Reasons to Believe

Connections 2008, Vol. 10, No. 4



Grand Canyon Formed over Millions of Years
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.


WHOOOOOOA!

So exclaimed my then five-year-old son as our car approached the south rim of the Grand Canyon. His reaction echoes the sentiments of most people witnessing the grandeur of this natural wonder for the first time. The canyon ranges anywhere from four to eighteen miles wide, and it extends over 250 miles in length. Visible from the top rim, the turbulent rapids in the Colorado River nearly one mile below grind away at the rock in the canyon’s bottom. An impressive site indeed!

Most young-earth creationists (YECs) argue that a global flood during the time of Noah (which they typically date around 5,000 years ago) was responsible for laying down the bulk of the sediments which comprise the walls of the Grand Canyon as well as carving out the canyon itself. In contrast, the vast majority of the scientific community supports a model explaining that the Grand Canyon formed over millions of years as the Colorado River cut through the southwestern section of the Colorado Plateau. Furthermore, according to this model, the strata in the walls of the canyon were deposited throughout the last two billion years.

Most old-earth creationists (OECs) acknowledge the validity of the model developed by the scientific community and find it consistent with, and supportive of, the biblical text. Recently published data provides strong evidence for the model favored by the scientific community (hereafter referred to as the “prevailing scientific” model).

As the Colorado River cut through the Colorado Plateau, tectonic forces also pushed the plateau to higher elevations. Consequently, the level of the water table should have moved downward through the sedimentary layers that comprise the Grand Canyon walls today. Numerous caves existing in the canyon walls contain formations—called speleothems—that formed as water moves through the ground into the caves. One particular formation called a mammillary forms just below the groundwater table level.  

Three geologists from the University of New Mexico analyzed samples of these mammillaries from nine different sites to see how quickly the water table dropped during the formation of the Grand Canyon.1 The mammillaries only formed in any given cave when the groundwater level coincided with the cave’s location. After the groundwater level dropped below the cave, no new material was added to the mammillary formation. Thus, the team used radioisotope dating of the mammillary material to determine an absolute date when the water level matched the level of the cave. They used two different dating techniques to ensure that the measured dates were correct.

The data show that the older mammillary formations reside at the higher elevations above the current river level. Additionally, it took 17 million years for the groundwater table level to drop to its present location starting from an elevation 3,800 feet higher. The data also demonstrate that the western section of the Grand Canyon formed earlier than the eastern section and that the western section formed more slowly. All these results confirm the prevailing scientific model of how the Grand Canyon formed. In contrast, they present significant problems for the standard YEC model, which suggests that the groundwater level in the Grand Canyon dropped from the top of the Colorado Plateau to near its current level within a few years as the global flood subsided.

The most common response I hear from the YE community is that the dates obtained by radiometric dating are unreliable. However, the scientists performing the research used two different methods to verify the validity of the measured dates. Additionally, even if the dates are incorrect as the YE model posits, the YE model must still explain the coherent picture revealed by the data. For example, why are the oldest cave formations consistently higher above the river than more recently formed speleothems?  

While the data favors the prevailing scientific model currently, hundreds of additional caves exist in the Grand Canyon which should contain preserved mammillary formations. Thus, future tests will determine which model is correct. If the prevailing scientific model holds true, tests from these additional caves will continue to affirm that the Colorado River cut through the preexisting strata of the Colorado Plateau starting around 17 million years ago. On the other hand, if the YEC model is accurate, future research will explain the data discussed in this article (in the context of a few-thousand-years-old Earth) and show that the sedimentary layers and cave formations formed at the same time roughly 5,000 years ago.

I, along with the scholars at Reasons to Believe, expect future research to validate the prevailing scientific model, which supports a belief in old-earth creationism. Let the testing of this spectacular natural treasure begin.


Reference:
1. Victor Polyak, Carol Hill, and Yemane Asmerom, “Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water Table-Type Speleothems,” Science 319 (March 7, 2008): 1377-80.

 


The Human Appendix: What Is It Good For?
By Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.


Absolutely nothing! That’s the answer soul singer Edwin Starr gave in 1970 to the question, “War, what is it good for?” It’s also the same response evolutionary biologists give when asked about the human vermiform appendix.

The human appendix is one of the prototypical examples for “bad” biological designs.1 According to skeptics, this structure is suboptimally designed. About 7 percent of people in developed countries suffer from appendicitis. And the inflamed appendix can be removed without any consequence. In fact, appendectomies help prevent ulcerative colitis.

Additionally, the human appendix is interpreted as vestigial by evolutionary biologists. Accordingly, this structure was once functional in evolutionary ancestors, but was no longer needed by its descendents and experienced decay, losing function.

Why would a Creator produce a poorly designed structure with minimal function that appears to have an evolutionary etiology (origin)? In response to this challenge, intelligent design advocates point out that, because of the lymphatic tissue associated with it, the appendix appears to serve a role in the immune system. Still, the exact nature of this putative function has never been fully established.

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center now think that they have figured out what the appendix is good for: as a storehouse for beneficial microbes.2 These scientists note that the human colon is coated with a biofilm that consists of helpful bacteria. This microbial coating may aid in digestion and participate in other biological activities. Perhaps most importantly, it excludes pathogenic bacteria from the surface of the colon. Occasionally the microbial content of the colon becomes imbalanced and pathogens gain a foothold and take over the biofilm. The body responds by flushing the colon. Bacteria from the appendix then repopulate the colon, reestablishing a healthy biofilm.

The Duke University scientists maintain that the human appendix is well designed to operate as a bacterial storage unit. Its thin, worm-like architecture and constricted opening prevent pathogenic bacteria from entering it. And its out-of-the-way location, attached to the caecum (the bulbous structure at the beginning of the colon that forms a cul-de-sac where the small intestine joins up with the colon), isolates it from the flow of fecal material through the digestive tract.

The association of lymphatic tissue with the appendix is also important. This tissue produces compounds that promote the growth of microbes within the appendix.

Interestingly, a comparative anatomy study published in 1980 (conducted from an evolutionary vantage point) demonstrated that the distribution of appendixes among primates and other mammals doesn’t match the expected pattern if it was a vestigial structure.3 Instead, its occurrence suggests that it is a structure that has utility.

It looks like the appendix is really good for something after all. Perhaps it’s just as well that Edwin Starr passed away. I doubt he would ever want to record a song about the vermiform appendix.

References:
1. Douglas Theobald, “The Vestigiality of the Human Vermiform Appendix: A Modern Reappraisal,” Talk Origins website, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/vestiges/appendix.html, accessed June 24, 2008.
2. R. Randal Bollinger et al., “Biofilms in the Large Bowel Suggest an Apparent Function of the Human Vermiform Appendix,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 249 (2007): 826–31.
3. G. B. D. Scott, “The Primate Caecum and Appendix Vermiformis: A Comparative Study,” Journal of Anatomy 131 (1980): 549–63.

 


Gravitational Lens Test for Creation
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.


Apart from the Bible no known book or essay of science, philosophy, or theology written previous to the twentieth century even hinted at the universe’s ongoing expansion. Yet multiple Bible passages1 described this cosmic feature—making a bold scientific prediction—more than 2,400 years previous to its discovery.

While astronomers have developed many tests confirming the universe’s continual expansion, what they lacked was a test entirely based on direct distance measures. Now, such a test exists.2 It uses “gravitational lenses.”

Here’s how it works: When a massive celestial body lies between a distant bright object, or light source, and an astronomer’s telescope, the gravity field of the intervening body bends that source’s light rays in the same way that a glass lens bends light.3 If that body is perfectly aligned with the distant source and the telescope, the source will appear to the astronomer as a small circle, or halo, of light. If the intervening body is slightly misaligned, the source will appear as two or more points of light. The latter situation is by far the most common.

If the distant radiation source is a quasar that fluctuates in brightness, astronomers will see a time delay between the fluctuation visible at one gravitationally bent point and the fluctuation at another. That’s because the space along which each set of light rays travels follows a slightly different curve; so one traverses a greater distance than another.

Knowing the speed of light, astronomers can translate the time delay into distance differentials (measured in kilometers). Then, a straightforward application of the plane geometry triangle theorems yields the distance to the intervening (lensing) object. By measuring the degree to which the spectral lines of the lensed object are shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, astronomers can then tell how rapidly the lensing object is moving away from us.

Using gravitational lenses over a wide variety of cosmic distances allows astronomers to determine unambiguously that the universe is continuously expanding from its cosmic beginning. The latest such analysis yielded a cosmic expansion rate of 71 kilometers per second per megaparsec (1 megaparsec = 3.26 million light years) and a time back to the cosmic creation event of 13.7 billion years ago—a date virtually identical to the 13.73 billion years established by the five-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe study.4

This straightforward lens test relies on direct measurements and is therefore free of any debatable assumptions. It removes any objective basis for doubting the biblical claim that the universe has continuously expanded from its moment of creation. The Bible did, indeed, accurately predict this astounding physical feature of the universe thousands of years before its discovery.
            
References:
1. Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15; and Zechariah 12:1.
2. Jonathan Coles, “A New Estimate of the Hubble Time with Improved Modeling of Gravitational Lenses,” Astrophysical Journal 679 (May 20, 2008): 17-24.
3. For a description of the technique and its applications, see R.D. Blandford and R. Narayan, “Cosmological Applications of Gravitational Lensing,” Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics 30 (1992): 311-58, powerpoint available at www.asu.edu/clas/hst/classes/ast494+591/2007-04-06/grav_lens.pdf; and http://www.answers.com/topic/gravitational-lens.
4. E. Komatsu et al., “Five-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Interpretations,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (2008), in press.     


How Come the Bible Doesn’t Condemn Slavery?
Kenneth Richard Samples


With hands tied above and his battered body hanging from a beam, the shirtless young black man absorbed punishing whiplashes until he placated his white owner by uttering his new name. Such images from the TV miniseries Roots imprinted on the minds of a generation the brutality of slavery.

Since slavery is today considered a great moral evil, some wonder why the Bible doesn’t categorically condemn the practice. Critics even insist that the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) condones, if not promotes, slavery. Some “new atheists” proclaim that the Bible can’t serve as a basis for morality because it fails to condemn the primitive and barbaric practices of humanity’s past—especially slavery!

It is true that the Bible does not formally and explicitly condemn slavery as an institution. So how do we account for this? Just what does the Bible say about slavery? Several important points warrant careful consideration.

  1. The forms of servitude and slavery practiced in a biblical context bear little resemblance to the tyrannical type of slavery found in the American antebellum South and in other modern Western countries. Certain moderate forms of “servitude”—for example, indentured (voluntary) servitude—were considered morally beneficial before God under certain circumstances in the Old Testament. Examples of this are seen in voluntary indenturement in order to earn a living or to learn a trade. It could also include the indenturement of a criminal in order for the offender to render restitution. But in none of these moderate cases, nor even the more extreme case of foreigners captured by the Israelites in war, would the so-called slave or servant be viewed as a mere piece of property without human rights. Nor would the time of servitude be constituted as a life term of bondage (Deuteronomy 15:12-13). Many slaves in the ancient world, and especially those held by the Hebrews, were able to earn their freedom.
  2. The institution of slavery was so deeply rooted in ancient culture that it could not be dismantled overnight. Old Testament scholar Gleason L. Archer notes: “As to the moral status of slavery in ancient times, it must be recognized that it was practiced by every ancient people of which we have any historical record: Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Greeks, Romans, and all the rest.”1 Furthermore, Christian apologist Paul Copan states: “During the first century A.D., approximately 85 to 90 percent of Rome’s population consisted of slaves.”2 Slavery was viewed as playing a critical economic role for society. Nevertheless, the Old Testament Mosaic Law limited and regulated the practice and sought to correct its inhumane abuses (Exodus 20:10; 21:20-27). Unlike with slavery in other cultures, the masters in a biblical context did not have absolute rights over their slaves. Forms of slavery and servitude were permitted in the Old Testament, but it was never considered the moral ideal (Deuteronomy 15:18).
  3. Unlike some ancient cultures, and certainly unlike the American South in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the slaves in the Old Testament were recognized as full persons who possessed human dignity and basic rights (Deuteronomy 5:14; Job 31:13-15). Abusing one’s slaves and servants was viewed as being both imprudent and immoral (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). A group of biblical scholars provide this perspective on the Old Testament’s true position concerning slavery: “Nowhere was the institution of slavery as such condemned; but then, neither did it have anything like the connotations it grew to have during the days of those who traded human life as if it were a mere commodity for sale.”3
  4. The New Testament indicates that in God’s sight there is “neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) and that both are part of Christ’s church and equally accountable to God (Ephesians 6:5-9). In fact, in the apostolic church, slaves were granted all the rights and privileges of free men (see the book of Philemon).
  5. The likely reason that the apostolic authors of the New Testament did not categorically condemn slavery was because they placed the preaching of the gospel and the redemption of lost souls ahead of societal reform. Yet that very biblical teaching about humankind and their relationship to God through Christ was the inevitable moral and spiritual force that showed the fundamental injustice of slavery in the Western world.   
  6. God’s way of eliminating slavery was to allow the biblical teachings (the “Good News”) to spread throughout all cultures. Indeed, it was the Judeo-Christian teaching that human beings have intrinsic value and worth as a result of being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) that brought an end to slavery. Many in the abolitionist movements of England and America in the nineteenth century were Protestant evangelical Christians. And they viewed slavery as being fundamentally inconsistent with the historic Christian view of man’s creation and redemption.


So while the Bible doesn’t formally and explicitly condemn slavery, neither does it condone it. It was the unique ethical message contained in Scripture concerning human dignity and redemption that provided the moral and spiritual force that ultimately succeeded in eliminating slavery as an institution. The gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ remains a powerful force against human evil and social injustice. It is also the only antidote for each human being’s slavery to sin and death.

References:
1. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 86.
2. Paul Copan, “Doesn’t the Bible Condone Slavery?” in That’s Just Your Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 172.
3. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 150.


Small Effect Sheds Light on Dark Energy
David H. Rogstad, Ph.D.


A new tool for examining the nature of the universe’s enigmatic dark energy may yield clues to the future of the cosmos.

In the late 1960's two Russian scientists, Rashid Sunyaev and Yakov Zel'dovich, predicted that if radiation passes through an ionized cloud, the brightness of that radiation will change due to a physical process called inverse Compton scattering, where an electron in the cloud gives up some of its energy to an incoming photon.

Researchers have employed several millimeter-wavelength astronomical telescopes, including the South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica,1 to search for this Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect.2 Their focus is the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation as it passes through the hot intergalactic medium present in clusters of galaxies. By observing the SZ effect in several thousand clusters, researchers hope to place constraints on the physics of dark energy.

The South Pole is a forbidding place to work, but it is also the most ideal site on the planet for making millimeter-wavelength observations. Its high altitude (approx. 9,000 feet above sea level) provides a thin atmosphere, its cold temperatures permit a low amount of water vapor in the air, and its darkness over half the year ensures an extremely low turbulence in the atmosphere above the telescope. The telescope’s Gregorian design, where the secondary reflector is off-axis (see photo), allows an unobstructed field of view, minimizing any scattering of light from its structure. The telescope can observe in three frequency bands—90, 150, and 220 GHz—that are ideal for detecting the SZ effect on CMB radiation. Eventually, new sensors will be added that can also detect the polarization of the radiation.

What can the SPT tell us about the past and future of dark energy? John E. Carlstrom, one of the leaders in the SPT project and the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, says the telescope will examine clusters of galaxies to learn what role dark energy played in their evolution. “One of the important things we need to learn about dark energy is what influence it has had on structure,” Carlstrom says. If scientists can learn how the density of clusters changed over time, he says they can determine “constraints on the equation of state of dark energy.”

That is, they can get a more precise idea of whether dark energy is taking us toward a big rip, a big crunch, or something in between. Analyzing follow-up data from optical telescopes, the scientists will determine the mass, distance, and age of the clusters. They will then map the clusters in space and time to see how their density and structure evolved over billions of years under the competing pulls of gravity and dark energy. They hope to learn how much power dark energy exerted in the early universe, how it evolved to dominate the universe now and, by extension, how much power it may wield in the future.3 Such knowledge will present a means to test RTB’s biblical creation model.

References:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pole_Telescope
2. http://astro.uchicago.edu/sza/primer.html
3. http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=1313