One of the most interesting questions about creation is how elements are produced. Simply saying that “God did it” is not the answer. The question we are asking is HOW God did it. A particular challenge to science has been the heavy element mystery.
We understand and can duplicate the production of light elements by the process of nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei can be fused to produce helium, and we see this process as it takes place in the Sun. We can duplicate the process in the hydrogen bomb. As we study the stars, we see other elements produced in stellar processes. When supernova 1987A exploded, scientists saw neon being produced, which is far beyond anything we can do. In theory, the first 26 elements in the periodic chart could be produced by what we see happening in stars.
The heavy element mystery is how elements heavier than iron are produced. For example, how do you make gold? The old alchemists tried in vain to make it by reactions in the laboratory, but we have not seen it being produced even in supernovas. The number of protons present in gold is over three times the number of protons in iron. The amount of energy required to make an atom of gold by nuclear fusion is beyond our comprehension.
In 2017, scientists observed two neutron stars colliding and producing elements heavier than iron. But what would it take to produce uranium with 92 protons and a weight 238 times heavier than hydrogen? That remains a real heavy element mystery. We are not suggesting a “god of the gaps” explanation. In the distant future, science may find an answer, but what it testifies to is the incredible power we see in the cosmos and the design that allows us to have the gold, silver, platinum, and radioactive materials we use.
The heavy element mystery reminds us of how puny and small we are in the context of creation. We have an even better understanding of our insignificance than did the author of Psalms 8:3-4 who wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained; what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him.”
Those who maintain that all life is a product of chance have a new opponent on their hands. He is Dr. David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale University, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, and a member of the National Council of the Arts. He says that we are not a product of chance.
One of Dr. Gelernter’s main arguments is the difficulty of producing a stable and functional protein by blind, mechanical chance. Proteins are the work-horses of life. Proteins called enzymes catalyze all sorts of reactions and drive cellular metabolism. Other proteins, such as collagen, give cells shape and structure. Proteins drive nerve function, muscle function, and photosynthesis. The question is whether mindless, random changes in molecules can create all the different proteins necessary for life to exist.
The argument starts with amino acids, which we know can be formed by natural processes in specific environments. Statisticians calculate that the odds of amino acids forming a stable protein are 1 in 1074. As Gelernter writes, “To say that your chances are 1 in 1074 is not different, in practice, from saying that they are zero.” For comparison, science tells us there are only 1080 atoms in the universe. Gelernter says, “The odds bury you. It can’t be done.”
It is essential to understand that we are not talking about the formation of life here. Gelernter is talking about making chance mutations in existing DNA that result in a useful new protein that could play a role in evolution. Macroevolution, or the creation of new species, would require new genes that could create a meaningful new protein. This is simply one small step in producing the materials necessary for life.
We are not a product of chance. There is growing evidence of the design and planning that has gone into the making of life and us. Dr. Gelernter says he has been attacked by some atheistic scientists, because, as he says, “I am attacking their religion.”
The more we learn about the human body, the more we see the complexity that defies any notion of mindless creation. The latest count of microscopic species that live in or on our bodies is over 10,000. The total number of single-cell microbes is over one-hundred trillion. These are not just hitchhikers that have come along for the ride. They are essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. Scientists have well studied most of these microbes, but the scientific literature continues to report on new roles for microbes that scientists previously thought to have no function. We marvel at the amazing complexity of being you.
This complexity is minor compared to DNA. The project to sequence the human genome formally began in 1990 and was completed in 2003. If you wonder why it took so long, consider the enormous size of the DNA molecule. Packed into every cell of your body is a DNA strand that, if you unwound it and stretched it out, would be about three meters long. Considering the number of cells in the human body, if you took the stretched-out DNA molecules from every cell and laid them end-to-end, they would reach from here to the Sun and back almost 70 times. A few years ago, the popular literature told us that 98% of our DNA was junk with no functional use. Since that time, science has learned that over 80% of human DNA has a function, and you don’t hear about “junk DNA” anymore.
The point of all these numbers is to show the amazing complexity of being you. The human body is an incredibly complicated machine with a blueprint that scientists are still not able to read. As we do read parts of that blueprint, we find that our assumptions about our bodies have led to unfortunate medical decisions. As a child, I can remember the polio epidemic and the pain and misery that it brought to some of my friends. It is incredible that I never contracted this virus because when I was very young, I had a lot of throat problems, and the doctor decided to remove my tonsils. We now know that the tonsils are the only area of the body that can synthesize antibodies to fight poliomyelitis. If you don’t have tonsils, your chances of developing polio increase significantly.
We hear promoters of the theory of human evolution glibly talk about the chance mutations of life that would lead to what humans are today. Assuming that the incredible complexity of the human body can come about by chance alone is to accept a faith that defies reason. The simple biblical statement that “God formed man of the dust of the Earth” ignores the intelligence and design that is required. The Psalmist had a glimpse of the amazing complexity of being you when he wrote, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14-15). Today we know far more about our creation than David did, and we can add our voice to that praise.
Is design in nature an illusion? That is an important question to consider. Atheists continue to parrot the claim of Richard Dawkins in his book “The Blind Watchmaker” (page 1). Dawkins wrote that “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” is actually an illusion.
Dr. Marcos Eberlin summarized that view in this way: “We are supposed to believe that all we see is an illusion, and that, in reality, a process unguided by anything except the laws and constants of nature formed all we know – the universe, the stars, the ocean, the sky and clouds, RNA and DNA, ribosomes, bacteria, fish, birds, chimpanzees and us.”
Illusions are not science. Illusions cannot be tested or falsified in any way, and that makes them attractive as an explanation to avoid admitting God’s existence. The problem for atheists is that the processes we see in the natural world are interdependent. The body’s immune system, for example, requires the existence of a dozen other systems to function. Numerous chemical and biochemical processes have to be in place. The clotting mechanism of the body has to be working. Sensory systems have to be functional. All of that has to be present before life comes into existence or disease, and infection would destroy the organism as quickly as it was formed. Biochemistry and biology have gone through incredible increases in understanding in recent years. The interdependence of systems is becoming more and more evident as new discoveries are made.
In 2016, the Royal Society of London held a conference to discuss “calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution, recognizing that the issues involved remain hotly contested.” Materialistic philosophical views have constrained science and narrowed our horizons, according to Dr. Eberlin. The illusion theory is not supported by statistics applied to the probability of changes in the history of the formation of planet Earth or of life on earth.
Is design in nature an illusion? No, complexity can not be discarded by simply applying the label of “illusion” to it. Life and the creation are real.
After today, Sunday, December 22, 2019, the hours of daylight will begin to be longer in the Northern Hemisphere where we live. Last night at 11:19 p.m. local time (Eastern Standard), the December solstice occurred as the Sun reached its lowest point in the dome of the sky, even though we couldn’t see it. It happened at the same moment all over the Earth, but, of course, local times varied. (It was at 04:19 Universal Time, and you can figure your local time from that.)
The December solstice ushers in winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. So for those of us in the north, the days will now start to slowly get longer as the weather gets colder. South of the equator, the situation is just the opposite. At the North Pole, there are 24 hours of darkness when the Sun never appears. At the South Pole, the Sun is up for 24 hours.
Although the December solstice is the time when the Sun is at its farthest point south, it hasn’t moved. We have. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees from the path of its orbit path around the Sun. Each year that tilt causes us Earthlings to perceive that the Sun is moving north or south. Earth’s orbit is somewhat elliptical rather than a perfect circle. The point when Earth is closest to the Sun occurs in January during the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-winter. It’s mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so you might think that their summers would be extra hot. Whatever increased heat would occur because of the proximity of the Sun is counteracted by the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is mostly covered by oceans which absorb the heat. That is just another part of our amazingly well-engineered planet.
In Genesis 1:14, we read that God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” Ever since Adam and Eve, people have recognized the Sun’s regular path across the sky and the changes in daylight, sunrise, and sunset times throughout the year. In ancient times, they didn’t understand why. We know why and we marvel at the design.
Every creature on Earth is affected in some way by the length of daylight. Historically, people in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrated the December solstice because it means the days will start getting longer, and spring will return. In ancient Rome, the people called their celebration Saturnalia and honored their pagan god Saturn with immoral behavior. With the coming of Christianity, the Christians re-purposed the holiday to honor the coming of Christ into the world. While the pagans celebrated with debauchery, the Christians made it a time of praising God and the gift of His Son. Jesus was almost certainly not born at this time of year, but more likely in the spring. However, we should take time to honor God for the beautiful design of our planet that makes life possible, and the wonderful gift of Jesus that makes eternal life possible.
The part of Earth’s atmosphere we live in, fly airplanes in, and which contains over 90% of our oxygen is called the troposphere. It is much thinner than you may realize. Earth’s diameter is about 8,000 miles, and the thickness of the troposphere is much less than eight miles, making it one one-thousandth of the diameter of Earth. Our air is like an onion skin around our planet. Earth’s twilight daily reminds of the thin blanket that protects us.
You might wonder if the thin nature of our atmosphere is not a risk to us. The truth is that our troposphere is a uniquely designed structure, and if it were any different, life could not exist on this planet. The troposphere has to be…
…thin enough to allow enough light in for the photosynthetic processes of plants, but thick enough to burn up hunks of rock from space as they are pulled in by Earth’s gravity.
…thick enough to trap enough of the Sun’s heat to keep us warm, but thin enough to not overheat us.
…thick enough to refract and scatter dangerous radiation away from us, but thin enough to allow critical wavelengths to reach Earth’s surface for biological purposes.
…thick enough to allow water to exist as a liquid, but not so thick that other gases liquefy or dissolve in water,
These are just a sampling of the critical elements involved in the design of the troposphere. There are additional layers above the troposphere that do other things to support life on this planet. As science has examined the atmospheres of other planets within our solar system, we see that they are very different. The acid air and greenhouse effect of the atmosphere of Venus has turned it into a hellish environment. We do not have the ultraviolet light that bathes and sterilizes Mars because our ozone layer filters out much of that destructive component of the Sun’s light.
Each day as we watch Earth’s twilight come, we should be reminded of the incredible wisdom built into the structure of our atmosphere. As the sky turns from blue to a brief green, to yellow, to orange, and then red, we are seeing the longer wavelengths which we don’t see in the daylight because they are mixed in our atmosphere. Our air keeps X -rays away from our planet. Its density allows flight and keeps the lakes and oceans from evaporating. Its low density allows it to move and carry warmth and moisture from one area of our planet to another so that life can exist from the equator to the poles. Earth’s twilight is a daily reminder of the care and design built into our planet because of God’s love and wisdom.
Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, REALLY thirsty!! Thirsty to the point of being willing to give anything for a drink of water? Water is precious. We are seeing the results of a lack of water in many places in the world today. There are entire cities where water is in such short supply that people have to go to extremes to get enough to stay alive. Because the design of water makes it essential for life, scientists looking for evidence of life on other planets start by searching for signs of water. The design of water makes it an excellent illustration of the miracle of living water.
We have discussed water’s chemistry before. The atomic structure of oxygen and hydrogen produces the polar nature of the water molecule, which gives water its incredible properties. The design of water is an amazing example of God’s engineering skills at all levels of complexity.
In ancient times having water was just as critical as it is today. Those of us who live in areas with abundant water have no idea how much the search for it dominated people’s lives in Jesus’ day. It is hard for us to fully appreciate the meaning of the teaching of Jesus in John 4 when He met the woman at the well and offered her the miracle of living water. The person who was assigned the task of keeping the family supplied with water had to be strong enough to walk long distances and carry heavy loads. This woman was going to carry something back to her family that was even more precious than the water she came to get.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whosoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14.
To the secular world, that statement is ludicrous, and yet Jesus refers to “rivers of living water” many times. In John 7:38, for example, Jesus says, “Whosoever believes in me… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” The next few verses explain, “He said this about the Spirit whom those who believed in Him were about to receive.” Because of our thirst, we understand the importance of water. For unbelievers, the miracle of living water is hard to comprehend, until they have a thirst for a better existence. In Acts 2:38, Peter told the people who WERE convinced that they needed a better existence that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The design of water not only gives us life, but it helps us to understand the importance of the miracle of living water that Jesus offers. When you water a seed, it grows and begins a new existence. When you obey His commands and become a Christian, you begin a new and eternal life. That life brings peace and love, even to the most downcast and sinful person. Living water from Jesus is truly a miracle.
If you do any cooking, you know that to be a successful cook, you have to stir the pot every so often. Not only does stirring the pot prevent the food from sticking to the bottom, but it also improves the flavor by mixing the ingredients. The Earth and its relationship to life is also a kind of pot. We are just beginning to understand how complicated the relationship is between the Sun and the various ecosystems on Earth that allow life and advanced life to exist.
In 2018 NASA launched a probe called the Parker Solar Probe to fly near the Sun and make measurements and observations. No space probe has ever been close enough to the Sun to gain much data, but this probe was designed to fill that gap in our knowledge. At this point, it is about halfway between the Sun and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
The Sun has what are called switchbacks when the magnetic field briefly reverses itself. This reversal varies the amount of solar wind coming to the Earth. This variable wind compresses Earth’s atmosphere, stirring the pot, so to speak. The mixing of the gases makes changes in our atmosphere, which we can observe in the auroras. The magnitude of the switchbacks also affects our power grids and orbiting communication satellites.
It is obvious that the movement of materials in our atmosphere and the constant changes that take place are part of the solar system design. The new data may open doors not only to how we can protect our power grids, but it may give us further understanding of the origin and sustaining of life on Earth.
Stirring the pot is one more factor in the intricate design of our planet and solar system that makes life possible. When Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom being present before the creation, it speaks of things we are just beginning to understand. The more we know of the creation, the more we know of the Creator.
Our visitor had just arrived in the United States from South America. He had never seen snow before arriving on a day in January. As he looked out into our back yard, he laughed heartily and said, “How happy is your hard water.” I had no idea what he was talking about because I think of hard water as something that leaves mineral deposits that are difficult to remove. I had not connected joy and hard water.
I joined him at the door and saw what he was looking at. The visitor was talking about the solid state of water in the form of snow. Our “hard water” made a snowman, something our visitor could not visualize from his personal experience. Nothing could stop him from joining my daughters to make his own snowman.
Water is, indeed, a remarkable material. The design of its molecular structure allows it to dissolve other substances. This same structure allows water to hold vast amounts of heat. It also allows water to exist as a solid. Liquids like alcohol have a molecular design that does not make them nearly as good as water in these critical ways.
We have mentioned before that many human inventions are actually adaptations of things we see in nature. That applies to products from Velcro to high-strength materials to airplanes. However, there are times when we can’t improve on the natural product, so we use it as God created it. An example of that is wood. It’s a natural multipurpose building material. Wood is strong, durable, flexible, weather-resistant, lightweight, and non-toxic. Lumber from trees is the most common building material for homes and other housing structures.
How could there be such a well-designed and valuable natural multipurpose building material? Wood is produced in a living plant. Under the protective bark of a tree lies the cambium layer. It is the innermost layer of the bark where growth takes place. Each year, during the warm months, the cambium produces living cells, which become the new sheath expanding the trunk of the tree. The layers from previous years remain as the wooden skeleton giving strength to the tree. If you cut it down, you can count those layers as visible rings revealing the age of the tree.
The tree’s roots take in water with vital nutrients from the ground. Within the woody trunk, there are microscopic conduits called xylem carrying that water up to the leaves. Just outside of the cambium, another layer of micro-ducts called phloem moves sugar-water that the leaves produce using the amazingly complex system of photosynthesis. The phloem supplies nourishment that the cambium requires to build the new sheath of wood. When the growing season ends, the phloem carries the remaining nourishment to the roots for winter storage until next spring.
Trees often lose branches from wind, ice storms, other natural means, or by human intervention. When that happens, it can throw the tree off balance. The cambium steps in to build a thicker sheath on the side where the limb was lost, reinforcing the tree to bear the uneven load. When examining the rings of a felled tree, a ring that is thicker on one side indicates a fallen branch. The tree automatically takes care of the area of the lost limb by covering it with new annual sheaths.
Take a moment to look at the wood in your house. That natural multipurpose building material in the window and door trim, the floor, and your furniture was once alive. It was growing and transporting sap while the leaves converted sunlight and water into sugar-water to nourish the tree, and the cambium created new growth. The lines in that wood tell the story of days and years of rainfall, sunshine, wind, and changing temperatures in a forest somewhere in the world. The wood in your house is not there by accident, and we don’t believe the tree was a natural accident, but the work of a creative Engineer.