Where Science and Faith Converge
  • Design in Earth’s Interior

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Apr 26, 2018

    TNRTB Archive - Retained for reference information

    Studies of the waves generated during earthquakes continue to provide evidence of the amazing design of Earth’s interior. Earthquakes generate waves that propagate through Earth’s interior and reflect off regions where the composition changes. The boundary between the core and mantle (CMB) defines one such region and recent work demonstrates that the transition there is more complex than previously thought. In particular, the change includes a double transition (at least in some regions of the CMB), which serves as a blanket to keep heat from diffusing out of the core too quickly. This heat is responsible for generating Earth’s magnetic field and for driving plate tectonics. If the pressures at the CMB were much larger or smaller, this blanket would disappear, causing the magnetic field and plate tectonics to stop long before Earth attained its age of 4.5 billion years. RTB’s creation model predicts such design as the work of a supernatural Creator preparing Earth as a suitable habitat for long-standing life.

  • Harvard Scientists Write the Book on Intelligent Design—in DNA

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Sep 09, 2017

    One of the most provocative arguments for intelligent design focuses on the recognition that DNA is an information-based system. Yet skeptics argue that biochemical information is not genuine information. Instead, they assert that when scientists refer to biochemical information, it is merely a scientific metaphor. New research by a team from Harvard and Johns Hopkins University—in which researchers encoded an entire book into DNA—raises questions about this objection and helps to powerfully advance the case for a Creator.

    “When I get a little money I buy books; if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

    - Desiderius Erasmus

    I love books. As soon as you walk into our house, you will see that this is true. Bookcases line practically every wall, each one jam-packed with books. Then there are the stacks of books that don’t fit on the bookshelves…

    blog__inline--harvard-scientists-write-the-book-on-intelligent-design-in-dna-1

    Credit: Fazale Rana

    For people who love books, storage (and ready accessibility) is a problem. Without a doubt, this explains the popularity of the Kindle and the Nook. (I have yet to purchase one because I prefer the feel of an actual book in my hands. But soon I may have no choice, if for no other reason than for lack of space for more bookcases in our house.)

    Recently, researchers from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University provided the prospect of an exciting future for book lovers when they created the biotech version of an e-reader. These scientists encoded an entire book (along with illustrations) in DNA.1 The book consisted of 53,246 words, 11 JPG images, and even a JavaScriptprogram.

    This accomplishment only scratches the surface of possibilities that await the use of DNA as a storage medium. One gram of DNA can hold up to 455 exabytes (one exabyte equals 1018 bytes). In comparison, a CD-ROM holds about 700 million (7 x 108) bytes of data. (One gram of DNA holds the equivalent amount of data as 600 billion CD-ROMs. Assuming a typical book requires 1 megabyte of data-storage capacity, then one gram of DNA could harbor 455 trillion books.)

    In spite of the researchers' success, it currently isn’t practical or cost-effective to use DNA to store data (or to house the Library of Congress). But change is coming. The use of inorganic data-storage based systems, like CD-ROMs, will soon be an antiquated technology. And organic materials, like DNA, may become the storage medium of choice.

    While the technological uses for DNA storage have yet to materialize, the full impact of this type of work is felt in the creation/evolution controversy. The research by the team from Harvard and John Hopkins (and others) helps to powerfully advance the case for a Creator.

     

    DNA and the Case for the Creator

    As I discussed in The Cell’s Design—and elsewhere—one of the most provocative arguments for intelligent design centers on the recognition that DNA (and other biomolecules) is an information-based system. Common, everyday experience teaches that information derives solely from the activity of human beings. So, by analogy, the biochemical information systems, too, should come from a divine Mind. The stark similarity between the way that biochemical information systems are structured and the structure of information systems designed by humans deepens the analogy (for an example, go here).

    Yet skeptics argue that biochemical information is not genuine information. Instead, they maintain that when scientists refer to DNA as an information storage molecule they are making use of an illustrative analogy—a scientific metaphor—and nothing more. They accuse creationists and intelligent design proponents of misconstruing their use of analogical language to make the case for design.2

    But the work by the Harvard and Johns Hopkins scientists questions the validity of this objection.

     

    DNA Data Storage

    These researchers are not the first scientists to store information within the nucleotide sequences of DNA. However, they are to be credited for storing the most information to-date, and, in doing so, addressing some limitations of this technology.

    In order to encode specific information into the nucleotide sequence of DNA, researchers must make DNA molecules with a prescribed sequence without error. Yet, with the current synthesis technology, the number of errors in the DNA sequence increases with the length of the sequence. In other words, researchers can make “perfect” sequences, but only if they are relatively short—not long enough to store any appreciable amount of data.

    Stabilizing the encoded DNA molecules poses another challenge. DNA tends to become damaged or broken down over time. When this happens, information is lost.

    To sidestep the first of these two issues, the researchers encoded the book’s contents into small DNA fragments—devoting roughly two-thirds of the sequence for data and the remainder for information that can be used to locate the content within the entire data block. In a sense, this approach is analogous to using page numbers to order and locate the contents of a book. By making short DNA sequences, the researchers were able to ensure that few, if any, errors were introduced into the sequences of the synthesized DNA fragments.

    The researchers addressed the problem of stabilizing the synthesized DNA by making multiple copies of each fragment. In this way, if one of the fragments becomes damaged or breaks down, the redundancy prevents the information from being lost completely.

    As impressive as this advance is, the practical implementation of DNA storage is still a dream for the future. The chief hang-up at this point is the time and cost to synthesize the amount of DNA required to store a book, and then, in turn, to read out the information. But these efficiency concerns may not hinder progress for long, as the cost of making and sequencing DNA plummets.

     

    DNA Data Storage and the Case for Design

    Even if the work on DNA storage never translates into practical applications, it still has profound implications for the creation/evolution controversy. These scientists were able to store information in DNA, because DNA is an information-storage system. In other words, it is hard for skeptics to argue that biochemical information is only a metaphor, when biotechnologists are using DNA to store an entire book’s worth of information.

    The more that DNA becomes the focal point of new biotechnology application, the more the claim that life comes from the outworking of undirected evolutionary process becomes the same old tired story. It is time to “turn some pages.”

    VIDEO 1

  • We Are Living in a Safe Time Window

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Aug 09, 2017

    Negotiating traffic on Southern California freeways is tricky. Not long ago, I witnessed a collision of several cars in my rearview mirror—if I had gotten on that freeway anywhere from a few seconds earlier to an hour later, I either could have been involved in the collision or delayed for my appointment. Just like I “happened to be” in a safe time window on the freeway, so astronomers have discovered that humanity lives in a safe time window for global high-technology civilization. We are residing at the optimal supernova moment.

    A supernova is a stellar explosion that, for a few months, can outshine an entire galaxy (see figure). Supernovae are crucial for life—they generate many heavy elements, some essential just for life to exist and others essential for sustaining our technological civilization—but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

    Supernovae frequency influences the amount of radiation damage Earth and its life-forms sustain. Complex organisms suffer greater radiation damage from such eruptions—hence, one reason life history manifests gradual progress from simple and microscopic to complex and macroscopic to high-metabolism and large-bodied and, last of all, to human beings. Fortunately, over the past 4 billion years, the Milky Way Galaxy’s (MWG) rate of supernova explosions has subsided gradually. As it is, the present rate of supernova eruptions in the solar system’s vicinity is just low enough for humans to thrive and sustain civilization.

    Proximity of supernova explosions also impacts life. For example, 2 million years ago the solar system passed within 130 light-years of the Scorpius-Centaurus association of giant stars.1 Deep ocean crust samples reveal an excess of iron-60 (the signature of a supernova explosion) that also dates to 2 million years ago, as does the most recent marine extinction event.2 In the last 300,000 years at least 23 supernovae have exploded within 980 light-years of Earth.3 Four of these erupted between 22,000–44,000 years ago at distances ranging from 360 to 820 light-years (see table 1).4

    Humanity, however, has experienced an amazing stroke of “good fortune.” Throughout the historical era no supernovae have erupted closer than 1,500 light-years (see table 2).5 At such a distance the cosmic rays emanating from these explosions pose no threat to Earth’s ozone shield or its stable climate (both critical requirements for intensive agriculture) or to human health.

    Table 1: Recent Nearby Supernova Explosions

    date (years ago)    distance from Earth (light-years)
        44,000                               360
        37,000                               590
        32,000                               520
        22,000                               820

    Table 2: Supernova Explosions in the Historical Era

    date                        distance from Earth (light-years)

        AD 1006                            1,560
        AD 1054                            2,000
        AD 1181                            3,200
        AD 1572                            2,300
        AD 1604                            2,900
        AD 1671                            3,400
        ~ AD 1680                        11,000

    Ancient astronomers recorded much dimmer astronomical phenomena, such as novae and comets, from 3000 BC to AD 1000. Therefore, with considerable confidence historians conclude that no nearby supernovae occurred during this time span. 

    If they occurred today, supernovae as near as the ones recorded in table 2 could conceivably damage satellite electronics. However, astronomers have demonstrated that throughout the past 344 years no supernovae have erupted within 10,000 light-years of Earth (good news for cell phone users). This lack of supernovae is all the more remarkable given that for MWG analogs the supernova rate is at least three per century.6

    Psalm 147 tells us that God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” Evidently, He has also designed the MWG so that the just-right stars at the just-right times reside in the just-right locations within the vicinity of our solar system. Thanks to God’s meticulous control of the supernova rate within our galactic vicinity, we have enjoyed all the resources needed to propel human civilization. We also have the presently safe galactic environment in which we can enjoy civilization and use it to take God’s redemptive offer to every nation, tribe, language, and people group (Revelation 7:9). 

    blog__inline--we-are-living-in-a-safe-time-window

    Figure: Supernova Eruption in the Galaxy NGC 4528
    This supernova (lower left) erupted in 1994. 
    Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Key Project Team/High-Z Supernova Search Team


    Endnotes
    1. Narciso Benítez, Jesús Maíz-Apellániz, and Matilde Canelles, “Evidence for Nearby Supernova Explosions,” Physical Review Letters 88 (February 25, 2002): id. 081101.
    2. Ibid.
    3. R. B. Firestone, “Observation of 23 Supernovae That Exploded <300 pc from Earth during the Past 300 kyr,” Astrophysical Journal 789 (July 1, 2014): id. 29.
    4. Ibid., 3–4.
    5. Ibid., 2.
    6. Weidong Li et al., “Nearby Supernova Rates from the Lick Observatory Supernova Search. III. The Rate-Size Relation, and the Rates as a Function of Galaxy Hubble-Type and Colour,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 412, no. 3 (April 2011): 1473–507; Or Graur, Federica B. Bianco, and Maryam Modjaz, “A Unified Explanation for the Supernova Rate-Galaxy Mass-Dependency Based on Supernovae Discovered in Sloan Galaxy Spectra,” submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, last revised December 31, 2014: arXiv:1412.7991.
  • Synthetic Life and the Image of God

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jul 31, 2017

    If synthetic biologists succeed in creating synthetic life, does this accomplishment prove the theory of naturalistic evolution—that life arose via undirected random processes? Does it make humans like God? The answers to these questions might be found in the creation of humankind in the image of God (imago Dei in Latin).

    The Bible says that “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NASB), but what does it mean to be created in the image of God? A clue is found in the next verse: “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, NASB). We have argued elsewhere that a logical interpretation of Genesis 1:28 is that men and women are formed in the image of God to continue God’s work of bringing order out of chaos.

    Humans are the only life-forms on Earth who have the ability to understand and experiment in science. Science has made agriculture much more productive than in biblical times and has developed electricity and machinery, which have vastly improved our quality of life. We believe that this is part of subduing and ruling creation and, thus, is a manifestation of the image of God.

    But do we ever become like God? Consider the practice of medicine. Prayer acknowledges our dependence upon God for our lives; but according to James, prayer is also a prescription for healing: “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14, NASB). In fact, some modern statistical studies—admittedly not peer-reviewed, but using standard scientific methodology—have indicated that patients who are prayed over experience better healing and/or fewer complications than patients who are not.1

    Yet throughout history, humans have also benefitted from medical science. Ancient healers crafted natural remedies, and modern physics and chemistry have developed diagnostic scanners and pharmaceuticals to address a variety of medical issues. Such improvements in medical science have alleviated human suffering and extended human life. But does that make us like God? Such advances have not created anything conceptually new and do not lessen humankind’s dependence on God. Instead, humans are acting as God’s image bearers when we make things better. As the old DuPont advertising slogan stated: “Better things for better living...through chemistry.

    But consider in vitro fertilization. This process has been a boon for couples who have been unable to produce children the natural way. But is this an example of science creating life? Life is not really being created; instead, we are only creating an environment in which God’s natural processes toward life can proceed. Humans might be acting godlike, but humans are not being like God.2

    That brings us to the question of artificial life. One of the biggest obstacles to the naturalistic creation model is its theory for the origin of life. The earliest life-forms appeared quite soon (in geological time) after the formation of Earth. Probability calculations suggest spontaneous generation of life via random natural processes is virtually impossible within the time frame allowed.3

    Synthetic biologists are striving to create synthetic life. Based on a detailed review of their progress in 2011, biochemist Fazale Rana says it is “just a matter of time” before they succeed in creating a “minimal life-form,” and he speculates that thereafter “new life-forms will soon become ‘old hat.’”4 Supporters of naturalistic evolution are elated about this progress because they seem to believe artificial life will prove their explanation of the origin of life.

    But they are wrong—such an accomplishment says nothing about naturalistic evolution. If and when artificial life is created, it will be made possible only by teams of experienced and creative scientists with sophisticated equipment. Rana summarizes: “Only by deliberate effort, inordinate ingenuity, and astonishing skill can synthetic biologists even begin the process of making artificial life. Their work empirically demonstrates that even the simplest life-form cannot arise without the involvement of an intelligent agent.”5

    The notable work of synthetic biologists is simply a derivative of God’s work. Once again, although scientists may be acting godlike, they are not being like God:

    1. They are using their God-given intelligence and creativity, which is unique to humans.
    2. They are working within a framework of natural laws created by God, without which their accomplishments would be impossible.
    3. They are merely repeating something God has already done. They are not creating something conceptually new (as described by the Hebrew word bara in Genesis 1).

    As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Artificial biologists not only stand on the shoulders of scientists who went before them, but as God’s image bearers they also stand metaphorically on the shoulders of God.

    Furthermore, if science succeeds in creating artificial life, it will actually provide further proof of the implausibility that life could have emerged spontaneously via random natural processes. The creation of life still seems to require an intelligent agent. The probabilities of naturalistic evolution remain vanishingly small, and the summary analysis of astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle seems just as true today as it was in 1982:

    If there were some deep principle that drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should easily be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given. Nothing happens when organic materials are subjected to the usual prescription of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge.6

    We believe the intelligent agent who created life on Earth is the Judeo-Christian God. This is a faith statement, but it seems more plausible than naturalistic evolution. As synthetic biologists attempt to create artificial life, we believe they will merely scratch the surface in discerning the natural processes that God might have used to bring about the hypernatural miracle of life.

    [Editor’s note: Adjustments were made to this article on October 29, 2015. In response to reader feedback, we’ve clarified that the sources cited in note 1 are not peer-reviewed and have amended our statements regarding in vitro ferlization.]

    blog__inline--nobel-winning-dna-research-challenges-evolutionary-theory-2Daniel J. Dyke, MDiv, MTh

    Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981 and currently serves as a professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.



    Dr. Hugh Henry, PhD

    Dr. Hugh Henry received his PhD in physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.



    Endnotes
    1. Larry Dossey, Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine (San Francisco: Harper, 1993); Larry Dossey, Healing beyond the Body: Medicine and the Infinite Reach of the Mind (Boston: Shambhala, 2001); Dale Matthews and Connie Clark, The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer (New York: Viking, 1998); Melvin Morse and Paul Perry, Parting Visions: Uses and Meanings of Pre-Death, Psychic, and Spiritual Experiences (New York: Villard Books, 1994), 93–94.
    2. We acknowledge that there is a moral downside to this and many other scientific advances, which is a result of original sin. But just because there is a downside does not take away the fact that humans are acting in the image of God to develop something with a great potential for good.
    3. Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981); Fred Hoyle, Mathematics of Evolution(Memphis: Acorn Enterprises, 1999).
    4. Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 196.
    5. Ibid., 80–81.
    6. Fred Hoyle, “The World According to Hoyle: Musings of a Maverick Cosmologist,” The Sciences22 (November 1982): 9–13, doi:10.1002/j.2326-1951.1982.tb02110.x.
  • Mites Take a Bite Out of Evolution

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jul 29, 2017

    The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day holds special significance for our family. It is the time of the year we clean and re-organize our garage. It has become a family tradition that no one really wants to celebrate.

    As you can imagine, I dread cleaning out our garage for a number of reasons. For starters, I usually develop an allergic reaction to all the dust generated during the clean-up. I’m not alone. Nearly 1.2 billion people suffer from dust allergies. Usually, the symptoms are caused by house dust mites. These arthropods, which are related to spiders, feed on the organic debris (such as skin cells) that comprises a large proportion of household dust. These mites produce powerful enzymes that digest the keratin protein found in skin cells and hair. Scientists believe that these digestive enzymes are the real culprits, functioning as the primary allergens.

    Even though these creatures are responsible for such wide-scale human suffering, biologists know little about how house dust mites relate to other mites. Many biologists think that understanding this evolutionary relationship would be helpful in addressing the medical problems caused by these creatures. To remedy this situation, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) carried out a large-scale study on the evolutionary relationships of house dust mites. To their surprise, the researchers discovered something completely unexpected: the evolutionary origin of house dust mites appears to violate Dollo’s Law.1

    This law is a key tenant of the evolutionary paradigm, and its violation stands as another example of a failed prediction for the theory of evolution, adding to the list of reasons why I’m skeptical of the claim that evolutionary mechanisms can fully account for the origin, history, and design of life.

    Dollo’s Law

    Most biologists believe the evolutionary process is irreversible. This idea is codified in what is known as Dollo’s Law, which was formulated in 1893 by French paleontologist Louis Dollo. This tenant of evolutionary biology states that an organism cannot return, even partially, to a previous evolutionary stage occupied by one of its ancestors. The genes and developmental pathways responsible for lost biological systems will eventually degrade because they are no longer needed. When genes are no longer needed, they are no longer under selective pressure.

    Once free of the influence of natural selection, mutations in these genes will indiscriminately accrue to the point that the genes will become completely useless. These no-longer-needed genes are just like the stuff that accumulates in our garage. Eventually, my wife and I get rid of it because it is no longer of any use to us, but once our stuff goes in the trash or is carted off to Goodwill, there’s no getting it back.

    House Dust Mite Origins Violate Dollo’s Law

    In an attempt to understand the evolutionary history of house dust mites, the researchers from UM conducted a massive study examining the DNA sequences of five genes from 315 taxa of mites. They determined that house mites (which are free-living) evolved from parasitic mites that spent their entire lives associated with the hosts they infected. Their data show that these parasitic mite ancestors, in turn, evolved from free-living mites. In other words, when their origin is viewed from an evolutionary vantage point, house dust mites arose through a reversal of the evolutionary process. This result was so surprising that the UM researchers “decided to contact [their] colleagues to obtain their feedback prior to sending these data for publication.”2 Yet, the data generated by the UM researchers withstands scrutiny.

    Parasites shouldn’t re-evolve the ability to exist as free-living organisms. Parasite genomes typically contain degraded genes and, in many instances, even lack genes that would be found in their free-living counterparts. Parasites thrive with reduced genomes because doing so exploits the biological resources provided by the host organism. Parasites no longer need many of the genes required by their free-living counterparts.

    As the UM researchers point out, from an evolutionary vantage point:

    Parasites can quickly evolve highly sophisticated mechanisms for host exploitation and can lose their ability to function away from the host body. They often experience degradation or loss of many genes because their functions are no longer required in a rich environment where hosts provide both living space and nutrients. Many researchers in the field perceive such specialization as evolutionarily irreversible.3

    Yet it appears as if house dust mites re-evolved the capacity to live independently of a host. But how? How did the evolutionary process transform degraded genes into functional genes and recover genes that were lost from the genome? This result makes little sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

    House Dust Mite Origins Make Case for Creation

    On the other hand, the seeming reappearance of the lost biological traits could be understood as the work of the Creator. It is not unusual for engineers to reuse the same design or to revisit a previously used design feature in a new prototype. While evolution is irreversible, designers are not constrained in that way and can freely return to old designs. Such behavior reflects economy, elegance, and intelligence.

    This most recent Dollo’s Law violation justifies skepticism towards the evolutionary paradigm, and also provides a reason to adopt a creation model approach to biology.

    Endnotes
    1. Pavel B. Klimov and Barry OConner, “Is Permanent Parasitism Reversible?—Critical Evidence from Early Evolution of House Dust Mites,” Systems Biology 62 (May 2013): 411–23, doi:10.1093/sysbio/syt008.
    2. “House Dust Mite Study Shows Reverse Evolution Possible,” Nature World News, March 9, 2013, https://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/781/20130309/house-dust-mite-study-shows-reverse-evolution-possible.htm.
    3. Ibid.
  • Have You Had Your Selenium Today?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jul 27, 2017

    A group of Australian scientists have recently proposed that a severe depletion of selenium levels in the world’s oceans might have been a significant factor in three of the five mass extinction events over the last 550 million years.1 This, along with other data showing that both minimal and maximal amounts of selenium are essential to sustain animal life, suggests that selenium levels must be fine-tuned.

    Selenium is a trace element essential for all animal life. The Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that selenium “is a constituent of more than two dozen selenoproteins that play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection.”2The human body contains about 15 milligrams of selenium. Since too little selenium can lead to disease and even death, the NIH recommends a daily allowance of 0.055 mg of selenium from foods such as bread, grain, fish, meat, and eggs.

    Yet too much selenium can also be harmful. According to News Medical, a British news organization, as little as 5 mg of selenium a day can be toxic for humans.3 (Selenium poisoning is generally not a concern since a person would have to consume selenium-containing foods in extreme excess to reach toxic levels.)

    Current levels of selenium in the oceans range from about 60 to 200 parts per trillion (ppt) depending on geographic location and depth. The Australian scientists have projected that selenium levels dropped to about 1 ppt around the time of the three mass extinction events mentioned above. Of course, these scientists did not have access to ancient seawater samples. Instead, they determined the selenium concentration of 182 black shale samples that were age-dated and identified as having originated in ancient oceans over the last 550 million years. The researchers established a numerical relationship between the selenium levels in these samples and that of seawater in order to generate their projections. During much of the last 550 million years, the projected selenium levels in seawater were roughly consistent with today’s levels, except during the time of the three mass extinction events.

    Both too much selenium and too little can harm us, yet Earth today seems fine-tuned to provide the just-right amount for life. Recall the words of Psalm 104:29–30:

    When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

    Is it a coincidence that our habitat now has the just-right amount of selenium to support advanced life? In whatever way past extinction events happened, they do appear to be part of God’s plan to prepare Earth for advanced life.


    Resources

    To read more about mass extinctions, see these RTB resources:

    Articles

    • “What Wiped Out the Dinosaurs? Part 1: The Cause

    • “What Wiped Out the Dinosaurs? Part 2: The Effects

    • “Sudden Appearance of Jurassic Dinosaurs Demonstrates the Creator’s Work

    • “Mass Extinction Periodicity Design

    Podcasts

    • “Permian Mass Extinction Date Narrows

    • “Death in the Deep: Volcanoes Blamed for Mass Extinction

    • “Did Great Salt Lakes Trigger Mass Extinction?

    • “Ancient Mass Extinction of Fish May Have Paved Way for Modern Species


    blog__inline--have-you-had-your-selenium-todayBy Kirby Hansen

    Kirby Hansen is a certified RTB apologist and president of the RTB San Jose, CA Chapter. He holds an MS in communications engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

  • What Does the Discovery of a Supermassive Black Hole Binary Mean for Creationism?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jul 24, 2017

    A team of 10 Chinese astronomers recently announced the first-ever discovery of a supermassive black hole binary.1 They found the binary in the galaxy NGC 5548 (see figure 1), a galaxy where more than 70 percent of its light comes from the nuclear core. Previous research teams had determined that a supermassive black hole with a mass 280 million times the sun’s mass resided in the nuclear core.2

    Details on the First-Detected Supermassive Black Hole Binary

    The team found a 14-year periodicity in the double-peaked profile of the hydrogen-beta spectral line and in the brightness of both the hydrogen-beta emission line and the optical continuum arising from the nuclear core. These periodicities imply that the “supermassive black hole” is really two black holes of roughly equal mass that orbit one another with a separation of 21.7 light-days or 350 billion miles. This separation is approximately 100 times the distance between Neptune and the sun.


    Figure 1: Seyfert galaxy NGC 5548
    Image credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

    Further confirmation for a supermassive black hole binary residing in the galactic center of NGC 5548 comes from a very deep exposure image of NGC 5548. This image shows two long tidal tails, indicating that NGC 5548 is the product of two roughly equal mass galaxies that merged about 1 billion years ago. Each of the two galaxies that merged to become NGC 5548 would have contained a supermassive black hole at their respective galactic centers. A billion years is a reasonable time for the orbit of the two supermassive black holes around one another to decay to a distance of about 22 light-days.

    NGC 5548 is 244 million light-years away from Earth. It is a little more than five times closer to us than the merger of two 30-solar-mass black holes discovered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). NGC 5548’s proximity to Earth and the very high mass of its black hole binary make it an excellent target for detecting gravitational waves.

    Eventually, the two supermassive black holes in NGC 5548’s center will merge. That merger will impact the LIGO instrument with gravitational waves billions of times stronger than those detected from the merger of the two 30-solar-mass black holes. However, it will probably be at least another million years before the merger of NGC 5548’s supermassive black holes occurs. Nevertheless, NGC 5548’s supermassive black holes are already close enough together to radiate detectable gravitational waves.

    How Is the Creation Model Affected?

    In their paper, the team calls for the search of additional supermassive black hole binaries. Additional supermassive black hole binaries will not only aid research on the properties of gravity and general relativity but also assist in testing cosmic creation models. The predominant big bang creation model predicts that galaxy merger events were common in the early history of the universe. While many images of galaxy merging events have been collected, a comprehensive catalog of the characteristics of supermassive black hole binaries in galaxies would yield truly definitive tests of the leading big bang creation models.

    The recent discovery of gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two 30-solar-mass black holes (and the potential discovery of more medium-sized black hole merger events) has been significant in the defense of the biblically predicted big bang creation model. This discovery illuminates a core feature of the creation model by providing a much more detailed understanding of the universe’s firstborn stars and of the subsequent star formation history of the universe. However, presently operating gravity wave telescopes are reliant upon rare merger events (either two medium-sized black holes within a few billion light-years from Earth, or two small black holes or neutron stars in a nearby galaxy) to generate a signal strong enough to detect gravitational waves. Even then, the detectable gravitational signal lasts only a few seconds. But the discovery of a different kind of black hole binary—a supermassive black hole binary—promises to augment scientists’ ability to study gravitational waves.

    With access to gravitational waves emanating from both medium-sized and supermassive black hole binaries, astronomers will be able explore new properties of gravity and general relativity. They will be able to gain a greater understanding of the universe’s star and galaxy formation history and, consequently, of the cosmic creation event and development of the universe. This deeper understanding may help remove some of the remaining doubts about the validity of the biblically predicted big bang creation model.3

    Endnotes
    1. Yan-Rong Li et al., “Spectroscopic Indication of a Centi-parsec Supermassive Black Hole Binary in the Galactic Center of NGC 5548,” Astrophysical Journal 822 (April 2016): id. 4, doi:10.3847/0004-637X/822/1/4.
    2. Jong-Hak Woo et al., “The Lick AGN Monitoring Project: The MBH-σ Relation for Reverberation-Mapped Active Galaxies,” Astrophysical Journal 716 (June 2010): 269–80, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/716/1/269; John Kormendy and Luis Ho, “Coevolution (or Not) of Supermassive Black Holes and Host Galaxies,” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 51 (August 2013): 528–33, 545, doi:10.1146/annurev-astro-082708-101811.
    3. Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, 2nd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 135–44; See Hugh Ross, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 1, 2000, https://www.reasons.org/articles/big-bang---the-bible-taught-it-first.
  • Review: Four Myths of Science and Religion

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Apr 13, 2017

    If you would like a short introduction to a few of the key apparent conflicts between science and Christianity, here is a free opportunity to get informed. For busy people, quick and useful information on a topic can be helpful, as opposed to book-length treatments that are difficult to understand. This course serves such a purpose and is appropriate for high school level on up. 

    Four Myths of Science and Religion is a free online course offered by Philologos, a new educational enterprise started and operated by instructor James Hoskins. This course is part of a future expanded paid online course the instructor is developing called Science and Christian Faith. Hoskins has been an educator in this field for several years, and holds a master of arts from Biola University in science and religion, which this reviewer has also completed. Hoskins also maintains a blog with further biographical details at www.jameshoskins.info/philologos-blog/.

    The online course was built using teachable.com tools, so it has a professional look and feel to the structure of the course, and has discussion boards built in to each short module. Many modules are used to create a course. Most are text- or audio-based. The audio lectures average 3 to 6 minutes each, which is great for people with busy lives. Notes are provided as pdf documents along the way as well. The audio lectures also include basic graphics where the instructor can draw diagrams, point out or underline text, or show images to highlight the concepts. Even first-time online course users should find this feature comfortable to get into. 

    The lectures and modules are done at your own pace, and the audio lectures can be paused, sped up, or slowed down as needed should you need extra time with content or want to speed through familiar material. The speed function does not change the pitch of the voice, so if you speed up lectures, the presenter won’t sound like a chipmunk. One item that could be made clearer is that participants can mark a section as complete by clicking on the button at the upper right of the screen that says “complete and continue.” (Using the large table of contents at the left side of the screen will not mark a section as complete.)

    Although the course is called Four Myths of Science and Religion, it took a while before the first myth was defined during the lectures. The four myths are: (1) Is It Possible for Scientists to Hold a View of Reality That Is Free from Religious Assumptions? (2) The Flat Earth Myth, (3) The Galileo Affair, and (4) The Scopes Trial. For being a free course, Four Myths offers a great entry into the topics of science and religion. These topics are well covered in the Biola program, therefore Hoskins has a solid background knowledge to draw upon.

    The course is broken down into four parts. The first and last contain the introduction and conclusion. Most of the course content is in the middle two parts, the first of which is Three Views of the Divine, in which myth number one is addressed. Hoskins wisely begins with the philosophical underpinning of the interface between modern science and religion. He points out the three primary views of monism, dualism, and theism, and that modern science, of course, is not and cannot be religiously neutral. 

    The second myth is the Flat Earth Myth, primarily discussing the false stories about Columbus proving the earth is round instead of flat. It is known that most educated people from about 200 BC on believed the earth was round. Columbus was wrong about the circumference of the earth, thinking it was much smaller than it actually is. Lucky for him there were the American continents between Europe and China, otherwise he and his crews may have perished. 

    Next is the Galileo Affair. Here Hoskins gets to show that Galileo wasn’t persecuted for his science as much as for his disrespect of the Catholic Church and the Pope on the issue of biblical interpretation and personally slighting the pope. 

    The last myth covered is about the Scopes trial. Each of these four is a very short lecture of a few minutes, which ends up being a series of conclusions without deeper context. However, the full course offers more depth. Although Four Myths is a brief course, it is worthwhile for those wanting a good introduction to these topics.

    Hoskins is well prepared, and participants will gain, in a short time, insight on science versus religion highlights. And the cost is a plus—it’s free! For this I can applaud the work. By way of critique I would say that at this length, the course is only for those unfamiliar with the topic, or for those wanting to brush up on the topic. Also, at this length it could be used as a part of a homeschool curriculum, but it wouldn’t fill out much of a quarter. The lecturer comes across as new to presenting, at least in this format, as he isn’t consistent in his delivery speed, does have some uhs and ums during the lectures, and seems to be speaking off the cuff. Still, his presentation style is better than monotonous script reading, and his future courses will likely improve. Most of the graphics consist of arrows pointing at obvious things in the photos or words, and circling them. The teaching platform could be improved. Given all that, I heartily endorse this free course, even in abbreviated form, as a great resource to bring clarity for those in dialog with others struggling with science and its interface with religion.



    Dan Bakken

    Dan Bakken is an amateur astronomer and an instructor for Reasons Institute. Dan has taught astronomy courses at the high school and community college level. Dan holds a BSc in physics, MA Christian Apologetics, and MA Science and Religion.


  • How Improbable Is Our Planet?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Sep 01, 2016

    Have you ever noticed how strongly the Bible implies that everything God created serves his redemptive purpose and plan? My new book, Improbable Planet, makes a scientific case that all of creation—including countless details you may never have considered—has been exquisitely designed and shaped so that many billions of humans can be rescued from sin’s grip and enter an eternal, loving relationship with God.

    Many books have been written about Earth’s amazing design for life. Improbable Planet offers a more comprehensive picture of the myriad unlikely events that converged so that in one tiny time window billions of humans could not only occupy the planet but also recognize and respond to God’s gracious offer of redemption.

    The unlikely events by which our earthly “home” came together include the assembly of essential construction materials, the selection of an appropriate neighborhood, protection and preparation of the construction site, establishment of a stable foundation, development of heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems, structural supports both below and above ground, and, of course, the magnificently beautiful finishing touches.

    Countless aspects of our habitat that we take for granted, from the richness of soil for food production and our remarkably stable climate, when examined closely, reveal an intricate matrix of miracles. Even the existence of resources required to make global travel and communications possible defies all probability.

    Thanks to technological advances, we have an unprecedented opportunity to take the “good news” of the gospel to every nook and cranny of our planet, making disciples among every nation and tribe. My hope and prayer is that this book will give you new and amazing reasons for faith and hope, reasons to share with family and friends and others, near and far. Surely you’ll see in the pages of this book that we humans have vastly underestimated the Creator’s care for us.

  • Top 10 TNRTBs of All Time

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 30, 2016


    RTB’s blog Today’s New Reason to Believe has certainly evolved since its first post, but what hasn’t changed is TNRTB’s consistent and faithful production of articles that integrate the latest scientific news with the Christian worldview. The writers—Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, Jeff Zweerink, and most recently Anjeanette Roberts (along with a myriad of guest authors)—have touched on tricky subjects—like bad designs in nature, human suffering, Bible difficulties, end times, and global warming—all with gentleness and respect. Now the delivery of such articles will shift, starting in July, when all of the writers launch individual blogs where they’ll be able to write more frequently, post more quickly, and engage more with readers. (More details on this transition were disclosed in Monday’s article.) Let’s take a look back on TNRTB’s most popular posts and what they taught us about science and faith:

    Top 10 TNRTBs of All Time

    1. “Why Would God Create Mosquitoes?” by Fazale Rana

    Mosquitoes cause a significant amount of very real human suffering. The mosquito that harbors the malaria parasite causes 247 million people a year to contract the disease, of which about 1 million die. Mosquitoes also spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, and the West Nile virus. Why would God create mosquitoes, indeed? Readers who wondered this very question made this article the most-viewed TNRTB of all time.

    2. “Lost Civilization beneath the Persian Gulf Confirms Genesis History of Humanity” by Hugh Ross

    In almost every culture and religion of the world lies a story of a lost civilization. The ubiquitous nature of these stories, accounts, and legends lends credence to the possibility that in the early days of humanity’s history a relatively advanced civilization was indeed lost. Now, a research paper published in Current Anthropology provides scientific evidence for such a lost ancient civilization.

    3. “From Noah to Abraham to Moses: Evidence of Genealogical Gaps in Mosaic Literature, Part 1” and “Part 2” by Daniel Dyke and Hugh Henry

    Biblical genealogies have often been used to attempt to calculate a date for creation, which is then cited as support for a young earth. But, as visiting scholars Daniel Dyke and Hugh Henry explain, sound reasons exist for viewing these genealogies as meaningful, though incomplete, records. And with incomplete records, all efforts to build a creation timeline are futile.

    4. “Have Quantum Physicists Disproved the Big Bang?” by Hugh Ross

    Since early 2015, the media have been abuzz with the story that two quantum physicists have “corrected” Einstein’s theory of general relativity to demonstrate that the big bang never happened. These physicists claim the universe might have existed forever. Does this mean that one of Christianity’s core beliefs (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”) has been falsified? Hugh offers four reasons to doubt the vanquishing of the big bang.

    5. “What about Global Warming?” by Jeff Zweerink

    Global warming evokes strong emotions and reactions from many different camps. The debate often occurs in only the political realm with the scientific evidence entering to support a specific agenda, causing controversy and distrust between differing groups. But, as Jeff explains, we can diffuse the rancor by allowing the scientific data to speak first, and then determining the course of action that best benefits humanity.

    6. “Exodus: Turning Water into Blood” by Daniel Dyke and Hugh Henry

    Pharaoh’s first refusal to free the Israelite slaves initiated a series of terrifying plagues that started with the mighty Nile River turning into blood. It is, of course, possible that God performed a supernatural miracle and literally turned the water of the Nile into blood—but does the biblical text support this conclusion?

    7. “When Did Mitochondrial Eve and Y Chromosomal Adam Live?” by Fazale Rana

    Using mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomal DNA to characterize genetic variability of people around the world, recent studies suggest that humanity’s origin was much earlier than thought (250,000 to 350,000 years ago rather than less than 100,000 years ago). These results pose a possible challenge to the biblical account of human origins.

    8. “Ten Plagues of Exodus” by Daniel Dyke and Hugh Henry

    Traditional Bible interpretations have held that God used supernatural power to bring about the 10 plagues described in Exodus. However, with the dramatic advances of medical research and other sciences in the twentieth century, experts began to see similarities between natural phenomena and scriptural descriptions of the plagues.

    9. “Blood Moons: An End-Times Sign? Part 1” and “Part 2” by Hugh Ross

    Many look for the appearance of blood moons to predict the coming of the end times (Joel 2:31). In this two-part series, Hugh addresses the scientific, historic, and biblical concerns about getting caught up in end-times prophecies.

    10. “Is a Global Flood Scientifically Possible?” by Jeff Zweerink and Kirby Hansen

    Christians have long debated the extent of the flood recorded in Genesis 6–9. Was it a local flood, a global flood, or a universal flood? One interesting aspect of the answer relates to a more specific question: Does Earth have enough water to cover the whole planet?

    Subjects: Testimonies, Two Creation Model, Worldviews

  • Earth Science & Astronomy Series Review

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 28, 2016

    Developed for homeschooling parents with little experience teaching science, Earth Science & Astronomy for the Grammar Stage and Earth Science & Astronomy for the Logic Stage are part of a classical homeschool education system for elementary and junior high level students.

    The Author’s Background

    Paige Hudson wrote both the student workbook and teacher guide, utilizing her degree in biochemistry from Virginia Tech University and her many years of experience homeschooling her own children. These guides are designed to accompany more traditional textbooks and other resources recommended by the author. A staff member of the guides’ publisher, Elemental Science, is overtly Christian, but the author’s philosophical presuppositions are unclear, as far as I could find. (This isn’t necessarily a negative, but I prefer knowing an author’s bias, as we all have them.) It’s possible that the guides omission of explicitly Christian language is intentional to cater to the secular homeschool market, which is growing in popularity. These guides do not interact with Christian views on science at all, so any integration with Biblical creation is up to the teacher using these Guides.

    At a Glance

    These guides are somewhat bewildering at first look. This shouldn’t be off-putting to prospective users. A thorough reading of the teacher guide’s introduction will go a long way in helping teachers use these resources effectively. The teacher guide also includes activities and lessons, bringing in other resources as needed, while the student workbook includes mostly blank worksheets that facilitate the lessons. The guides are perfect-bound paperbacks with a black-and-white interior and includes what appears to be hand-drawn graphics. Today, most textbooks include full-color spreads with sophisticated graphics and images, so the fact that these guides aren’t in color may affect students’ attention and interest.

    The Intended Audience

    The guides cover two age groups. The guides for the Grammar Stage target traditional grade school levels 1–4. The Logic Stage guides are meant for the middle school level, namely fifth through eighth grade, and the material is appropriate for these age groups. The guides must be supplemented by one or more of the recommended textbooks, many of which are available online or at your local library. The teacher guide, then, is key to putting it all together and preparing each lesson topic.

    Teaching Style

    I need to caution that an understanding of the classical approach needs to be in place to fully utilize these guides. For those unfamiliar with classical approaches to homeschooling, you’ll find more information on this teaching style on their website.

    The Earth Science and Astronomy books are divided into units. For example, the solar system unit in the Grammar Stage guide lasts 12 weeks. Each week, the guide reminds teachers of the supplies needed, gives a purpose statement for the week, as well as instructions, an extra activity for further study, reading assignments from the auxiliary resources, and discussion questions. Journaling is an important part of the authors’ classical approach, as is poem memorization, to help students retain information. Hands-on activities and projects that can span several weeks are outlined in the first week of a unit. For example, in the solar system unit, instructions are provided for making a paper model of the solar system to scale. Rounding out the weekly unit is a short quiz, and a proposed schedule for both a two-day-a-week approach and a five-day-a-week schedule.

    These guides are not Christian or even religious in approach, but they seem to studiously avoid the age of the earth or universe. For example, there are sections on the life cycle of the sun and plate tectonics, but no mention of the time scales involved. The teaching is ambiguous on any ancient dating, leaving it up to the educator, or possibly the auxiliary textbooks, to cover.

    Final Review

    Since parents will need to spend a significant amount of time preparing for these classes, I would not recommend these guides for parents with little time to prepare or for those uninterested in rigorous teaching. These guides are very well thought-out and are recommended as long as prospective users are fully aware of the caveats. The material is age appropriate, but didn’t stretch or challenge students, and it often recommended outside sources for more information. If you are a homeschooling parent or teacher using classical homeschooling methods, you may find this fits your style well, in which case this is an important additional resource available to you.


    Dan Bakken

    Dan Bakken is an amateur astronomer and an instructor for Reasons Institute. Dan has taught astronomy courses at the high school and community college level. Dan holds a BSc in physics, MA Christian Apologetics, and MA Science and Religion.


  • Announcing RTB’s New Blog Ring!

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 27, 2016

    Thirty years ago when Kathy and I—and some of you—launched Reasons to Believe, the word “blog” hadn’t yet been invented, and the Internet was a gleam in some computer genius’s eye. But times and technologies have changed, and we’re excited to take advantage of these changes in our efforts to advance Christ’s kingdom.

    One thing that hasn’t changed is our desire to encourage and equip you for outreach to the people God brings into your life. Some of these people are longing for answers to tough questions. Some harbor secret doubts. Some have given up on the church as a place to raise their questions. More and more people see the Bible and Christianity as either inaccurate or irrelevant or both. In the face of these developments, we’re more eager than ever to step into the gap. In light of your comments and suggestions, we’re transitioning away from our biweekly science articles called Today’s New Reason to Believe (TNRTB) to a “ring” of blogs, one from each RTB scholar. These blogs will reflect each scholar’s thoughts on emerging faith challenges, offer personal insights from encounters with those who disagree with our perspective, and occasionally give previews into current research and writing projects.

    Starting in July, you’ll see blog posts at least once per week (sometimes more often) from each RTB scholar under the following headings. Without my saying so, you can probably guess which blog comes from which scholar! I’m delighted to introduce them to you here:

    Once the blogs launch, you can receive direct links to them via email, or you can access them via our website. On the home page, you’ll see a navigation bar near the top. When you click on the “Explore” tab, you’ll see four columns, the first one labeled “Blogs.” All of RTB’s blogs, current and past, will be listed and available there.

    Thank you for sharing your needs and ideas with us. These blogs will allow us a much faster response time to trending topics and new discoveries. Our goal is to provide you with helpful ways to start conversations and draw people into the quest for truth, especially the truth about life’s biggest and most important questions.

    Personal experience tells us that science yields a virtually endless source of intriguing links between the world of nature and the words of Scripture, links that can open significant spiritual discussion about those big questions and offer compelling new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator and Redeemer. The case for our faith grows stronger, and the basis for our hope in Him grows deeper and wider, and yet so many people have no idea. Together, we can grow in our effectiveness to inspire confident faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature.

  • Can Planets in the Habitable Zone Actually Support Life?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 23, 2016

    It seems that all too frequently we read another exciting announcement that an extrasolar planet has been detected, one that is in the “habitable zone” and would likely be able to host life. The announcement is usually accompanied by an artist’s conception of the planet with oceans, continents, and an atmosphere with clouds that appear decidedly Earth-like.


    blog__inline--can-planets-in-the-habitable-zone-actually-support-lifejpg

    Figure 1: Estimated habitable zones in the solar system compared to Kepler-452 and Kepler-186. Image credit: NASA

    Defining “Habitable”

    The circumstellar habitable zone (HZ) was given a rigorous definition in a 1993 paperby geoscientist James Kasting (Pennsylvania State University) and his team. This definition was then updated in 2013.1 As defined, an HZ has an inner edge where atmospheric water breaks down and hydrogen escapes. This results in a runaway greenhouse effect. At the outer edge, CO2 condenses into clouds and accelerates cooling, resulting in all surface water freezing. For the solar system, the HZ model has an inner edge at 0.99 astronomical units (AU) and an outer edge at 1.70 AU.2 Earth is just barely inside the inner edge, and Mars is just inside the outer edge at 1.52 AU.

    Although often overlooked, the definition of an HZ is extremely dependent on the composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere. Kasting’s model assumed not only an Earth-like atmosphere, but also a carbon-silicate feedback cycle that requires a fine-tuned mix of oceans, continents, plate tectonics, and steady volcanic outgassing of CO2. One exoplanet researcher notes, “Without knowledge of the major molecules of an exoplanet’s atmosphere, we can only speculate whether it resides in the habitable zone for liquid water.… Declaring a freshly detected exoplanet to be in the ‘habitable zone’ amounts to little more than media spin if its atmospheric composition is unknown.”3

    How the Definition Is Changing

    Recent studies demonstrate how fragile a planet’s atmosphere can be when subjected to steady stellar radiation and occasional coronal mass ejections. Several Earth-size exoplanets around M dwarf stars have been found in the classically defined HZ. However, the close orbits of these exoplanets lead to tidal locking, which results in the atmospheres being stripped over time by a constantly blowing stellar wind.4 NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars indicates that the lack of a protective magnetic field may have resulted in a similar stripping of the planet’s atmosphere. Even planets like Venus that retain a dense atmosphere lose their water unless they have a strong magnetic field.

    But how has Earth maintained its magnetic shield for billions of years? Recent work done by a French team informs us that complex gravitational interactions between the earth and the moon are responsible for the earth’s long-lasting geodynamo and protective magnetic shield. The team writes (emphasis added):

    Finally, because the Moon appears to be a necessary ingredient to sustain the magnetic field, and because a magnetic field is needed to shield the Earth’s atmosphere from erosion by solar wind, the habitability of an Earth­like planet may be subordinated to the existence of a large satellite. While more than 1,000 exoplanets have already been observed, the detection of an accompanying exo­moon is rare. Hence, our model could have major implications in future planetary missions as exoplanets with orbiting moons would more likely host extraterrestrial life.5

    This research puts another severe constraint on planet habitability.

    So What Does Habitable Really Mean?

    The carbon-silicate cycle is a key mechanism in keeping Earth habitable. Now, strong planet-moon gravitational interactions join the list of necessary properties for habitable planets, and also the list of things scientists cannot yet measure. The Earth-Moon system is really a double planet and therefore a relatively rare planetary configuration.6This new result serves as a strong reminder that “habitable,” as currently defined, really has no connection with Earth’s abundant capacity to support a diverse, thriving array of life. It may also mean that Earth is unique in its ability to do so.

    Endnotes
    1. James Kasting, Daniel Whitmire, and Ray Reynolds, “Habitable Zones around Main Sequence Stars,” Icarus 101 (January 1993): 108–28; Ravi Kumar Kopparapu et al., “Habitable Zones around Main-Sequence Stars: New Estimates,” Astrophysical Journal 765 (March 2013): 131, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/765/2/131.
    2. One astronomical unit is defined as roughly 93 million miles, the average distance from Earth to the sun.
    3. Kevin Heng, “The Imprecise Search for Extraterrestrial Habitability,” American Scientist 104 (May-June 2016): 146, doi:10.1511/2016.120.1.
    4. O. Cohen et al., “Magnetospheric Structure and Atmospheric Joule Heating of Habitable Planets Orbiting M-dwarf Stars,” Astrophysical Journal 790 (July 2014): 57, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/790/1/57.
    5. Denis Andrault et al., “The Deep Earth May Not Be Cooling Down,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 443 (June 2016): 195–203, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.03.020.
    6. Sebastian Elser et al., “How Common Are Earth-Moon Planetary Systems?,” Icarus 214 (August 2011): 357–65, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2011.05.025.


  • Was Mars Once Plagued by Tsunamis?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 20, 2016

    Tsunamis are a recurring theme in disaster movies. The Impossible depicts a family’s struggle to survive in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Deep ImpactSan AndreasThe Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 all showcase enormous tidal waves that threaten to destroy civilization. Exodus: Gods and Kings uses a tsunami as part of God’s judgment on Egypt. Recorded tsunamis on Earth typically have waves a few tens of feet high, but the apocalyptic waves of cinema reach more than a football field in height. Recent studies show that these cataclysmic events actually happened on Earth’s neighbor Mars.

    Finding Evidence of Tsunamis on Mars

    Elevation maps of Mars reveal an extensive lowland region in the northern hemisphere. Around 3.4 billion years ago, the surface of Mars resembled a cold, dry desert. However, the planet had large subsurface aquifers that contained the bulk of Mars’s water. For unknown reasons, it appears that these aquifers catastrophically burst, spewing massive quantities of water across the planet. Presumably, this water then quickly flowed toward the northern lowlands forming a large ocean. Some questions have been raised about this scenario, though, due to the lack of visible shorelines in all the expected locations.

    blog__inline--was-mars-once-plagued-by-tsunamis-1

    Figure 1: The boxed region shows the location of recently discovered tsunami deposits. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

    Using data from the THEMIS instrument on board Mars Odyssey, scientists found evidence of two different tsunamis that covered the ancient shoreline. Zooming in on the boxed region of the topographic map (see figure 1), scientists observed features characteristic of tsunamis on Earth, only on a much grander scale (see figure 2). The older formations, located farther from the lowlands, have vast debris fields extending hundreds of kilometers inland and containing boulders up to 10 meters across. Furthermore, channels cut through the debris field as expected from the water retreating back to an ocean. Lacking a source of water input, the ocean would recede over time. Evidence of a later tsunami shows massive ice-rich lobes indicative of waves flowing inland and then freezing before they have time to retreat.1 This second tsunami occurred during much colder conditions akin to deep winter environments. The evidence indicates both tsunamis resulted from asteroid or comet impacts.


    blog__inline--was-mars-once-plagued-by-tsunamis-2

    Figure 2: Images show tsunami deposits as well as regional reconstruction of a receding 3.4-billion-year-old ocean on Mars. Image credit: NASA/Alexis Rodriguez

    What Does It All Mean?

    The existence of massive tsunamis in Mars’s distant past highlights some important ideas. First, they provide strong evidence for the presence of a large Martian ocean roughly 3.4 billion years ago. The tsunamis could not have happened without an ocean. And scientists now have an explanation for the lack of expected shoreline features—they are covered with the debris fields deposited by the tsunamis.

    Second, these types of events would also happen on Earth, but the active geological processes occurring on Earth remove all the requisite evidence. Scientists can measure the rate of large impacts, but any tsunami effects wear away too quickly. Additionally, measured rates from EarthMercury, and Mars serve as independent checks of formation and impact models for the solar system.

    Third, and perhaps most excitingly, these tsunami deposits provide future exploration sites for determining whether Mars ever hosted life or not. The common theory says that where we find water, life will surely follow. This principle is incredibly difficult to test but plays a significant role in how people talk about the vast number of exoplanets that exist. The capacity to measure existing life on exoplanets is decades away, but we already have the ability (if not the funding) to study our solar system’s planets for both existing and past life. The ancient Martian tsunamis produced fields littered with debris from a prime environment where life might have existed—namely, the bottom of a shallow ocean. Additionally, the debris fields would have protected the shoreline regions from the hostile Martian surface environment.

    Tsunamis often wreak havoc and bring destruction. With these discoveries on Mars, they also bring the possibility to answer the question: How rare is Earth’s capacity to support life? Furthermore, tsunamis provide a glimpse of the awesome forces at work in our universe, solar system, and planet. It reminds me that (borrowing a phrase from C. S. Lewis) Earth may not be a safe place, but it is good!

    Endnotes

    1. J. Alexis P. Rodriguez et al., “Tsunami Waves Extensively Resurfaced the Shorelines of an Early Martian Ocean,” Scientific Reports 6 (May 2016): doi:10.1038/srep25106.
  • Do Neanderthal Cave Structures Challenge Human Exceptionalism?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 16, 2016

    When I visited Great Britain years ago, I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to cross busy streets. Because cars travel on the opposite side of the road, I found myself instinctively looking in the wrong direction when checking for oncoming traffic. I quickly realized that to avoid becoming a fatality, I had to be doubly cautious when making my way across busy intersections.

    Over the years, I have also come to learn that an extra measure of caution pays off when navigating “scientific” claims that Neanderthals possessed symbolic and religious capabilities just like us. The latest claim centers around the mysterious structures Neanderthals “built” deep within the interior of the Bruniquel Cave located in southwestern France.1 A number of anthropologists interpret these cave structures as evidence for Neanderthal symbolism and religious behavior.

    If Neanderthals displayed symbolic and religious capabilities, it would cause serious damage to the concept of human exceptionalism (which I would argue aligns with the biblical concept of the image of God) and the RTB human origins model. But did Neanderthals even build these structures, and if they did, what exactly do these structures evince?

    The Bruniquel Cave Structures

    In 1990, while exploring the Bruniquel Cave, speleologists (scientists who investigate caves) came across an ensemble of stalagmites arranged to form semicircular structures in a difficult-to-access chamber about 1,000 feet from the cave entrance. They discovered a total of six structures made from about 400 pieces of stalagmites, some of which appear to be stacked to form walls.

    It was only in the last few years that archaeologists began to carefully study these structures. It turns out that the structures built from the stalagmite pieces date to around 175,000 years in age. About 120 stalagmite pieces also show evidence that they were heated by fire. Archaeologists have unearthed animal bones near the structures that show probable evidence that they were heated as well. Because the only hominids present in Europe at that time were the Neanderthals, archaeologists maintain that they were the ones who built these structures.

    These mysterious structures raise a number of questions. Were they the work of a lone individual, or did several Neanderthals work together to assemble the semicircular walls? If they were the work of a team, it could indicate that Neanderthals lived within a complex societal framework.

    No one knows yet why Neanderthals built these structures, but many anthropologists are tempted to interpret these structures as evidence for ritualistic activities. Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History states, “A plausible explanation is that this was a meeting place for some type of ritual social behavior.”2

    The Challenge to the RTB Human Origins Model

    Instead of understanding hominids as evolutionary intermediates, our biblically based human origins model—described in detail in Who Was Adam?—views Neanderthals and other hominids as animals made by God with limited emotional and intellectual capabilitieslike the great apes. These capacities explain the remarkable behavior of Neanderthals, such as their tool use. But we maintain that, in spite of their intelligence, Neanderthals and other hominids lacked the image of God and, therefore, were notspiritual beings. We reserve that quality for humans alone. We view symbolism and religious expression as two facets of the image of God and, consequently, assert that Neanderthals and other hominids must lack those capabilities. Biological similarities between humans and hominids are a manifestation of common design, not common descent.

    Did Neanderthals Build the Cave Structures?

    Though a number of anthropologists are quick to attribute the Bruniquel Cave structures to Neanderthals, it may be that these hominids had nothing to do with them at all. This skepticism gains justification by the extreme rarity of these cave structures. It is curious that these structures date to 175,000 years in age—130,000 years before Neanderthals disappeared—and yet the only known occurrence of stalagmite semicircles is in a single cave in France.

    If building these types of structures was commonplace for Neanderthals, why haven’t we seen more examples of this type of construction? Contrast the rarity of these structures with the abundant evidence for human symbolism found throughout Europe. On this basis, it is hard to argue that the rarity of these structures is due to the “incompleteness” of the archaeological record. Nor does it seem reasonable to interpret these structures as representative of Neanderthal capabilities. In fact, the rarity of the stalagmite semicircles among Neanderthal sites could be explained if these structures weren’t made by Neanderthals at all. But if they weren’t made by Neanderthals, then who or what made these semicircles?

    Some anthropologists suggest that cave bears made these structures. Cave bears make hollows in caves when they hibernate. According to paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University, “When bears settle in for the winter hibernation, they push all kinds of litter to the side. This looks like a place where cave bears settled in for a nice nap over and over through time.”3 There is evidence for cave bear activity elsewhere in the cave, but not near the structures. However, University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Harold Dibble argues, “They say there’s no evidence of cave bears in this spot, [but] maybe they’re looking at the evidence for cave bears.”In other words, Dibble is suggesting that the structures attributed to Neanderthals actually reflects cave bear activity and should be interpreted in that manner.

    At this juncture, it may seem far-fetched to attribute these structures to cave bears. Yet, when it comes to Neanderthals, anthropologists have a long history of interpreting archaeological finds as evidence for Neanderthal symbolism and religious activity, only to have that interpretation wither in the face of additional scientific scrutiny.5 In many instances, artifacts attributed to Neanderthal handiwork turn out to result from the activities of animals. For example, the “bird bone flutes,” thought to be made by Neanderthals, were found to be bird remains scavenged by hyenas. And the pollen grains at Neanderthal “grave sites,” thought to reflect ritualistic burials in which flowers were placed with the body, were in fact delivered to the graves by bees.

    If Neanderthals Built the Structures, What Does It Mean?

    If Neanderthals are the architects of the Bruniquel Cave structures, does it evince their symbolic and religious capabilities? Hardly. With only disputed evidence for Neanderthal symbolism and religious behavior, it seems unwarranted to interpret the stalagmite arrangements as evidence for symbolism and ritual practices. Given their rarity, these structures could have resulted from an “accidental” arrangement of stalagmites. Or perhaps they were the work of a single individual who had no real purpose behind the arrangement of the stalagmite pieces, other than pushing the stalagmite pieces around the cave chamber.

    It is important to note that many animals produce structures, including chimpanzees. For example, these creatures make beds from specialized materials that they carefully place in selected locations within trees. Yet these creatures clearly lack symbolism and religious capacities. We don’t interpret the structures made by great apes as a manifestation of symbolism. So why should we conclude Neanderthals possessed these qualities based on the single occurrence of semicircles made from stalagmites?

    Resources

    For more articles exploring whether Neanderthals possess religious or spiritual capacities, please read my previous articles:

    Endnotes
    1. Jacques Jaubert et al., “Early Neanderthal Constructions Deep in Bruniquel Cave in Southwestern France,” Nature 534 (June 2016): 111–14, doi:10.1038/nature18291.
    2. Ed Yong, “A Shocking Find in a Neanderthal Cave in France,” The Atlantic, May 25, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/05/the-astonishing-age-of-a-neanderthal-cave-construction-site/484070/.
    3. Nadia Drake, “Neanderthals Built Mysterious Stone Circles,” National Geographic, May 25, 2016, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/neanderthals-caves-rings-building-france-archaeology/.
    4. Ewen Callaway, “Neanderthals Built Cave Structures—and No One Knows Why,” Nature News, May 25, 2016, doi:10.1038/nature.2016.19975.
  • Complex Protein Biogenesis Hints at Intelligent Design

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 13, 2016

    While growing up, I had a friend named Tom who had an unusual older brother named Tim. Back then, Tom and I really looked up to Tim. Maybe that’s why whenever I think of my friend Tom, I can’t help but also think about Tim. Tom and Tim have become inseparable in my mind.

    TOM and TIM are also inseparable when it comes to the biogenesis of mitochondria. In this process, TOM and TIM aren’t brothers, but large protein complexes found in the outer and inner membranes of mitochondria. TOM (translocase of the outer membrane) and TIM (translocase of the inner membrane) function as biomolecular machines that operate in tandem to import newly made proteins into mitochondria.

    The inseparability of TOM and TIM represents a significant challenge to the endosymbiont hypothesis—a cornerstone idea in evolutionary biology that offers an explanation for the origin of organelles, such as mitochondria.

    How Complex Is Protein Transport into Mitochondria?

    The similarity between organelles and bacteria serves as the chief line of evidence for the endosymbiont hypothesis. For example, mitochondria—thought to have descended from α-proteobacteria—are about the same size and shape as a typical bacterium and have a double membrane structure similar to gram-negative microbes. These organelles also divide in a way that is reminiscent of bacterial cells.

    From my vantage point, similarities between mitochondria and α-proteobacteria are not enough to establish the validity of the endosymbiont hypothesis. Evolutionary biologists must also explain how mitochondria became fully integrated into the host cell’s metabolic systems. Even though biochemists are figuring out how the process of protein transport works, they must also identify a plausible evolutionary pathway that can adequately account for the evolution of this biochemical operation.

    Except for select proteins, most mitochondrial proteins are made in the cytosol of the cell and transported into the mitochondria. The overall process of mitochondrial protein biogenesis consists of four stages: (1) protein synthesis, (2) targeting the protein to the mitochondria, (3) transporting the protein into the mitochondrial lumen, and (4) targeting the protein to its final destination in the organelle.

    The cell’s machinery initially makes mitochondrial proteins as pre-proteins with a signal sequence at one of its ends (the N terminus). The signal sequence has a specialized structure (an amphipathic α-helix) that serves to target the proteins to mitochondria. Think of the signal sequence as analogous to an address label that tells the post office where to deliver a letter. Receptor proteins that are part of the TOM complex recognize the signal sequence and transport the protein through a channel within the TOM interior into the intermembrane space (the region between the mitochondrian’s inner and outer membranes). Proteins dubbed chaperones keep the mitochondrial proteins unfolded and stabilized throughout this process.

    Once in the intermembrane space (the region between the outer and inner membranes), two different TIM complexes (TIM22 and TIM23) work together, taking the protein “baton” from the TOM complex and ushering the protein into the lumen (or the matrix) of the mitochondria. If the protein is to remain within the lumen (because that’s where it performs its work), then proteins called peptidases remove the signal sequence, and the protein adopts its intended three-dimensional shape.

    If the protein is to be incorporated into the inner membrane, it possesses an additional targeting sequence that is recognized by another protein complex dubbed OXA. This biomolecular ensemble inserts the protein into the inner membrane.

    If the protein is to carry out its work in the intermembrane space, then the OXA complex will transport the protein back across the inner membrane. Alternatively, some proteins destined to operate in the inner membrane space possess a stop signal sequence. These sequences prevent the TIM22 and TIM23 complexes from transporting it across the inner membrane into the lumen. Instead, peptidases in the intermembrane space remove the signal sequence, allowing the protein to adopt its operational structure.

    Finally, if the protein is to be incorporated into the outer membrane, then another complex referred to as SAM inserts it into the outer membrane.

    The Challenge to the Endosymbiont Hypothesis

    Each stage of mitochondrial protein biogenesis involves multiple steps with each one carried out by an ensemble of proteins. Moreover, each step of the process must be precisely integrated with the other steps. If not, the entire process of mitochondrial protein biogenesis fails. To put it another way, each step of the process involves an irreducibly complex biochemical apparatus which, in turn, integrate with each other to form the irreducibly complex process of mitochondrial protein biogenesis. That is, mitochondrial protein biogenesis can be characterized as an integrated, hierarchical, multilayered ensemble of irreducibly complex systems.

    For the mitochondrial protein biogenesis to emerge from an evolutionary standpoint, a number of biochemical systems had to simultaneously evolve and become integrated with one another. For example, once mitochondrial genes became incorporated into the host genome, DNA sequences specifying signal sequences had to evolve and become precisely appended to every one of the mitochondrial DNA sequences. The TOM, TIM22, and TIM23 complexes had to evolve simultaneously to recognize mitochondrial proteins and work in tandem to move proteins into the mitochondria. In addition, chaperones had to emerge that would recognize mitochondrial proteins and keep them unfolded during the transport process. Signal peptidases had to evolve to remove signal sequences from mitochondrial proteins with exacting precision. Finally, stop sequences and additional targeting sequences had to evolve and become precisely positioned within the mitochondrial protein genes.

    In effect, no one knows how mitochondrial protein biogenesis could have evolved. According to cell biologist Franklin Harold, “The origin of the machinery for protein import is more complicated and is subject to much debate.”1 Harold also states, “Most of the transferred genes continue to support mitochondrial functions, having somehow acquired the targeting sequences that allow their protein products to be recognized by TOM and TIM and imported into the organelle.”2 To say that “the origin of the machinery for protein import” is a “complicated” system that “somehow” evolved is not a scientific explanation for how this complex biochemical system arose. In the absence of a plausible evolutionary route for mitochondrial protein transport, it is reasonable to be skeptical of the endosymbiont hypothesis.

    A Creation Model Perspective on the Origin of Mitochondria

    While evolutionary biologists view the similarities between mitochondria and α-proteobacteria as evidence for the endosymbiont hypothesis, it is possible to view these similarities from a creation model vantage point as shared design features based on an archetypal design.

    As I pointed out earlier, mitochondrial genomes exhibit an exquisite biochemical logic that undergirds their structure and function, making it all the more reasonable to view these organelles as the Creator’s handiwork.Bolstering this conclusion is the multitiered irreducible complexity of protein mitochondrial biogenesis. As I discussed in The Cell’s Design, irreducible complexity is a hallmark feature of many human designs and should be viewed as an indicator of intelligent design.

    Subjects: Design, Bad Designs

    Endnotes
    1. Franklin Harold, In Search of Cell History: The Evolution of Life’s Building Blocks (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 137.
    2. Ibid., 137–38.
    3. See Fazale Rana, “Mitochondrial Genomes: Evidence for Evolution or Creation?,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, August 27, 2015, https://www.reasons.org/articles/mitochondrial-genomes-evidence-for-evolution-or-creation; and Fazale Rana, “Why Do Mitochondria Have DNA?,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, April 25, 2016, https://www.reasons.org/articles/why-do-mitochondria-have-dna.
  • How Can We Reconcile in a Way That Lasts?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 09, 2016

    The Bible has a lot to say about reconciliation. Christians, for example, are called to be ambassadors for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–20). Now, a scientific study is affirming what the Bible has taught for thousands of years.1 Three researchers, through a nongovernmental organization in Sierra Leone, conducted a three-year study on residents in 200 Sierra Leone villages. The aim of the study was to help residents recover from the psychological damage of a 12-year civil war.

    Reconciliation Can Yield Social Benefits

    This civil war (which occurred from 1991 to 2002) was different from most in the past century in that it had little to do with ethnic differences. The war was predominantly fought over the illicit diamond trade. Nevertheless, more than 50,000 people were killed, thousands more were raped, and 65 percent of the population was displaced. The protracted conflict involved torture, atrocities, and war crimes.

    In each village where horrific suffering had occurred, the study brought together the victims and the perpetrators of the war atrocities. In these meetings, the victims described their suffering and the perpetrators confessed their war crimes. The researchers discovered that the more truthful encounters resulted in greater social benefits, where individuals were more likely to forgive the perpetrators, engage in larger social networks, and contribute time and money to public goods and welfare projects.

    These social benefits affirm the motto of the California Institute of Technology taken from John 8:32, “The truth shall make you free.” Honest confessions set people in those Sierra Leone villages free to forgive one another and to personally invest in the rebuilding of their communities and social networks. However, failure to practice the rest of John 8:31–32 and other Bible passages addressing reconciliation led to significant social costs on behalf of the villagers engaged in the study.

    Reconciliation Can Also Yield Negative Psychological Effects

    In nearly all instances there was a measurable worsening in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress experienced by some of the villagers. Furthermore, these symptoms remained throughout the three-year study. The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that policy-makers need to restructure reconciliation processes in ways that reduce their negative psychological costs while retaining their positive societal benefits.”2

    The authors also commented briefly on how the negative psychological costs could be reduced. They noted that in each village there were individuals who chose not to testify of the atrocities they committed or experienced. Such omissions left huge holes in the extent of the reconciliation. They also drew an analogy between single-session versus multiple-session therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. They cite multiple research studies showing the long-lasting effectiveness of the latter and the fleeting benefits of the former. Likewise, the fact that the reconciliation meetings in the villages tended to be one-time affairs likely explains why the negative psychological effects persisted.

    Reconciliation Needs Christ to Be Long Lasting

    Bible passages such as Galatians 5 and 6 and Philippians 2 teach that humility, forbearance, compassion, and a serving spirit are disciplines that must be continually practiced for peace and reconciliation to have any degree of permanency. However, these disciplines can become a way of life only if human beings first submit themselves to their Creator. For the truth to truly set humans free, the entirety of John 8:31–32 must be applied: “If you hold to my teaching [Jesus Christ’s], you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Endnotes
    1. Jacobus Cilliers, Oeindrila Dube, and Bilal Siddiqi, “Reconciling after Civil Conflict Increases Social Capital but Decreases Individual Well-Being,” Science 352 (May 2016): 787–94, doi:10.1126/science.aad9682.
    2. Ibid., 787.
  • Was Jesus’s Arrival Accurately Predicted in the Bible?

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | Jun 02, 2016

    In 538 BC, the angel Gabriel gave Daniel a prophecy pinpointing when the Messiah would arrive. “Know and understand this,” Gabriel told him (Daniel 9:25). While Daniel may have understood it, somewhere along the way that insight has been lost. Old Testament scholars have long been debating the prophecy’s meaning, but one scholar, Harold Hoehner, had a particularly astounding interpretation.1

    While in Babylon, Daniel read the Scriptures, learning that Jeremiah had foretold both the Babylonian captivity and the Israelites’ return to their homeland after 70 years. In response, Daniel confessed the sins of the nation in prayer, inciting the angel Gabriel to visit and deliver this message:

    Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.2

    Breaking Down the Daniel Prophecy

    In taking a closer look at the Daniel passage, one thing is clear: it is about the Messiah. We see that the term “Messiah,” or “Anointed One,” is capitalized. It is also clear that a formula of sorts is provided to calculate when the Messiah will appear. The difficulties come in interpreting the formula. One such difficulty is determining the meaning of “weeks,” which is used in a number of translations. (NIV uses the term “sevens” instead of “weeks.”) In ancient Hebrew, “weeks” had a number of meanings, which scholars can determine by the context. The context in the Daniel passage shows that “weeks” means “seven units.” Using this definition, we can calculate when the Messiah will arrive: (7 x 7) + (62 x 7) = 49 + 434 = 483 years.

    The prophecy further says that after the Messiah arrives, he will be “put to death and will have nothing.” The word “after” is very important. After the Messiah arrives, he will be put to death. Jesus’s crucifixion fulfills that prophecy.

    We now know that the Messiah would arrive 483 years in the future. But does the prophecy specify a beginning date? The prophecy tells us: “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” So, who ordered this decree to restore Jerusalem, and when was it ordered? There are several possibilities, but the decree that best fits the evidence was made by the Persian king Artaxerxes to Nehemiah on March 5 of 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1–8). (In this article, a number of biblical dates are used, all of which have been under debate by scholars for hundreds of years. Harold Hoehner makes a strong case for each of the dates. For those details, please refer to Hoehner’s book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.)

    Before we can make some calculations, we need to know how Daniel’s civilization counted time—by a solar year or a lunar year. A solar year has 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, or 365.2422 days. A lunar year has exactly 360 days: 12 months of 30 days. [A lunar year has 12 rotation periods, or lunar months, which equal 354.367 Earth days (12 x 29.53059). However, ancient peoples rounded off the lunar month to 30 days. Thus, their lunar year would equal 360 days (30 days x 12).] Since the lunar year was commonly used in ancient biblical times, it makes the most sense to use the lunar year in calculations.

    We must also decide how to define the arrival of the Messiah. Do we use Jesus’s birthdate, the date he began his ministry, the date of his crucifixion, or some other date? The date that many scholars have accepted as the time of the Messiah’s arrival is Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The reason for choosing this date is that this is when Jesus publicly declared that he was the Messiah. Before then, he told only select people, like his disciples, and he often reminded them to keep his identity secret. History chronologists have estimated that Jesus’s triumphal entry fell on Monday, March 30, AD 33.

    Calculating Gabriel’s Formula

    Now we’re ready to do some math to determine if Gabriel did in fact predict Jesus’s arrival. We’ll start by determining how many days are in 483 lunar years: 360 x 483 = 173,880 days. Next, we’ll convert those days back into solar years: 173,880 ÷ 365.2422 = 476.068 years. After converting the decimal part (0.068) to days (0.068 x 365.2422 = 24.8 days), the time prophesized for the Messiah to arrive comes out to be 476 years and 25 days.

    Adding this number to March 5, 444 BC—the date on which the decree to rebuild Jerusalem was issued—brings us to March 30, AD 33, the very day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Is this match not remarkable? The remarkable accuracy of the predictions in the prophecy in Daniel [assuming the estimates are correctly interpreted and accurate] supports the truth of the prophecy, which in turn builds confidence in the authority and reliability of the Bible.

    blog__inline--was-jesus-arrival-accurately-predicted-in-the-bibleGuest Writer
    Don Olson

    Don C. Olson earned a PhD in analytical chemistry from Purdue University in 1961 and currently works as CEO of Global FIA, Inc. in Fox Island, WA.





    Endnotes
    1. For an excellent book on understanding this prophecy, see: Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
    2. Daniel 9:25–26.
  • Nobel-Winning DNA Research Challenges Evolutionary Theory

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | May 30, 2016

    In 2015, three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for decades of research into DNA—research that reinforces the idea that evolution is mythology and makes the modern evolutionary theory of abiogenesis seem more and more indefensible. It turns out that DNA is inherently unstable, and the preservation of genetic information requires a complex symbiotic relationship between the cell and DNA that is so interdependent that neither could have arisen independently of the other.

    New Insight into DNA and the Cell

    DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the giant organic molecule which carries and preserves an organism’s genetic information. DNA is essential to the growth and reproduction of life-forms because precise copying and self-replication of DNA is a critical part of the process of cell division.

    Tomas Lindahl, the first Nobel laureate, has demonstrated that the rate at which DNA decays should have made the development of life on Earth impossible.1 The Nobel Committee expresses this on a personal level: “you ought to have been a chemical chaos long before you even developed into a foetus.”2

    So why doesn’t our genetic material disintegrate into complete chemical chaos? It is because of molecular repair mechanisms within the cell. The three Nobel laureates “mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.”3 They found that a multitude of molecular systems constantly monitor the genome and repair any damage.

    One such mechanism discovered by Lindahl is base excision repair, which explains why our DNA doesn’t collapse. A base of a nucleotide often loses an amino group and becomes unable to form a base pair, thus breaking the DNA chain. But an enzymedetects the error, and other enzymes repair it so that the DNA can replicate properly.

    Paul Modrich, the second laureate, discovered another molecular mechanism called mismatch repair. Replication errors often occur as the DNA is copied, but Modrich found that enzymes continually detect most of these errors, and other enzymes repair them. The Nobel Committee says this “reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold.”4

    One further issue that DNA must contend with is mutations caused by DNA damage due to radiation and a variety of mutagenic substances. For example, radiation might make two base pairs bind to one another incorrectly. But the third laureate, Aziz Sancar, discovered that through a mechanism called nucleotide excision repair, enzymes will cut out, remove, and replace a damaged DNA strand.

    We have long known that the cell could not reproduce without DNA, but we now know that DNA would self-destruct without the cell. It is this complex symbiotic relationship between a cell and its DNA that makes the modern evolutionary theory more difficult to defend.

    Climbing Mount Impossible

    The theory of chemical evolution or abiogenesis suggests that life arose spontaneously from nonliving matter. Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, and life emerged about 1 billion years after Earth’s formation. Our earlier article on abiogenesis discussed calculations by several scientists who have shown that the probability that the chemistry necessary for life self-assembled in only 1 billion years by undirected, random processes is so infinitesimally small as to be essentially impossible. And those calculations don’t even take into consideration the four-letter molecular language (genetic code) with 20 “words” (each representing an amino acid) through which DNA carries the organism’s genetic information. Even simple languages are usually associated with an intelligent agency—not undirected, random action—as is illustrated by the SETI program’s search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Furthermore, life is more complex than mere chemistry. The life-forms in our world are self-sustaining and self-replicating, and unless these features were in place when the chemistry of life assembled, any life which appeared could neither grow nor reproduce. Self-preservation instincts go beyond the competence of mathematical probability calculations. It seems a miracle would be necessary for all this to come together by undirected, random processes over a time span of only 1 billion years!

    Yet the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry now raises the bar even higher. This research shows that for abiogenesis to occur, undirected, random processes must have anticipated the inherent instability of DNA and assembled the cell with the variety of enzymes necessary to prevent the self-destruction of DNA. Additionally, the cell’s chemistry, the self-preservation instinct, and anticipatory DNA repair mechanisms must have all come together at the same instant in time within only 1 billion years; otherwise, any nascent life could not have survived. If the probability barrier to evolution seemed like climbing Mount Improbable before, it has now become climbing Mount Impossible.

    Could simple single-celled life-forms emerge and evolve into more complex life? Single-celled life-forms are not so simple. For example, the genome of an aerobic hyper-thermophilic crenarchaeon (a thermophilic archaea, a type of bacteria) consists of 1.7 billion base pairs, which is almost 60 percent of the 2.9 billion base pairs in the human genome.5

    How does this impact the modern neo-Darwinian theory of evolution? According to the Nobel Committee, “if genetic information were too unstable no multi-cellular organisms would exist” because evolution requires mutations.6 Yet the DNA repair mechanisms limit the number of mutations.

    Although the mutation frequency varies between species and site, it is uniformly quite small. As an illustration, the average mutation rate in humans has been estimated to be only ~2.5 x 10-8 mutations per nucleotide. Most mutations have no effect, and approximately 3 percent are harmful.7 A study of mutation fitness found that advantageous mutations are rare.8 An earlier article estimated that less than 50 new mutations per generation occur in the genes governing human intellectual ability. Of these 50 mutations, one to two are deleterious, and a vanishingly small fraction increase fitness. In other words, the number of favorable mutations—upon which natural selection can operate—is extremely small, and this Nobel-winning research seems to provide an explanation for this.

    The discoveries made by the 2015 Nobel laureates serve as another example of how modern science is bringing more and more questions into the theory of naturalistic evolution, adding support to the idea that everything on Earth was created by a higher intelligence.

    blog__inline--nobel-winning-dna-research-challenges-evolutionary-theory-1By Hugh Henry

    Hugh Henry received his PhD in physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY. Hugh has also been a participant in RTB’s Visiting Scholar Program.




    blog__inline--nobel-winning-dna-research-challenges-evolutionary-theory-2By Daniel Dyke

    Daniel J. Dyke received his MTh from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981 and currently serves as a professor of Old Testament studies at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH. Daniel has also been a participant in RTB’s Visiting Scholar Program.


    Endnotes
    1. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015,” news release, October 7, 2015, https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2015/press.html.
    2. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, “DNA Repair—Providing Chemical Stability for Life,” October 7, 2015, https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2015/popular-chemistryprize2015.pdf.
    3. Royal Swedish, “Nobel Prize.”
    4. Royal Swedish, “Nobel Prize.”
    5. Yutaka Kawarabayasi et al., “Complete Genome Sequence of an Aerobic Hyper-thermophilic Crenarchaeon, Aeropyrum pernix K1,” DNA Research 6 (April 1999): 83–101, 145–52.
    6. Royal Swedish, “DNA Repair.”
    7. Michael Nachman and Susan Crowell, “Estimate of the Mutation Rate per Nucleotide in Humans,” Genetics 156 (September 2000): 297–304.
    8. Adam Eyre-Walker and Peter Keightley, “The Distribution of Fitness Effects of New Mutations,” Nature Reviews Genetics 8 (August 2007): 610–18, doi:10.1038/nrg2146.
  • Why Skiers Can Be Thankful for Bacteria

    by Telerik.Sitefinity.DynamicTypes.Model.Authors.Author | May 26, 2016

    I was 12 years old when I first learned to ski. Our family was visiting relatives in Washington for Christmas, and after a good snow the previous day, my sisters, cousins, and I headed for the slopes. None of us from Oklahoma had ever been skiing before, but our cousins were gracious hosts and good teachers. We not only learned how to ski that day but also had such great fun and worked so hard at it that we devoured my aunt’s unending stew before surrendering to sleep and the next day’s soreness, stiffness, and stories. Ever since then I have loved the snow. I am captivated with the beauty of snow as it blankets everything, burying the bleak grays of asphalt and urbanization. Snow also reminds me of the Scripture in Isaiah that invites us to reason together that though our sins are like scarlet, God will make us whiter than snow.

    Microbes Critically Contribute to Earth’s Water Cycle

    Water doesn’t freeze at 0°C (32°F). It actually has to be much colder, -48°C, for purewater to freeze! Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that cold for it to snow. Earth’s atmosphere is full of microcontaminants that can serve as ice nucleators, allowing water to crystalize (a necessary first step for precipitation) at warmer temperatures. As it turns out, microbes play a critical role in ice nucleation, too.

    New research reported in Science Advances shows how an ice-nucleating protein on the outer surface of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae (inaZ) imposes structural ordering of adjacent water molecules resulting in biogenic ice nucleation. The hydrophilic-hydrophobic-hydrophilic composition and structure of the amino acids in inaZ seemingly allow for the hydrophilic outer regions to drive the ordering of the water molecules for ice nucleation. In between the outer regions, the hydrophobic threonine ladder motif enables clathrate water to decouple from the bulk water, creating a water-hydrophobic interface that mimics the water structure at a water-vapor interface. Water-vapor interfaces have been shown in theoretical and experimental studies to enhance ice nucleation. In short, inaZ helps create snow and rain.1

    This type of alternating water structuring by a hydrophilic-hydrophobic-hydrophilic repeat may account for the exceptional ice-nucleating ability of inaZ. The study also shows that energy (heat) transfer is particularly efficient at the P. syringae-water interface compared to controls. This data indicates that the two conditions necessary for ice nucleation (the alignment of water into an ordered structure, and the effective removal of heat due to phase transition) are both met by P. syringae. As a result, ice nucleation occurs at temperatures as warm as -2°C in the presence of P. syringae.

    Microbes Are Exceptionally Good Ice Nucleators

    This research highlights that we’re only beginning to understand the underlying mechanisms between P. syringae and ice nucleation. But the phenomenon of P. syringae’s effect on ice nucleation dates back to the 1970s, when scientists were first learning that these bacteria are better than other ice nucleators at achieving ice nucleation at warmer temperatures. Scientists have also known for several decades that other primary biological aerosol particles, as well as soot and dust, contribute to ice nucleation and cloud condensation nucleation.2 Numerous studies indicate that mineral dust particles are relatively efficient ice nuclei, but that at lower temperatures, soot particles can also nucleate ice. Interestingly, however, the most active at the highest subzero temperatures are those of biological origin, including pollen, fungal and bacterial spores, bacteria, and viruses.

    Historically, the techniques scientists used to identify primary biological particles—techniques such as culture assays and light microscopy—failed to detect many viruses or proteins. These techniques only detected certain viable microbes and large microscopic entities (>2 µm) such as bacteria, fungal and bacterial spores, and pollen. With today’s metagenomic analyses of the environment, we know there are far more bacteria and viruses in our surrounding environment than we ever imagined (104viruses/m3 of air). So it is extremely likely that thousands or tens of thousands more bacterial proteins like P. syringae’s inaZ exist and serve as excellent facilitators of the earth’s water cycle, sustaining life on earth and quite possibly providing repositories for human discovery, use, and flourishing. Since viruses (1031) outnumber bacteria (1030) at the estimated rate of 10:1, it’s quite likely virus particles or proteins are contributing to cloud condensation nucleation, too.

    Why We Should Thank God for Microbes

    P. syringae, a plant pathogen contributing to frost damage of crops and other plants, might be argued by some as an example of a harsh nature incompatible with a good, all-powerful, loving God. But if we consider its important role in ice nucleation and the precipitation cycle (creating snow, sleet, and rain), we can see a reason to believe that a good God has created a complex ecosystem for human survival, adaptation, and flourishing that includes organisms like P. syringae. Not only that, but P. syringaeassists in the production of artificial snow, and its ice-nucleating proteins can be used for or mimicked in biomimetic materials for controlled interfacial freezing. In God’s providence, P. syringae is also a great resource for human flourishing.

    So if you enjoy the snow as much as I do, or if you’re someone who is thrilled that artificial snow production allows you to ski more often and longer than the unaided ski season would allow, you might add bacteria like P. syringae to your prayers of thanksgiving.

    Endnotes
    1. Ravindra Pandey et al., “Ice-Nucleating Bacteria Control the Order and Dynamics of Interfacial Water,” Science Advances 2, no. 4 (April 2016), doi:10.1126/sciadv.1501630.
    2. Viviane Després et al., “Primary Biological Aerosol Particles in the Atmosphere: A Review,” Tellus B 64 (February 2012), doi:10.3402/tellusb.v64i0.15598.

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