One of the indicators that scientists use to measure evolutionary development is a test that determines whether an animal has an awareness of itself. The test involves placing a mirror in front of the organism and then observing the animal to see if it gives evidence that it recognizes that what it sees in the mirror is an image of itself. A recent report says that a fish can pass this self-awareness test.
Self-awareness has been used to categorize animals as having higher intelligence than others. Scientists have considered the mirror test to be the “gold standard.” Applying that test they have determined that great apes, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Eurasian magpies, and Asian elephants are all very intelligent and therefore highly evolved. Now a fish known as the cleaner wrasse passes the self-awareness test and must be added to the list.
Researchers in Germany placed a mark on the four-inch fish in a location that could only be seen in a mirror. The cleaner wrasses checked their reflection multiple times and then tried to remove the mark by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces. With no mirrors, the fish didn’t try to remove the mark. When the mark was placed on the mirror, the fish ignored it.
We should note that the cleaner wrasse survives by inspecting larger fish for parasites and dead tissue. The larger fish waits patiently while the wrasse cleans it by eating what it finds. This mutual relationship protects the health of the larger fish while providing food for the wrasse. Symbiotic relationships like that can be more easily explained by design than by evolutionary theory. Since the wrasse is designed to look for unwanted detritus on the bodies of other fish, perhaps that is why it is keen to notice marks on its own body.
If self-awareness shows high intelligence, we must now add a fish to the list of intelligent mammals and birds. Dr. Alex Jordan reported that the fish “behaviorally fulfills all criteria of the mirror test.” Dr. Jordan says that either the species is self-aware or the gold standard test needs updating.
I can remember that even as a child I wondered about zebras. They look like horses in just about every way except the stripes. Why do zebras have stripes?
When I raised that question in my high school biology class, I was told it was for camouflage. That explanation satisfied me until I was in the army where I was taught how to camouflage myself in combat. Our combat uniforms were striped. The leaders told us that the stripes would only work if there were movement around us, and if there wasn’t, we should stand perfectly still. Watching zebras in the wild, to me the stripes seemed like a flag saying “here I am.” I realized that a striped deer in the Michigan woods wouldn’t last very long during hunting season.
A good friend sent me a clipping of an AP report published in the February 23, 2019 issue of The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. It finally answered my question of why do zebras have stripes? The article told about research by scientists at the University of Bristol and the University of California at Davis. They dressed horses in white striped coats. The striped horses had significantly fewer horseflies landing on them than the ordinary horses. The striped coats apparently disrupted the visual system of the horseflies. The leader of the research team said that when flies get close to the stripes, they tend to fly past them or bump into them.
In much of Africa, there is a fly that carries a parasite that causes “sleeping sickness” or Trypanosomiasis. The parasite is transmitted to humans and animals by a blood-sucking insect, the tsetse fly. For a zebra, the tsetse fly is the number-one enemy. A healthy zebra can outrun a lion, and most other threats to their survival are of minimal efficiency. Getting away from flies is virtually impossible.
The stripes are a design feature of zebras. In northern areas tsetse flies don’t exist, so deer and horses don’t have stripes. An animal’s external appearance is a genetically determined feature. Why do Zebras have stripes? They are a classic example of how a change in appearance can protect against various kinds of enemies.
This new area of research shows one more example of God’s design in producing a genome that allows animals and plants to survive in a world of constant change.
One thing that confuses both atheists and fundamentalists is understanding the evolution of language. Atheists like to point out “mistakes” in the King James Version, and fundamentalists sometimes say it is the only accurate translation. The English language is continually evolving, and the Hebrew language evolved also.
In the early history of Hebrew, words were not written with the vowels we see today. Over time, vowels were added. That means there are variant spellings in the texts translators use. The word “Jerusalem,” for example, appears 660 times in the Hebrew Bible. Five times the spelling includes an extra vowel (Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 1 Chronicles 3:5,2 Chronicles 25: 1 and 32:9). Those books were written later than other passages where the vowel “yod” is not present. The difference is between the older “Yerushalem” and the later “Yerushalayim.” Today in Israel the city’s name is “Yerushalayim.”
On October 9, 2018, archaeologists at the Israel Museum unveiled a recently discovered stone column with a Hebrew inscription. The inscription is around 2000 years old, and it shows that Jerusalem in Hebrew was spelled and pronounced “Yerushalayim” in the time of Christ. That is the spelling used in those five instances in the Old Testament.
Biblical Archaeological Review reported this discovery in their January/February 2019 issue on page 6. The ancient inscription deals only with the spelling of Jerusalem, but other Hebrew words have changed over the centuries by adding vowels to make reading easier. All of this is of no consequence for you and I casually reading our Bibles. However, when we get into discussions of translations of the Bible and the meaning of words going all of the way back to the Genesis account, we have to dig a little deeper. Just like English, the Hebrew language evolved.
By the way, here is an example of the evolution of English. The “yod” vowel is only a small mark. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 5:18. The King James translators transliterated it into a new English word. We still use that word today to refer to a small mark or something written quickly. The word is “jot.”
Many of us have taken classes in biology in which we were told that one of the arguments for Darwinian evolution is the presence of vestigial organs. New research questions whether vestigial organs are evidence of evolution or evidence of design.
The argument for the appendix being vestigial was that this fingerlike projection on our colons was a second stomach in earlier stages of evolution. The theory was that since we now cook our food, there is no need for the appendix and it has become useless. The same was said of the tonsils, adenoids, and gall bladder, so they could be removed with no consequences. I can tell you from personal experience that having these three items removed from your body does have negative implications for your general health.
Scientific American (March 2019, page 20) published a report of a 2017 study by an evolutionary biologist named Heather Smith. She is the director of the Anatomical Laboratories at Midwestern University in Arizona. Her study questions whether those organs are really vestigial. She examined 533 species of mammals and found that there is an immunological and gastrointestinal purpose for the appendix. The appendix contains a layer of gut bacteria that are important in fighting disease. Like the tonsils and adenoids, the appendix serves a vital role in defense of our bodies against infection.
It seems that the evolutionary explanation of the use of these organs is not totally correct. While things like wisdom teeth may be examples of vestigial organs; tonsils, adenoids the appendix and the gall bladder are not. The design of the human body is so complex that science is still trying to figure out all of the design features that enable us to survive.
On a clear night look around to find the brightest star. (Don’t get confused with planets which sometimes are more brilliant than stars.) The brightest star in the sky is Sirius.
The name comes from an ancient Greek word which means “glowing.” It’s in the constellation Canis Major which means “big dog.” Sirius is at the base of the dog’s neck. It looks bright because it’s 25 times more luminous than the Sun and is “only” 8.6 light-years away. Other stars are more luminous, but they don’t appear as bright because they are farther away from the Earth.
We see Sirius as a single star, but it’s more than that. It is actually a binary star consisting of Sirius A and Sirius B. A binary star is two stars orbiting around a central point. There are star systems composed of 2, 3, 4, or more stars orbiting each other which look like a single star to us. Astronomers estimate that half or more of the stars we see in the night sky are actually multiple star systems.
If our Sun had been part of a multiple star system, we wouldn’t be here. Imagine being on a planet orbiting a star which is orbiting one or more other stars. Gravitational forces would pull the planetary orbit apart. Days and seasons and years would be completely chaotic. Life would not be possible.
Genesis 1:14 tells us that God established the Sun and Moon to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s no coincidence that we are orbiting a single star to light the day, and we are orbited by a moon to light the night. Together it is an unusual and extraordinary system. It is a gift from God.
We take for granted many things that God has built into the Earth so that we can survive. Among those are trees. World Ark magazine for the spring of 2019 published some interesting data that demonstrate the benefits of trees:
One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide in a year. That is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
One acre of forest produces six tons of oxygen a year. That is also enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
A single average-sized tree produces 260 pounds of oxygen a year, which is enough for two people.
Large areas of asphalt or cement attract and retain the Sun’s heat artificially boosting local temperatures. Trees are the only cure for this overheating.
Trees are the most efficient way to reduce urban noise.
Planting a tree on the west side of your house can block enough of the Sun’s heat to save $25 on your air conditioning bill every year. Trees also serve as natural windbreakers to reduce your heating bill in winter.
Some trees, such as apple trees, attract birds which eat invasive caterpillars.
Property values are increased up to 15% by having trees in yards and throughout neighborhoods.
Joyce Kilmer’s wrote, “I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.” That is even more true when we realize the multiple hidden benefits of trees.
“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after its kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:12).
An organization called Open Doors monitors the persecution of Christians in all denominations around the world. Their data for 2018 shows that in the top 50 countries on the watch list Christians experienced a 14% increase in high levels of persecution. Those of us living in the United States have no idea how much violence is brought against believers in Jesus on a worldwide scale. Open Doors reported this data of persecution of Christians in 2018:
4136 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons. That’s 11 Christians murdered every day.
2625 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned because of their faith.
1266 Churches or Christian buildings like orphanages or hospitals were attacked.
The #1 country in terms of persecution of Christians is North Korea where atheism is the state religion and worship of any kind is not tolerated.
The # 2 (Afghanistan), #3 (Somalia), #4 (Libya), #5 (Pakistan), and #6 (Sudan) countries on the list are Muslim controlled. In those countries, the government encourages violence against Christians.
We tend to trivialize the few media reports of severe persecution of Christians. However, the media seriously under-reports the violence, especially against Christian women. At the same time, our media over-reports abuse that takes place in American churches. Persecution of Christians in 2018 affected one in nine of our brothers and sisters worldwide.
Open Doors is a major source of information and help to those who are being oppressed. You can read more on their website OpenDoorsUSA.org.
One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.
In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.
There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.
We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.
The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.
When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 she says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth was.” The vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”
One of the challenges that all groups face is the problem of sex abuse. My files are full of letters and notes from people from every religion and philosophy including atheism giving personal testimony of sex abuse.
In 2016 we made a series of videos with Jimmy Hinton titled: Sexual Warfare: Safeguarding Churches from Child Predators. It has been interesting to see the response to this series as church leaders have watched it and said, “But we don’t have that problem in our Church.” In reality, all congregations of any size at all in all denominations have a problem that for the most part has gone unrecognized. Our Catholic friends have gotten most of the attention on this issue, but now our Baptist friends are facing the same publicity.
On February 10, 2019, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published articles exposing 380 Southern Baptist church workers who have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years. The 380 include ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church volunteers. Of that number, 220 have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens more are still in court. More than 700 victims are involved, and leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention are accused of concealing or mishandling victims’ allegations. We want to emphasize that this is a universal problem. Three women have accused atheist/agnostic celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson of sex abuse, so the atheist community also struggles with this issue. Of course, the same can be said of politicians.
One of the interesting characteristics of the people of the first century was the fact that they allowed mob psychology to control what they believed and what they did. We see this happening in the accounts described in the book of Acts.
A good example is an incident at Lystra in Acts 14:8-20. The story begins with Paul healing a man who was born with a physical deformity that made it impossible for him to walk. The crowd saw that an indisputable miracle had taken place. They cried out that Paul and Barnabas were gods who had come to Earth in the form of men. They called Barnabas Zeus and Paul they called Hermes (the god of speech). The local priest brought garlands and oxen for sacrifice.
When Paul and Barnabas realized what was going on, they rushed into the crowd and proclaimed that they were not gods, but just ordinary men. They seized upon the opportunity to tell the people about Jesus. Verse 18 tells us that “even by saying words like these it was all they could do to keep the crowds from sacrificing to them.” Almost immediately opponents of Christianity showed up and “turned the minds of the crowd against Paul.” The same crowd that wanted to make Paul a god now stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead. This is an amazing change of belief among the crowd, and it shows mob psychology at work.
The classic example of mob psychology is the crowd that demanded the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In spite of the evidence and the best effort of Pilate, the mob demanded the freeing of a known criminal and the crucifixion of the obviously innocent Jesus.
People today are no different when it comes to mob psychology. I have spoken to groups of atheists in public venues in which they summarily rejected anything I said, even though it was obviously true. I have spoken in other venues sponsored by a local religious group where I could say anything, and the crowd would approve it. Having a debate is no way to come to an understanding of truth. That is because what the crowd believes is what they came into the debate believing and no amount of evidence will change their minds.
Unfortunately, mob psychology applies in politics where our political figures, for the most part, regurgitate what their political party has decided to be true. No matter what the evidence is, they refuse to consider other options. We have seen that clearly in recent years in the inability of Congress to accomplish anything of substance. Public evangelists frequently “seed” some people in a crowd to come forward during an invitation, because they are trying to invoke mob psychology to move people.
When you study conversions in the New Testament, you see people sitting down in a one-on-one relationship and considering the evidence. Deciding what to believe is most fruitfully done in rational one-on-one discussions. We live in a wonderful time in which people can consider the evidence in the privacy of their own homes. The “Does God Exist?” ministry attempts to reach people in that way. We strive to be intellectually honest by presenting, in a personal way, what the evidence is and how we should react to it.
We have many websites designed to reach people on a personal level. It is not our desire to stampede anyone into a belief they don’t understand or to move anyone to make an emotional decision. Jesus reasoned with people, and Paul presented evidence. It is up to you to decide what you will believe, but we hope you will base that decision on a careful study of the evidence.