Dumbing Down Reading Skills

Dumbing Down Reading Skills
The September 2017 issue of Reader’s Digest has an interesting article titled “Have Bestsellers Become Dumber?”(Page 118). The article contains data on the grade level of New York Times bestsellers over the years. That refers to the reading grade level needed to comprehend the text. In 1960 that level was eighth grade, and in the 2010s the level is grade 6. This calls us to think about the reason for this dumbing down of the best sellers.

In our materials, we have talked about fog indexes, which indicate how clearly the literature expresses its ideas. The Gunning fog index shows the reading level a person must have to understand what the written material is saying. We strive to be clear in what we present.

The problem with this dumbing down is that the public cannot read and understand material that is academic and documented concerning facts about the cosmos. Since many scientific journals and reports are written at a college graduate level, getting factual information is impossible for much of the American public. As a result, the public relies on someone else to tell them what to believe.

More and more people rely on television, movies, and other media to determine what is factual and what is not. This also puts a responsibility on programs like DoesGod Exist? to be honest and factual with what we present. We can never be perfect, but we can strive to be open to instruction and factual in all of our presentations.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Vulture

Tyrannosaurus Rex
We tend to view Tyrannosaurus rex as a 20-foot tall flesh eater who ran down its prey. Some have called this dinosaur “the most efficient carnivore who ever lived.” Science fiction movies like Jurassic Park have probably been the main source of this image, but the fact is that T. rex was nowhere near that fast.

Past studies of T. rex suggested that its huge mass–in the vicinity of nine tons–prevented it from running down much of anything. The muscle strength needed to accelerate that mass is simply not available to any form of life. Now simulations of acceleration and bone strength have verified that understanding. A speed of about 12 mph would have been the top limit for T. Rex and for only a short distance. That means a human could easily outrun a T. rex.

Tyrannosaurus rex was probably more of a scavenger than a hunter. There were other slow-moving dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus that T. rex might have been able to catch. It is more likely that the T. rex population were the vultures of their day, not the lions of their day.

God created dinosaurs for a purpose, and every year we understand more about how they helped sustain the ecosystem that produced many of the resources we need. Every little boy seems to be fascinated with the media presentations of these creatures, but they really were not that glamorous.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

SETI Is Still Searching for Intelligence

SETI
A few days ago we wrote about the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The newest SETI project is in the news because the Chinese government can’t find anyone to manage it. That is in spite of the fact that the chief scientist-manager will receive a $1.2 million-dollar salary plus housing. The job is to supervise the operation of the world’s largest “filled aperture” radio telescope.

This new telescope is designed to search for radio signals from intelligent life in the universe up to 1,000 light-years away as well as to monitor pulsars and detect interstellar molecules. Its name is Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) because it is 500 meters (1600 feet) in diameter. It was constructed in a natural basin in southwest China at the cost of $180 million dollars. Since FAST can’t be turned to receive signals from different directions, it is made up of 4450 metal panels that can be rotated independently to pinpoint different areas of space. Construction has been going on since 2011, and it’s in the testing stage now.

Sixty-five people lived in a village located in the valley where FAST was built. The Chinese government evicted them. Also, to prevent interference from electronic devices in the area, more than 9,000 residents within 5 km (3.1 miles) of the site were also relocated. They were given about $1800 each for relocating. About 500 families tried to sue over the demolition of their homes without adequate compensation. In the end, the Chinese government spent about $269 million to relocate the previous residents in addition to the cost of the telescope.

Now China is searching the world to find someone to manage the operation of FAST. So far they have had no success in spite of the large salary. There are several reasons why they haven’t filled the job. For one thing, the area is very remote and doesn’t have much to offer in the way of entertainment or activities. Also, because of the failure rate of the mirror activators, any scientist who wants to spend time in research using the telescope may end up mostly dealing with technical problems. In addition to those factors, the Chinese government has placed very high requirements on potential job applicants. With the educational and experience requirements, there may be only a handful of qualified candidates in the world.

China will eventually find someone to manage FAST. Calibration of the radio telescope is projected to take three years. Then the operation will require hundreds of astronomers and the SETI project will spend years and large sums of money searching for intelligent life in the universe. We have said many times before that whether life exists anywhere else in the universe has nothing to do with whether God exists. God could choose to create life anywhere, but so far the effort to find signs of intelligent life beyond our planet has not been promising.

What if they get this new radio telescope working and receive a signal from intelligent beings 1000 light-years away? That message would have been sent out 1000 years ago. If we send a “Hello” message back to them, it will arrive 1000 years later. A two-way conversation under those conditions would be slower than postal mail. In the meantime, thousands of people have lost their homes, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent plus millions more will be spent to continue the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish
Lying seems to be a heavily used skill in today’s political climate. The fact that there is so much deception in politics is interesting to me because as an atheist I viewed deception as a survival skill. When I was a child, my mother took me to narrated movie shows on nature. These were 16 mm movies filmed by photographers usually associated with The Audubon Society or The National Geographic Society. The person who did the filming usually was the narrator, and that added color and personality to what we saw on the screen.

My mother usually had an object lesson for me at the end of those films and deception was a major theme. My favorite film was an underwater movie about reef fish. The scene I liked most involved an ugly fish known as the anglerfish. This fish would lie on the bottom and dangle a piece of flesh that was worm-shaped in front of its mouth on a rod attached to its head. The fish would wiggle the lure to attract reef fish. When a fish came close to investigate, the anglerfish would suddenly lurch forward and swallow the fish whole.

My mother seized on the moment to tell me that I needed to learn a lesson about life from the anglerfish. That lesson in her atheist perspective was that life is hard and to survive we must to learn to deceive and not be deceived. Later in my efforts as an atheist, I would maintain that deception is simply survival of the fittest. The fit survive by deceiving and exploiting the unfit.

I always had good results using this to support my atheist arguments. When I tried to justify stealing money from my mother, it was less effective. I protested by referring the anglerfish, but she screamed at me, “You’re not a fish!!”

Now looking back at that from a Christian apologetic position I have to say “Bingo!!” But from her atheistic evolutionary perspective, I AM no more than a fish. When we have so much deception in politics, that is an indication of the perspective of our elected officials.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

M Dwarf Exoplanets

Imagined M Dwarf Exoplanets
One of the interesting scientific discoveries of the past decade has been that there are planets orbiting other stars (called exoplanets) and that many of these planets may have temperatures that would allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. There has been a special interest in M dwarf exoplanets.

In theory, all stars could have a possible planet in a zone where the temperatures would be between zero and 100 degrees Celcius. However, that zone could be very small, and there are many factors required to make life possible, and many that would make life impossible. In an article in Science News dated June 24, 2017, (page 18) some of those factors were mentioned. They include stellar flares, gravitational locking, and especially the life expectancy of the star.

Stars age and the period during which their habitable zone could exist in a stable form is very short. M dwarf stars are held up as having long enough lifetimes for water to exist and biological processes to take place. Since they are the most common type of star in the Milky Way (70% of all the stars in our galaxy) scientists are studying them closely. We have reported before on one of them called TRAPPIST-1.

As more data comes in, it is becoming apparent that although M dwarf exoplanets remain as they are for very long times, they are still not stable enough to sustain life. Scientists hoping to find another “earth” orbiting another star are learning that M dwarfs are not good candidates even though they have some of the conditions necessary for life.

As we have said before, if God wanted to, He could create life elsewhere in the universe. However, the special nature of Earth continues to be more apparent the more we learn. As we learn more about the universe, we see more clearly that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Super Night-Vision in Frogs

Super Night-Vision in Frogs
Almut Kelber is a sensory biologist at Lund University in Sweden. For many years Dr. Kelber has been studying the super night-vision in frogs that allows them to hunt and move about in extremely low light levels.

In the August/September issue of National Wildlife (page 10) the group that Dr. Kelber leads reports that amphibians have unique rods or photoreceptor cells in their retinas that are not found in any other vertebrates. These receptors allow frogs not only to see in the dark but to see colors in extreme darkness. Humans can’t distinguish colors in low light, but frogs can see colors in light levels where human eyes would not see anything at all. Dr. Kelber did not expect to find that “these animals can see color in extreme darkness, down to the absolute threshold of the visual system.”

Over and over we see specific equipment built into living things that allows them to survive in their environment, defend themselves against predators, and find unique access to food. You can believe that this is a simple trial and error situation, where having the equipment promotes survival and not having the equipment is lethal. Or you can believe that an intelligence designed and engineered these structures to allow our planet to be a unique oasis of life.

Since we find this super night-vision in frogs everywhere in the world, it is difficult to believe this is a product of isolated chance. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” Romans 1:18-22.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Listening for E.T. Continues

Listening for E.T.
The media seems to be obsessed with the quest to find life in outer space. They are especially interested in a “Mr. Spock” type of life–human in appearance but with super powers. SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been going on now for almost 60 years. Billionaire Yuri Milner has committed $10 million dollars per year until 2025 to keep the SETI project listening for E.T.

We have pointed out many times that finding life in space would not invalidate Christianity or the Bible in any way. Humans seem to be dedicated to finding an alternative to God’s way as revealed in His Word. Many seem to believe that finding an advanced alien civilization would be such an alternative.

The September 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, has an interesting article by associate editor John Wenz. The article on pages 34 and 35 is cleverly illustrated with cartoons by Theo Cobb. It shows 16 different “alien” cases that all turned out not to be messages from E.T. Wenz traces the misguided attempts to find alien signals from outer space that would indicate intelligent life out there wanting to interact with Earthlings. He goes back to 1960 when SETI’s first project called OZMA claimed to have received a signal from Epsilon Aurigae, a star about 2,000 light-years from Earth. The team, including Frank Drake who founded SETI, thought that they were receiving a signal from space, but it turned out to be terrestrial in origin.

Again, this is not an apologetic issue, but it does show the desire of humans to find a better existence. We would suggest the better existence comes from reading and understanding God’s Word, not from seeking alien help in straightening out the mess we have made. Those listening for E.T. may be waiting for another 60 years–or perhaps thousands.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Teacher Bible Case Settled

Teacher Bible Case Settled
In 2013 we had a news item in our printed journal about Walt Tutka, a teacher in New Jersey who was fired because he gave a Bible to a student. After four years, this teacher Bible case is settled.

Tutka said to a student, “So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” The student asked him where that came from. Tutka showed the student the statement in the Bible, and the student asked Tutka for a Bible of his own. Tutka is a member of Gideon’s International, an organization that distributes Bibles to hotels and hospitals. Naturally, Tutka gave the student a Bible. The school system fired him.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission backed Tutka saying that the school system had unfairly discriminated against him based on his religion. The case was going to be filed as a federal lawsuit in May, but the school district decided to settle out of court. Mr. Tutka is now back in the classroom.

When I was teaching in the public schools in South Bend, Indiana, groups brought books explaining their faith to the schools and gave them to kids who requested them. There were never any problems over that, but times have changed. We have even heard of cases where a teacher had a Bible in their book rack on their desk in a public school and was told to get rid of it or be fired. If a teacher had a copy of The Humanist Manifesto, that would be OK, even though it is a statement of faith–atheist faith.

We hope that this teacher Bible case and others will wake people up to the fact that blind prejudice against religion in the schools deprives people of freedom. Restricting our freedom to quote from or share a Bible should not be tolerated in America.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dawkins Admits Anti-Christian Discrimination

Dawkins Admits Anti-Christian Discrimination
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is an outspoken atheist. He has made harsh statements against all religions. In his book The God Delusion, he uses the vilest terms to describe “the God of the Old Testament.” Then he goes on to say that God is not only a delusion but a “pernicious delusion.” However, in a backhanded way, Dawkins admits anti-Christian discrimination. He has admitted that Christianity is treated differently from Islam, and coincidentally that Christians are more gracious and forgiving than Muslims.

Dawkins was scheduled to speak in August at an event in Berkeley, California, sponsored by a public radio station. Dawkins was supposed to be speaking concerning his newest book coming out this month–Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. Residents in the San Francisco Bay area reported to the radio station some comments concerning Islam in The God Delusion. They also pointed out a tweet from Dawkins in which he said, “”Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today.” When the powers at KPFA radio heard that, they promptly canceled Dawkins’ speech. They sent a letter to those who had purchased tickets telling them, “We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt–in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people.”

A response letter from the Dawkins Foundation referred to him as “one of the greatest intellects of our time” and called the accusation that he had used “abusive speech” toward Muslims “baseless.” Dawkins himself stated, “The idea that I have engaged in abusive speech against Islam is preposterous…I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism.”

In a letter written to the radio station by Dawkins, he stated, “I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass?” In other words, Dawkins can feel free to criticize and mock Christianity, but not Islam. Could that be because Christians are more gracious and forgiving? Could it be that he can insult Jesus and his followers and not fear for his life? Would he be able to do the same against Mohammad and his followers? I don’t think so. His words are a backhanded compliment to the faith he has frequently criticized.

There is another aspect of the decision by the radio station. The public radio station canceled the speech stating “KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech” and “we do not support abusive speech.” Would they have canceled because of Dawkins’ “hurtful speech” or “abusive speech” toward Christians? His vile words about the God of the Bible in his book The God Delusion would certainly qualify as “hurtful” and “abusive” toward the faith of Christians and Jews. I am confident that the radio station would not have canceled because of those words. Even Richard Dawkins admits anti-Christian discrimination exists in the media and academia.

Thanks to Thayer Salisbury for bringing this news item to our attention. You can find the full text of KPFA’s and Richard Dawkins’ letters here. Click here for the BBC report.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Toxic Martian Cocktail

Toxic Martian Cocktail
Mars researchers have discovered a new issue in their attempts to find life on Mars—a toxic Martian cocktail.

One reason scientists believed that life might be possible on Mars was that tests from Martian soil samples show chemicals that are a potential energy source for bacteria. However, because Mars has such a thin atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation levels are very high. A Recent sampling of the Martian soil has also shown that it contains perchlorates, which are toxic to living cells. An article in Scientific Reports on Nature.com said that the UV rays combined with perchlorates as well as iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide together give what the researchers are calling a “toxic cocktail.” The bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which is often found in spacecraft and can survive extreme conditions of space, is wiped out in 30 seconds when exposed to this cocktail.

In other words, the surface soil on Mars can kill living cells. On July 6 Popular Science reported on these findings and indicated that you would have to go six feet below ground to get away from this toxic mix. Surface expressions of life on Mars are almost certainly not going to be found. Deep underground testing is the only possibility for finding life on Mars.

The mass media often oversimplifies what it takes to make life possible on a planet. This oversimplification continues to be bombarded by the facts. Just being in the zone where water can exist as a liquid, called the “habitable zone,” doesn’t qualify a planet as a dwelling place for life. The “uninhabitable zone” keeps getting larger.

The number of variables that have to be tweaked to allow life continues to grow as scientists make new discoveries. The toxic Martian cocktail is another factor that has generally been ignored. God’s creation shows the hand of a Master Engineer arranging all of the variables that make life possible to create the unique planet on which we live.
–John N. Clayton © 2017