Advertisements for food supplements, diet plans, and “miracle cures” on the internet and television, in magazines, and newspapers continuously remind us that things in our environment threaten our existence. We are indeed attacked by human-made toxins, natural toxins, air and water pollution, ultraviolet radiation and x-rays from the Sun, and contaminants in the foods we eat. We have a natural body repair system that takes care of most of those threats.
The chemistry of the human body is an incredibly complex system in which a wide variety of chemicals keep us alive. There are 60-trillion cells in an average human body, and each cell has a chemical signature for what it does. Cells in your pancreas produce insulin and pump it into your bloodstream. Your thyroid produces a chemical that governs your metabolism. Your bone marrow and thymus gland produce antibodies that ward off disease. Those are only a few examples of the body repair system.
Most cells have thousands of chemical reactions going on at any given moment. The facilitators of this chemical system are proteins called enzymes. For every one of the thousands of chemical reactions that go on in each cell of your body, there is one specific protein molecule. It has just the right shape to bring two other molecules together and form bonds. That means there are massive numbers of enzymes to fill that role.
Our DNA contains the blueprints for making the enzymes, and our cells use those blueprints to make the proteins they need. If a cell is damaged, it dies, and another cell replaces it. If the DNA is damaged, then bad information is fed to the cells, and the result can be catastrophic. To avoid that problem, our DNA has segments known as genes. Each of the roughly 80,000 genes in the human body carries the information to assemble one enzyme and control one chemical reaction in the cell. This one enzyme can repair damage in the DNA, so the number of things that can kill a cell is significantly reduced by the body repair system.
Scientists are very interested in repair enzymes and how they keep our DNA functional. God has designed a system that enables us to live. Understanding that design is opening the door for new ways to cure the ills of humanity. Biochemists are researching and designing treatments for various genetic diseases. Reading about this kind of research always brings back the statement of David in Psalms 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works…”
Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:
Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.
The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.
The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.
If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.
Costa Rica is home to 500,000 species of plants and animals that are unique to that country. Many times human actions such as rainforest destruction result in the loss of many unique species. For almost thirty years, the government of Costa Rica has worked with medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnology, and food industries in what has been called biodiversity prospecting.
The National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica (INBio) was established in 1989. In 1991 they reached an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant Merck to explore the forests of Costa Rica to find marketable drugs from the resources there. Merck paid money up-front and agreed to pay royalties on any drugs they discovered. Instead of destroying the diversity of wildlife, bio-prospecting encourages sustainable use. Similar efforts could be made in other nations that still have unexplored regions both in forests and in ocean ecological systems.
We would suggest that one of the things God has done is to build into the world’s ecology materials that humans can use to promote their well being. These natural materials are much more likely to produce solutions without ecological drawbacks than human-made synthetics. The Bible refers to materials that ancient people used to serve various purposes. Genesis 30:14-16 is an example where the Hebrew word dudai is translated “mandrakes” and is also found in Song of Solomon 7:13. Another example is what the Hebrew rimmon translated “pomegranate” in Deuteronomy 8:8. In ancient times, people used it to make astringent medicines.
Biologists are still learning what ancient people knew, and what some primitive tribes in today’s world know about natural medicines. God has already created many solutions to what ails us, but they await our discovery. If biodiversity prospecting can bring financial resources to developing countries while sustaining their natural habitats and creatures, we believe that is good stewardship of God’s gifts.
One of the significant points of contention between those who believe in God and those who don’t is the concept of what makes us human. The biblical position is that humans are that form of life created in the image of God. Our spiritual makeup allows us to create art and music, worship a supreme being, feel guilt, be sympathetic, and have a form of love that is self-sacrificing and has nothing to do with survival. The atheist response to this is that our intelligence and brain structure accounts for these characteristics. The atheist insists that they are totally a product of our evolution.
What does the evidence show? That is a complicated question, and one we frequently address as science makes new discoveries. National Wildlife magazine (June/July 2020) published an interesting article about crows and research by John Marzluff at the University of Washington. For the past ten years, researchers at the university have been putting on caveman masks and catching and tagging crows. The crows have learned that the caveman face means trouble, and they mob and dive-bomb the researchers. When baby crows learn to fly, they immediately do the same, even though they do not have personal experience with being caught and tagged.
Crows are incredible creatures. Crows will fashion twigs into hooks to reach food in a hollow tree or limb. Other crows will drop nuts on a hard pavement to crack them open. Crows have learned to pay attention to what a farmer has in his hands. They will fly away from a farmer with a gun, but not when the same farmer holds a rake. Crows will help raise younger siblings, and that cooperation causes them to flock together and seemingly communicate with each other.
The point is that intelligence is not a measure of human-ness. The things that make humans different than crows is not our brain. Mentally challenged humans do the things that make us human. Many animals with high intelligence do not engage in those things. What makes us human is being created in the image of God. Having that image makes humans unique and special, and gives us value and purpose in our existence. Human life is sacred, and that hasn’t changed despite our abuse of one another.
You can go online and get all the factual information you want on every part of the human body. Put in the word “skin,” and you will be amazed at how much information there is about human skin. One comic said, “Your skin holds everything together.” In truth, it does much more than that.
We tend to classify humans based on their skin color, but our skin color is related to the needs of the body. Black objects radiate heat more efficiently than white objects. Take two identical cans and paint one black and the other white. Heat them to the same temperature and then let them sit in an insulated environment. The black can will cool off faster than the white can. Dark skin color is due to a biological pigment called melanin. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light and thus protects the body. People living in tropical areas where they are exposed to more heat and ultraviolet light have more melanin than people living in cooler regions. There is, therefore, a latitude effect on skin color.
The more you study the design of your skin, the more amazing it is. One square inch of human skin contains nearly 20 million cells and 625 sweat glands. That square inch of skin can also have as many as 65 hairs, 19 feet (5.8 meters) of blood vessels, and 19,000 sensory cells. To limit bleeding, blood vessels in your skin temporarily shrink instantly if the skin is cut or if pressure is applied. Your body sheds skin cells when they die and replaces them with new ones. Three-quarters of the dust floating around your house is made up of dead skin cells.
So, if you think your skin holds everything together, and that’s all, you would be wrong. Your skin, the largest organ in your body, does a wide range of things that help you to stay alive and comfortable. When David wrote, “I will praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14), he was not aware of many things about our bodies that we know today. As we look at ourselves with tools such as microscopes, we see design in the construction of our bodies that David could not have imagined.
There is a wonderful book published in 1989 and now out of print that gives many other examples of the incredible designs we see in our bodies. The title is The Compass in Your Nose and Other Astonishing Facts About Humans by Marc McCutcheon and published by Jeremy Tarcher, Inc.
Many years ago, while working in a teen camp in Alaska, I heard a skeptical teenager disparage God’s existence by saying that if God existed, He certainly wouldn’t have made mosquitoes. I have heard similar comments about ticks, hornets, lice, locusts, spiders, and stink bugs. I suspect we have all had times when we were unhappy with annoying bugs, yet when you examine the role of insects, you realize they are critical to our own existence. The well-known entomologist E. O. Wilson said, “If human beings disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on with little change, but if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt the human species could last more than a few months.” Why do we need insects?
Insects pollinate plants, aerate and fertilize the soil, decompose dung, and the bodies of things that have died. They control pests contributing 70 billion dollars every year to our national economy. Ninety-six percent of land-dwelling birds feed their young on insects, consuming approximately 400 to 500 million tons of insects. Most creatures in and around lakes and streams feed on insects, including fish and bears.
Why do we need insects? Humans are already seeing the cost of eradicating them. There are 68 species of bumblebees and roughly a fourth of those are in danger of becoming extinct. In Europe, the data shows a 76% drop in insects, including bees, beetles, lacewings, and katydids. The loss of pollinating insects has sharply affected the growing of many cash crops, and scientists are studying the effects of insecticide use.
Before we castigate God for what He has created, we need to be sure we have all the facts. We should learn what each creature does and how it contributes to our own well being. I dislike mosquitoes as much as the next person, but a majority of mosquitoes are pollinating insects. I am reactive to a bee sting, but bees contribute to much of what I eat. From our earliest existence, God has challenged us to take care of what He created. (See Genesis 2:15.) That includes caring for and protecting the agents that allow Earth to be hospitable to our existence.
One of the wonders of life on planet Earth is the influence of sunlight. As winter fades away and summer approaches, we see all kinds of changes in life. As scientific research continues into the wonders of the animal and plant kingdoms, we see more carefully designed biological systems. Here are some examples of how sunlight affects life cycles:
COCCOLITHOPHORES: These are tiny phytoplankton plants that live in the ocean. As the season changes and the Sun warms the waters, those organisms increase their rate of reproduction. They would smother themselves with overcrowding except for the fact that they give off dimethyl sulfide. That chemical rises into the atmosphere and oxidizes into solid sulfate particles. For raindrops to form, there must be moisture, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei. The solid sulfate particles provide the condensation nuclei, and the rising air cools the moisture from the sea resulting in clouds. The clouds block the sunlight, thus cooling the sea and slowing down the reproduction rate of the coccolithophores and avoiding a massive die-off. This phytoplankton literally manipulates the weather to ensure its own survival.
SALMON. These fish know when to return to the waters of their birth to spawn. Built into their bodies is a pineal gland that stimulates the pituitary gland, triggering an urge to spawn. Navigation tools designed into the salmon allow them to find the place of their origin where they spawn and die.
BEAN APHIDS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Bean aphids give birth when the length of the day reaches 14 hours and 55 minutes, assuring that the offspring will have warmth. Similar triggers by sunlight affects life cycles, allowing muskox to shed their insular undercoat, mallard ducks to shed their winter down, and snowshoe hares to change their color from white to brown before all the snow melts.
FROM FRUITFLIES TO HUMANS. Fruitflies shed their pupal husk an hour before dawn even when kept in the dark. Even when kept in total darkness, hummingbirds slip into torpor at dusk, allowing them to conserve energy. A poppy folds its petals at dusk, even in a dark box. Both the hummingbird and the poppy will resume operations at dawn, even in the darkness. Scientists are still researching what triggers these changes even without sunlight. Medical researchers are also studying how humans respond to a lack of sunlight, causing seasonal affective disorders (SAD).
Studying the incredible ways in which sunlight affects life cycles on Earth is a great way to grow in appreciation for the creation process. We marvel at the careful design built into all living things. David looked at himself and his world and remarked, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works…” (Psalms 139:14).
The natural world is full of examples of two species living together in a way that each benefits the other. This mutualistic relationship is known as symbiosis. In some cases, the species are totally dependent on the relationship for their survival. In many plant/animal relationships, the animal depends on a plant for food, and the plant depends on the animal for pollination or the spreading of seeds. We see evidence for design in symbiosis.
One of the most interesting symbiotic relationships is between ants and butterflies. Scientists refer to the caterpillar in this relationship as being myrmecophilous, which means “ant-loving.” Dr. Philip Devries has written several articles in scientific journals about the caterpillars of certain butterfly species and their symbiosis with ants. The caterpillars feed on the nectar of croton trees, but they have a mortal enemy in the form of wasps. The wasp will find a caterpillar, kill it by stinging and then eat it. If ants are present, they will drive off the wasp and protect the caterpillar. Devries has covered some croton trees with ants, and they will have many caterpillars, but trees without ants will have very few caterpillars.
So the ants benefit the caterpillars, but what do the ants gain from this relationship? The caterpillars have organs on their posterior which extrude a clear liquid containing amino acids but virtually no sugar. The croton tree has a secretion that is 33% sugar but has very little nutritional value. The ants get vital nutrition from the caterpillar even though what they get is not sweet.
The caterpillar has other ways of attracting ants, including an organ on its back that secretes an ant pheromone that chemically attracts them. The caterpillar also has an organ that attracts ants by sending sound vibrations through the wood of the tree. Because of this feature, Dr. Devries coined the term “singing caterpillars.”
One of the great challenges to evolutionists is explaining how such a complex system of symbiosis happened by chance mutations. The more we study such relationships, the more different systems of design we see in the natural world. The more relationships we see, the more difficult it is not to recognize evidence for design in symbiosis. It speaks to us about God’s wisdom and design that allows the biological world to exist.
There are many chemical wonders in our world, but few are as important and complex as the chemistry of nitrogen. Nitrogen makes up 78% of our atmosphere. It combines with oxygen to form nitrates and with hydrogen to produce ammonia, both of which are essential for growing our food. Nitrogen fixation, which is how nitrogen gets from what we breathe to what we eat, is an amazing demonstration of design.
First, let us review a little high school chemistry. The atoms of all elements have electrons which give them their properties for forming compounds. The electrons are arranged in pairs with their magnetic poles designed so that in a stable arrangement, one electron’s north pole is matched with its neighboring electron’s south pole. The electrons have various orbitals with different energy levels. The atom is stable and chemically inert if an orbital is filled with all the paired electrons it can hold. For example, neon has 10 electrons. The first two orbitals each have two paired electrons, and the last orbital has six electrons in three pairs. This pairing of electrons makes neon an inert gas which does not combine chemically with other elements.
Nitrogen has an uneven number of seven electrons. So how does nitrogen become chemically stable? The answer is that two nitrogen atoms share three electrons, giving them stability. The two nitrogen atoms bond together to form a diatomic molecule that cannot be easily pulled apart to bond with other elements. How strong is the bonding? To break up a nitrogen molecule into two nitrogen atoms requires temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees Celsius and pressures of 200 atmospheres. So with nitrogen as the dominant element in our atmosphere, the atmospheric gases are stable and inert. Also, nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas that could threaten our temperatures on Earth. How then has God built a system that takes these stable nitrogen molecules and breaks their triple bonds to produce nitrates and ammonia?
If you think this isn’t an important subject, ask yourself where your food comes from? The answer is that 50% of the American diet is produced using artificial fertilizers containing nitrogen, which has been “fixed.” Nitrogen fixation combines that inert gas with oxygen and/or hydrogen to supply the soil with the chemical needed to grow the plants we eat, and which the livestock eat to provide us with meat.
Bacteria accomplish God’s method of nitrogen fixation. The bacteria turn nitrogen into ammonia, which is a nitrogen atom sharing electrons with three hydrogen atoms instead of with another nitrogen atom. Plants known as legumes such as soybeans and peas, as well as bayberry and alder trees, attract bacteria which concentrate in nodules on the plant’s roots. The bacteria turn nitrogen gas into ammonia and nitrates the plants can use. Cyanobacteria in the ocean and cycad plants on the land are also major nitrogen fixers. Scientists are also discovering tropical plants that contribute to the wealth of nitrogen compounds in the soil.
Most of our fertilizers have nitrogen fixed by a method called the Haber-Bosch process. It uses massive amounts of energy to break the triple bonds of nitrogen gas. Producing 500 degrees and 200 atmospheres is expensive, and that is why you pay so much for the fertilizer you use in your garden. God’s methods are free. Scientists are trying to figure out how to recreate God’s nitrogen fixation method to save energy and produce more food.
Many bacteria are beneficial in various ways, and nitrogen fixation is only one of them. This is a great apologetic for God’s wisdom and design in preparing the Earth to provide food for us to eat.
The microbiome consists of trillions of beneficial bacteria that support our bodies in many ways. Some bacteria play an essential role in digestion and in separating the waste and processing it so that it can be excreted. Other bacteria play a role in our reproductive system. When I was a student at Notre Dame, there was a germ-free laboratory on campus where researchers raised animals with no bacteria. One of the complications of doing that was that even rabbits could not conceive if they were germ-free. For years, scientists have debated the question of the origin of our microbiome.
One interesting discovery that has come from prenatal research is that pre-born babies have their own microbiome separate from their mothers. For the past century, medical experts believed that babies acquired their microbiome at or shortly after birth. Research like that done at Notre Dame was thought to support the” sterile womb paradigm” hypothesis. Recent research has suggested that the origin of our microbiome may be from small amounts of bacteria built into the placenta. Discover magazine (June 2020, page 16) reviews the debate over when babies get their microbiome. Part of the problem is that it is very easy for contamination to get into the research specimens creating confusion over whether the bacteria were natural or if they came from contamination.
Our interest in this subject is not so much about the origin of our microbiome as to look at the implications of the data. Everyone agrees that the baby does not have its mother’s microbiome. Some microbes like E. coli are so common that they are found in all microbiomes. Beyond those, there is a unique makeup to each person’s microbiome, including newborns and pre-born babies.
Maintaining that a baby is an extension of the mother and therefore has no rights is to ignore the evidence. Morning sickness is caused by the mother’s immune system not recognizing a foreign object, the baby, and going into defensive mode. The baby growing inside the mother is a unique person with its own genetic makeup, awareness, and microbiome.
The abortion issue ignores the evidence and attempts to create a new vocabulary to make it seem less brutal, but taking a baby out of the womb and killing it is still infanticide. As tough as this issue is, we need to not shield the vile nature of this process by ignoring the evidence. Instead, we should look for solutions that recognize the value of life and the worth of every human being.