Reasons to Believe

Connections 2007, Vol. 9, No. 2



Bible and Brains Explain Human-Chimp Similarities
Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

“Isn’t the 99% genetic similarity between humans and chimps evidence for evolution?”

When I speak on science-faith issues, I am almost always asked this question. The inquiry rarely takes me by surprise, but my reply often catches people a bit off-guard. “The biblical creation accounts readily accommodate the human-chimpanzee genetic likenesses. In fact, they predict them.”

This unexpected agreement comes from an examination of relevant scriptural passages and from recent studies showing the genetic basis for the differences between human and chimpanzee brains. First, the biblical data.

Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of Adam and states that God “formed the man from the dust of the ground.” The verb “formed” is translated from the original Hebrew verb yasar, which means “to form,” “to fashion,” or “to produce.” Genesis 2:19 uses yasar to describe God’s work to form “out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” Together, these verses indicate that both man and animals were fashioned by the Creator from the same substance. It follows, then, that anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and genetic similarities should exist between humans and other animals, including the “99% genetic similarity” between humans and chimpanzees.

And yet, according to Genesis 2:7, only Adam was animated with the divine breath, implying that there is something distinct about humans. Genesis 1:26-27 (and 5:12) teach that human beings alone were made in God’s image. As a result, humans display unique nonphysical characteristics that reflect that image.

It stands to reason that significant physical differences will also exist between humans and other animals—variations that provide the biological support for humanity’s likeness to God. Many of these qualities stem from the brain’s structure and activities. Despite substantial genetic similarities, Scripture anticipates significant differences between the brains of humans and those of the great apes.

Increasing scientific evidence reveals that genetic similarity has no bearing on the biological and behavioral disparity between humans and chimpanzees. Instead, what matters is the way genes are used (gene expression).

One study demonstrated that the co-expression patterns of genes for humans and chimpanzees differ considerably in the cerebral cortex but are largely similar in subcortical regions. 2 Another study indicates that human and chimp genomes vary in microRNA (molecules that regulate gene expression) content.3 The way genes are regulated and expressed corresponds to the profound dissimilarities in human and chimpanzee brain structures and cognitive abilities (behavior), thereby explaining the crucial differences between humans and the great apes.

These biological discoveries indicate that—in accord with Genesis 1 and 2—the Creator used the same materials (genes) to construct both humans and chimpanzees but employed these resources in such a way to generate radically different kinds of creatures, one of which uniquely bears God’s image.

References:

1. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds.,Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), Volume I, 396.
2. Michael C. Oldham, Steve Horvath, and Daniel H. Geschwind, “Conservation and Evolution of Gene Coexpression Networks in Human and Chimpanzee Brains,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 103 (2006): 17973-78.
3. Eugene Berezikov et al., “Diversity of MicroRNAs in Human and Chimpanzee Brain,” Nature Genetics 38 (2006): 1375-77.

 


Ode to Oxygen
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

My seventh-grade science teacher asked the class to list “the three most essential needs of human life.” The “correct” answer—water, food, and sleep—illustrates how easily people take for granted the air we breathe, specifically its oxygen content. Most humans can live a few days without water, food, and sleep, and yet we can’t go more than a few minutes without oxygen. I understood that much in junior high, but at the time I had no idea that Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere represents—and facilitates—a miracle.

What’s so special about oxygen? In humans, as in any creature larger than about a millimeter in length, oxygen powers virtually all its life functions. Oxygen typically releases an abundance of energy when it attaches to another element or compound, and that’s how it fuels the metabolic process. Some life-forms called anaerobes do not rely on oxygen for their metabolism, but these creatures are tiny, no larger than unicellular filaments, with relatively low rates of metabolism. Organisms that approach even one millimeter in length require orders of magnitude more energy to survive. Their metabolism is aerobic, or oxygen-based, like our own, and with incremental increases in size come hugely increasing power demands. For example, species averaging about a meter in length (as adults) need at least 70% as much oxygen as we humans do for their bodies to do the “work” of living. Two other elements, fluorine and chlorine, also release significant amounts of energy, but they are relatively rare and highly volatile by comparison. Of the three reactive elements, only oxygen is sufficiently stable to accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere and provide for life’s metabolic needs. Today it constitutes about 20% of Earth’s atmosphere. (Nitrogen makes up most of the remaining 80%.)

How did oxygen get here? Inorganic chemical reactions and radioactivity passing through water produce only miniscule amounts. Nothing but photosynthetic life (such as cyanobacteria)—and lots of it—can possibly generate enough atmospheric oxygen to sustain aerobic life in any abundance. However, because oxygen is so highly reactive, most of what photosynthesis produced throughout Earth’s history lasted only briefly in the atmosphere. As soon as these tiny life-forms (powered by sunlight) converted carbon dioxide and water vapor into sugar and oxygen, the oxygen was swallowed up by enormous “oxygen sinks” (oxygen-absorbing chemicals and decaying organic matter) in Earth’s mantle and crust. Not until these oxygen sinks began to fill up could the atmosphere hold onto significant quantities of oxygen. The oxygen history of Earth’s atmosphere has been difficult to trace, but breakthroughs are coming. In a series of seven research papers, a team of chemists and physicists were able to write the early chapters of that history. They described two great oxygenation events: the first occurred roughly 2.4 billion years ago, and the second in three episodes between 635 and 545 million years ago.1 Additional research shows that these two events set the stage for a third event that occurred about 200 million years ago.2 While scientists continue to investigate the exact causes of these three great oxygenation events, they agree that catastrophic upheavals played a significant role. These disruptions buried large quantities of decaying organic matter, thereby preventing the carbon in this material from gobbling up oxygen. This circumstance would allow a major buildup in atmospheric oxygen if two crucial conditions were met. First, photosynthetic life would have to be extremely abundant and diverse to stay ahead of oxygen consumption by other oxygen sinks. Second, at least one of the other oxygen sinks would have to be filled up by the time the burials occurred.

What does science show? Both conditions appear to have been met with precise timing and with even more remarkable results. The earliest oxygenation event (2.4 billion years ago) provided for the sudden and widespread appearance of eukaryotic bacteria (cells with definite nuclei) existing both as individual cells and as mats of cells. The second oxygenation event (from 635 to 545 million years ago) precipitated the appearance of the first large animals. The last great oxygenation event (200 million years ago) coincided with the appearance of the first birds and mammals. This profile of available oxygen followed immediately by the appearance of creatures equipped to exploit it defies the assumptions of naturalism. A biblical creation model, on the other hand, can explain why the fossil record looks the way it does.3 The Creator of the universe orchestrated and timed these events on purpose, as part of a larger plan that includes you and me.

References:
1. D. A. Fike et al., “Oxidation of the Ediacaran Ocean,” Nature 444 (2006): 744-47; Richard A. Kerr, “A Shot of Oxygen to Unleash the Evolution of Animals,” Science 314 (2006): 1529; Don E. Canfield, Simon W. Poulton, and Guy M. Narbonne, “Late-Neoproterozoic Deep-Ocean Oxygenation and the Rise of Animal Life,” Science 315 (2007): 92-95; David C. Catling and Mark W. Claire, “How Earth’s Atmosphere Evolved to an Oxic State: A Status Report,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 237 (2005): 1-20; David C. Catling et al., “Why O2 Is Required by Complex Life on Habitable Planets and the Concept of Planetary ‘Oxygenation Time,’” Astrobiology 5 (2005): 415-38; James F. Kasting, “Ups and Downs of Ancient Oxygen,” Nature 443 (2006): 643-45; Colin Goldblatt, Timothy M. Lenton, and Andrew J. Watson, “Bistability of Atmospheric Oxygen and the Great Oxidation,” Nature 443 (2006): 683-86.
2. Paul G. Falkowski et al., “The Rise of Oxygen Over the Past 205 Million Years and the Evolution of Large Placental Mammals,” Science 309 (2005): 2202-04. 3. Hugh Ross, Creation as Science (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006): 125-47.


New Telescope Promises Greater Evidence for Design
David H. Rogstad, Ph.D

Why would anyone want to build a large telescope for use in space? The cost is prohibitive (about $2.4 billion) and, if repairs are needed, it almost takes an act of Congress to fix one. Critics have claimed that a better ground-based telescope could be built for a fraction of the cost.

Such were some of the arguments against the construction of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) before its NASA launch in 1990. Despite early problems with its main mirror, the HST has proven to be one of the greatest scientific instruments of all time, providing stunning images of the heavens and remarkable insight into the origin of the universe.1 As the HST nears the end of its mission, a new space telescope promises even more striking (and faith-affirming) views of the cosmos.

NASA is in the design stage for Hubble’s replacement,the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due to be launched in 2013. It will be larger (~256 inches in diameter versus 94 inches for Hubble) and will work at longer wavelengths (into the infrared) to provide deeper, earlier views back in time to when the stars and galaxies formed at the very beginning of the universe.

One of the biggest changes, however, is that the JWST will not orbit the Earth directly like the Hubble, but will orbit the Sun in a position beyond the orbit of the Earth called L2—short for the second Lagrangian point. Back in the late 1700s the French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange attempted to mathematically describe the motion of three massive bodies bound together by gravity (it’s called the “three-body problem” in physics). Lagrange discovered several locations where a small body (in this case the JWST) could orbit a large body (the Sun) in the presence of a smaller, but still large, second body (the Earth). One of those locations, the L2, moves along with the Earth, about 1.5 million kilometers farther out from the Sun. Being in the shadow of the Earth, the JWST will be able to function continuously with little light disturbance from the Sun. Also, its greater distance will significantly reduce the heat energy coming from the Earth, which is critically important for infrared observation.

These benefits provide distinct advantages over ground-based telescopes, which are hampered by limitations. The obstacles include occasional bad weather, light pollution due to the Moon and city lights, the presence of the Sun for half the day, and turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere yielding poorer resolution. Therefore, the high costs of implementation, upgrades, and repairs for a new space telescope are more than justified with the promise of spectacular results.

Reasons To Believe scholars look forward with excitement to the JWST launch. We anticipate a continuing parade of new discoveries that will affirm the accuracy of RTB’s creation model and the reliability of the Bible as the word of God.

References:
1. For more information see NASA’s Web site for the Hubble Space Telescope at http://hubble.nasa.gov/index.php.
2. For more information see NASA’s Web site for the James Webb Space Telescope at http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/index.html.



The Ultimate Apologetic
Kenneth Richard Samples

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Have you ever met a fellow believer in Christ whose overall character of life and faith was so vibrant that their example seemed to make Christianity even more believable? Not that the person was perfect, for all believers are forgiven sinners who in one way or another still bear the negative effects of a fallen nature. Nevertheless, certain believers—by God’s grace—possess that unique combination of intellectual integrity, commitment to moral duty, and depth of virtue that makes Christianity as a set of beliefs seem all the more true.1

The scripturally mandated enterprise of showing the Christian faith to be a credible belief system is called "apologetics" (derived from 1 Peter 3:15, Gk. apologia,"answer" or defense). In more technical terms, apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that seeks to provide rational justification for the truth-claims of Christianity.2

Throughout twenty centuries, Christian scholars and leaders have engaged in a fourfold defense of the faith by (1) presenting and clarifying the central truth-claims of Christianity, (2) offering clear and compelling positive evidence for accepting Christian truth, (3) answering people’s questions and objections concerning the faith, and (4) providing a penetrating critique and refutation of alternative non-Christian systems of thought.3

This type of apologetic endeavor remains as important today as at any time in Christian history. And it is imperative that believers look to Scripture (and church history) to instruct them in the performance of this critical task. Fortunately the Apostle Peter, the central preacher in the primitive Christian church, offers such guidance in his first epistle.

Rules of Apologetic Engagement

In 1 Peter 3:15 we discover four points that provide a context for apologetic engagement that is both honoring to God and instructive to the apologist.

Courage in Suffering: The backdrop of Peter’s admonition in verse 15 is the topic of suffering (see verses 13-14 and 16-17). In the apostolic age as well as for virtually three centuries following, a defense of the Christian faith would often occur under hostile interrogation (see, for example, Acts 25:16). Since Christianity was an illegal and politically controversial religion in the Roman Empire, the early Christians suffered through periods of great persecution and even martyrdom. Apologetic activity in the early church (as today in totalitarian and Islamic-ruled countries) took great moral and physical courage.

Christ's Lordship: Peter instructs believers that at the very core of their being (Gk. kardia, the "heart"), where people form their most essential beliefs, they are to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Calling Jesus "Lord" (Gk.Kyrios) in this context is equivalent to referring to him as Yahweh (Ruler, King, and God).4 Christians are to engage in the apologetic enterprise with the full assurance that Christ is the exclusive and sovereign ruler over all things (Matthew 28:18). Facing suffering, trial, and hostile interrogation with the conviction that Christ is in sovereign control grants the believer peace and confidence.

A Reasoned Defense: To provide the proper rational justification for the Christian faith and worldview today demands rigorous intellectual preparation. It presupposes an in-depth knowledge of the faith and the ability to answer questions and rebut objections. Peter sets forth the idea that the Christian faith has a rational foundation worth defending. (Yet, one does not need to be a professional to begin preparation.)

Gentleness and Respect: When it comes to rational persuasion, the advocate's attitude and demeanor often carry as much weight as his arguments. The credibility of one’s beliefs is often measured by how they are communicated. Cogent arguments conveyed with an air of arrogance and disrespect are inevitably drained of their apologetic potency. But apologetic responses that reflect a calm and measured approach and tone signify a quality consistent with the conviction that it is God (the Holy Spirit) alone who makes the human heart and mind receptive to the gospel (Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

The Apostle goes on to speak of the importance of joining one's rational defense with the virtue of moral transparency ("keeping a clear conscience,"v. 16). The effective apologist seeks to integrate the witness of one's life with one's words. This "ultimate apologetic" possesses great force in conveying the message that historic Christianity is rational, viable, and true.

References:
1. My first Greek professor at Concordia University (Irvine, CA) in the 1980s, Dr. Robert Holst, embodied these qualities, which inspired me in the faith.
2. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), xi.
3. See Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 255-59.
4. F. F. Bruce, Jesus: Lord and Savior (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 203.




Location! Location! Location!
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.

Either a beachfront home or a secluded mountain ranch costs far more than a house in suburbia. A secluded mountain ranch with a beachfront on the other hand—now that would be valuable property. The real estate maxim applies in a similar way when considering the location of any potential life-supporting planet—but with far greater consequences than material wealth.

Scientists have identified “habitable zones” around stars where a life-supporting planet could reside. Life’s requirement of liquid water defines one such zone. The high surface temperature of a planet located too close to its parent star vaporizes any water, making the planet uninhabitable. However, moving the same planet too far away from its star freezes all water. Without an ocean in either location, neither life nor beachfront property exists.

But, as recent research highlights, a planet located in the liquid water habitable zone is not enough. All stars emit a form of radiation more energetic than visible light called ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While visible light often drives many of the chemical reactions upon which life depends, UV radiation generally damages essential-for-life molecules. Thus, a planet too close to its star receives lethal doses of UV radiation.2 However, too little UV radiation also poses problems. Strictly naturalistic scenarios for life's origin need the additional energy carried by UV radiation to jump-start the chemical reactions that generate life's precursor molecules. While less constraining for RTB's creation model 3, the amount of UV radiation received by a potential life-supporting planet defines another habitable zone. The planet must reside far enough away from the star that the UV radiation does not destroy all biomolecules, yet close enough for adequate UV radiation to initiate the formation of life's precursors.

These life-favorable water and UV habitable zones overlap for Earth's sun but not for the majority of stars—particularly those stars where astronomers have already discovered planets. Thus, the minimal constraints of forming a planet capable of sustaining liquid water and maintaining the proper amount of UV radiation eliminate most stars as suitable life-supporting candidates.4

Strictly naturalistic models of the universe and the life within it assume that Earth is average in every way, implying that scientists will find many planets with similar characteristics conducive to life. However, as researchers learn more about extrasolar planets, the evidence increasingly points to Earth’s rare, if not unique, capacity to support life—due in large part to its desirable location. RTB’s creation model predicts Earth’s special location as the work of the powerful and caring God of the Bible who explicitly prepared Earth as a home for humanity.

References:
1. Andrea P. Buccino, Guillermo A. Lemarchand, and Pablo J. D. Mauas, “Ultraviolet Radiation Constraints around the Circumstellar Habitable Zones,” Icarus 183 (2006): 491-503.
2. One cannot invoke an ozone layer like Earth’s as a UV shield because the oxygen responsible for the ozone results from the activity of two billion years’ worth of specific microbial life.
3. RTB's model posits supernatural intervention for life’s origin and therefore requires no minimum amount of UV radiation.
4. For more details, see Jeff Zweerink, “Habitable Planets Rarer than Originally Thought,” Connections 8, no. 4 (2006), 2-3.