Reasons to Believe

Connections 2006, Vol. 8, No. 3



Most Detailed Map of Cosmic Background Radiation Confirms Biblical Creation Model
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

A team of American and Canadian astronomers dramatically strengthened the case for a big bang creation (thoroughly biblical1) when they released the latest map of radiation left over from the cosmic origin event.2 The team made public their analysis based on three years' continuous observations of that cosmic background radiation via satellite-the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). This analysis, by far the most thorough and detailed to date, yields five independent confirmations of the hot big bang creation model.3
Inflation confirmation

This hot big bang model proposes that the continuous and relatively constant expansion of the universe from an actual beginning of space, time, matter, and energy was interrupted by a very brief period of extremely rapid expansion when the universe was less than a quadrillionth of a quadrillionth of a second old. This hyper-inflation of the early universe would explain how the universe remains thermally connected. Because of its ability to provide the first-ever full-sky picture of the background radiation's polarization, the WMAP was able to determine with remarkable certainty that early, rapid inflation did indeed occur.4
Nucleosynthesis confirmation

According to the hot big bang creation model, a certain fraction of the universe's hydrogen fused into helium during the first four minutes after the beginning. WMAP data allows astronomers to calculate what that fraction would be if the hot big bang creation model is correct. This fraction can then be compared with the observed and measured abundance of helium in the universe's first-born stars. The measured helium percentage in the first-formed stars is 0.249 ± 0.009.5 The WMAP figure is 0.24815 ± 0.00033.6 Such a remarkable fit between the expected abundance and the observed abundance makes for a potent proof of the model.
Quintessence confirmation

"Quintessence" is a catchall term for as yet unknown constants or laws of physics or for yet unseen variations in one or more constants of physics. Astronomers tend to invoke these as a way around (or at least to reduce) the phenomenal level of design required by their findings about cosmic mass density and dark energy density. Astronomers proposed a way to determine the "possible" level of quintessence, and that way was to measure something they called the w parameter. The new WMAP data permits the first accurate measurement of this w parameter. If quintessence does not exist, the w parameter should = 1.0. If quintessence does exist, the w parameter will diverge significantly from 1.0. According to the WMAP results, w = 0.97 ± 0.08.7 This measurement allows little room to escape the extraordinary level of design in the cosmic mass density and dark energy density.
Galactic seed confirmation

In big bang cosmology, hot spots in the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event are thought to serve as the "seeds" around which galaxies and galaxy clusters form. The new WMAP results are so detailed that astronomers can closely compare, for the first time, the locations of hot spots in the radiation with the locations of galaxies and galaxy clusters, as observed in such studies as the recent Sloan Digital Sky Survey. These comparisons reveal a precise match.
Age confirmation

The WMAP results also allow the most accurate measure to date of how much time has passed since the cosmic creation event. That figure is 13.73 ± 0.15 billion years.8 The extension of decimal places and shrinking error bar confirm a prediction of big bang cosmology-the prediction that ongoing research will yield increasing consistency and decreasing disparity among the various cosmic age measurements.

By these five independent tests, the new WMAP results potently challenge speculative attempts to escape the conclusion that an Agent beyond space and time created the universe and exquisitely designed it so that humans can exist. Like so many other breakthrough discoveries in astronomy, the latest WMAP findings support the premise that scientific advance is an ally, not an enemy, to the Christian's faith.

[For a more detailed account of this discovery and its theological significance go to the March 21 and May 2 (2006) Creation Update archived broadcasts at www.reasons.org.]

References:
1. Given that the Bible thousands of years ago predicted the fundamental features of big bang cosmology, including continuous cosmic expansion from an actual beginning of space and time, astronomical proofs for that type of creation event are equivalent to evidences attesting the biblical creation explanation. See Hugh Ross, "Big Bang-The Bible Taught It First," in The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 23-29.
2. Christopher Wanjek, "Ringside Seat to the Universe's First Split Second," Goddard Space Flight Center Press Release, March 16, 2006, http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/starsgalaxies/wmap_pol.html.
3. D. N. Spergel et al., "Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Three Year Results: Implications for Cosmology," Astrophysical Journal Supplement (2006), in press.
4. The polarization results allowed the WMAP team to calculate the "scalar spectral index" for the universe. For a universe without inflation this index would be greater than or equal to 1.0. For a universe with inflation the index would be 0.95. The WMAP answer was 0.951 ± 0.017.
5. Keith A. Olive and Evan D. Skillman, "A Realistic Determination of the Error on the Primordial Helium Abundance: Steps Toward Nonparametric Nebular Helium Abundances," Astrophysical Journal 617 (2004): 29-49.
6. D. N. Spergel et al., in press.
7. D. N. Spergel et al., in press.
8. D. N. Spergel et al., in press.

 


Biochemists Ask, "How Low Can Life Go?"
Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

"How low can you go?" This familiar call challenges limbo dancers to maneuver their way under a stick held ever closer to the ground. Some biochemists have taken part in a stick dance of their own. Advances in molecular biology make it possible for scientists to take up the challenge of determining "How low can life go?" as they assess life's minimal complexity.

Knowing life's minimal complexity bears directly on origin-of-life models. Evolutionary models require life to be relatively simple in its minimal form. On the other hand, RTB's creation model predicts that minimal life will be inherently complex if it is indeed the work of a Creator.1

One way biochemists measure life's minimal complexity is through the essential gene set-those genes indispensable for life. Knowing the identity and number of such nonnegotiable genes provides understanding of the biochemical processes strictly required for an entity to be recognized as living.

Genes are regions along the DNA molecule that store information the cell's machinery uses to make proteins. Proteins carry out virtually all of life's biochemical activities. For this reason, the essential gene set yields information about the foundational biological operations that are absolutely necessary for life and, hence, serves as a marker for life's minimal complexity.

Molecular biologists have devised a number of methods to identify essential genes. One approach makes use of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium. This microbe has the smallest number of genes (482) of any known organism. As a parasite, M. genitalium gets by on relatively few genes because it relies on the biochemistry of the host it infects. Biochemists think that M. genitalium's genome (the sum of its genes) is close to what would be considered the essential gene set. Researchers have learned that by randomly disabling genes from the M. genitalium genome, they can determine which genes are essential by whether or not the microbe dies.

An earlier study published in 1999 estimated the minimal gene set to fall between 265 and 350.2 A recent study making use of a more rigorous methodology estimated the essential number of genes at 382.3

Other researchers have taken a different tack. Instead of using a microbe with a nearly minimal genome, biochemists have studied extremely complex bacteria in an attempt to identify the essential gene set. One recent study worked with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a microbe with 5,962 known genes.4 As with the M. genitalium studies, researchers randomly disabled genes and concluded that its minimum gene set consists of 335 genes.

Biochemists are finding that whether the stick is initially held high or low, the genetic limbo winds up essentially in the same place. How low can life go? Evidently not much below 380 genes. Life in its bare essence appears to be irreducibly complex, just as RTB's creation model predicts.

References:
1. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 43-44.
2. Clyde A. Hutchinson, III et al., "Global Transposon Mutagenesis and a Minimal Mycoplasma Genome," Science 286 (1999): 2165-69.
3. John I. Glass et al., "Essential Genes of a Minimal Bacterium," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA103 (2006): 425-30.
4. Nicole T. Liberati et al., "An Ordered, Nonredundant Library of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Strain PA14 Transposon Insertion Mutants," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 103 (2006): 2833-38.

 


What Makes the Christian God Unique?
Kenneth Richard Samples

For more than a decade I taught philosophy and religion courses at a public college in Southern California. One of the courses I enjoyed teaching most was the world religions class. Most students who took the class were interested in more than just fulfilling their humanities requirement. I was pleased to discover that the majority of these students were genuinely interested in learning about the various religions of the world. Though I had many fine students over the years and lots of provocative discussions in and outside the classroom, one particular exchange with two students stands out in my memory. This dialogue challenged me to think carefully about how Christianity differs from two of the other major religions of the world.

One semester I had two bright, religiously devout young women in my class--one Jewish, the other Muslim. Both of them were interested in learning how their own respective religions compared and contrasted with other religions. When I lectured on Judaism and Islam, the two students shared helpful insights about their particular religious beliefs and rituals. The Jewish student had lived in Israel for part of her life, and the Muslim had grown up in Egypt. After one of my lectures on Christianity, the two students approached me and asked a pointed question: "Exactly how does the God of Christianity differ from the Jewish and Muslim views of God?"

I explained to them that historic Christianity, like Judaism and Islam,1 affirms the existence of one true and living God. I pointed out that Christianity enjoys a unique and special relationship with Judaism. However, I also emphasized three distinctive ways in which the Christian God differs from the conception of God found in these two other Middle Eastern monotheistic religions. In fact, I said that these three doctrinal distinctives set the Christian faith apart from all other religious systems, not just Judaism and Islam. The three tenets (in a sense) express the theological heart of historic Christianity.

The first way in which Christianity is distinct is in its special conception of monotheism. Unlike traditional Judaism and Islam, the God of Christianity possesses a unique and mysterious plurality of personhood within its single divine essence. In other words, while God is one in being, he nevertheless exists as three distinct persons (or centers of consciousness). One way of expressing this special form of monotheism is to say that God is "one what and three whos." That is, in terms of what God is, God is one and only one divine being. But in terms of who God is, God is three distinct persons. No other religion conceives of God in this way, by distinguishing between God's single essence on one hand and his mysterious plurality of personhood on the other.2

A second difference lies in Christianity's unusual and extraordinary way in which God has revealed himself in the world. Central to Christian belief is the view that one of those divine persons (namely the Son) took a genuine human nature and became a man. Unlike all other religions, historic Christianity affirms that God came to the earth in human flesh. The historical person Jesus of Nazareth is designated as none other than the "God-man." To the Christian, to encounter Jesus is to meet God face to face. The God who made the heavens and the earth has personally visited this planet. I explained to the students that Muslims and traditional Jews reject historic Christianity's bold claim that Jesus was God Incarnate.

The third distinctive feature of the Christian view of God describes how this holy and righteous God brings about the forgiveness of sinful and rebellious human beings. Unlike the gods of virtually all other religions, the Christian God does not accept people based upon a preponderance of good deeds done in life. Rather, God the Son, Jesus Christ, took upon himself-while on the Roman cross-the just punishment for the sinful acts perpetrated by human beings and thus appeased God's appropriate wrath. Jesus' atoning sacrifice made a way for God to express his mercy and forgiveness to repentant sinners. Redemption or salvation then is provided by God's grace alone, exclusively through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I concluded my answer to the students by stating that these three great doctrinal truths illustrate the uniqueness of the historic Christian concept of God. They asked me many more good and difficult questions that semester, and they also taught me a thing or two about their respective religions. Frank and healthy discussions like this one underscore the truth that a person's view of God makes a critical difference to one's overall world-and-life perspective.

This article has been adapted from Kenneth Samples' upcoming book on worldviews, due to be published in 2007.

References:
1. For an evangelical Christian assessment of the religions of Judaism and Islam, see Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998); see chapters 2 and 3 respectively.
2. For more on the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), chapter 5, "How Can God be Three and One?" 63-76.

A Memorial Tribute to Ronald H. Nash (1936-2006)

Dr. Ronald H. Nash died on March 10 after a long illness. He was one of the most important evangelical Christian thinkers of the last half century. His impact as a professor, author, and churchman has been wide and deep, and his legacy will endure. Allow me to touch briefly on four areas that impressed me about this extraordinary man.

Professor Nash was one of the most theologically and biblically astute philosophers I have ever known. Though formally trained in philosophy (Ph.D. from Syracuse University), he was well acquainted with systematic, historical, and biblical theology and wrote with great insight into the truths of Christianity. His commitment to a basic Augustinian theology shone through his work.

Ron Nash insisted on seeing historic Christianity as encompassing a vibrant and robust world-and-life view. Refusing to view the faith as a jumble of theological bits and pieces, he lectured and wrote eloquently about how the Christian worldview impacted all important areas of life. Worldview thinking was a prominent theme in his writings.

Nash was a prolific author, having written or edited over thirty books. His works addressed such disciplines as philosophy, theology, history, and apologetics. His writings reflect a clarity and carefulness of thought. He once said that he didn't think he had had a thought that he hadn't published. His many readers definitely profited from such diligence.

Nash was strongly influenced by such evangelical thinkers as Gordon H. Clark and Carl F. H. Henry. He, in turn, mentored many young Christian philosophers and apologists. I am one of many who benefited from his encouragement and support.

With his passing I will remember his quick and biting wit, his penchant for storytelling, and his unswerving commitment to truth.

Kenneth Richard Samples


Big Collision, Beautiful Moon
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.

A demolition expert surveys the building designated for destruction. With one swing of the wrecking ball, he must bring down the building without scattering the debris off the property. Such a precise operation requires the right size wrecking ball hitting at just the right speed. Hitting too high only removes the roof; too low and the ground absorbs all the wrecking force. The possibilities for a failed demolition far exceed the ways to succeed. After exacting calculations, the wrecking ball scores a direct hit, transforming the building into an easily cleaned-up pile of debris.

About 50 million years after the formation of the solar system, a similarly fine-tuned collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body occurred. However, instead of destroying Earth, the collision provided raw materials for the formation of Earth's moon. The collision ejected debris into orbit that eventually coalesced into the Moon. Recent high-resolution simulations of the impact event1 confirm the fine-tuning of the impact to insure the survival of Earth, formation of the Moon, and transformation of Earth's atmosphere.2

The simulations show that the debris ejected from Earth must have consisted primarily of solid or liquid material-not gas-or else the debris disk would have dissipated too quickly to coalesce into a Moon-sized satellite. A larger impactor would have generated more energy during the collision and, consequently, more vaporized, gaseous material in the debris disk. However, a smaller impactor would not enrich Earth with the necessary heavy elements to drive long-standing plate tectonics nor provide sufficient energy to completely eject Earth's life-suffocating primordial atmosphere into space. (This gas does not become part of the debris disk, but is completely removed from the Earth-Moon system.) Thus, if the impactor were larger or smaller, the capacity of Earth to support advanced complex life (like humans) or abundant, long-standing microbial life rapidly diminishes. Additionally, the authors note that if a planet is too large, it cannot have a moon formed by a giant impact event. The Moon-forming impact requires a just-right-sized impactor striking Earth at the just-right speed, at the just-right location, with the just-right angle, and at the just-right time.

Just as the demolition expert must carefully prepare his work in order to avoid failure, so the Moon-forming impact required a number of just-right factors in order to succeed. As scientific advances continue to reveal more fine-tuning factors, the idea that the impact happened purely by chance seems less and less feasible. On the other hand, such fine-tuning comports well with RTB's biblical creation model, in which a supernatural Creator intervenes to ensure Earth's long-standing habitability in preparation for humankind.

References:
1. Keiichi Wada, Eiichiro Kokubo, and Junichiro Makino, "High-Resolution Simulations of a Moon-Forming Impact and Postimpact Evolution," Astrophysical Journal 638 (2006): 1180-86.
2. Kevin Zahnle, "Being There," Nature 433 (2005): 814-15; Hidenori Genda and Yutaka Abe, "Enhanced Atmospheric Loss on Protoplanets at the Giant Impact Phase in the Presence of Oceans," Nature 433 (2005): 842-44.


A "House of Cards" Gets a Foundation
David H. Rogstad, Ph.D.

Measurement of the universe's expansion (essential for knowing its size and age) critically depends on what astronomers call the cosmic distance scale. Distances to the farthest objects in the heavens cannot be measured directly but must be built up through a sequence of steps that some people have characterized as a "house of cards"-so dubbed because if the shorter distances are proven incorrect then the whole distance scale falls apart.

In such a sequence, distances of about a hundred light years can be measured directly using a triangulation method called parallax.1 Greater distances, however, must rely on "standard candles." These objects possess some property (like the cycle of variability in their intensity) that can be tied to their absolute brightness. This property allows astronomers to use the difference between the object's apparent and absolute brightness to estimate a distance to the object. An example of a standard candle is a star called a Cepheid variable,2 which provides distance estimates to about 10 million light years. Its accuracy depends on the accuracy of the closer distances-the foundation of the house of cards-measured by parallax being correct.

Type Ia supernovae3 comprise another example of a standard candle. These exploding stars allow for distance measurements from about 10 million light years out to the edge of the universe at 13 billion light years. Again, the accuracy of these distances depends critically on the correctness of the closer distances.

Though astronomers have been fairly confident of the correctness of the cosmic distance scale, relatively recent VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry)4 measurements have strengthened that confidence and given the "house of cards" a secure foundation. VLBI makes use of a network of antennas strategically placed around the world and equipped with ultrasensitive receiving systems. Using VLBI in a sort of reverse parallax, radio astronomers have been able to measure the very small proper motions (angular motions across the line of sight) of compact regions in the galaxy NGC 4258.5 Based on some simple assumptions about the geometry of the galaxy, they have been able to estimate the distance corresponding to this proper motion and thereby derive the distance to the object independent of any other measuring technique. Previous estimates of the galaxy's distance ranged from about 11 million to nearly 23 million light years. These VLBI observations yield a distance of 23.5 +/- 0.9 million light years.

This vast improvement in the cosmic distance scale will allow astronomers-and interested nonastronomers-to peer into the reaches of the universe and verify two of its key attributes: that the universe had a beginning and continues to expand. Such characteristics, which are features of RTB's cosmic creation model, were first revealed as long as 3500 years ago by the authors of the Bible.6

References:
1. Learn more about parallax here:
http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Sparalax.htm.
2. Learn more about Cepheid variables here:
http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/mysteries_l1/cepheid.html.
3. Learn more about supernovae here:
http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l2/supernovae.html.
4. Learn more about this technique at:
http://dsnscience.jpl.nasa.gov/vlbi.html.
5. J. R. Herrnstein et al., "A Geometric Distance to the Galaxy NGC4258 from Orbital Motions in a Nuclear Gas Disk," Nature 400 (1999): 539-41.
Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 139-48.