Amoeba Can Solve TSP

Amoeba Can Solve TSP
A famous challenge in computer science is called “The Traveling Salesman Problem,” or TSP for sort. Scientists in Tokyo have found that a one-celled amoeba can solve TSP.

The problem goes like this:
Suppose you are a traveling salesperson going from city to city to sell your goods. You want to maximize your efficiency to make as much money in as little time as possible. You want to find the shortest path that will let you hit every city on your route one time and return you to the starting point.

There is no simple mathematical formula to find the best route. The only way to solve the problem is to calculate the length of each possible route and see which is the shortest. The problem gets exponentially harder as more cities are added to the route. With four cities there are only three different routes to consider, but with six cities there are 360 different routes. If you had ten cities or more, the number of routes could be in the millions. With an increase in the number of cities, the number of routes increases logarithmically.

The traveling salesman problem is one of a broad class of problems computer scientists call “NP-hard.” (NP stands for nondeterministic polynomial time. People involved in hacking encrypted systems and mining cryptocurrency are interested in this sort of problem.)

At Keio University in Tokyo, scientists have discovered that an amoeba can solve TSP, with the help of some human ingenuity. They used a single-cell slime mold amoeba known as Physarum polycephalum which moves toward food and away from light. The scientists built a chamber filled with channels and placed some food at the end of each channel. The channels represent a city on the salesman’s route. The amoeba would extend tendrils into the channels to get the food. As it reached the food, a light would go on in that channel so that the amoeba would not go back to the same “city.”

The advantage is that that the amoeba doesn’t have to calculate every individual path as most computer algorithms do. Instead, the amoeba just reacts passively to the conditions and figures out the best possible arrangement by itself. What this means is that for the amoeba, adding more cities (channels) only increases the time linearly rather than logarithmically.

The lead study author Masashi Aono said, “The mechanism by which the amoeba maintains the quality of the approximate solution, that is, the short route length, remains a mystery.” If researchers can figure out how the amoeba can solve TSP, it could speed up our ability to solve all kinds of challenging computational problems.

This design feature in one of God’s simplest creatures is another demonstration of how we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-23).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2019


Alien Life Without Water

Is Alien Life Without Water Possible?
For all of my life, there have been articles, videos, and public presentations claiming that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. Now that we know there are thousands of planets in the creation, we see attempts to maintain that with so many planets there must be life somewhere. Scientists are even speculating alien life without water.

We need to remember that the Bible doesn’t say that this is the only planet where God created life, so this is not a biblical issue. The latest attempts to expand the window of what life is has rejuvenated the need to show the design built into the development of life. Life on Earth is based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The National Science Foundation has just funded a three-year program at Saint Louis University to explore what building blocks might be used to make a different kind of life. The chemicals they are considering are hexane, ethers, and chloroform. There is particular interest in whether these materials can form membranes that could be considered life.

The first problem is the definition of life. Life has traditionally been defined as “that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli and reproduce.” An extraordinary chemistry is necessary to meet all of these criteria. Water is the basic substance of life on Earth. The water molecule is polar, meaning that one end of the molecule is negative and the other end is positive. Oxygen is the negative end. Oxygen’s bonding orbitals allow the attachment of two hydrogen atoms making that end positive. This polarity allows water to dissolve other molecules. Salt, for example, is made up of sodium which is positive and chlorine which is negative. When you put salt in water, the sodium is attracted to the oxygen end of the water molecule, and the chlorine is attracted to the hydrogen end of the molecule because unlike charges attract each other. This pulls the salt molecule apart and allows the salt to dissolve. Alien life without water seems impossible.

Hydrocarbons like methane have four hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atom symmetrically. That makes the molecule non-polar and unable to dissolve salt. Numerous experiments are underway to circumvent this problem including the use of vinyl cyanide (also called acrylonitrile) which has been found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. Coming up with a formula for alien life without water will be difficult. How a substitute for oxidation would work has not even been publicized, so respiration would be an equally great challenge.

Chris Butch, a chemist of the Earth Life Institute, says “It’s like trying to build a car in your backyard out of lawnmower parts, versus having the Maserati factory build a supercar.” As science looks for something that can be called life elsewhere in the solar system, we should be impressed with the wisdom involved in the original building of life on planet Earth.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy magazine, February 2019, page 29-35.

Williamson Pink Diamond and Apologetics

Williamson Pink Diamond and Apologetics
We sometimes hear traditionalists say that apologetics is an affront to faith. The idea is that you just have to believe and therefore trying to show evidence for God’s existence is misdirected. They insist that nowhere in the Bible is there an attempt to convince people that God is real. There is an interesting story about the discovery of the Williamson pink diamond that illustrates the role of looking at evidence to come to a valid conclusion.

First of all, we would question the assertion that the Bible does not attempt to convince people of God’s existence. Passages like Romans 1:19-23, Psalms 19:1-3, Psalms 139:14-18, and Proverbs 8 certainly make an apologetic argument. In using parables, Jesus called people to look at the creation around them to come to faith.

The Williamson pink diamond is the main feature of the royal brooch of Queen Elizabeth II. It forms the center of a flower with five white diamonds forming the petals. It was a 54.5-carat rough diamond which was cut to a 23.6 brilliant cut diamond.

John Williamson was a Canadian geologist. In 1947 he was driving his Land Rover on a muddy back-country road in what is today Tanzania when he got stuck in the mud. As Williamson was digging the Land Rover out of the mud, he noticed a pink rock that was typical of rocks that contain diamonds. Because of his geology training, he knew rocks and the formations of the area. He carefully extracted the rock and cleaned it up, realizing that it was a very large diamond. That is how he found the flawless pink diamond. At the time of his death from cancer in 1958, Williamson owned a diamond mine at that location and was one of the world’s wealthiest men.

Thousands of people had driven that road and probably saw the rock that contained the pink diamond. Williamson’s training enabled him to realize what the rock was and pushed him to look at it carefully. Being able to recognize evidence is essential. There are some of us who have come to faith through science.

The “Does God Exist?” ministry was started and has been maintained for over 50 years by men and women who recognize the scientific evidence for God’s existence and the credibility of the Bible. Like John Williamson who gave the Williamson pink diamond to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip upon their wedding in November of 1947, we wish to share the evidence that led us to faith. This ministry is a part of our attempt to share the valuable gem we have found through science.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun
Yesterday we discussed the question of what real creation is about. Our point was that the study of real creation involves the study of how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence. Those sciences are in the embryonic stage, but they point to there being a purpose that involves wisdom and contributes to our understanding of the nature of God. One important finding of the study of creation is the critical initial mass function of the Sun.

As we study the Sun, we see that much is unique about our star. It is not just an average star of the billions formed from the “big bang” and classified in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. As we watch stars forming today and, as we look at the composition of the galaxy we live in, much stands out in our understanding of the Sun. Our mathematics indicate that there is what we call a critical initial mass function of the Sun, or IMF for short. IMF is the mass needed for star formation to take place. When stars begin to form from the material in the creation, they must have enough mass to allow gravity to fuse hydrogen into helium. If that mass isn’t there, what you have is a brown dwarf. If the mass is .08 of the solar mass, a red dwarf will form.

There are roughly 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, and 300 billion of them are red dwarfs – also called M dwarfs because of their spectral identification. There are roughly 15,000 places in our Milky Way galaxy where we see stars forming, so we can watch the way in which the IMF functions. When our Sun was formed, an IMF had to be carefully chosen so that it would produce a spectral G type star. Other star types such as O, B or F types would be too hot, too active and have too short of a lifespan. The most numerous stars in our galaxy – the red dwarfs mentioned earlier – have similar difficulties with their activity including stellar flares and coronal mass ejections. None of these types of stars can be seen as possible solar systems where life could exist.

The critical initial mass function of the Sun seems to be fine-tuned for life to exist. While we may have believed that by faith for many years, we now have scientific evidence to support that belief.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy February 2019, page 21-27.

Real Creation and Science

Real Creation and the Big Bang
In virtually all areas of science, one thing is always true. That is when we answer one question, we find many others. No area demonstrates this better than the subject of real creation.

By real creation, we mean an understanding of how the cosmos came into being out of nothing. What we are not talking about is the processes of biological change which is known as evolution. Darwinian evolution is not an alternative to creation because it is an entirely different subject. Darwinian evolution studies changes in biological systems which have already been created. It has nothing to do with the processes involved in creating the physical universe including time, space, and matter/energy.

There is massive evidence that the cosmos began in a singularity–a point of incredible temperature and density. We call that the “big bang” understanding, but science has no idea what banged or who banged it. We can describe with mathematics what happened between 10^-35 and 10^-32 seconds after that event. But quantum mechanics agrees with the biblical account that it was not a physical process which can be explained by classical physics. We can use classical physics to describe what continued the formation of the cosmos as we see it today. However, that is still not real creation because it only deals with changes in what was already created.

Astronomy magazine published an excellent article by William Jones in their February 2019 issue, page 68. Dr. Jones, a professor at Princeton University, gave a summary of how cosmologists approach the question of real creation:

“The answer is the combination of a big extrapolation and even bigger assumption based on a solid hunch and the surety of our ignorance regarding what is really going on. The truth is, everything about the early universe is speculative, and that is precisely why we study it.”

Dr. Jones then goes on to explain what our current guesses are and what we base them on. For those of us with a scientific interest and background, this kind of study helps us comprehend the nature and power of God. We hope to learn more about the processes involved in preparing a place for us creatures created in God’s image to exist as we transition to the dimension where it all started.

In addition to helping us comprehend God’s nature, these studies help us see the wisdom of God and His planning. Proverbs 8:22-32 brings us to understand wisdom’s role in real creation. Tomorrow we will take a look at the intricacies of making a star and placing it so that life can exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Historical Integrity of the Bible and AOL News

Historical Integrity of the Bible - Tel Dan Stele
AOL News for January 5, 2019, carried a list of archaeological finds supporting the historical integrity of the Bible. Skeptics and atheists continually flood the media with claims of supposed contradictions between the Bible and historical evidence. A listing like this with pictures and descriptions is a refreshing change. Unfortunately, there is little documentation of the biblical references or which archaeological teams made the discoveries. The list on AOL News is as follows:

The bones of Mary Magdalene which are in the Church of Saint Maximin have been examined. Scientists confirmed that they do belong to a woman from the area where the Bible says Mary Magdalene lived and from the time she lived.

Solomon’s wall to protect Jerusalem has been found.

A ziggurat (tower) has been found at Etemenanki which is located in the former ancient city of Babylon matching the description of the Tower of Babel in the Bible.

A seal with Jezebel’s name and insignia has been found and dated to the 9th century BCE, so claims that she was a biblical myth do not stand.

The Tel Dan Stele has a reference to the “House of David” refuting atheist claims that David never existed.

The city of Nazareth was discovered in 2001 and matches the biblical description of where Jesus lived as a child.

The Pilate Stone was found in 1971 and his title of “Prefect of Judea” is written on the stone.

Herod’s tomb was discovered in 2007 with the details fitting Josephus’ description of the man who killed the Bethlehem babies described in the Bible.

A seal with Isaiah’s name has been discovered, so claims that he never existed have been debunked. (A seal of Hezekiah has also been discovered, but that is not mentioned in the AOL report.)

The tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was discovered in 1990.

We would like to make clear that this is an AOL production, not a report by an archaeological research group. However, we have seen most of these reports in Biblical Archaeology Review and Archaeology magazine which are both academic productions of professional archaeology groups. There is support for the historical integrity of the Bible.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Chocolate Flies at Work

Chocolate Flies at Work - Cacao Tree Flowers and Pod
Thank God for chocolate flies. No, we are not talking about chocolate-covered houseflies. That sounds repulsive to us too. We are talking about the tiny flies that are essential to the production of the chocolate we love.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which is native to the rainforests of South America. When early tribes in the Amazon and Orinoco River area discovered uses for the cacao tree, they started what became a chocolate craze that is still going on today. From there, interest in the trees and the tasty substance they produce spread to more of northern South America, into Central America, and into Mexico. The Aztecs even used cacao beans as money.

However, growing the cacao beans is not easy. The tiny white flowers that produce the beans require a small insect pollinator. The flowers grow out of the trunk of the tree where pollination by a bird or mammal would not be practical. Even bees or butterflies are too large. That’s where the chocolate flies come in. The pollinators that can do the job are tiny flies, or midges, in the family Ceratopogonidae. They are small enough to get into the flowers, and they are on the right work schedule. The cacao flowers open just before dawn—a time when the midges are most active. It seems like a planned arrangement. They are not really chocolate flies, but they are essential helpers for chocolate farmers.

As farmers began to grow cacao on plantations, the pollination process was not working well. Human pollination of the flowers by hand is a difficult job and not as effective as the work of the little flies. The midges were not doing the job because they prefer the shade of the rainforest over the open spaces of cacao plantations. Coincidentally cacao trees grow well in shady areas.

Farmers found a solution by planting small areas of cacao in the ecosystem of rainforest areas. Of course, that limits the areas where it can be grown and thus the amount of chocolate produced. However, the people of the world will not give up their desire for chocolate, and a fly the size of a pin-head makes it possible. This is just one more example of the importance of rainforests and the excellent design God has given this amazing planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Rest of the Story on Gene Editing

Rest of the Story on Gene Editing
Many years ago there was a well-known radio news personality named Paul Harvey. He made a career out of digging into details on stories that were not publicized by the media. He called the reporting “The Rest of the Story.” People close to Harvey said that he got some heat from media people who felt he had made them look bad by revealing details they missed. With the general public, however, he was very popular. We want to examine the rest of the story on gene editing.

There has been a great deal of media reporting about CRISPR-Cas9 which is a tool for editing DNA introduced in 2012. Researchers hope that science can treat a wide range of genetic diseases by altering human DNA. The problem is that our understanding in this area is very primitive. Bioethicists writing in the Wall Street Journal (December 15, 2018, page C3) report, “scientists have only begun to understand what the tens of thousands of individual genes do. Moreover, they are far from unraveling how those genes interact with each other.”

When researchers deleted a gene that limits muscle growth in rabbits, the rabbits had enlarged tongues. Doing the same thing with pigs produced additional vertebrae. In calves the change caused the calves to die prematurely. Lambs grew too large in the womb to be born naturally. Lisa Moses who is a bioethicist at Harvard says, “Humans have a long history of messing around in nature with all kinds of unintended consequences. It’s really hubris of us to assume that we know what we are doing and that we can predict what kinds of bad things can happen.”

There are lessons to learn here. CRISPR has the potential to correct damage to DNA caused by human carelessness, pollution, and mismanagement. The rest of the story on gene editing is still to be written. When a Chinese scientist claims to have produced the first gene-edited human babies, there has to be immediate condemnation by the scientific community. Over the years, outstanding scientists have pointed out that science lacks the capacity to determine the use of its discoveries.

We desperately need Christians who are capable scientists using their faith in God to determine those uses. Will CRISPR be used to eliminate genetic diseases, or will it be used by political demagogues to produce pathogens that kill millions of innocent people? The Nobel Peace Prize was started by a man who discovered dynamite and was appalled at the way it was being used to fight wars. That kind of sensitivity is needed in today’s genetic research to write the rest of the story on gene editing.

Another lesson in all of this is that the complexity of the genetic code of life cannot be the result of chance – a blind watchmaker as some have suggested. Wisdom calls out in Proverbs 8, “O you simple ones, understand wisdom … for wisdom is better than rubies; and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. I wisdom dwell with prudence and find out knowledge of witty inventions … The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old … Hear instruction and be wise and refuse it not.”
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Thinking Outside the Brain

Thinking Outside the Brain
Our bodies feed sensory information into the brain, sort of like a keyboard, mouse, or scanner feeds data into a computer. There is a school of psychology known as “embodied cognition” which suggests that not all of our thinking takes place in the brain. They suggest that we do some of our thinking outside the brain.

Those scientists say that the body helps the brain decide what to do with the data it receives. In one test, volunteers were directed to stand at the bottom of a hill and estimate how steep it was. The answers given correlated with the physical condition of the volunteers. Those who were not physically prepared to climb the hill estimated it to be steeper than it was. Those who were carrying a heavy backpack estimated the hill to be steeper than those who were not carrying a load. A physical challenge of any kind may look easy to a person who is physically ready for the challenge. To a person with disabilities, the same task looks much different.

The way we perceive the world is linked to our physical state. The idea of facing a new day is difficult for a person who is in pain. To a healthy person, the new day may be filled with exciting possibilities. A happy person may thank God for blessings. To a person who is discouraged or depressed the concept of a loving God may be hard to accept. Our bodies may be giving our brain a discouraging message.

Sometimes we need to be thinking outside the brain — even outside our bodies. We need to allow faith to tell us something more than our eyes can see and more than our bodies can feel. Another test by those investigating embodied cognition showed that looking upward influences people to think of others who are more powerful than they are. We suggest that looking up to God and putting faith in Him can change our perspective on the challenges of each day.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Making a Cake of Life

Making a Cake of Life
When I was a child, my mother used to “farm me out” to a family that lived in Brown County, Indiana. Their home was near Salt Creek where I could fish and hike to my heart’s content. Alice and Earl Page were my hosts, and they both loved to play jokes on me. One of them involved making a cake.

One rainy day I sat in the kitchen and watched Alice make a cake, although she didn’t tell me what she was making. She took a block of chocolate and asked me if I wanted a bite. Naturally, I did, but it was bitter chocolate, and I quickly spat it out. She opened a bottle of vanilla she was using and had me smell it. It was Hoosier vanilla, not the Mexican kind we have today. When I tasted the “Hoosier vanilla,” I could hardly believe something that smelled that good could taste that bad. The next ingredient was a spoon full of lard, which Alice even got me to taste. Then she handed me a paper towel to get it out of my mouth.

Alice put all of these things along with lemon juice, baking powder, etc., into a bowl and asked me to stir it up. “We’re having this for supper,” she announced. I started thinking about a way to eat somewhere else. You know that when supper rolled around, there was this wonderful fragrance floating through the kitchen. I found that it was a real treat to eat all those horrible ingredients when baked together.

Do you realize that your life is like making a cake? Your cake of life is made up of a lot of ingredients that in and of themselves are very distasteful. Look at the Apostle Paul for a minute. In Acts 22:3-21 Paul reveals his ingredients for making a cake. He was born a Jew in Tarsus and educated at the feet of Gamaliel. He became a primary persecutor of Christians (Galatians 1:11-24) making havoc of the Church (Acts 8:3). Paul had a religious experience that was traumatic in Acts 9, and he spent three years in exile in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). His ministry began in Acts 13 with years of violence, abuse, imprisonment, conflict, and trouble. It finally ended in 2 Timothy 4:6 at the end of his life.

What ingredients are making a cake in your life? They haven’t all had a good taste, have they? All of us have had rejection, failure, disappointments, sickness, the death of loved ones, and frustrations with human beings. Included in making a cake of your life has been sin, neglect, faithlessness, and failure; but Christ enables us to go through a fantastic change to newness. Romans 6 talks about baptism allowing us to die to sin and live a new life. Paul writes, “…being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have the ability to bear fruit to holiness and at the end, everlasting life. The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God (the cake that life has baked) is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:22, 33).

As we start a New Year, let us begin a new life that radiates a change that blesses others. Look at your past as ingredients that have allowed you to leave a good taste in the eyes of God and man.
–John N. Clayton © 2019