Intellectually Honest Skepticism

Intellectually Honest SkepticismAs I speak on college and university campuses, a large number of people (both atheists and religious) find a statement I like to open with to be astounding. The statement is, “You can intelligently and logically and rationally believe in God.” There is an immediate air of doubt in the minds of many who cannot or do not want to believe it. I don’t know how many of them change their minds in the course or our lectures. Skepticism abounds today, but what we need is intellectually honest skepticism willing to seek the truth.

Certainly one major factor has been that various churches, groups, and individuals have dogmatically forced a creed of creationism upon all members. Those creeds frequently fly in the face of both science and common sense. The more capable and clearest thinking young people who refuse to be force-fed this dogma, simply leave the church. Many of the leading atheist speakers in the United States today came from a church background.

The growth of aggressive atheism is another factor leading many to think that intelligent, logical belief in God is impossible. Attractive websites and high budget, colorful printed materials promote naturalism, if not downright atheism. Saturated with scientific materialism and locked into a mindset that anything religious is automatically wrong, they claim to be the only voice of reason, logic, and competent science.

Instead of skepticism referring to a healthy, scientifically rigorous approach to issues and solving problems, the word has become synonymous with an anti-religion mindset. It is evident that, in a great many cases, the atheist community has completely taken over the concept of skepticism.

I want to suggest that intellectually honest skepticism is Christian in nature, and it is the approach Jesus used in His ministry and teachings. In fact, the Bible condemned religionism more strongly than atheism. The Bible makes only fleeting references to atheism. (See Romans 1:19-23.) The strong condemnation statements of Christ, and the Bible writers in general, come down on the religious leaders who force their traditions on the population. The teachings of Christ focused on attitudes and how we treat each other. The religious establishment constantly criticized Christ because He did not adhere to their traditions. His teaching was logical, practical, and pragmatic not built on the traditions of the past. He asked questions and awaited logical responses.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5th Edition) defines a skeptic as “one who carries a critical or incredulous attitude into his inquiries.” Skepticism is defined as “the doctrine that all knowledge is uncertain.” This does not mean that skeptical minds reject anything that is not physical. Limiting our belief system to only what we can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear precludes all kinds of things. A vast percentage of nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, relativistic physics, and even some mathematics depends upon knowledge that does not involve the senses.

Intellectually honest skepticism demands inquiry and also recognizes that knowledge is uncertain because humans are uncertain. This does not mean that there is no such thing as truth. It just means that skeptics should be aware of their own limitations and of the human capacity to misjudge. Intellectually honest skeptics know the danger of preconceived ideas and their approach should be humble, open, and careful. Being skeptical does not mean that a person has no beliefs, morals, or convictions. I can have strong convictions and beliefs and can communicate those to others and still have the ability to change my beliefs and understandings.

Unfortunately, skepticism in today’s American culture is at least as dogmatic as ultraconservative, fundamentalistic religion. Any skeptics who would question Darwin, would likely be castigated by their peers. There is a need for intellectually honest skepticism in the world. I am a skeptic in approach, but there are some basic things that my skeptical approach has led me to believe strongly. If we reason together in an open, skeptical way, we can learn. Blind, closed skepticism and blind, closed dogmatism are impossible to tell apart to those who are seeking the truth.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Fetal Tissue Medical Research

Erasing Fetal Tissue Medical ResearchThe U.S. government makes money available for grants to investigate cures for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s. New rules restrict federal money available for medical research that uses fetal tissue from elective abortions. All kinds of inflammatory arguments have been made about this, as they have in the past. The Los Angeles Times claims that the restrictions on funding fetal tissue medical research are “nothing more than a sop to the religious right.”

The issue of fetal tissue medical research demands more thoughtful reporting. Here are some interesting facts that we have not seen reported in the major media:

Using fetal cell materials creates a huge potential for abuse. Women can be paid to produce fetuses for abortion, as some documented cases have shown. Planned Parenthood has had a particular problem with this issue.

Government grants in the past have focused on fetal remains. Because of that, alternatives such as pluripotent stem cells derived from adult cells have not been investigated in the U.S., as they have in other countries such as Japan.

Only three of 75 vaccines available in the United States still utilize legacy fetal cell lines.

The artificial production of fetal tissue can supply many of the needs of research projects. The potential is there, but research in this area has slowed because of the availability of fetal tissue from abortion clinics.

Conflict over the use of fetal tissue medical research, like most other issues, can be solved by people working together. Unfortunately, modern media outlets continue to distort the facts to promote their own political position. There is a difference between reporting the news and promoting the news.

When we consider all of the evidence, it should be obvious that fetal tissue can uniquely be used for some medical research, but making it the only test material available to researchers is unwise and unnecessary.

If we reduce the market value of aborted babies and look for other new tools of research, our value on all human life can do nothing more than improve.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: The Week, June 21, 2019, page 5.

Human Genetic History

Human Genetic History and Denisova CaveAs more and more people have their genetic history analyzed to find out where their ancestors came from, interest has increased in the origins of human genetic history. There has been a lot of speculation on this question, and some skeptics have tried to claim that the Genesis account is incompatible with the human genome, and particularly with the very early specimens of ancient humans including Denisovans and Neanderthals.

Science News (June 8, 2019) published an interesting article by Bruce Bower about recent finds of these hominids and how they may fit into human genetic history. The first point we want to make is that the Bible has an economy of language on this subject. We do not know anything about the appearance of Adam and Eve or their offspring from the biblical account. We don’t know when they lived, or where they went as they left the Fertile Crescent where they were created. People whose denominations have established a doctrinal view on these questions do so with no biblical support.

Recent finds of the Denisovans in the Tibetan Plateau show that great migrations had taken place because the name “Denisovan” comes from the original discoveries made in Siberia’s Denisova Cave (shown in picture). Anthropologists have also found remains of the Denisovans in China. Modern humans in Asia, Melanesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea have some Denisovan DNA. In fact, these populations show protein sequences which are more closely related to the Denisovans than the Neanderthals.

There is an old battle that has been going on among scientists for at least the last 100 years. It’s the battle between the “splitters” and the “lumpers” and how they handle human genetic history. The splitters are those who tend to put a new species identification on every new find. In this case, they have identified each of these groups as being independent of each other, so Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans are each classified as a different species. The lumpers tend to say these are all variations in the original DNA, and they must all be one species since they can and did interbreed.

The biblical account takes a “lumpers” view on this question. There is more support for that view as we see evidence of ancient people doing all the things we do and finding segments of their genetic makeup in our own genome. If modern anthropologists found the skeletons of Adam and Eve, it’s hard to imagine how they would fit them into human genetic history. They certainly lived before all of the racial variations.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Sunspots and Earth’s Climate

Sunspots and Earth’s ClimateYesterday we mentioned sunspots and their potential effect on our planet. Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than on the rest of the Sun’s surface. We know that sunspots adversely affect electric grids and orbiting satellites. There are unanswered questions about sunspots and Earth’s climate.

When sunspots occur, the stronger magnetic field constricts the hot plasma of the Sun, creating a somewhat cooler area. Why is it, then, that historically in times when sunspots are rare, Earth’s climate has become colder? Are sunspots the cause, or was it just a coincidence?

Scientists refer to the period from 1645 until 1715 as the Maunder Minimum, because sunspot activity was minimal. That also corresponds with the coldest years of what is sometimes called the Little Ice Age. It was not a true ice age, but the Northern Hemisphere experienced winters that were longer and colder than usual. European rivers froze, Vikings abandoned Greenland, and farmers in Norway lost farmland to advancing glaciers.

So the unanswered question concerns sunspots and Earth’s climate. Does the lack of sunspots cause lowered temperatures on Earth, or have past trends been coincidental? We don’t know, and science cannot find an explanation. Many scientists are predicting reduced sunspot activity in the coming years. Perhaps God is providing a way to counter-balance present concerns about global warming, but only God knows what the future holds.

It is interesting that the years 1643 to 1715 also mark the reign of Louis XIV of France, known as “Louis the Great.” He was also known as “the Sun King” because he chose the Sun as his symbol, and his subjects (or perhaps Louis himself) compared him to Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god. Louis the Great reigned for 72 years during the Maunder Minimum. But even the so-called Sun King could not control the Sun. Only the Creator of the Sun, Moon, and stars can do that, and only He knows if there is a connection between sunspots and Earth’s climate.
— Roland Earnst 2019

Interesting Sun Facts

Interesting Sun FactsWe all know some things about the Sun. We know it is powered by thermonuclear fusion, that it is a G-2 type spectral star, and that it is the primary energy source for the Earth. Many of us have seen a solar eclipse when the Moon blocks out the photosphere of the Sun and lets us see its corona. We know that the Sun is not just a ball of fire but a complex globe. Here are some more interesting Sun facts that are relatively new to us:

The light that we see coming from the Sun is from its photosphere. The photosphere is a thin incandescent layer that is just 200 miles (322 km) thick. That is less than one four-thousandth of the Sun’s diameter and is like the outer skin of an onion, only thinner than that.

The energy of the Sun is created in its core, which is a very small sphere, just one two-hundredth of the Sun’s volume. Every second that small ball emits the energy of 96 billion 1-megaton hydrogen bombs. The Sun’s weight decreases by 4 million tons every second as mass is turned into energy and radiated from the photosphere.

The Sun spins on its axis once a month, just as the Moon does. The center 70% of the Sun spins uniformly like a solid ball. The remaining 30% has different spins with the poles turning more slowly than the equator. These zones spinning at different speeds meet in a recently discovered zone 130,000 miles (209,000 km) below the surface. That zone is called the tachocline, and it’s where the Sun’s magnetic field originates.

Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is 5,000 times stronger than on the rest of the surface. The stronger magnetic field constricts the Sun’s plasma. When sunspots are rare, it seems that Earth’s climate becomes colder. Starting in 1645 there were few sunspots for 70 years. During that time, Earth became colder, people abandoned fishing colonies in Iceland and Greenland, and the Thames River and Venice canals went through periods of freezing solid.

As scientists probe more in-depth, they learn many interesting Sun facts. Just as in many other areas, the more we learn, the more questions we have. What effect do sunspots have on life on Earth? How can they affect our climate? What will happen in the next sunspot cycle? Tomorrow, we will look more into questions about sunspots. As we learn more interesting Sun facts, we realize the amazing design wisdom of the Creator to make life on this planet possible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2019, page 20.

Antimatter Research

Antimatter ResearchRecent discoveries have caused those of us with backgrounds in physics to overhaul our thinking radically. This is especially true in quantum mechanics and how matter and energy interact in the creation. One of the most interesting areas has to do with antimatter research.

When energy is turned into matter, the products are matter and antimatter. When antimatter and ordinary matter are combined, they destroy each other, producing energy. The process can be described by the famous formula E = mc². But it is far more complex than the simple change from one form to another.

One of the basic experiments we do in high school physics is called the double slit experiment. When light shines on a screen with two slits in it, bands called interference patterns are produced on a screen on the side opposite the light. That shows that light has wave properties even though it has properties of particles.  This effect not only happens with visible light, but also with radio waves, Xrays, ultraviolet, and infrared.

In 1924 an experiment by French physicist Louis de Broglie showed that electrons also produce an interference pattern. That means that electrons have wave properties like light. On May 3, 2019, Dr. Marco Giammarchi of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Milan announced that a team of scientists has discovered that positrons, which are antimatter particles, also produce interference patterns. What this means is that antimatter has both particle and wave properties. There is a whole left-handed world out there to match the right-handed world in which we live, and antimatter research will tell us more about it.

All kinds of new understandings are coming from this antimatter research. It may be the answer to clean energy sources – the ultimate fuel that leaves nothing behind except energy. It also is the discovery of another tool of God described in the simple explanation, “In the beginning, God created the heaven (space) and the earth (matter) – Genesis 1:1. Read Proverbs 8:22-23 for more.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Jupiter Is in Opposition

Jupiter Is in OppositionJune 10, 2019, is an excellent time to observe the largest planet in our solar system. The reason is that Jupiter is in opposition to our Sun.

When astronomers say that Jupiter is in opposition, they mean that planet Earth is passing between the Sun and Jupiter. At this time, Jupiter will rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and it will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. In other words, Jupiter will be visible all night long, and it will be at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.

The picture was taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s spacecraft Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter. NASA posts the raw images online and encourages individuals to download and process them. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill enhanced this one. You can find access to the raw images and see the work of other citizen scientists by clicking HERE.

When you see Jupiter in the sky tonight, it will not look like this picture, but it will be the brightest object in the sky. Jupiter is not a rocky planet like Earth. It’s a gas giant which if were 80 times more massive, would be hot enough to set off nuclear reactions in its core. Then it would be a star giving off its own light instead of just reflecting the Sun’s light. However, if you could lump all the other planets in our solar system together (including Earth), Jupiter would be 2.5 times more massive than them all.

Why do we need such a huge gas giant in the outer solar system? As we have said in previous posts, Jupiter is a comet sweeper. With its massive size and gravity, Jupiter protects us from objects such as comets coming from outside our solar system. In the 1990s, NASA observed Jupiter pulling apart and destroying comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. You can read about that in our previous post HERE. Jupiter also affects Earth’s climate cycles, which you can read about HERE.

Jupiter is in opposition about every 13 months. Last year opposition occurred in May. Next year it will be on July 14. If you miss seeing Jupiter tonight because of cloudy weather or any other reason, don’t despair. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on June 12, and it will continue to be visible, but right now it’s visible all night long.

While Jupiter is in opposition, or at any other time, look up and thank God that He has created such a marvelous and unique solar system to make life possible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Synergy – Working Together

Synergy – Working TogetherThe word “synergy” comes from a Greek word meaning “working together.” We have often mentioned “symbiotic” relationships where living things work together in various ways. When non-biological forces work together with living things, we can call it synergy.

Synergy describes the relationship between plate tectonics and life on Earth working together. Plate tectonics involves plates of Earth’s crust moving in relation to each other. Plate tectonics is the force responsible for making continents and mountains and for causing volcanoes and earthquakes. Without photosynthetic life (plants), plate tectonics would have shut down because photosynthetic organisms provide energy for Earth’s geochemical cycles. Without plate tectonics, Earth’s crust would be a solid lid sealing vital nutrients and elements beneath the surface. The nutrients needed by plants would not be available. That means there would be no photosynthetic life.

Animals and humans depend on plants for food. The animals that don’t eat plants feed on the animals that do. It’s photosynthesis that removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen. All animals need oxygen, and excess carbon dioxide would result in a greenhouse effect, heating the Earth and making life impossible.

The point is that plate tectonics requires photosynthetic life, and life requires plate tectonics. Therefore all forms of life on Earth require both photosynthesis and plate tectonics working together in the right balance to exist. Was this balanced synergy system merely accidental, or was it planned? We think it shows intelligent planning by a divine Engineer.

For a fuller explanation of this, we recommend Dr. Hugh Ross’s book Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home.
— Rolnd Earnst © 2019

How The Sun Works

How The Sun WorksWe depend on the Sun every day to generate the energy that makes life on Earth possible, but have you considered how the Sun works?

The key to the Sun’s energy-supplying ability is a delicate balance between gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity curves space and pulls together all objects that have mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force of gravity. Right now gravity is pulling us toward the center of the Earth, but we are being held in place by the strength of the Earth’s crust and whatever floors or objects we have below us. The strength of the surfaces supporting us comes from electromagnetic forces between electrons and the protons in the nucleus of atoms. Those forces bond atoms of elements to each other forming compounds.

Since the Sun’s mass is more than a million times that of Earth, its gravity is more than a million times as great. The tremendous force in the core of the Sun overcomes the electromagnetic force and squeezes atoms of hydrogen tightly together igniting a thermonuclear reaction producing helium.

The creation of helium atoms releases high energy gamma-ray photons. If those gamma rays reached Earth, they would kill us. But the vast majority of them are transformed before they leave the surface of the Sun. On the way from the core to the surface they bounce off protons and electrons heating the hydrogen gas in the outer portion of the Sun. That heating increases the gas pressure enough to overcome the pull of gravity. Otherwise, the Sun would collapse on itself.

The bouncing of those gamma rays slows them so much that it takes hundreds of thousands of years for them to reach the Sun’s surface. If they could travel in a straight line, it would take only seconds, but they would emerge as deadly gamma rays that would reach the Earth in eight minutes, destroying all life. By the time those sterilizing gamma-ray photons reach the Sun’s surface, their energy has mainly been reduced to life-giving optical photons. There are still some dangerous rays that reach the Earth, but our atmosphere takes care of most of those.

That is a very simplified description of how the Sun works. Our Sun is a special star that provides the energy needed to sustain life on Earth without the high-energy rays that would destroy it. As you enjoy a beautiful sunset, you don’t have to know how the Sun works, but the Creator did. This finely-tuned system shows evidence of design by a Master Engineer, not a chance accident.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors

Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors Zoopharmacognosy is a word you don’t see every day. It’s actually a combination of three Greek words which mean “animal” (zoo), “drug” (pharma), and “knowing” (gnosy). It refers to animals using plants, soils, insects, or drugs to solve specific medical problems. It is animals (not humans) medicating themselves. Mammals, birds, and even insects use zoopharmacognosy to cure medical problems, and sometimes to prevent them. Here are a few examples.

It is fairly common to see a sick dog or cat eating grass to induce vomiting.

Sick chimpanzees swallow bitter leaves of Aspilia, a plant that contains an anti-parasitic chemical. The leaves are covered with bristles and bitter tasting so the chimps roll up the leaves and swallow them whole like we might take a pill.

Others chimps and bonobos with diarrhea will split open the stem of an Aframomum plant and suck the bitter juice. The juice contains chemicals which kill parasites which cause diarrhea.

Spider monkeys in Brazil have been seen eating seed pods from a tree known as monkey ear or elephant ear (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) during mating season. The fruit contains progesterone which promotes female fertility.

Brown bears make a paste from the chewed roots of osha (Ligusticum porteri) mixed with saliva and rub it into their fur to repel insects and soothe the bites. The plant contains coumarins which repel fleas and ticks.

To get rid of lice, many songbirds with put ants on their feathers or even roll in an anthill. The ants secrete formic acid, which kills feather lice.

Ants infected with Beauveria bassiana, a soil fungus, will eat harmful substances that are antifungal.

Many kinds of animals will eat dirt to absorb toxins, to combat parasites, or as an antacid. Sometimes they eat dirt to supplement minerals that are missing in their diet.

Pregnant elephants will chew the leaves of a specific tree in the Boraginaceae family to induce labor. Kenyan women make tea from those leaves to help with childbirth. In many cases, people have learned medicines and tonics from animals.

There are many more examples of zoopharmacognosy in which animals act as their own doctors. How did animals get this knowledge? It seems to be instinctive, not learned. Perhaps this instinct was put within the genetic code of these animals by their Creator.
— Roland Earnst © 2019