COVID-19 Vaccines and Design

COVID-19 Vaccines and Design

We received the following article on COVID-19 vaccines and design from Phillip Eichman. He is one of our readers who has a doctorate in biology and writes for us from time to time.

The politics and debate surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines have obscured the intrinsic beauty of the cellular mechanism that makes these vaccines possible. Earlier vaccines that many of us received, such as smallpox and polio vaccines, contained a weakened or inactivated virus. The COVID-19 vaccines contain only a tiny piece of viral genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA).

The amount of research and development that went into these vaccines is amazing. Scientists first determined the genome of the virus, then isolated the genes and produced a functional piece of viral mRNA. When injected into your shoulder, this viral mRNA directs the production of a viral protein that your immune system recognizes as foreign, ultimately resulting in immunity to the virus. When I took a molecular biology course as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, something like these vaccines might have seemed more like science fiction than basic science.

Clearly, the fact that these mRNA vaccines have been developed and appear to function as expected shows us that living things are not merely a random bunch of parts thrown together. Rather, they are exceedingly complex, finely tuned machines that result from intelligent planning and design. COVID-19 vaccines and design provide further evidence that the universe did not just happen.

— Phillip Eichman © 2021

Explaining the Manna in Exodus

Explaining the Manna in Exodus
The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

Christians sometimes make the mistake of devising naturalistic theories to explain biblical events. A classic example of this is explaining the manna of Exodus 16:14-35. It is true that certain insects in the Middle East secrete an edible substance. Some restaurants serve it and claim that it is the same manna that God provided to Israel in the wilderness.

The best-known example of wild explanations of manna was by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book Worlds in Collision, which was popular in the 1950s. Velikovsky claimed that Venus was ejected by Jupiter and became a comet that contained edible fragments containing carbohydrates which provided the manna of Exodus 16. Now we have people claiming that fragments from the ort cloud of material outside our solar system are the source of the manna.

We should first point out that there may be hydrocarbons in space, but there are no carbohydrates. There is a vast difference. The biblical account tells us that the manna could be baked (Exodus 16:23) and that if it was kept overnight, it “bred worms and stank” (verse 20). Baking would ignite a hydrocarbon. The Bible describes the manna as “like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (verse 31). None of those things match the composition of a comet or Venus. We have landed on Venus, and the surface is familiar rock types like ones found on Earth.

Many things in the biblical account can be explained in natural ways. For example, it is not difficult to believe that quail could descend on a population in significant numbers (also described in Exodus 16). Explaining the manna as a product of insects, as it is today in smaller quantities, would not explain its properties and regard for the Sabbath (verse 23). We could only interpret that as an act of God. How the manna was produced becomes an untestable question, and constructing explanations with wild assumptions damages faith instead of supporting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Autotomy and Decapitation

Autotomy and Decapitation
Elysia marginata sea slug

Japanese scientists have released a study of autotomy and decapitation in sea slugs. Researchers found that two species of sea slugs have the amazing ability to separate their heads from their bodies. The sea slug’s head continues to move while it regenerates a heart and other organs.

Autotomy is not a new phenomenon in the animal world. Many of us have seen lizards drop their tails to avoid predators. The tail continues to move to distract the predator while the lizard escapes. But this is the first instance where an animal drops its entire body. Both lizards and the sea slugs can use autotomy as many times as is needed. Japanese scientists have seen specimens regrow their bodies several times.

The slug’s head gets its energy to survive from photosynthesis taking place in cells it has acquired from its algae diet. The researchers believe the sea slug releases its body to get rid of parasites. The scientific community is interested in how this could be applied to replacing human body parts.

The complexity of what appears to be a simple animal is astounding. It’s a good demonstration that God has created animals with unique properties and abilities. Autotomy and decapitation reminds us that there are many things we observe in the natural world that we may use to solve some of the problems humans face.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

You can read the research report in Current Biology and see pictures and video HERE.

The God Question

The God Question

We frequently receive the God question from skeptics. Their challenges are something like this: “Since humans created God to explain what they didn’t understand, and since we now can explain everything, there is no need for God.” This relates to the “god of the gaps” argument, which simply says that people invented God to fill in the gaps in human understanding. There is no question that various cultures and religions have used that way of thinking. When people didn’t understand what caused volcanos, they invented a god or goddess to explain them. Even today, some people in Hawaii sincerely believe that volcanos are sacred and have a supernatural origin.

The “god of the gaps” thinking is rooted in ignorance, but so is the question, “Who created God?The problem with the God question in this form is that the questioner has a concept of God which is physical and, in some cases, human-like in form and function. The biblical concept of God is unique in that it challenges us to think more deeply than any physical or human makeup.

The question also assumes that there was a time when God did not exist. The problem with that thinking is that God created time. In Revelation 22:13, God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Personified Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 and says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning before the Earth ever was.” Peter wrote that “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

God is not a man (Numbers 23:19) nor like any physical being. “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and does not possess flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17). Acts 17:28 tells us that “..in Him we live and move and have our being.” We find those descriptions difficult to understand because they are outside the realm of our experience. Modern science tells us that there are dimensions beyond our own three dimensions of X, Y, and Z. Mathematics tells us that there are eleven spatial dimensions, but we cannot even define our fourth dimension of time.

The God question that atheists and skeptics bring up shows that they fail to understand that God is outside of time and space and, therefore, He always existed. Quantum mechanics has shown us a whole new realm of physics where some of the laws of classical physics no longer apply. No well-educated person would deny the studies of quantum mechanics which fill modern scientific journals. The only question remaining is whether the things that lie in the quantum world are without design or purpose and therefore show no intelligence behind them. The quantum world is incomplete because it offers no reason for there being something instead of nothing.

The concept of good and evil offers an answer to the God questions. It tells us why there is something. John 1:1-5 provides a glimpse into that question when it says, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” The word “logos,” from which we get the word “logic,” involves the metaphysical concept of right and wrong. The purpose of human existence is the struggle between good and evil.

Job stretched his mind to understand that he was a major player in the war between good and evil in Job 42:1-6. Understanding God’s nature and that we are beings created in His image opens a new understanding of the God question. It shows us the fallacy of asking, “Who created God?” and expecting a physical answer. God fills the cosmos (Jeremiah 23:23-24), and our studies into the nature of matter have opened a whole new door to better understanding the God question.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Opening the Suez Canal by the Moon’s Gravity

Opening the Suez Canal by the Moon’s Gravity
Photo of the Suez Canal blocked by the giant ship taken from the International Space Station.
Credit: Roscosmos/NASA

The Moon does many things that affect life on Earth. Sometimes its power can help in ways we never considered, such as opening the Suez Canal.

For a week, we saw news reports about a giant ship blocking that canal which carries much of the world’s shipping. The offending vessel is one of the world’s largest container ships, and it got stuck on the sand and turned sideways to block the entire channel. Tugboats and dredging vessels worked to dislodge it, but they were toy boats by comparison. You could think of a child with a toy shovel and sand bucket trying to free a beached whale and push it back into the ocean. I saw a news report with an “expert” saying it could take weeks to free the vessel.

Then, the Moon stepped in. The March full-moon arrived over the weekend and helped to free the ship. We have said before that the Moon does many things to support life on Earth. Its light helps nocturnal animals, and sometimes humans, to find their way. The Moon’s gravity stabilizes the Earth’s tilt which causes the seasons. The gravity also causes the tides that clean the ocean’s shores and estuaries. The tides and the moonlight play an essential role in the reproduction of sea turtles and many crustaceans. The tides even help to free stuck ships.

On March 29, the container ship Ever Given became dislodged, opening the Suez Canal. The 1,300 foot-long ((400 m) vessel would still be stuck if the Moon’s gravity had not raised the water level to lift it enough that the tug boats could move it. Tides are highest during the full-moon. At that time, the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Their gravity pulls on the water raising the tides. In this case, that force was enough to free a ship the size of the Empire State Building from being stuck in the mud and thus to open the Suez Canal.

One more thing about the Moon is that it has just the right size to allow us to have total solar eclipses, which benefit scientists in their study of the Sun. We never stop marveling at the powerful forces in God’s creation.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Reference: Space.com

Space Is Not Orderly and Simple

Space Is Not Orderly and Simple

Our Milky Way galaxy is somewhat orderly, with the stars orbiting what appears to be a large mass at the center – probably a black hole. Simulations of galaxies shown on science programs present a consistent whirlpool of material, all spinning in the same direction and obeying the physical laws we teach in a high school physics class. But space is not orderly and simple.

Simple explanations don’t work with galaxies like M64, sometimes called “The Evil Eye Galaxy” or “The Black Eye Galaxy.” In that galaxy, stars and gas close to the core orbit in one direction, but those further out rotate around the core in the opposite direction. Astronomers believe that this behavior indicates two galaxies collided, producing the confusion, but why the systems are in the same plane doesn’t match that explanation well.

There are cases in our solar system where objects revolve in different directions, including the moons of Mars and some other planets. Uranus is tilted on its side, spinning perpendicular to the ecliptic. Space is not orderly and simple or as benign as science fiction might like to portray it. Each time science makes a discovery showing that space is not orderly and simple, we have to wonder at God’s creative nature. Did He put some of these things together to challenge our creative thinking?

The most exciting aspect of all this is the unique stability and beauty of our planet. On March 27, 2021, NASA released a report stating that new telescope observations show there is no chance of something in space colliding with Earth that would threaten our existence for at least the next 100 years. We should thank God for His marvelous creation and for the fact that He designed our planet for the long haul. Now, all we need to do is to take better care of it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

For more on M64 see the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” for March 29, 2021.

So You Want a New Body?

So You Want a New Body?

So you want a new body? Scientific American (April 2021 issue) published an article titled “A New You in 80 Days.” It contains news of a study by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. It includes surprising information about how rapidly the human body generates new cells.

Different parts of your body turn over new cells at different rates. Fat and muscle cells make up 72% of our bodies by mass. Those cells last an average of 12 to 50 years. By number, there are far more cells in our blood, and they last only three to 120 days. The cells lining our gut live less than a week.

Every day, your body replaces 330 billion cells, which is about 1% of the total. That means in 80 to 100 days your body will replace 30 trillion cells. That is approximately the total number of cells in your body. So you want a new body, but don’t forget the larger fat and muscle cells will last for years while the smaller cells get replaced. Some cells last a lifetime, including brain, heart, and eye cells.

The study does not include the bacteria and viruses that are in our bodies. There are about 38 trillion of them. That is more than the number of your body cells, but they are much smaller and have a total weight of only seven to eleven ounces (200 to 300 g). By mass, cells make up 68% of our bodies. Fluids outside of cells make up 25%, and solids such as minerals in our bones complete the other 7%. By number, 87% of the cells in our bodies are the microscopic red blood cells.

A report like this can help us understand how complex the human body is. I remember how simple cars were 50 years ago when compared to today. When I was in high school, I had a friend who could tear his car down and put it back together in less than a day. That was in 1950. Today’s cars are so complex that such a feat would be impossible, but that also means it is difficult to fix when something goes wrong. The complexity of our bodies makes the treatment of our bodies difficult when something goes wrong, and, like today’s cars, there is a lot that can go wrong.

So you want a new body? That won’t happen in this life. We are reminded of the words of the psalmist in Psalms 139:14, “I will praise you, Lord, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful. I know that full well.”

— John N. Clayton © 2021

What Design Looks Like

What Design Looks Like
Architectural Design Team

In his book The Blind Watchmaker biologist and militant atheist Richard Dawkins wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He then argues that we must ignore appearance and realize that those complicated things were not designed. Can we recognize what design looks like?

Francis Crick, also an atheist, was one of the scientists who solved the mystery of the DNA molecule’s structural design. In his book What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, he wrote that “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

Even Charles Darwin admitted in a paragraph near the end of his book On the Origin of Species that many scientists rejected his theory, and he concluded that it was because they had closed minds. It seems that scientists in Darwin’s day and most people in our day see design in living things, and design calls for a Designer.

It is counter-intuitive to think that the rich tapestry of life is merely a chance accident with no design and no Designer. In our everyday experience, we know what design looks like. We never see anything complex and functional come into being without intelligent operatives designing it. That is true of buildings, automobiles, computers, books, and websites. Those and many other things around us show design, and they don’t happen without a designer. To believe that dead molecules came together on their own, came to life, and began to reproduce and breathe and think and write books and ask questions requires a great “leap of faith.”

Atheist Thomas Nagel, a professor of philosophy at New York University, wrote a book titled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. In that book, he wrote, “It is prima facie implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” On the other hand, in his book “The Last Word,” Nagel wrote, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers…I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God…”

For years, Antony Flew was a renowned philosopher described as “the best-known atheist in the English-speaking world.” He had a successful career of disputing God’s existence until he examined the design in living cells. His last book published in 2004 was titled There Is a God.

There is something within us that tells us we see design when we look at living things. We know what design looks like, and we have to go against our intuition to accept the idea that everything, including ourselves and our thinking, is an accident. As you look around at the many things that appear to be designed, ask yourself, “Do I know what design looks like?” And then ask, “Could there be a Designer?” How you answer that second question will make a world of difference in your life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Equinox All Year? Bad Idea

Equinox All Year? Bad Idea

Yesterday, March 20, 2021, the Sun was directly over the equator, and that brought in the spring (vernal) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, it was the autumn equinox for those south of the equator. That means if you want to know what direction is due east, all you would need to do is watch the Sun come up, and due west was where the Sun went down. From now until June 20, the Sun will be moving farther north. We call that day the summer solstice. Where we live in the mid-Northern Hemisphere, the Sun will rise and set about 33 degrees north of due east and west on that day. Why do we need to have the Sun moving north and south in our sky anyway? Why can’t we have the equinox all year?

If the Sun continually stayed directly above the equator, life on Earth would be more difficult. Areas near the equator would be much too hot, and regions far from the equator would be much too cold. There would be two narrow “Goldilocks” areas in between that would be hospitable for life. Plants need a respite from the growing season to prepare for the next growth cycle. Animal life depends on the seasons for reproduction and growth. We would miss the beauty of the changing seasons. So having the equinox all year would not be a good idea. Then why does our planet have this variation in the direction of the Sun?

Earth’s axis tilts 23.5 degrees, and as our planet makes its annual journey around the Sun, the tilt varies toward or away from the Sun. At our summer solstice in June, the inclination is toward the Sun, and at the winter solstice, the axis tilts away from the Sun. That makes the Sun appear to move from 23.5 degrees north of the equator to 23.5 degrees south. At the equinox, for a moment, the Sun is precisely over the equator. The next question is, does this just happen to be a lucky accident?

Since this is just one more factor that makes Earth suitable for advanced life, how could we be so lucky? We have discussed before the many factors that must be just right for life to exist. This is one more, and we don’t think it’s an accident. We believe it’s another evidence of a wise Designer. God gave us seasons for a purpose (Genesis 1:14).

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Collateral Damage from COVID-19

Collateral Damage from COVID-19

In the past year, we have endured the sickness that the virus caused, resulting in the deaths of loved ones, the isolation of family members, and economic losses. Recent studies by Gallup, the COVID-19 Consortium, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control have shown a substantial amount of collateral damage from COVID-19. Reports now being released by these groups show:

1) The suspension of in-person schooling has resulted in poor learning, school dropouts, and social isolation, especially in lower-income groups.

2) In a three-month period, 78% of cancers were never detected due to missed screenings. That means 750,000 to over a million new cancer cases missed over a nine-month period.

3) People being afraid to go to the hospital has resulted in a massive increase in pediatric illnesses, heart attacks, and strokes.

4) The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a four-fold increase in depression, a three-fold increase in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicide ideation.

5) The American Medical Association (AMA) reported an increase in drug overdoses and suicides.

6) Cases of domestic and child abuse have “skyrocketed,” while many child abuse cases have gone unreported because they are usually detected through schools.

A significant factor in these reports is that specific economic and racial groups dominate the most affected areas. Recovery from the pandemic will depend on churches and ministries addressing many of these areas, but Government rules for gathering have prevented many Christian groups from helping the needy.

We hope that we have all learned some things from this horrible experience. Christian involvement can help create a cooperative effort to heal the divisions and minister to the needs of those dramatically injured by both the virus and the collateral damage from COVID-19.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Imprimis, February 2021 – available at imprimis.hillsdale.edu.