Enjoy the Beauty of a Sunset

Enjoy the Beauty of a Sunset

We were riding through the Arizona desert shortly before sunset on a Does God Exist? canyonlands field trip. We saw a storm in the distance, and it quickly surrounded us. Then, the storm lifted to reveal the sunset. We couldn’t stop gazing out of the bus window to enjoy the beauty of it all.

This incident reminded us that God sends the sunshine, and the rain, even in the desert. It also reminded us that God created a beautiful world and gave us the ability to enjoy that beauty. I think that ability is evidence that God created us in His image. God must enjoy beauty because He has created a universe of beautiful things that humans will never even see. We are aware of some of them only because our telescopes or space probes sometimes give us small glimpses of the beauty normally hidden from our eyes.

Even on our planet, there are beautiful things to be seen in locations where few people ever go. After scaling mountain peaks, a few of us enjoy the beauty of the valley below. While on the mountain, we look down and see beautiful flowers that grow in the rocky soil and cold air. Colorful plants and animals live and grow in the ocean, where only the most adventurous humans can enjoy their beauty. God sees all of the beauty, wherever it may be.

Are there any creatures other than humans that will stop to enjoy the beauty of a sunset? Thankfully, God has gifted humans with that ability. However, we often fail to do so because we think we are too busy. However, if we pause long enough to enjoy the beauty, we might be compelled to give thanks not only for the beauty but also for the ability to enjoy it.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

God’s Design of Fall

God’s Design of Fall

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have just entered the period we call autumn or fall. Summer has ended. Earth’s axis tilt and its path around the Sun cause the Sun to be directly overhead at the equator. We refer to this as the equinox, which is Latin for “equal nights.” Thus, at this time, we have approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. As a new season begins, we see God’s design of fall.

For those living in the northern hemisphere, this time brings amazing things to see among the plants and animals around us. Tree leaves turn from green to a cascade of colors. They don’t all turn at the same time because of their system design. Some measure the length of the day and start turning colors when the equinox occurs. Others depend on temperature to change colors. In addition, we see fruits and nuts come to full maturity at this time, providing food for animals and ensuring the future growth of new plants.

We see God’s design of fall as animals prepare for winter. With the temperature change, some animals migrate to warmer areas. This movement coincides with the abundance of fruits and nuts, allowing nutrition for the journey. Some animals, such as hummingbirds, leave well ahead of freezing temperatures. Other animals change their color in preparation for winter camouflage in the snow. Still others retreat into a place underground where the temperatures will not drop below freezing.

The question is, how do all these plants and animals know when to do that? It cannot be a conscious, planned adjustment by the animals to the local situation. Many of the changes happen even before the cold weather arrives. Certainly, plants don’t think about cold weather coming and their need to prepare for freezing conditions. Some of the changes seem to be designed to provide humans with a sensation of beauty. A sea of green becomes a splendor of color as the plants eliminate chlorophyll “A” (which gives them their green color) to reveal various colored chemicals in the leaves.

Fall is not just about beauty, but it also brings amazing and beneficial changes. Plants that survive the winter are able to free themselves of insects and bacteria that can damage them. Some animals prepare for winter by fattening up to go into hibernation. Bears give birth during this period. God’s design of fall is a functional system that speaks of God’s wisdom.

We can see God’s wisdom and design in a unique way at this time of year. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” To those of us who listen, fall speaks of the purposes of God in His living things.

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

“It all depends on how you look at things.” You hear that common phrase applied to many kinds of issues. If you doubt that, here is a lesson in perspective from the Moon. First, let’s look at the facts about the Moon and what we think we see when we look at it. Astronomer Bob Berman’s article In the October issue of Astronomy magazine contains some interesting facts comparing what we see and reality. 

How big is a full moon? Berman points out that it would take 180 full moons stacked on top of each other to fill the space between the horizon and a point directly overhead. The Moon is very small from our perspective, even though it appears large, especially when it’s near the horizon. How much brighter is the Sun than a full moon? The answer is that the Sun is 450,000 times more luminous. The Moon is a very dim object, just a little brighter than coal and much dimmer than dark green leaves. If you remember albedo from your high school physics class (the proportion of the incident light reflected by a surface), the Moon’s albedo averages 11, and a dark green forest is 15. Charcoal is 5.

Why does the Moon look so bright on a clear night when the Moon is at full phase? The answer is a lesson in perspective. Our eyes are designed to give measures of brightness based on what surrounds the object we’re observing. From our perspective, when we look at the Moon, we see an object in front of a black background. Our brain tells us that the Moon is white because its surroundings are completely black. 

Astronauts have been to the Moon and found that most of its surface is basalt, a black volcanic rock. Basalt reflects very little of the light coming to it from the Sun. So compared to Venus or Jupiter, which have clouds efficiently reflecting light from the Sun, the Moon is a dim and dark object. 

On a human level, there is a lesson in perspective. An old joke tells about the response a man gave when asked if his wife was beautiful. He responded, “Compared to what?” The same issue arises when someone asks if Christianity offers any advantage to a person or the world in general. Compared to all human philosophies, the answer has to be that the world and humanity have benefitted from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are talking about the actual teachings of Christ, not the perversions such as the Crusades, the inquisitions, or ethnic struggles. What have atheism and secular humanism done to benefit the people of the world?

Jesus gave a lesson in perspective in Matthew 5:14-16 when he said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before mankind that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The Sun is the source of the small amount of light we get from the Moon. Jesus is the source of the light we give to the world. The question for those of us who are Christians should be, “What is our albedo?” How much of what Jesus shines on us do we reflect on a very dark planet?

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Plasma – The Fourth State of Matter

Plasma – The Fourth State of Matter

Plasma is the least understood state of matter. We are not talking about biological material but an unstable soup of electrons, positive ions, and atoms. After solid, liquid, and gas, plasma is the fourth state of matter, and it makes up 99.9% of the universe. The Sun is a ball of plasma along with some gas. The northern and southern lights are plasma. We see plasma in lightning and in the plasma globes in museum gift shops. In recent years, scientists have produced plasma, and engineers have used it to make the chips used in computers, automobiles, television sets, and musical greeting cards. Plasma also stimulates the light we get from fluorescent lamps and neon signs.

In the 19th century, the Finnish physicist Karl Selim Lemström noticed that fir trees near the Arctic Circle grew faster when the aurora borealis was the strongest. From that beginning, scientists have found that not only does plasma enhance plant growth, but it also can kill the pathogens of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In addition, some experiments have indicated that plasma can stimulate the growth of blood vessels in animal’s skin.

Experiments in various countries have shown that seeds treated with plasma germinate and sprout more quickly. Other scientists are experimenting with sending an electric current through the air to create plasma, releasing ionized nitrogen, which plants need for growth. Those nitrogen ions can dissolve in plasma-treated water that can both irrigate and fertilize plants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, is experimenting with using plasma in agriculture to replace chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides.

The early Earth had the right environment for plasma production
, which could have stimulated plant growth in the sea and on land. This new understanding of plasma is one more testimonial to the wisdom built into the creation. The fact that 99.9% of all matter in the cosmos is plasma emphasizes how precious the physical design of our planet is. The solid matter which makes up the Earth is nurtured by liquid water, gaseous air, and plasma.

The more we know of the creation, the more we understand the power and wisdom of the Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). When we see the Sun, the stars, the galaxies, the northern lights, and the lightning, we see plasma, a tool God uses to shape the creation and mold the world around us.

John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News for September 11, 2021, pages 18-22.

Some Form Of Life Can Exist Anywhere?

Some Form Of Life Can Exist Anywhere?
Mount Shackleton in Antarctica

We read the media reports about efforts to find life on Mars, on various moons in our solar system, or planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. These reports often give the impression that some form of life can exist anywhere we look in the cosmos. For example, on Earth, we find life in sea vents on the ocean floor and geysers in Yellowstone National Park, leading people to suggest that some form of life can exist anywhere. Add to that the presence of organic molecules in asteroids, and they say that life is out there if we just look in the right places and in the right way.

Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences published a study of 204 soil samples taken from mountains near the Shackleton Glacier in Antarctica. Scientists had predicted that this soil would contain microbes, as is true of soil samples all over the Earth. Instead, they found that 20% of the soil samples, those taken from the higher and dryer locations, had no detectable microbial life. The study seems to indicate that extreme cold and dry conditions can render an area devoid of life. Noah Fierer, one of the scientists involved with the study, said that this might be the first time scientists have found soils that did not support microbial life anywhere on Earth.

The idea that some form of life can exist anywhere in every kind of environment is an evolutionary assumption that is apparently incorrect. We know that extreme cold and dry conditions exist on Mars and many moons in our solar system. Assuming there is life elsewhere because it is so abundant on Earth and some bacteria do well in extreme conditions does not mean there is no limit to where life can exist. 

We have said many times that there might be life elsewhere in the cosmos, but if there is, God created it. This is not a biblical or apologetic issue, but these new discoveries indicate that there are limits to the environments where life can survive. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Science News for August 28, 2021, and Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences

Interdependent Factors in Statistics

Interdependent Factors in Statistics and BMWs
BMW Z4 Cars

Yesterday, we considered the wise saying, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” We said that one problem with statistical arguments is that they often don’t include all the variables. A second problem with statistical arguments is that they don’t ensure that all of their variables are independent. Therefore, we must consider the interdependent factors.

For a trivial example, let’s suppose I ask, “What are the odds that I will buy my grandson a BMW for his birthday?” The first question we should ask is, “Is he old enough to drive?” A second question might be, “Can he get insurance?” A third variable would be, “Do I have enough money to buy the car?” Finally, a fourth variable might be, “Would he be happy with a used BMW?”

Since I love my grandson, I might say that the odds of me buying a car for him are 100%. However, as we consider each of those variables (plus many more), the probability becomes less. Are these variables independent, or are they interdependent factors? If he is not old enough to drive, he is also not old enough to get insurance. The probability of him being able to drive and being able to get insurance are not independent because both depend on his age. His being happy with a used BMW is not independent of my having enough money to buy a new one.

If we look at the question of life on Mars, we might be inclined to say that the odds are very high that life does exist on that planet. It has a mass similar to Earth. Mars has an atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, and water. Mars is tilted on its axis, it has a magnetic field, and the length of a day is roughly 24 hours. Are all of these variables independent? The answer is no because if the planet has volcanic eruptions, it will have an atmosphere, and volcanic eruptions always involve some amount of water. Both the water and the atmosphere are interdependent factors that depend upon volcanic eruptions.

The tricky part of this subject for both believers and atheists is knowing what is dependent and what is independent. As our knowledge of a topic improves, we are likely to find more dependent factors. For example, we recently discussed the importance of hydroxyl radicals in cleaning Earth’s atmosphere of pollutants. What are the odds of hydroxyl radicals being in a planet’s atmosphere? What may appear to be a separate and independent variable is the presence of lightning. Science has known for a long time that lightning helps produce nitrates which are essential for plant growth. In June of 2021, scientists announced a recent discovery that lightning produces hydroxyl radicals. Any planet that has lightning will have hydroxyl radicals, so the presence of hydroxyl radicals is not independent but is dependent on lightning.

This discussion has practical value in today’s world. Yesterday we said that we would examine some other statistical issues involving God’s existence. Think about this. Considering the millions of interdependent factors that must be in place to allow us to exist, could they all have come together by chance? Consider it on various levels—the creation of a universe from nothing—the creation of a life-supporting planet—the creation of the first life from inert matter—the creation of advanced life. We could go on. But considering all of the interdependent factors at each level, is it more logical to assume they came together by mere chance or guided by an intelligent Designer?

— John N Clayton © 2021

Making the Right Assumptions

Making the Right Assumptions about Life in Space

In my first college course in statistics, the professor made the following statement: “You can prove anything by statistics as long as you make the right assumptions.” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I have seen the truth of that statement over the years. People decide what they believe, and then they manipulate statistics to prove that they are correct. Another way of saying it is, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” This is true of religious people and atheists alike, and it’s a difficult mistake to avoid. Making the right assumptions to prove your point is usually possible.

There are some things we need to know about any statistical claim. The first is whether there are unconsidered variables in the calculations. For example, recent COVID death statistics failed to include other conditions that affected the mortality of people with the disease. Mortality rates for terminally ill people in nursing homes are not the same as those for college students.

People who claim that statistics indicate there must be inhabited planets with people like us base their claim on limited variables. In 1961, Astronomer Frank Drake formulated what is known as the Drake Equation to compute the probability of life on other planets. Drake used seven variables, with each assigned a probability factor. They are:

R∗ = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space


It should be evident that none of these variables are based on observations but on making the right assumptions. In addition, since 1961, science has added a vast number of new variables. For example, we need to consider black holes, star distribution, planetary chemical makeup, and asteroid bombardment. Added to that list are a host of physical constants and geologic processes we have learned through space exploration.

Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross has refined and expanded the list to include 322 variables. Even assigning modest values for each of those parameters would mean that the probability of all 322 occurring together (as they have on Earth) would be 10-388. That number is beyond impossible. Making the right assumptions involves considering all of the variables.

Whether life exists on any other planet
is not a biblical question and has nothing to do with the existence of God. However, tomorrow we will examine some other statistical issues involving God’s existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Hidden Designs in Creation

Hidden Designs in Creation - Seagrass Meadow

A regular feature in the Does God Exist? quarterly journal is what we call “Dandy Designs.” Those pages feature examples of design in living things that speak of God’s wisdom. We have collected many of those examples in five volumes of Dandy Designs booklets. In addition to obvious designs we notice every day, there are many hidden designs in creation that are vital to our existence.

Defenders magazine carried an interesting article about seagrass. Standing by the ocean shore, you may not be aware that seagrass even exists. It grows on the ocean floor in large meadows similar to those we see on land. Recent concerns about seagrass have made headlines as the Florida manatees that feed on seagrass have been dying in large numbers because of pollution killing seagrass meadows.

Seagrass is not just manatee food. It also benefits humans directly. The Defender article lists five direct ways in which we benefit from seagrass:

1) One acre of seagrass produces 50,000 liters of oxygen per day.
2) One acre of seagrass can absorb 3500 miles worth of carbon emitted by an average car each year.
3) One acre of seagrass will support 40,000 fish and 50 million invertebrates.
4) One acre of seagrass will absorb enough nutrients to treat the amount of sewage created by 100 people annually.
5) One acre of seagrass will generate $35,000 in ecological services every year.


We live in a time of massive change, with global warming and ecological problems threatening our world in a way not apparent in previous years. Yet, as Christians, we believe that we need to care for and protect God’s creation, and the more we learn about the hidden designs in Creation, the better we can do that.

John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Summer 2021 edition of Defenders magazine, page 8.

The Myth of UFOs

The Myth of UFOs

Anytime the media has run out of things they think will draw readers or viewers, they fall back on the myth of UFOs. For example, the May 10, 2021 issue of The New Yorker magazine carried an article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus titled “The UFO Papers: Why Did We Start Taking Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Seriously?” The article was a combination of bad science and bad journalism. The bad science was that the writer reported UFO sightings’ size, altitude, and speed based on people’s estimates, not precise scientific measurements. The bad journalism involved the people the writer chose to interview. 

Mick West, a British-American science writer and skeptical investigator who debunks the myth of UFOs, has offered plausible explanations that don’t involve aliens or paranormal explanations. In addition, Scientific American magazine ran an article titled “Experts Weigh in on Pentagon UFO Report.” One featured astronomer, professor Andrew Fraknoi, commented, “…there has been a flurry of misleading publicity about UFOs (based upon military reports). A sober examination of these claims reveals there is a lot less to them than first meets the eye.” 

The atheist community is interested in any evidence that might suggest alien visitation. Some atheists have implied that if aliens have visited Earth, they must be the cause of all the evidence for God. They claim that Jesus was an alien who came to Earth to try to get humanity on a more reasonable approach to reality. The miracles of Christ are simply high-tech displays by the aliens. The absurdness of this is obvious. If the aliens can do all the atheists claim, they certainly can evade any efforts by humans to see or detect them. 

Despite all the books and articles UFO proponents have written to support the myth of UFOs, no tangible evidence supports alien visitation. Scams such as the Roswell, New Mexico, claims and attempts to deny archaeological evidence that Jesus was what He claimed to be will prove to be false. Robert Sheaffer, who has written extensively about UFO claims, says, “There are no aliens here on Earth. And so, the government cannot ‘disclose’ what it does not have. Some people think the government knows more about UFOs, or UAP, than the public, but it’s clear they know less on the subject than our best civilian UFO investigators, not more.” 

We are not saying that there is no life anywhere in the cosmos except on Earth. What we do say is that if there is life out there, God created it. I always enjoy telling the story of an interview I did with Larry King early in my career. It was a radio talk show, and he had an atheist on with me. A caller asked my atheist friend, “What would you do if an alien landed on the Whitehouse lawn, got out of his flying saucer with a Bible in his hand, and said, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” All the atheist said was, “Punt.” I think that says it all. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

No Lake On Mars

No Lake On Mars

In 2018 the European Space Agency announced that their subsurface radar had discovered what they thought was a lake on Mars. It was about 20 Kilometers across and beneath 1.5 kilometers of ice at the South Pole of Mars. This discovery set off media speculations about creatures living in the lake that could be similar to the deep sea creatures in Earth’s oceans.

A study in the July 16, 2021, issue of Geophysical Research Letters does not support the lake on Mars. It turns out that the radar images were mirages caused by either clay minerals or frozen brine. Furthermore, the proposed lake was at the South Pole, making it even more unlikely that it is a water lake. 

We learn several lessons from this incident. The first is that you cannot rely on news of sensational scientific discoveries in the popular media. They are interested in anything that will attract readers or viewers. The original report by the European agency gave data and made one possible explanation of what their data showed. Science, unlike religion, has built-in methods to explore whether a proposal is reasonable. In other words, it is self-correcting. Changes in religious understanding usually result in name-calling and polarization. 

The second point is that we often interpret research data in terms of what we see on Earth. For example, the original radar data did not show just one possible lake on Mars. Other researchers have pointed out many radar plots like the one detected by the European satellite detected. Scientists speculated that this could be a lake because they have detected lakes deep in the Earth where pressure and volcanic activity keep the water in a liquid state. 

The possibility of a lake on Mars is not a biblical issue. However, this incident does give us insight into the workings of research in astronomy and how the media report it. The more we learn about Mars, the more we realize what a wonderful place Earth is. While Mars has a few conditions similar to those on Earth that allow life to exist, other Martian parameters would not support life. The unique design of planet Earth becomes more apparent as we study Mars and other objects in space. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Geophysical Research Letters July 16, 2021, and Science News, August 14, 2021 page 8.