Many years ago, we had an article in our printed periodical titled, “When Does Ph.D. mean Post Hole Digger.” The point of the article was that being well informed in one field does not make you an expert in all fields. Famous Ph.D. scientists can make serious mistakes when speaking or writing outside of their areas of expertise.
Science writers Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov wrote articles and books against Christianity and the Bible. Their training and knowledge in science were excellent, but their theology was very limited and, therefore, full of errors. In today’s world, we see well-known atheists like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writing books and making speeches about God. His understanding of what God is and what the Bible actually says is full of errors. If he were not famous for his scientific knowledge in biology, his theological discussions would not get any coverage in the media.
In the May/June 2020 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, the cover article is titled “The Nobel Disease – When Intelligence Fails to Protect Against Irrationality.” The article points out that even a Nobel Prize winner is not an expert in all fields. As a result, they have presented some very destructive teachings and beliefs. The discoverer of the transistor was William Shockley, who received a Nobel Prize in 1956. Shockley maintained that blacks were genetically inferior to whites and should be paid to volunteer to be sterilized. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, received a Nobel prize in 1962. Watson maintained that blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites and that exposure to sunlight increases sexual urges.
Many Nobel Prize winners promoted ideas and procedures that were not only incorrect but were sometimes dangerous. Our point here is that it is not valid to use an expert in one area to prove something in an area outside of their field. We are not merely talking about personal belief systems but scientific concepts and principles that control what people do and influence national political policy. A Ph.D. In science in an area of science does not make one an expert in all fields.
Many Nobel Prize winners are believers in God. We have a column in our quarterly journal titled “Scientists and God” which quotes many of those famous believing scientists. The purpose of that column is to show that being a scientist does not preclude personal faith in God. The aim is not to scientifically prove anything or to promote any action or political policy. We simply want young people to know that a good scientist doesn’t have to be an atheist.
It was bound to happen. With the legalization of medical marijuana and substances made from marijuana, people are making claims about what cannabis can cure. It goes beyond simple aches and pains to include every ailment and life-threatening disease. We must beware of medical miracle cure claims.
Religious figures have promoted miracle oils from God that they claim to have special powers to cure things that the medical establishment deems hopeless. In our January 12 post, we talked about witches and the problems with the translation of biblical words. What your translation of the Bible may call witches or witchcraft were actually people who claimed to have magic, miraculous cures for every ailment possible. In Acts 8:9-11, we read about a man named Simon, who had quite a business going with this type of activity, and there are examples in the Old Testament.
It is a wonderful thing if some natural substance or diet can help a person with their ailments. There is certainly no problem with people making a business out of selling these products but beware of hyper-sensationalized claims of miracle cures.
As I write this, I have a family member who is dying of cancer.Hospice is caring for him, and he has only a few more days to live. What started as prostate cancer has gone to bone cancer and a massive brain tumor. When the bone cancer was detected, the family member was taken to a marijuana clinic where he was placed on a treatment of marijuana compounds and a strict diet endorsed by some religious leaders. This treatment went on for many weeks.
Standard medical treatment did not have a cure for the bone cancer, but it could be controlled, and the life expectancy would be for many years. My family member was told that marijuana treatment could eradicate the bone cancer. There were even a few “testimonies” given by people who claimed they had been cured. Eventually, it became evident that the cancer was growing, not shrinking, and by the time they stopped the marijuana treatment, a baseball-sized tumor had developed in the brain. Because the marijuana treatments had replaced standard medical procedures, there was nothing that could be done.
We should examine medical miracle cure claims of any kind with skepticism. We are not talking about cosmetic issues or supplements for simple aches and pains. We are talking about major issues like cancer, mental disorders, and diabetes. God warned ancient Israel about miraculous enchantments and potions, and we must heed that warning today (Galatians 5:20).
People have paid much attention to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere because they play a significant role in global warming. The main culprit in the greenhouse gas list is carbon dioxide. Not only do we exhale this gas, but fires of all kinds produce it. With the recent major fires in Australia, there is even more concern about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But God has given the Earth some tools to counteract greenhouse gases.
The most efficient tool built into the Earth is a microscopic plant called a diatom. There are 12,000 species of diatoms in Earth’s lakes and oceans. Unlike phytoplankton, diatoms are encased in porous, intricately structured silica shells. Examined under a microscope, these silica shells are beautiful, and they are very resistant to change in shape. That means that the spaces between the shells can collect particulate material. So diatoms are used as filtering agents to filter water for swimming pools and as fillers for aerating soils in yards. The shells are used as diatomaceous earth, which is familiar to most of us, especially those who raise roses or tomatoes.
Diatoms can also absorb gases. In the oceans, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up in the ocean’s depths. Diatoms capture as much carbon dioxide as all the trees, grasses, and other land plants combined. The fancy latticework of the diatom is not just for humans to admire. Because of the twists and turns of their shells, the surface area of diatoms is much greater than that of smooth shells. The increased surface area maximizes photosynthesis and allows the diatoms greater energy for growth and reproduction.
The life expectancy of a diatom is about six days. Because the silicon is heavy, the diatom at death sinks to the ocean floor or lake, taking carbon with it. One solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide is to catalyze the growth of diatoms. Iron nutrients can do that, and seeding the oceans with iron might be a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Diatoms are one more example of the design built into Earth’s structure to allow the planet to exist over the long haul. While diatoms are not apparent to the human eye, they are tools to counteract greenhouse gases and a possible solution to a modern problem.
There are animals designed to fill every ecological niche, and they are often specialized for a local ecosystem. Many flightless birds have a unique ability to fill a specialized niche. Penguins and ostriches are examples of that. New Zealand kiwis are an especially odd example of birds designed for a unique environment.
These flightless, nocturnal birds fill a niche in the New Zealand forests. They are about the size of a chicken, and they eat worms, insects, and berries. Kiwi feathers resemble the rough fur of some mammals rather than bird feathers. The feathers shed dirt efficiently, which is good since they live in dug-out burrows underground. Kiwis get their name from their vocalizations, which sound like “keee weee.”
Kiwis have no keel on their sternum and no tail, so they can’t fly. They do have muscular legs with four toes. (Most flightless birds in the ratite group have two or three.) They have thick, tough skin and heavy, dense bones. (Most birds have hollow bones for flying.) They have a low body temperature for a bird. Their bills have nostrils at the tip, giving them an acute sense of smell. By eating worms, grubs, and insects, kiwis maintain the ecological balance needed in the forest. New Zealand kiwis had no predators until humans introduced dogs and cats to the country.
Kiwi eggs are designed differently from other bird eggs. They are huge, being equal to 20% of the mother’s weight. It would be like a human mother having a baby one-fifth of her weight. The eggs have twice as much yolk as other bird eggs, and they contain antibacterial and antifungal materials needed for living in underground burrows. The male sits on the egg until the chick kicks its way out since kiwi chicks have no egg tooth to break the shell. The parents do not feed the chick, which lives on the extra yoke until it can follow the male outside to get worms and insects.
God’s design is different in each ecosystem, but there are always creatures that provide balance. When humans upset that balance, the result can be a disaster. New Zealand kiwis are an example of unique specialization to support the forests of that unique country. To the people of New Zealand, they are a treasure.
Japan has been a world leader in the development and implementation of high-speed trains. More than 10 billion Japanese passengers are transported by rail each year, and those trains keep the population highly mobile. However, biomimicry solves a high-speed train problem.
One of the major difficulties with the high-speed rail system was that the trains had a bullet-shaped nose. That design compressed the air creating a severe shock wave every time the train went through a tunnel. This “sonic boom” was especially bad in cities, and because Japan is densely populated, the sonic shock waves were a real problem.
The chief engineer for the West Japan Railway Company named Eiji Nakatsu also happened to have birding as a hobby. He was trying to solve the sonic boom issue when he saw a kingfisher dive into the water from a high elevation without even making a splash. He was also aware that owl feathers have the unique ability to absorb sound so an owl can dive quietly on its prey.
Nakatsu and his fellow engineers took the examples that birds offered and built the front of their trains with the equivalent of a kingfisher bill. They also installed a quieter pantograph design based on owl’s wings. (The pantograph is the device mounted on top of an electric train to collect the power from an overhead cable.) in 1997, trains using those designs went into service, and the tunnel problem and noise issue were resolved.
It is called biomimicry when human designers copy something they see in nature to solve a technical problem. There are many examples of biomimicry from velcro to binding straps. God thought of it first, and humans have merely learned to copy God’s design. That’s how biomimicry solves a high-speed train problem.
The Barna Research Group is a research agency that has been doing statistical analysis of religion since 1984. Their studies are widely recognized as academically valid. One useful part of Barna’s work is that they repeat studies to identify trends. Research this year indicates a decline in practicing Christians in America.
Barna defines a practicing Christian as: “Someone who identifies as a Christian, agrees strongly that faith is very important in their life, and has attended church within the past month.” In the year 2000, 45% of Americans surveyed identified themselves as Christians using that criterion. In February of 2020, that percentage had dropped to 25%. This research was based on interviews with 96,171 adults.
When you think about the numbers associated with the Barna definition, it is evident that the word “practicing” is the weasel word. Many people who claim to be Christians have not made a practice of attending Church services. At the same time, they would probably be upset to be called “non-practicing Christians.” However, the truth is that Barna used the same set of questions in 2000 and 2020. There can be no doubt that there has been a sharp decline in practicing Christians in America.
It may be that the coronavirus pandemic will pull some of us away from making a god out of our material possessions. But unless we replace our zeal for things with enthusiasm for the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will continue to be poorly equipped either for this life or for eternity.
We all understand why birds of the Northern Hemisphere fly south in the fall. When the temperatures drop in Michigan, and the lakes are covered with ice, most birds have found a warmer place in the south. Michigan has many so-called “snowbirds” in the human population who leave us in November to go to Florida’s sunny shores. They come back in the spring to enjoy Michigan summers and because they have family here. The question is, why do birds fly north in spring? Couldn’t they save a lot of trouble by just staying in the south all year?
The answer to that question is food. The fact is that tropical areas simply don’t have enough insects to provide the protein that birds need to feed their chicks. When birds are in the south, they survive by eating berries, fruits, and nectar. None of those foods provide much protein. The time when birds return to the north coincides with the explosion of insects in the spring. They can enjoy less competition and longer days while dining on insects in the north.
The question remains as to how the birds know this? How do they know that they can benefit by traveling hundreds or thousands of miles in the spring? Why do the birds have the urge to fly north at the time that benefits them as well as the ecological systems they help to support? In other words, why do birds fly north in spring? The answer is that it’s built into their genes.
God’s view of Earth and the systems that make it work is far greater than ours. We are beginning to understand how many things, such as bird migration, must happen for the system of life to exist. It also speaks to us about how important it is that we take care of what God has given us.
There are all kinds of evidence that we are in a period of global warming. Many of the examples don’t have so much to do with temperature as with heat. Glaciers, for instance, stay pretty much at the same temperature under the surface. But ice requires 80 calories of heat per gram to melt, without changing the temperature. You can see that when you put ice cubes in your tea. You can also see the effect of global warming on Michigan fruit trees.
We live in an area rich in fruit-growing with apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, and blueberries being major cash crops. My friends who make their living with Michigan fruit trees are very upset with the current weather cycle because it has not been cold enough. Fruit trees require time and temperature to know when to blossom and when not to. They do this by a sophisticated design system. Most fruit trees need a minimum of 250 hours of temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 10 degrees Celsius), and some require up to 1000 hours. Temperatures below freezing don’t count. The “chilling hours” are sensed by the buds on the trees, not the roots. The wisdom in this system is obvious. Michigan winters usually have many days when the temperature goes below 10 degrees C, but there are also those rare days when the temperature gets very warm. This past winter, we had fewer than normal hours in the required temperature range. The buds have not gotten enough chilling to tell them to open. If they didn’t have the built-in time requirement, you can understand what would happen. The first time the temperature dipped below 10 degrees followed by a warm day, the buds would open and blossom only to be killed by the next cold snap.
Trees that are native in southern latitudes don’t bear fruit well when they are moved north. God has suited plants to different climates as well as other environmental factors. Orchards are found near bodies of water for several reasons. One of them is the tempering effect the water has on the air temperature. The presence of Lake Michigan provides a heat sink for our Michigan fruit trees that is as important as the moisture itself. The Psalmist seems to have had some idea of this when he compares a righteous person to a tree: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked … He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (Psalms 1:1-3).
My fruit-growing friends have learned to understand and work with God’s design for their trees, but sometimes weather anomalies can frustrate their best efforts.
We are all aware of the destructive nature of the pandemic we are enduring. There is no question about how the virus is impacting families and the economy of the country. At the same time, some positive things are happening because of Christian witness during the pandemic.
There is a story circulated by SAT-7, an interdenominational Christian television center in the Middle East, which demonstrates how the coronavirus is being beneficial. A man in Iran called the television station and said that the people talking on the station were not like the ones that dominated his country. He said he couldn’t believe that they weren’t violent but had a joy and peace about them which he found attractive. He didn’t have a clue as to who Jesus is. However, he knew that what Jesus was saying was better than the violence, terror, and killing that were a part of the religion that dominates his part of the world. He wanted to know where Jesus lived so he could visit Him.
A week later, this man called again, but this time he had 25 young men crammed into a tiny apartment, and all of them wanted to hear about Jesus. Secret house churches are blossoming all over the Middle East. The coronavirus allows Christians to show compassion and bring help and necessary medications to people who are suffering. Similar stories are coming from Afghanistan.
In America, the coronavirus is showing the huge contrast between atheist beliefs and what Christianity offers. Survival of the fittest as a guide to life doesn’t work well with a pandemic. Isolation and competing for medicine and medical care are not attractive lifestyles for most people. Christians who are first responders talk about the dominance of believers in their efforts. The idea of serving others and saving lives even at personal risk to themselves is the exact opposite of atheistic belief systems.
The coronavirus is not God’s retribution for human sin, but, “All things work to the good of those who love the Lord” (Romans 8:28). Christian witness during the pandemic brings a shining light in a culture that suddenly finds itself unable to manage. In this crisis, atheism offers no hope except perhaps personally, selfishly surviving the plague in whatever way possible. True atheism has no thought of helping others or being confident about the future, even if this life comes to an end. The contrast is a great apologetic for Christianity.
Many passages in the Bible seem to be of little significance, yet they are incredibly important. Here is one of them about the water cycle.
“All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” Ecclesiastes 1:7.
It is believed that Solomon wrote those words in 977 BC. What did people understand about the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle, at that time? The answer, of course, is “very little.” Meteorologist Dr. Joseph Scott Greeson says about this passage, “Without using modern words – like ‘evaporation,’ ‘condensation,’ and ‘precipitation,’ this passage describes the results of those processes in these words… My twentieth-century scientific mind recognized that the writer of that passage must have had quite an understanding of the interaction between water on earth and water in the sky.”
There is a delicate balance of processes in the hydrologic cycle that allow us to have water even far from a lake or ocean. Many years ago, I had a friend who was involved in seeding clouds with silver iodide to stimulate them to produce rain. I knew that he was involved in this project and that he had many stories about how the seeding of clouds worked. I also knew he got out of that business, and I asked him why? His response was, “We were doing okay in getting rain started, but we were doing very poorly in knowing how to stop it.”
Global warming is bringing water to places that previously were deserts. We know that temperature controls how much water is lifted into the air by evaporation. A one-inch rainfall over a square mile of land involves the lifting of 72,483.84 tons of water. (Do the math. Water is 62.4 lbs per cubic foot. An inch is 1/12th of a foot, so the volume of water in a square mile of land would be 5280 feet/mile x 5280 x 1/12th or 2,323,200 cubic feet.) How many square miles of land receive an inch of rain in a typical spring storm? This is the start of the water cycle.
As the water flows into streams and rivers, it nourishes everything in its path, ultimately returning to the sea from which it evaporated. The system that powers the hydrologic cycle is massive, and all of life depends on it. God used the water cycle to impress upon Job that he “darkens counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). After talking about the creation, God takes the hydrologic cycle as the first evidence of His knowledge, design, and power. “Who provides a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the storm to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass. Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew…” (See verses 22-30).
Be thankful for the rain that brings life to us and for the water cycle that God designed so that, if properly managed, we all have enough to drink and to grow our food.