One question repeatedly arises from skeptics, atheists, and people struggling with health issues. They want to know why we have all of the diseases, syndromes, and disabilities that afflict people. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? Is the bad stuff that comes into our lives punishment for some transgression of God’s laws?
It seems that we have more things that can go wrong with us today than ever before, and a large percentage of our modern afflictions are genetic or congenital. It isn’t just that we have more names for current problems, but the problems themselves seem to be more abundant.
The Bible tells us that God is never the author of our problems. James 1:13 makes it clear that God never brings bad things upon us. The passage goes on to say, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning.”
A part of the answer to the source of these afflictions is our development of plastics. In 1922, the first synthetic plastic was sold by the Bakelite Corporation. In 2018, 400 million tons of new plastics were created. We all cringe when we see pictures of whales or sea turtles or albatrosses dying because of ingesting plastic, but we don’t realize that we too are consuming plastic. The average American consumes more than 74,000 microplastic particles every year. These particles contain bisphenol A and phthalates, which in turn attract polychlorinated biphenyls. These chemicals have been shown to affect brain and organ development in children, and they are linked to infertility, hormonal problems, and cardiovascular problems in adults.
There are efforts to control plastics production, and science is researching ways to remove dangerous chemicals from the plastics we use. Our point is that this is another case where blaming God for a problem that humans have created is not logical or reasonable. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? As David wrote, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). Much of what goes wrong with our bodies is due to our ignorant use of things that damage them.
“THE UNIVERSAL RULE OF GRADUATE WORK–MAKE SURE YOUR DATA SUPPORTS YOUR CONCLUSIONS!”
When I was doing research for my master’s degree, that statement was posted on the graduate studies bulletin board at Indiana University. I have no idea who put it there, but I can tell you it got a pretty strong response from the school’s dean. Unfortunately, there is more truth to it than most of us would like to admit, and it is not just graduate students to whom it applies.
One of the problems any scientific researcher has is getting funding for the work, and you don’t get funding unless you produce results. There have been several cases in National Geographic where the magazine reported some incredible find by a researcher they were funding and later discovered that the claimed discovery was a hoax. We have reported on these in the past. (For example HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
One of the disciplines where this problem has been very apparent is in the finds of fossil humans. In 1974 Donald Johanson found pieces of a skeleton in Ethiopia. While they were excavating the fossil, the radio was playing the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Johanson decided to name the specimen “Lucy.” The find was announced at the Nobel Symposium in 1978 and was hailed as the first ape to walk upright, and thus it was a proven link between apes and humans.
The primary evidence that Lucy walked upright was a knee joint, which was clearly from an individual that walked in an upright position. Evidence that the rest of the skeleton was clearly from an ape included a V-shaped mandible, a very small brain, and a humerus and femur that were the same size. Lucy has made the covers of numerous magazines and even toured the United States.
It has now been announced that the researchers found the knee joint, which they used to prove Lucy was walking in an erect position, more than two miles from the rest of the skeleton. It also came from a stratum 200 feet lower than the one where the rest of the skeleton was found. Richard Leakey, the Director of Kenya’s National Museum, said that “the evidence for the alleged transformation from ape to man is extremely unconvincing. It is overwhelmingly likely that Lucy was no more than a variety of pygmy chimpanzee.” Johanson has agreed that Lucy was not related to humans at all.
Why does this kind of thing happen? Researchers tend to accept a theory and then look for evidence to support that theory. They adopt the philosophy “make sure your data supports your conclusions.” The media wants instant gratification, and the result is that front-page stories are frequently not factual. Several books have addressed this problem. The Fossil Chroniclesby Dean Falk is a useful resource. See The Wall Street Journal for October 8, 2011, section C6 for a review by Brian Switek.
The researchers are victims of the system, but atheistic attacks on the Bible that depend on the media stories are obviously vulnerable to this issue. We need to have our brains engaged when we read anything, and that is true of the Bible as well as scientific reports in the media.
The subject of human evolution is an area that continues to change with new techniques and new data, such as the study of a fossil nicknamed Little Foot. This area is of interest to those of us involved in apologetics – the study of evidence for the existence of God. The biblical concept of human creation is that we are created in the “image of God.” That message is clearly not referring to our physical makeup or how we look. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and it is our spiritual makeup, which is in God’s image.
The origin of the races of humans is interesting historically, but especially now with the “black lives matter” movement. Evolutionists at the time of Darwin claimed that black people were early prototypes of humans, but were not fully human and therefore could be treated like animals. For many people, that belief, as absurd as it is, was the justification for slavery. As far as apologetics is concerned, the uniqueness of all humans is rooted in human spiritual abilities. Those include the capacity to worship, the ability to create music and art, the ability to feel spiritual emotions, and our concept of self-awareness.
The assumption that humans evolved from some ancient ape-like animal has been fraught with difficulties and controversy. A skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus found at Sterkfontein in South Africa has added to the discussion. The fossil nicknamed Little Foot has a well-preserved atlas vertebra that sits just beneath the cranium at the top of the spinal column. By studying this vertebra, scientists can determine the flow of blood to the brain.
Little Foot’s blood flow was significantly lower than the flow into human brains, which means that Little Foot’s brain was severely restricted. Scientists classify it as Australopithecus, which refers to a group of apes and monkeys. New data adds to the evidence that science needs to clarify the physical models of change in monkeys, apes, and, most importantly, in humans.
Any attempt to use science to denigrate a race of humans as inferior is unsupported by the evidence. We see human uniqueness in the truth of the simple biblical statement, “God that made the world and all things within it … has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the earth…” (Acts 17:24 and 26).
On June 9, 2020, Washington University scientists released a report on neurological experiments. Their research shows that the human brain rewires itself when changes occur in the body. Dr. Nico Dosenbach, professor of neurology, and his coworkers put their arms in casts. For seven weeks, they would lie absolutely still for a 30-minute MRI. The MRI scans showed that within two days, the group of neurons responsible for coordinating the movement of the casted arms effectively disconnected from the rest of the brain but increased their connections with each other.
Dr. Beatriz Lunda at the University of Pittsburgh said, “They found a neural signature for adult brain plasticity. It adds to our understanding that the brain is never doing nothing. It is always trying to optimize its performance.” This means the human brain rewires itself to compensate for the current disuse of a body part while keeping the pathways open to reactivate that part later.
The applications of this research are many and of great significance. Stroke victims, people who have casts on their arms or legs, and children with conditions that cause them to favor one side of the body, can all benefit from this research. The complete report will be published in the August 2020 edition of the professional journal Neuron, if you are interested in reading more about how the human brain rewires itself.
God’s design of our personal computer – the brain – is so complex that we are just beginning to understand how it works. Like any computer, the designing Engineer had to be a genius to make such a wondrous device. Thank you, God, for our brains and help us to take care of them.
Lava tubes on Earth are dark and cold places. It’s unclear what they may be like on Mars, but perhaps someone will find out. Future Martian explorers may experience life in a lava tube.
Camping out on Mars is not a good idea. There is no breathable atmosphere, and the radiation is deadly. Without much of an atmosphere, the temperature on Mars varies extremely. On a summer day near the equator, the temperature may reach a comfortable 70 degrees F (20 degrees C). However, without the thermal blanket of an atmosphere, the night-time temperature can drop to minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C). At the poles, the temperature can get down to minus 195 F (minus 125 C). The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees F (minus 60 C).
Transporting materials to build a suitable shelter on Mars would be difficult. Any structure would have to be small and still might not give adequate protection from radiation. The surface of Mars receives unfiltered solar radiation, cosmic rays, and ionized particles from the solar wind. With the lack of an atmosphere or a magnetosphere, which we have on Earth, there is nothing to block the dangerous radiation. The amount of radiation is many times what astronauts experience in the International Space Station (ISS). NASA limits astronaut exposures in the ISS to months. Explorers might have to spend years on Mars. Just getting there will take about seven months.
What does this have to do with life in a lava tube, and what are lava tubes anyway? During a volcanic eruption, molten lava can bore its way through the ground and run out into the open. When the molten lava exits, it often leaves behind a cave-like underground tube. I explored the Lava River Cave (bottom picture) in Arizona, located in the Coconino National Forest. The walls are black basalt, which the lava left behind, and there is no light except at the entrance. The temperature remains constant at around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). In most places, the ceiling is high enough that I could stand up, but in other areas, I had to crouch down or get on my hands and knees. The top picture shows a larger lava tube in Iceland.
Researchers have detected what appears to be lava tubes on Mars near Hadriacus Mons, which is a volcanic mountain formed long ago when the Martian interior was hot. They suggest that those lava tubes would be the best location for a Martian outpost. The lava tubes would give protection from the radiation, and it might even be possible to seal one off, pressurize it with oxygen, and heat it. They tested the radiation protection concept in some lava tubes on Earth, including the Lava River Cave in Arizona.
All of this drives home how blessed we are to have a home on planet Earth. I can step outside on a beautiful day, breathe the oxygen, feel the filtered rays of sun on my face, enjoy the pleasant temperature, and thank God for the blessings. Stepping out of the lava tube on Mars without the protection of a super-spacesuit would mean instant death. Even though I enjoyed exploring the lava tube in Arizona, I wouldn’t want to live there. Life in a lava tube does not interest me. I enjoy living on this planet, which God designed to give us everything we need if we will just take care of it.
We take for granted that the simple things around us are just the way they are without realizing the wisdom and design they display. A classic example is the design of evergreen trees such as pines, spruces, and firs. Why are these conifers shaped differently from deciduous trees such as oaks and maples? The answer is that the design of evergreen trees is an example of incredible planning and wisdom. Their design gives these northern trees some built-in characteristics that allow them to exist.
The shape of the conifers is pyramidal, which is unique among plants. That shape allows sunlight to reach all of the tree’s branches. Since those trees often grow in cold areas, the shape also prevents excessive amounts of snow from building up on the top branches causing them to break. Evergreen trees tend to have a shallower root structure than deciduous trees, and wind resistance on the upper part of the tree would tend to topple it. The pyramid shape reduces wind resistance.
Instead of having leaves, the design of evergreen trees means they have narrow needles, which also reduce wind resistance compared to broad leaves. The branches are layered with space between the layers allowing wind to pass through. Since those trees often grow in northern areas where the angle of sunlight is low, the layered branches also allow the sunlight to reach into all of the branches. The needles reduce water loss compared to leaves so that the trees can survive in dry areas.
An evolutionist is constrained to believe that adaptations like this are lucky accidents. But as we understand the complex system of the world around us, the models that depend on luck become less believable. In the words of Romans 1:18-20, we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible presents trees as God’s tools to sustain human life in the past, present, and future. (See Genesis 1:8-9 and Revelation 22:1-2.)
One question we hear from a wide range of people is, “Why did God do this to me?” My answer to that statement is always the same, “God didn’t do it to you!!” James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God. God cannot be tempted with evil, and He does not tempt any man.” James speaks of moral temptation, but the principle laid down is true in a wide variety of areas. James says it is our own lust that causes us to sin, which ultimately leads to death. The fact is that every bad thing that happens to us came from someone’s lust. It may be a lust for money, for power, or for dominance. But it is not because God chose to give us something bad. God is not the enemy.
One of the most frustrating examples is mental problems, especially dementia and Alzheimer’s. What can be more painful than having your own mother or spouse not know who you are? It is especially difficult when a disease like Alzheimer’s happens to some people and not to others. I recently stood next to a woman whose mother didn’t know her. That mother was an elder’s wife. She had blessed countless others and had been a teacher of children both in Bible classes and in the public schools.
In the same room was a foul-mouthed, abusive woman who spent much of her life in prison. She was busily writing a legal defense of why her current conviction on selling porn pictures of children should be thrown out of court. She was the same age and yet was very capable and mentally alert. I engaged her in an academic discussion of why quantum theory didn’t invalidate Genesis, and she knew her subject.
“Where is God?” my friend asked as we left the facility. My response was that He was with her mother because even though her physical body was with us, in my opinion, her spiritual self was not. God is not the enemy.
The fact remains that we need to understand why scenarios like this one happen. A recent study of 131,000 people in London, England, aged 50-79, showed that high exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a common pollutant in cities, more than doubled the incidence of Alzheimer’s. Also, exposure to particulate matter from traffic, even in small levels, increased the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s. High concentrations more than doubled it.
More and more studies of irresponsible disposal of chemicals in rivers, lakes, and oceans is causing the worst of human diseases. The London study also showed that ozone reduced the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s. Ozone is part of the structure of the atmosphere which reduces the amount of ultraviolet light from the Sun reaching Earth’s surface. Most of us will remember the problem of the atmosphere’s ozone hole a few years ago, which endangered life on the planet. It was caused by manufactured chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). That led to a worldwide ban on CFC production in 1987.
I am reminded of the old statement in the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” We reap what we sow. It may be by our own actions, but for many of us, the pain is from the greed and selfishness of others – but it isn’t from God. God is not the enemy.
The ancient Greeks saw the five visible planets and called them “wandering stars” because they moved randomly across the sky instead of staying in fixed positions like the stars. The word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”
We have known for many centuries that the planets are not stars. They appear to wander because they orbit the Sun, just like our planet Earth. They orbit at different speeds, making them appear to wander in the sky. For astronomers to classify a celestial body as a planet, it must meet three requirements:
It must have enough mass for gravity to cause it to become spherical, unlike an asteroid.
It must not have enough mass to cause thermonuclear fusion, which would make it a star.
It must have cleared the area of debris known as planetesimals.
We have five planets that are visible without the aid of telescopes or even binoculars. Two of the visible planets are called inferior planets, not because of importance but because their orbit is inside Earth’s orbit. They are Mercury and Venus. The other three are known as the superior planets since they are beyond Earth’s orbit. They are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
There is one essential thing the ancient Greeks did not understand about the solar system. They did not know that it is orderly. The Greeks saw a pantheon of gods controlling various aspects of the Earth and skies. Each of their gods had all of the bad traits of humans struggling with each other. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of one almighty and wise creator God who created an orderly system that led to the scientific understanding of the cosmos.
Biologists are always finding and studying new life-forms. Among recent discoveries are fish as flat as a pancake.
How many species of biological life exist? So far, scientists have identified, classified, and named about two million. They estimate that there are somewhere between ten-million and one-hundred-million. How fast are scientists finding and describing new forms of life? About 18,000 new species are identified and given genus and species names each year. At that rate, it will take somewhere between 555 and 5,555 years to identify them all. Obviously, biologists have a lot of work left to do.
Each year, scientists identify most of the “new species” from museum specimens that were found earlier but not studied carefully. Some species in the wild are going extinct, and some of the museum specimens may already have gone out of existence. Two species that are not endangered and that were discovered in the wild in 2010 are fish “as flat as a pancake.”
Scientists discovered two species of pancake batfish in the Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They gave their discoveries the genus and species names Halieutichthys intermedius and Halieutichthys bispinosus. (The picture shows the similar Halieutichthys aculeatus.) You probably won’t remember their names (or even know to pronounce them), but they play a role in the balance of life in the ocean.
Pancake batfish live on the sandy bottom of the ocean between 148 and 2,690 feet (45-820 m) below the surface. They are flat, that’s why the name “pancake,” and they cover themselves with sand to wait for prey. They eat snails, worms, clams, scallops, and other crustaceans. Their maximum diameter is about 4 inches (10 cm), and they move over the ocean floor by hopping on their fins.
We have to wonder why there are so many species.God created living things with the ability to adapt to many environments, with each one filling a niche in the marvelous system that makes our lives possible. He even gave us strange fish as flat as a pancake. Furthermore, God created us with unquenchable curiosity and plenty of things to study. We believe that we can learn more about God as we explore the creation.
We usually think of bacteria as agents of infectious disease–“germs.” However, many types of bacteria are helpful to us. The truth is, we could not survive without bacteria.
More bacterial cells are living on and in your body than there are human cells in your body. Your body has more bacterial cells than there are people in the whole world! Even more amazing, the total biomass of all bacteria in the world is greater than that of all plants and animals in the world!
Bacteria in our digestive system allow us to digest the food we eat. Good bacteria even help us fight off their less-friendly cousins. Researchers recently discovered that a human skin bacteria (Staphylococcus epidermidis) protects against skin cancer. Those bacteria produce a compound nicknamed 6-HAP, which stops DNA formation in cancer cells, but not in healthy cells. The researchers hope to use this information to develop new treatments for skin cancer.
Bacteria live everywhere in soil, water, hot springs, the deepest part of the oceans, deep in the Earth’s crust, and even in radioactive waste. Bacteria break down waste materials, including sewage and oil spills, to help keep our world clean. Industry uses bacteria to produce cheese, yogurt, ethanol, vitamins, antibiotics, and prescription drugs.
Before humans or any form of animal life could live on the Earth, there had to be a full complement of the right kinds of bacteria. An intricate system of checks and balances had to exist for things to stay in a favorable condition. We have often paid the price for upsetting the balance of the microscopic world.
Don’t forget that we could not survive without bacteria. They feed us, clean up after us, and even fight the diseases some of their cousins cause. They also show us the wisdom and intelligence of the Creator who made us, and those microbes we can’t see.