discussion with an argument for the existence of God? Or, should I defend the reliability of the Bible?" Well, it depends.

The book of Acts reveals two very different approaches employed by the apostles.1 They varied their gospel presentations depending on their audience. Understanding these approaches can provide insight into outreach efforts for today.

Peter's early sermons recount the history of God's dealings with His covenant people. He culminates each presentation with a declaration that Jesus was the promised Messiah and an explanation of the meaning of His death and resurrection (Acts 2:17-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12). Stephen follows a similar pattern in his defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-8:53), and as does Paul. Upon entering a city, Paul went to the synagogue, where he "reasoned with [the Jews] from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:2-3). Over and over again Luke describes Paul's work in the synagogue as a persuasive orator (Acts 13:14-41; 14:1; 17:10-11; 17:17; 18:4-5; 18:19; 19:8-10).

In all of these cases, the apostles' audience is comprised of one or all of the following groups: 1) Jews living in Jerusalem, 2) Greek-speaking Jews, or 3) God-fearing Gentiles who attended synagogue but who had not fully converted to Judaism.2 Yet, all of these groups had one important thing in common - they already possessed knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures and shared a belief in the covenant-making God of Israel. Their main stumbling block to faith was that they did not believe Jesus was God, the Christ (the Messiah). In short, they needed evidence that worshiping Jesus would not amount to idolatry. This concern is why Peter and Paul focus their efforts on demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled God's Old Testament promises (cf. Acts 2:25-28; Ps. 16:8-11) and on providing confirmation of God's approval through signs and wonders.

The need for articulate men and women to "reason" with certain groups of people from the Scriptures still manifests itself today. Modern Jews continue to reject Jesus as the Messiah, as do Muslims, and Mormons.3 Yet, all three of these groups affirm, at least in principle, that the Bible is sacred and that Jesus was a historical person. Thus the main task in outreach to these groups is not unlike the task before Peter and Paul: 1) demonstrate that Jesus as God incarnate, is the Savior of the world and, 2) that the New Testament provides an accurate, eyewitness account of His words and works. Very little, if any, time need be spent arguing for the existence of God or for the idea that God has revealed Himself through men because members of this audience by and large already generally accept these truths.

After the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10, however, a shift occurs. The church in Antioch is the first to send out missionaries. Paul and Barnabas take the gospel to other parts of the Mediterranean world. But it's not until after the Jewish leaders in Pisidian Antioch "talked abusively against what Paul was saying" that the missionaries focused their efforts toward Gentiles (Acts 13).

Paul and Barnabas saw results almost immediately: "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (13:48). At this time, Paul and Barnabas began to apply a two-pronged evangelistic strategy. Upon entering a city, they first went to the synagogue and reasoned with the people there from the Scriptures. After that, they took the gospel to the Gentiles. But these weren't God-fearing Gentiles like Cornelius. These were idol-worshiping Gentiles who had no knowledge of Scripture. They didn't know anything about God's covenant with Abraham, the issuing of the Ten Commandments, or prohibitions against idolatry.

First century religious practice was a hodge-podge, not unlike our own day. Cities such as Ephesus and Athens were filled with innumerable religious sects, philosophies, and cults. However, unlike today, it was not taboo to challenge religious claims. Paul's sermons give a glimpse into his strategy for proclaiming the gospel to the biblically illiterate: begin with creation and then work toward Jesus Christ. "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands…In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [God] has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising [Christ] from the dead" (see Acts 14:8-18; 17:16-31).

This pattern highlights the important role, today, of science-based evangelism. By providing non-believers with accurate and intriguing information about the created order, evangelism efforts gain credibility. They help the nonbeliever navigate to the next level in the search for truth, asking profound worldview questions about the Creator, the meaning of life, and the resurrection, just as Paul did.

Both of these strategies met mixed results - some believed while others did not. Even Peter's riveting call to repentance, which resulted in God's bringing thousands to salvation on Pentecost, was rejected by some. From a human perspective, such results may seem discouraging. However, the book of Acts makes clear that, ultimately, evangelistic success is based not on a particular formula, but rather it rests on the supernatural work of God.

For a good discussion about how to interpret the book of Acts, I would recommend: Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 107-25; Walt Russell, Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2000), 213-30.
In general, this involved observing the Sabbath, becoming circumcised, and adhering to dietary laws.
Although some Mormon writings refer to Jesus as the Messiah, Mormon doctrine about Jesus and the meaning of his messianic role are incompatible with historic Christian doctrine