What Are Viruses and What Is their Purpose?

What Are Viruses and What Is their Purpose?

It is self-evident that we are all impacted by something called a “virus.” What are viruses, and what is their purpose?

The first clue about viruses was in 1898 when scientists discovered that the cause of foot and mouth disease in livestock was something smaller than any bacteria. Because viruses are about 100 times smaller than bacteria, they could not be detected until electron microscopes were developed in 1931. Since viruses were too small to be filtered out, scientists initially thought they were liquids. They were given the name “virus” which comes from the Latin word for poison.

Later, scientists discovered that a virus is a protein (DNA or RNA) molecule enclosed in a capsid covered by a protective layer of fat, or lipids. The virus in and of itself is inert and unable to reproduce. So what is their purpose? When they come in contact with living cells, they insert their genetic material into the host, so the cell now produces viral protein. This may produce harmful and life-threatening results. Among the illnesses generated by viruses are the common cold, influenza, smallpox, chickenpox, herpes, shingles, AIDS, polio, rabies, Ebola, and others.

If the protein is beneficial, the virus can produce a useful evolutionary change. In that way, viruses are tools to create new genetic products. In today’s world of genetic engineering, the process is called transduction. We have pointed out before that many times good things come from evolutionary change. God designed living things with the ability to change and adapt. Scientists use viruses as tools to affect desired genetic changes in agricultural products to produce high protein corn, for example. Some viruses attack bacteria, and they are called bacteriophages. As bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics, scientists are interested in using bacteriophages as a defense against harmful bacteria.

If they are not living things, then what are viruses? They are sometimes called “organisms on the edge of life.” They are not fully living on their own, but they possess some characteristics of living things. Viruses are very fragile because the only thing protecting them is a thin layer of fat, known as lipids. If the fat is dissolved, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own. That is why any soap or detergent will destroy a virus, and why washing your hands with soap and warm water is essential. Heat melts fat, so water above 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees F) for washing clothes, dishes, or hands will destroy viruses. Any solution which is more than 60% alcohol will dissolve fat and destroy the virus, as will bleach in a 1 to 5 ratio to water. Antibiotics or bactericides do not affect a virus because they only work on living tissue. Antibiotics cannot kill what is not alive.

The problem with viruses is that when they are transferred from animals into humans, or even different animals, they can be destructive. Scientists believe that the current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is active in bats where it causes no problems. When the virus jumped into humans, the result was destructive.

Then, what is their purpose? Viruses can be useful tools in their proper place. They are part of the way life continues to exist on a changing Earth. Mismanagement of animals and food can cause a virus to become an enemy of humans. We have a repeat of the Frankenstein phenomenon when a potentially useful concept turns into a monster because of misuse.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from: Berkeley.edu and wikipedia.org

Holding “Church” Services in a Pandemic

Holding “Church” Services in a Pandemic

Ignorance can kill. That statement is so true that it doesn’t need any examples. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, some feel that their church is exempt from the medical facts. The “50 States” section of USA Today (Thursday, April 2) carried a report of Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana. He is holding “church” services despite government orders not to. Spell maintains that continuing to conduct services is “not any different from keeping the doors of Walmart or a hospital open.”

The first point we need to make is that the Church is not the building where Spell preaches. The Church is people, not a location. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” In Colossians 4:15, Paul sends a greeting to “Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” The first-century Church did not have a building or a single person who was dominant over everyone else.

The second point is that comparing the Church to Walmart or a hospital is a very ignorant thing to say. While all three are essential to human existence, two of them relate only to a part of our physical needs. You need Walmart or other stores only to get food or other physical essentials. You need a hospital only if you are physically very ill. You need the Church 24/7 for your emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social well-being.

In going to Walmart or the hospital, you rely on humans who are prone to make mistakes. When you “go to church” you are relying on God and His Word, which are always available, and are infallible. Once again, the Church is not a building and not dependent on a single human. The Church is people praying, singing, studying God’s Word, and serving others (See Acts 2:44-47). Holding “church” services by meeting together in one place is very good. But, when necessary, we can still do all of those things without physical closeness.

The third point is that bringing people into a dangerous situation contradicts God’s nature and His teaching. In Acts 12, we read about an angel releasing Peter from prison. The Christians were not exposing themselves to arrest but were secretly gathered in a home praying. Jesus frequently passed out of a situation that was dangerous to Him and others. He never exposed people to a dangerous situation, and His teaching was to avoid evil not to flaunt His power over it. When He rescued a woman from being stoned to death, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:11).

I would not impugn Spell’s motivation for putting his congregation in harm’s way, but that is not what the Christian community is called to do. Holding “church” services is not as important as being the Church.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Army Chaplains from Overseas

Army Chaplains from Overseas

A recent article in Christianity Today (April 2020, page 19-20) said that roughly 1/5th of today’s Army Chaplains were born outside of the United States. One example is Army chaplain Sebastian Kim who was born to Korean parents in Argentina and then moved to Brazil at the age of 7. This makes us ask why such a high percentage of Army chaplains were not born in the United States?

Raja Kandanada, who was born in India, now works at the Pentagon as a family-life chaplain. He says that although he was born in India, he was born again in the United States. Although he experienced discrimination in India because of the caste system there, he has come to understand the meaning of God’s love in America and the debt he owes to his adopted country.

As America veers away from belief in God, those who have lived elsewhere see the effect of faith in this country, and they want to be a part of it. Today’s military is not made up of people who were drafted. Today’s soldiers are people who see the value of being Americans and want to serve others and serve God. Cornelius Muasa, an Army chaplain from Kenya, says, “My job as a chaplain is to empower those who fight evil.”

These Army chaplains stand out and fit the description in Philippians 2:14-16, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world holding forth the word of life…”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize

Alan Guth and the Kavli Prize on the Nature of the Cosmos

The evidence is massive that there was a beginning to the cosmos. The cosmological argument for God’s existence is that there had to be a cause of that beginning and that the nature of the cause was an intelligence. The phrase “big bang” was invented to describe the beginning, but the big bang theory never tried to answer the question of what banged and who banged it. The April 2020 issue of Scientific American (pages 4-7) carried an article about the work of Alan Guth, who received the Kavli Prize in astrophysics in 2014. The main objective of the Kavli Prize is to honor, support, and recognize scientists for outstanding scientific work in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

Alan Guth’s work has been to develop the theory of cosmic inflation to show that the universe is eternal and had no beginning. The chief problem with any suggestion that the universe is eternal is something called entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Whenever energy is expended in any way, disorder is introduced to the system. Unless organizing energy is applied externally on the system, the disorder will grow until there is no available energy left. We call that “heat death.”

A simple example might demonstrate this. If you took a bottle of hydrogen into a room that was completely isolated from the outside and opened the container, the hydrogen would escape and spread throughout the room. If you now wanted to get the hydrogen back into the bottle, could you get every atom back? The answer is “no,” because some of the hydrogen would have morphed into something else. Protons have a half-life, and other changes could take place. The measure of what couldn’t be put back in the bottle is called entropy.

Guth gets around the need for a beginning by saying that there is no difference between the present and the past. Using black holes, dark matter, and probabilities, he proposes a model that avoids a beginning. Alan Guth received the Kavli Prize because of his imaginative, creative thinking. The fundamental problem with Guth’s proposal is that it is not testable. No experiment can be done, and no evidence can be examined to test his theory. It is not falsifiable, and thus it really does not qualify as science. Guth is a brilliant scientist speculating on what he calls “a backward world where the past is the future and where infinite parallel pocket universes pop into existence without cause.”

While Guth’s work is interesting, it is of no apologetic significance. If God has created many pocket universes, they are so isolated from us that they do not impact our lives. Guth relies on probabilities to make many steps in his theory. When we apply probabilities to what we see in the world around us, the strong suggestion is that an intelligence has been at work to produce the cosmos.

In addition to the design we see in creation, our spiritual makeup and our creativity are not connected directly to how we got to this point in time and space. Quantum theory is based on probability, and the article ends by saying, “We had better know what they (the probabilities) mean.” We would suggest they mean, “In the beginning (of our cosmos) God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Waxworms, Common Pests that Eat Plastic

Waxworms, Common Pests that Eat Plastic

What appears to be a pest may become a solution to a problem. A recent example of that is waxworms, common pests that eat plastic.

Waxworms got their name because they eat the wax in honeycombs. That makes them enemies of bees and a curse for the honey industry and for bee growers that use bees for pollination. Studies of waxworms have shown that microbiota in their gut breaks down the beeswax and provides nutrition for the waxworms.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B published the report of a study indicating that waxworms can also eat plastic. Specifically, they can eat polyethylene, which is a non-biodegradable plastic. They metabolize polyethylene into glycol, which is biodegradable. Polyethylene makes up a vast percentage of the 300 million tons of plastic waste generated every year.

Scientists are researching ways to harness waxworms, so they eat the waste without also destroying bees. This study shows that there are natural solutions to one of the biggest waste problems in the world today.

God, in His wisdom, gave us a wide variety of plants and animals that feed on a wide range of foods. That fact not only allows the natural world to exist, but it provides enormous benefits to human society. We need to understand more about what God has done, and science is a useful tool to do that. It was science that told us about waxworms, common pests that eat plastic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

AA and CASA Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse

AA and CASA Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse

The Week magazine (April 3, 2020, page 20) published an article about various studies done on the success stories of substance abuse. Researchers studied 10,565 individuals who were being treated for alcohol abuse. They found that Alcoholics Anonymous was “the most effective tool to help people with alcohol addiction achieve sobriety.” We commend the work of AA and CASA.

From a Christian perspective, the CASA program has had great success in helping people with substance abuse issues. NewLife Behavior Ministries of Corpus Christi, Texas, has a course called Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA). Buck Griffith has been the leading promoter of this work, and we got involved through our prison work. We have over 4000 students in our “Does God Exist?” courses, and 95% of them are people who are incarcerated.

One of the central tenants of AA is “to learn to look to a higher power.” Many of the people in our correspondence course program have been victims of substance abuse, and most of them have some history of alcohol abuse. Learning to look to a higher power involves having faith in that higher power. Our courses on how we can know there is a God have been useful to many going through the AA and CASA programs.

Studies have shown that AA and CASA have been 60% more effective than alternatives, and that has brought national attention. The Week quotes Dr. John Kelly from Harvard Medical School as saying, “From a public health standpoint, this is good news. It means that we’ve got a freebie out there that works.”

For prisoners or anyone else, we offer a basic course and a college-level course free upon request. Check our website, doesgodexist.org, or contact jncdge@aol.com. Our mailing address is 1555 Echo Valley Drive, Niles, MI 49120. You can also contact NewLife Behavior Ministries and CASA at nlbcasa@yahoo.com or PO Box 270720, Corpus Christi, TX 78427-0720.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Water World – Genesis 1:2 Evidence?

Water World - Genesis 1:2 Evidence?

“AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD MOVED UPON THE FACE OF THE WATERS.” – Genesis 1:2
The second verse of Genesis describes a water world, and science indicates the accuracy of the biblical account.

As we have pointed out previously, the first two verses of Genesis 1 describe God’s activity before the creation week begins. These verses are historical and are not a summary of what is to follow. Verse 1 describes the creation of time, space, matter/energy, and the cosmos. Verse 2 describes changes on the Earth that God is making through His Spirit. These verses are undated and untimed, but they are not stated as a summary. As we read about the creation week, we see the creation of land plants and animals that were familiar to the people of Moses’ day. By that time, we have a functional Earth that has all that is necessary to support life.

So what was the Spirit of God doing in verse 2? Science is telling us more about this water world. Recent scientific studies of the marine sediment in the Western Australian outback suggest that biological life was created in a water environment before any landforms came into existence. The studies use oxygen 18 and 16 isotopes to determine the availability of life-supporting oxygen. Land sediments from the early Earth don’t show available oxygen while these marine sediments do.

Dr. Benjamin Johnson of Iowa State University says the data shows that “the Earth was a water world for the first quarter or so of its history.” That agrees well with the suggestion of Genesis 1:2 and is just one more hint of the accuracy of the Genesis account.

For more on this please read “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” available (free) on doesgodexist.org at THIS LINK. You can also purchase printed copies HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Joshua Bote’s column in USA Today 3/20.

Why Did God Create the Coronavirus?

Why Did God Create the Coronavirus?

Why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? The short answer is that He didn’t.

That question of disease applies to every human ailment caused by a virus, be it malaria, a common cold, or one of the SARS viruses. A virus is a microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium, and that cannot grow or reproduce apart from a living cell. A virus invades living cells and uses their chemical machinery to survive and replicate. Viruses are not all harmful. They exist in the body to help cells change and adjust to allow reproduction, digestion, and respiration. The problem is that viruses, like everything else, can be mutated by external forces – radiation, pollution, etc.

Built into our bodies is an immune system designed to help reject destructive viruses. This system uses antibodies that attack the proteins in the virus and stop it from reproducing. The problem comes when a virus the body doesn’t recognize as an intruder can multiply and crowd out the normal function of cells. What causes the body not to detect and eliminate a virus? The immune system may not recognize a virus that is different because it has mutated. That usually happens when the virus was in an animal where it caused no problems because the animal’s immune system recognized and controlled it. The problem occurs when the animal passes the virus to a human. In the case of the Marburg virus and the Ebola virus, the source appears to have been bats. In the case of HIV, the virus was from chimpanzees.

The use of chemicals to fight insects has been a source of many changes in the insect population. Bats eat insects, and the chemicals cause changes in the viruses in the bats. In the current coronavirus outbreak, human interactions with bats for food apparently brought the virus into the human population. The results have been disastrous.

So why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? My preacher friends will simply say that Satan created the virus. Without getting into the theological difficulties with that explanation, how would Satan have done it? The point to remember is that God did not do it.

In theory, at least, the cure for virus problems is simple. Find a way to help the body produce antibodies that can recognize and attack the invading virus. We can do this, but the process is complex and will take time. We can do it because we have some understanding of God’s design of the human body and the immune system. Meanwhile, we need to avoid pathways for the virus to get from person to person. Washing our hands, social distancing, being careful about what we eat, and how we prepare our food are the best defense strategies for now.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News March 14, 2020, pages 6-7.

Four-Eyed Fish – Anableps

Four-Eyed Fish - Anableps

Throughout the natural world, we see special design features that allow animals to survive in environments that place unique demands. Chameleons have an eye-brain connection that enables the eyes to rotate independently of one another or work together when needed. Chameleons use their tongues to catch insects, but to capture their food, both eyes must work together to overcome depth perception issues. At the same time, chameleons are very vulnerable to predators, so their eyes must rotate independently to look in several directions at once. We find another example of unusual eyes in the genus of four-eyed fish, Anableps.

Anableps live in northern South America and Trinidad, where they swim in the surface waters of lakes and rivers. Near the surface, they are easy prey for birds, so they need to see above and below the water simultaneously. They appear to have four eyes, two above the water surface, and two below the surface. In reality, they are not separate eyes. The eyes are divided into two sections, separated by a band of tissue.

Each section of the Anableps eyes has two corneas, two pupils, a single egg-shaped lens, and one retina that is also divided. The portion of the eyes located above the water connects to a different section of the fish’s brain than the area below the waterline. These four-eyed fish are ideally suited to fill an ecological niche that no other fish can.

You might think that all fish could use this design, but every ecological niche has animals designed to inhabit and maintain that location. Anableps are unique, and that makes them popular aquarium fish. More importantly, this unique design speaks of God’s imaginative creativity in providing full use of every resource on planet Earth with creatures like the four-eyed fish, Anableps.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fake Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

Fake Dead Sea Scroll Fragments at the Museum of the Bible
Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

One of the more trusted sources of science and history is the National Geographic Society. Their popular magazine, books, and TV programs have been used to promote particular viewpoints, and sometimes they have been deceived. Many of our older readers will remember a cover story in the magazine about a Chinese fossil that the magazine ran as proof of a particular evolutionary theory. It later turned out to have been constructed by local people as a means of selling claimed fossils. Now there is an issue with fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

The Museum of the Bible collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which the National Geographic has used extensively, are fakes. They consist of 16 fragments claimed to be from authentic Dead Sea Scrolls. The forgers used old pieces of leather, and after writing on them, they treated the documents, so they looked ancient. The museum released a report by Colette Loll on March 13, 2020, explaining that microscopic analysis of the fragments showed cracks in the leather filled with pools of the ink. That means the leather had cracked after a long period of time, and the ink ran into the cracks in modern times. Other evidence also showed that these were fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

The message for all of us is to realize that any scientific claim based on historical objects needs careful study. Claims of antiquity should be read with a skeptical eye to the evidence. There is a lot of money involved in ancient artifacts, documents, and writings. Since National Geographic has such acceptance and worldwide circulation, they are particularly vulnerable to forgery attempts.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Source: Biblical Archeology Society 3/16/20.