Galactic Coincidences?

On a clear, moonless night, you can look up and see the Milky Way. Actually, we are in the Milky Way, a spiral galaxy of 200 billion stars one of which is our Sun. We are located in a spiral arm of that galaxy 26,000 light-years from its center. Our location seems to indicate many galactic coincidences.

At the center of the Milky Way (and perhaps all galaxies), there’s a black hole sending out lethal radiation to a distance of 20,000 light-years. Farther out than 26,000 light-years from the center, heavy elements that are vital to our existence and survival are scarce. We are in what astronomers call the “galactic habitable zone.”

Spiral galaxies rotate, and we are near the co-rotation spot where our solar system moves at almost the same rate as the spiral arm we are in. If we were in precisely the co-rotation spot, we would experience gravitational “kicks” which could send us out of the habitable zone. If we were far away from the co-rotation spot, we would fall out of the arm and be subjected to deadly radiation.

In the vast majority of spiral galaxies, the habitable zone and co-rotation spot do not overlap. Most other spiral galaxies are not as stable as ours. Most galaxies are not spiral galaxies and would not have a stable location for advanced life.

Furthermore, galaxies exist in clusters, and our cluster called the “Local Group” has fewer, smaller, and more spread-out galaxies than nearly all other clusters. Most galaxies are in dense clusters with giant or supergiant galaxies which create deadly radiation and gravitational distortion making advanced life impossible.

These are only a few of the many factors that “just happen to be” true of the place where we live. Are these just galactic coincidences? Some say it’s all accidental. We say it’s a grand design by a Master Designer. The next time you look up at the Milky Way, thank God that we are precisely where we are.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Lights of the Seasons

Lights of the Seasons
Genesis 1:14 says that God allowed the “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night” and to serve as “signs to mark seasons and days and years.” We can call them the lights of the seasons.

Although light is essential for our existence, the Sun, Moon, and stars are intended to serve an additional purpose. In Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the Earth. “Heavens,” or “shamayim” in the original Hebrew, would include the Sun, Moon, and stars. Genesis 1:14 tells us that God lifted the cloud cover (described in Genesis 1:2 and Job 38:9) so that the heavenly lights could be clearly seen to establish the circadian rhythm, give us a way to determine directions, and allow us to mark the passage of time.

Today (December 21) is the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the shortest daylight and marks the first day of winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the most extended daylight which marks the first day of summer. We call it the winter or summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words meaning “sun” and “stand still” because on this day the Sun appears to momentarily stop its southward journey and start back toward the north. (The opposite is true on June 21.)

When Earth has made one complete rotation on its axis, the Sun’s position shows us that one day of 24 hours has passed. When the Earth completes one revolution around the Sun (approximately 365 days), we can see that the Sun has finished one cycle of its apparent north-south swing. We know that one year has passed.

It’s the 23.4-degree tilt of Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun that causes us to have seasons as our planet makes its year-long solar revolution. That tilt makes it appear that the Sun is moving north and south through the sky each year and gives us seasons. Without seasons, only limited areas of Earth would be habitable. Without day and night, one half of the Earth would be baking in the sunshine while the other half would be continually cold and dark. When the Moon has made one revolution around Earth, we can see that it has completed all of its phases and we know that one lunar (or synodic) month has passed.

As we consider these lights of the seasons, keep one thing in mind. When Moses recorded the words of Genesis, people didn’t understand what caused “seasons, days, and years.” Now we do. We can see the full meaning of Genesis 1:14 when God opened the sky to reveal the lights of the seasons. Moses accurately recorded what God revealed to him, but he didn’t understand it. Science allows us to know how God did what He did. We believe that is what science is all about – discovering how God did it. True science and a correct understanding of the Bible are in complete agreement because God is the author of both.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Human Gene Editing

Human Gene Editing
We have written about human gene editing using the technique known as CRISPR. (Read more about it HERE and HERE.) One of the fears of those who are opposed to uncontrolled use of the CRISPR technique is that it will be used to produce “made to order” babies.

CRISPR could be used to treat a person with a genetic disease, but that is a different scenario from controlling a baby’s athletic skills or eye color. The big problem is that once we apply human gene editing, whatever was changed is passed on to future generations. That includes whatever errors might be made in the process.

He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, announced in early December 2018, that he had altered the DNA of two embryos to make them resistant to HIV. He then placed them in their mother’s womb resulting in a successful live birth. Marc Thiessen writing in the Washington Post said, “Gene editing is here, and it poses an enormous threat to humanity.” The problem is that there is no way of telling what other characteristics were altered in the process, or what it could lead to. Thiessen says “If science continues down this road, we will cross a moral line from which there may be no return.”

Science cannot determine the use to which its discoveries, such as human gene editing, will be applied. Will CRISPR be used to eliminate diseases that are produced by genetic change? On the other hand, will it become a way for scientists like Jiankui to make large amounts of money by producing made-to-order babies? The belief system of the scientists is what will determine this. An atheist has no reason not to use CRISPR to make a fortune for himself no matter what it does to the human race.

We need Christians who believe God is our Creator. We need scientists and medical practitioners who accept God’s view of humans that we are special, created in His image and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Moon Causes Tides

Moon Causes Tides
Most people know that the Moon causes tides. The gravitational pull of the Moon mostly causes the ocean tides. The tides are essential for cleaning the coastlines and estuaries.

On average, the Moon is 238,900 miles (384,470 km) from Earth. What if the Moon were only half of its present distance from Earth? The Moon half as far away from Earth would create ocean tides eight times higher than they are now. At one-fourth the current distance from Earth, the tides would be sixty-four times higher than they are today. Imagine a world with tides like that! Coastal cities around the world would be in danger. Coastal lowlands would be uninhabitable. The coasts would be eroded away in a short time. Upflowing tidal waters would overpower rivers that flow into the oceans. Floodplains along the rivers would fill and drain with each ebb and flow of the tide.

With a closer Moon, all kinds of aquatic creatures living along the shore would not survive the destructive forces of the tides. In addition to those catastrophes, seawater would deposit salt on the fertile land along the rivers making them barren. Glaciers along the coast of Alaska and Greenland and the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica would be broken up. Icebergs would clog the Atlantic Ocean. Icebergs would sometimes wash ashore with the tides in places far from the cold climates, crushing whatever was in the way.

It all sounds like a plot for a science fiction movie! So the Moon causes tides, but don’t worry. The Moon is not going to move closer to Earth. We can be thankful that it’s is precisely the size and location where it is. It seems as if Someone designed it that way for a purpose.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Stronger than Gravity

Stronger than Gravity
Gravity controls the universe — at least on a large scale. Obviously, gravity keeps you and your possessions from floating away into space. Gravity also holds planets and stars together. It holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth and all of the planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity holds the galaxies together. But other forces are stronger than gravity.

Four interactions make the universe work: the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity is by far the weakest of those forces. The weak and strong nuclear forces are limited to a very short range within the atom. Only the electromagnetic force and gravity reach out to the vast universe. Since the electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity, why does gravity control the universe?

Everything is made of atoms and atoms contain electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have an equal and opposite positive charge. Electromagnetism causes opposite charges to attract and like charges to repel each other. Gravity, of course, pulls anything with mass together.

The reason electromagnetism does not overpower the much weaker force of gravity is a delicate balance between electrons and protons. For each electron in the universe, there is a proton, so the plus and minus electrical forces cancel each other, creating electrical neutrality. Without that balance, we could not exist.

The balance between electrons and protons is so delicate that if you were building a universe and accidentally put in one extra electron for each trillion trillion trillion electron/proton pairs (that’s one followed by 36 zeroes), it would be catastrophic. The electrical repulsion between those negatively-charged electrons would overpower the gravitational force. The result would be that gravity could not pull any mass together. If gravity could not pull masses together, there would be no planets, no stars, no galaxies. Electromagnetic repulsion would create a universe of dispersed particles and nothing else.

Each of the other forces is stronger than gravity. The weak and strong nuclear forces are confined to short distances within the atom, and the electromagnetic force is carefully balanced. Is it possible that this precision is merely an accident? Or do we see evidence of system design? We think this is one more example of fine-tuning in the universe which gives evidence of a Designer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Billion-Dollar Picture

Billion-Dollar Picture
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How often have you heard that phrase? It may very well be true, but this picture is worth more than that. What you see could be called a billion-dollar picture. At first glance, this picture may not look like much. However, you need to take a good look at the large white dot in the center. That’s us.

In September of 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. The name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Its purpose is to study asteroids. Specifically, it was launched to study a near-Earth asteroid named 101955 Bennu. It will not only study the asteroid, but if all goes as planned, it will take a sample from Bennu and return that sample to Earth. The total cost of the project will be about one billion dollars, but it’s much more than a billion-dollar picture.

On January 17, 2018, OSIRIS-REx turned its NavCam 1 camera toward Earth and snapped this picture. The spacecraft was almost 40 million miles (63.6 million km) from Earth and traveling away at 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 km per second). The largest and brightest spot in the picture is Earth. The smaller dot close to it is our Moon. The cluster of stars in the upper left is the Pleiades. In the top right is Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Surrounding the Earth and Moon are five stars that are the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus.

OSIRIS-REx reached the vicinity of Bennu on December 3, 2018. It will be orbiting the asteroid and scanning the surface looking for a good place to land. That process will continue until July of 2020 when it will land and gather a sample. Scientists plan for OSIRIS-REx to deliver that sample to Earth in September of 2023.

Scientists hope that by studying the asteroid sample, they will learn more about the formation of our solar system. They hope to learn more about asteroids in general and what we might do to prevent one from slamming into our planet. There is also hope for mining useful minerals from asteroids and getting a better idea of the history of Earth. The whole list of scientific objectives for this space probe is contained in that long name for which we use the acronym OSIRIS-REx.

Forgetting about the cost and ambitious objectives, we enjoy looking at this view of Earth from far, far away. It reminds us of what a big solar system and universe we live in and how amazing is the God who designed it all. It also reminds us of the challenge God gave to Job about the Pleiades in Job 38:31-33. We encourage you to read God’s entire challenge in Job 38:1 to 40:2 as you look at this billion-dollar picture.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

This report is an update of our previous post on February 26, 2018.

Programmed to Change

Colour Sergeant Butterfly - Programmed to Change
When I was a child, I was introduced to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a beautiful butterfly. I decided to figure out how that change took place, so I cut open a chrysalis to see what was going on inside. Instead of catching the transformation in progress all I found was a capsule of black soup. Later when I asked biologists how the process took place, I realized that no one fully understood it. The caterpillar was programmed to change, but nobody could understand how.

What I did learn was that this process goes on in a wide variety of life forms. Frogs, sea urchins, flying wasps, and beetles are just a few examples of creatures programmed to change. The December 2018 issue of National Geographic features a wonderful article about the use of 3D models and micro-CT scanning of the process. These tools have given us a great deal of understanding of how this transformation occurs. The article identifies three stages of the change that happens as the caterpillar changes into a butterfly.

1. PROGRAMMED ACTIVATION. The caterpillar eats vegetation until it is full grown. As it does so, its hormones begin to shift with some parts of the caterpillar expanding and others becoming degenerate. The thoracic legs grow into legs that are good for grasping. Four wing buds on the caterpillar’s body begin to develop into wings, and the antennae become larger. The silk gland begins to degenerate to become the chrysalis. The proleg degenerates making the caterpillar more dependent on crawling. The mandible the caterpillar uses for chewing begins to degenerate making room for a tube for sipping nectar. The simple eye of the caterpillar which could only detect the presence or absence of light begins to change. All of this is programmed into the genetic makeup of the caterpillar.

2. TRANSFORMATION. As the prolegs degenerate, thoracic legs grow to adult size. Wings develop with full color from the four wing buds. The chewing mandibles morph into two halves that zip into pipes that make a straw-like proboscis. Simple eyes move forward closer to the brain and produce a compound eye which gives true vision.

3. EMERGENCE. The brain of the butterfly is almost completely rewired to meet flight requirements.  One thing that the butterfly seems to retain from its caterpillar stage is olfactory memories. It needs that to know where to produce the next generation of caterpillars. The butterfly sucks in air until its chrysalis breaks open. The butterfly flaps its wings for several hours to dry them and to circulate blood before flying off in search of a mate.

All of this happens in 15 to 21 days. The gut of the butterfly shifts from digesting plants to nectar in that short time. There are wonderful artistic drawings of all this in the article. The author summarizes his study by saying, “..the insect’s makeover is a programmed mix of destruction and growth. Certain cells die, and body parts atrophy. Meanwhile, other cells, in place since birth, rapidly expand in as little as two weeks, the adult emerges completely remodeled, capable of flight – and bent on finding a mate.”

We would add that no programming happens by chance. It takes intelligence to program a computer. The caterpillar programmed to change to a butterfly reflects the wisdom and intelligence of a great programmer superior to anything the software companies can offer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Why Did God Create T. Rex?

Why Did God Create T. Rex?
A reader sent a question that might be of interest to several others concerning the dinosaurs. The question was if God created everything, including dinosaurs, why did God create T. rex? Why would He create a creature so violent and cruel?

Denominational creationism maintains that God created everything good and T. rex and other carnivores went bad. When man sinned, bad came into existence and creatures that had been good became bad. So dinosaurs created as good and benevolent creatures suddenly became cruel carnivores. (See Acts and Facts December 2018, page 20.)

There are so many difficulties with that explanation, it would require a book to develop them all. Our book The Source attempts to do at least part of that. You can borrow it on our website or purchase it at THIS LINK. Here are a few points:

There is no Hebrew word in Genesis (or elsewhere in the Bible) that can legitimately be translated “dinosaur.” Some suggest that “behemah” and “remes” refer to dinosaurs, but the words literally refer to cattle and sheep or goats respectively. The Israelites were familiar with these animals, and they could eat them. (See Genesis 1:24-25 and 9:1-3). Genesis was written to Israel to explain how their animals came into being. It does not include every creature that ever existed – bacteria, viruses, platypus, dinosaur, etc. It seems that Genesis 1:1 describes God preparing planet Earth for humans. To do that, God created creatures that were extinct by the time He created humans and their domesticated animals.

Material found in dinosaur feces tells us what they ate. Coprolites of T. Rex do not contain plant material. Their dental structure in all cases was made to cut meat, not to grind up plants.

Being a carnivore does not mean that an animal is bad or a monster. If you don’t have carnivores, then plant-eaters eat all the plants, and soon everything dies. Why did God create T. rex? We need carnivores with the capacity to kill and digest herbivores to keep balance in nature.

Dinosaurs were not monsters any more than lions or largemouth bass are. They were part of the balance that God used as He fashioned the Earth with the resources that humans would need. At the end of the creation process “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was VERY good” (Genesis 1:31).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Earth Is Not Flat

Earth Is Not Flat
There is a myth that when Columbus set out on his famous voyage, people believed he would sail off the edge of the Earth. According to the myth, only the voyage of Columbus convinced people that the Earth was not flat. That myth is not true, and Earth is not flat.

The myth came from an early historical fiction work by Washington Irving in 1828. At the time of Columbus in 1492, educated Europeans knew that our planet is a sphere. The Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized that fact in 330 B.C. He observed that when lunar eclipses occurred, the shadow Earth cast on the Moon was always a semicircle. That could only happen every time if the Earth were a sphere. Also, it was easy to observe that when a ship came into shore over the ocean, the first part to be visible was the top of the sail. As it came closer, the lower part could be seen. That shows the curvature of the ocean surface.

In the early Church period, the view of a spherical Earth was widely accepted. The Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine (354-430) recognized that Earth was spherical. Theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) acknowledged that physics, astronomy, and mathematics had proven that Earth is a sphere.

However, the Quran (609-632) says that the Earth was “laid out,” “spread out,” or “made flat” depending on how it’s translated. In the sixteenth century, a Sunni commentary stated that most Muslim scholars took those words to mean the Earth is flat. Chinese society did not let go of the concept of a flat Earth until the seventeenth century when Jesuit scholars brought their teaching to that country.

In spite of the evidence some people today insist that the Earth is flat. There is another persistent myth that science and the Bible are enemies and that they contradict each other. We believe that true science and the Bible correctly understood cannot contradict each other because they have the same Author. Earth is not flat, and science and the Bible are friends, not enemies.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Relying On Ignorance

Relying on Ignorance of Grand Canyon Formation
We often hear from young people who have been taught something in a Bible class or sermon or a religious publication or video that they know cannot be true. Many creationists and creationist groups lack training in the fields in which they claim to be experts, and they are relying on ignorance of their hearers. When smart young people hear something they know is incorrect, it gives them a reason to reject the church and perhaps reject God’s existence.

A classic example of this is shown in explanations of the Grand Canyon. Many writers try to explain away the formation of the Grand Canyon by saying that the Flood of Noah did it. They say the Flood formed the Canyon in a short time just a few thousand years ago. They claim that the Flood laid down the sediments, and when the water swept off the land, it carved the Grand Canyon.

As an Earth Science teacher in the public schools in South Bend, Indiana, I taught young people about petrology — the study of rocks. Knowing how rocks were formed enabled scientists to find resources such as copper, oil, marble, iron, and certain gems. We can now synthesize some of these materials by copying the methods by which they were formed in the Earth’s past. Relying on ignorance would not allow us to find or synthesize these materials.

We know that the deposition of materials and subsequent erosion by the Flood did not form the Grand Canyon. The dominant rock in the Grand Canyon is limestone. Children taking Earth Science courses learn that limestone is a chemical precipitate. Quiet waters produce it over a long time. Most of us know about rock candy in which a solution of sugar crystallizes to create the candy. Limestone produced by a similar process, as is halite, dolomite, and gypsum. These are chemically precipitated rocks, never deposited in moving water.

A recent headline in a creationist journal reads, “Rapid Limestone Deposits Match the Flood.” A young person told me that she didn’t want to hear anything else from the Church because the statements in the journal were clearly not true. She doubted anything the Church said was true as a result. She also pointed out other problems. The Canyon is not just one rock type. It has alternating layers of different materials produced by different climates and processes. There are desert-produced sandstones, conglomerates which are produced by running streams, salt deposits produced by evaporation, and lavas that flowed across the top of the rock layers below them and were not injected as sills.

There is a huge burden on us to know what we are talking about. We must be as accurate as we can in understanding what the evidence shows. The general public is ignorant of most of these things and will not call an error to our attention. However, young people today are better educated in scientific facts, and we must not be relying on ignorance to expect our explanations to go unchallenged.
–John N. Clayton © 2018