The Design of Basic Chemistry

Chemistry Class
Chemistry Class

I enjoyed teaching basic chemistry. Once we got over the fear factor that came from what other people had told them, young people became as enthralled as I am with the way chemistry works. Just the basic concept of acids, bases and salts was a revelation to most kids. They had visions of acids being stuff that could eat your arm off and had a hard time understanding that the salad dressing they put on their lunch was primarily an acid. When they saw that their soda pop would turn litmus red indicating it had acid in it, they were incredulous. Understanding that ascorbic acid was vitamin C and that there was acid in their stomach made kids realize that acids serve us in many benign ways.

The next revelation was that bases also have many important uses. Household ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is a base. Sodium hydroxide is a strong base able to do amazing things to grease, making it a classic soap. Calcium hydroxide is lime, and some kids knew it was used on their lawns and gardens. The real surprise for kids was what a salt is. When I pulled out the salt shaker, I would ask them what kind of salt was in it? Most of them knew it was sodium chloride, but I had twenty salt shakers all of which were labeled “salt, ” and none of them contained sodium chloride. Some were potassium chloride, and some were calcium chloride. Some were different colors such as copper chloride, iron chloride, and cobalt chloride. It was interesting to watch them test the salts with litmus paper as they discovered that salts could be acidic or basic.

The next step was to make salts. We would take hydrochloric acid (a strong acid) and mix it with sodium hydroxide (a strong base) and get sodium chloride and water–two things you take into your body. If you mixed the hydrochloric acid with a weak base like aluminum hydroxide you would get aluminum chloride which would turn litmus paper red indicating an acidic nature. What do you put on your plants to make them grow? Some plants like an acidic soil. If you pour hydrochloric acid on the soil, you will kill the plants, but acid salt will make such plants flourish.

One day after doing all of these tests and writing all of this down, one of my students looked at the board and all the equations we had written and said, “Who thought all of this stuff up in the first place?” That question is always out there, in every science class, every experiment, and every view we make through a microscope or a telescope. Romans 1: 20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Science is knowledge, and the more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Is Muhammad the Comforter?

The Quran
The Quran

As Islam becomes more dominant in America, Muslims have begun to attack Christianity and the Bible with increasing frequency. There are several videos on the web that claim that the Comforter mentioned in John 14:26 is Muhammad. The word Muhammad means “praised one” and the claim is that the original word in the Greek was “perikleitos” which means “famous everywhere” or “renowned,” but that it was corrupted into “parakletos” meaning “counselor.” So how do you and I, not being experts in Greek, answer this question?

The answer is to look at the context of the passage. You don’t have to be a Greek expert to see that this passage is not dealing with a physical human who was a military leader. In John 14:23 Jesus talks about his disciples loving God and promising that the Godhead would dwell with those who love God. He then in verse 26 tells them that He would be sending “the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit” who would teach them all things. This statement is right after Judas had left and before Jesus was arrested. The reference is not to a claimed prophet who would live some 600 years later. (Islamic teaching is that Muhammed began getting messages from Gabriel in A.D. 610.) Verse 26 also tells us that the Comforter would come in the name of Jesus, and no Muslim would agree that Muhammad came in the name of Jesus.

Another issue is the Muslim claim that the biblical documents have been corrupted. The problem with that claim is that all of these documents were written before Muhammad was born, and copies of the manuscripts exist that are much older than A.D. 610. Complete manuscripts of John 14 dating from the third or fourth century exist. The question would have to be, “At what time were the documents corrupted?” It would have to be before the third century and yet the Quran dates to the seventh century.

It is easy for anyone to take a passage in the Bible out of context and make it say whatever they want it to say. Assaults that attempt to undo the work of Christ are all around us in the world today, but that was also true when the New Testament was written. (See Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Peter 3:1-3; 1 John 4:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Exoplanet Data Goes Wild

Alien Planet Fantasy
Alien Planet Fantasy

An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. At the time that I am writing there are 3,565 known exoplanets, but by the time you read this, there could be over 4,000. In spite of what the media says, there have been no “Earth-twin,” “habitable,” or “Earth-like” planets found. These are cliches the media throws around which have very little scientific validity. When a scientist identifies a planet as being in a habitable zone, it simply means that water could exist on the planet in a liquid form. Scientists consider water, carbon, and oxygen essential for life. But there are many other variables that must be carefully chosen before an “Earth-like” planet could actually have life on it.

The exoplanets that have been discovered so far are an incredibly varied group. Most are too big, too hot, too gassy (like our gas giant Jupiter), or they have orbits that are too eccentric (ovals, not circles) to support life. Some planets are so hot that they rain glass. Others are so cold that no biological organism could exist on them. The stars around which these planets orbit are also an incredibly varied group with enormous ranges in size, activity, temperature, and radiation levels. In most cases, those stars are orbiting other stars making life nearly impossible.

Every day new discoveries are reported. We now understand more about how planets form, and that tells us how special our planet is. We need to take care of it, because moving to another planet is not feasible now, and may never be possible. Data from Discover magazine, April 2017, pages 40 -45.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Some Definitions

Word Definition

Many articles that we have posted on the “Does God Exist?” websites have revolved around definitions. Let us attempt to clarify some definitions.

EVOLUTION means different things to different people. Evolution essentially means change over time. We can see evidence of that in dogs and cattle and roses. Some would call those changes within plant and animal types as microevolution. There is also evolution of one type of animal into something completely different. That is sometimes called macroevolution, and it is something we don’t see. When someone says “you can’t believe in evolution and believe in God,” there will be different understandings of what that statement means. There are leading evolutionists like Dr. Francis Collins who are also prominent Christian leaders. Theistic evolution is evolution designed or guided by God. Naturalistic evolution is totally different.

NATURALISM asserts that natural laws are the only rules that govern the structure and behavior of the universe and that the universe at every stage of change is a product of those laws. Naturalism leaves out God and offers a purely materialistic cause and understanding of the universe.

MATERIALISM is the belief that physical “stuff” is the only thing that is real. Anything that is not physical in nature is deemed to be of no value in determining answers to the choices of life. Anything that cannot be measured or tested by science does not exist.

SCIENTISM is the belief that science is the only reliable source of truth. Years ago science was defined simply as knowledge. The modern definition of science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Scientism goes beyond science to make science a god.

DEISM is belief in the existence of a supreme being–a creator who started the universe but does not intervene or show any interest in it. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

THEISM is belief in the existence of a deity or deities, but not necessarily the God of the Bible.

CHRISTIANITY finds evidence for our faith in God and the creation through Jesus Christ. We maintain that the cosmos is far too complex to be the product of chance, undirected natural laws. We don’t believe that the material is all that exists. We know from experience that science cannot answer every question we ask. We see that the physical world is limited in what it can offer us, and what it cannot offer us is far more important than material things. We view science as a friend and as a tool to learn about and address problems in the physical universe. But we understand it won’t give us answers to the most important questions. “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “How should I live?” We really want to find answers to these questions. Science can show us the wisdom, design, and power of the Creator. Science cannot show us God–or show us that God does not exist. Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, came to show us God’s love and give us the answers to those most important questions of life. Science can give us truths, but Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. (John 14:6)
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Another Lesson from (Recent) History

Mir Space Station photo by NASA
Mir Space Station photo by NASA

The older I get, the less confidence I have that the history presented by the media is correct. I was in high school from 1951 to 1955, and the sitcoms and movies that I see of things that supposedly happened during that period are so far from what really happened that I wonder where the people who make these programs got their information.

The April 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, contains an article by Bob Berman telling of what actually happened in the Russian Mir space station from 1986 to 2001. The media reports at that time painted a very idealistic picture of great cooperation, wonderful technological achievements, and trouble-free living in space. We know now that the Russians controlled reports by cutting the pay of anyone who complained about what was happening on Mir or told of any negative events.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the time when United States astronauts inhabited Mir. When medical doctor Jerry Linenger arrived on Mir in 1997, he found clutter and leaky pipes. Propylene glycol was leaking into the air so the astronauts had to wear breathing masks and were not allowed to exercise because they couldn’t breathe deeply. The climate-control was dysfunctional, so the temperature stayed around 90 degrees. On February 23, 1997, an oxygen-generating canister exploded creating a fire that nearly killed everyone on board. On June 25, 1997, a supply ship rammed Mir once again nearly killing everyone on board. Berman calls Mir “a bit of a death trap.”

Media portrayals of what happened in biblical times are even more difficult. The portrayal of Noah’s Ark in the “Ark Encounter” and the movie Noah as well as movies about the Passion Week, and the entire Genesis account have been embellished, westernized, and modernized by the media and entertainment industries leaving completely erroneous concepts of what really happened. The biblical narrative uses an economy of language because the focus is not on the event itself but on the meaning of the event. We can trust the biblical narrative, but we need to be careful about buying into the media presentations of biblical events. There is a difference between history as revealed in God’s Word and history as shown in modern media portrayals.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Travel in Space

Travel in Space
Popular movies portray travel in space as just being a matter of solving simple propulsion problems. The truth is that cosmic radiation is now better understood as a huge risk to space travel. In Scientific American (February 2017, page 54) Charles Limolihas wrote an excellent scientific discussion of the dangers of cosmic radiation.

Galactic cosmic rays are charged atomic nuclei flying at nearly the speed of light, probably coming from the supernova remnants of dead stars. Our Sun generates a great amount of radiation, but the cosmic rays are much more of a hazard. When these atomic nuclei hit molecules in our body, they ionize atoms, knocking electrons off the atoms and causing the atoms to become charged. These charged atoms hit other atoms, and there is a domino effect that is greatly magnified because of the extra energy involved. In human bodies, there are clusters of damage from such radiation, and just trying to duplicate the process in the laboratory has turned out to be incredibly difficult. Limolihas and his fellow researchers have shown that there is a much greater effect on brain tissue than anyone imagined.

The Earth is designed to handle this huge radiation by having two levels of shielding. The Earth’s magnetic field sweeps galactic cosmic rays away from the areas of the planet where most people live, and the atmosphere stops much of the rest. The amount of cosmic radiation we receive on the surface on Earth’s surface is relatively harmless. When you travel in space beyond Earth’s magnetic field, you, have virtually no protection, and that is going to be a huge challenge for space engineers to solve.

The lesson we would bring from this is that God’s design of Earth becomes more and more amazing as we learn of the complexities that have to be taken care of for you and me just to get up in the morning.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Mountains and the Sand

Mountains
One of the interesting studies available to students of geology is the way in which various structures on the surface of the Earth are formed. Where does sand come from and what message does it carry for us? Where we live in the Great Lakes area, there are massive amounts of sand. Areas to the south of us have lots of rocks, but relatively small amounts of sand compared to our area. This has not always been true, however, because deep underground in that area there are massive amounts of sandstone–the same sand we have around the Great Lakes but cemented together into rock.

Sand can be produced by the smashing of rocks. In places like Hawaii, there are beaches made up of black lava pounded into sand by the waves. There are even green and pink sand beaches made from rocks that contain colored minerals like olivine. Most sand, however, is made of quartz and is the by-product of the breakdown of volcanic rocks. Granite is made up of three basic minerals: orthoclase, hornblende, and quartz. There can be smaller amounts of other materials, but these are the dominant ones. These minerals have different hardness levels and are eroded at different rates. Orthoclase is quite easy to erode and has a pinkish color to it. This material erodes to become clay. The dark colored hornblende is also fairly easy to weather and erode. Quartz is extremely hard and durable. The result is that when weather and physical processes work on granite, the orthoclase and hornblende are carried away and what is left is quartz sand.

The massive amount of sand seen around the Great Lakes has come mainly from the granite that makes up the Canadian shield–the bedrock underlying much of North America. Any mountainous area will ultimately be reduced to nothing more than sand. One lesson that comes from mountains and sand is that nothing in this physical world is permanent. Jesus stated this eloquently when He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

When I studied geology at Notre Dame University, we had a professor who would take us on a field trip to the cemetery. Headstones erected in the early 1800s already had disintegrated into piles of sand. One has to be reminded of James 4: 14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Through all of this, however, there is the message of purpose and design by God. The mixture of sand, hornblende, and clay lead to soil. Life could not exist on a planet made of rock that could not be eroded. The waters that erode the granite sustain life, and the erosion process produces the topsoil that feeds us. The change of mountains into sand makes Earth a vibrant, living thing of beauty. So too, our lives can be beautiful if we allow God to mold and shape us. That is one of the key messages of 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. As the writer tells us about the most beautiful change of all:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will all be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Long Does it Take to Make a Canyon?

Yellowstone Canyon
Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone National Park is one of our great American treasures. During several summers at Montana State University, we spent a lot of time wandering around this huge wilderness. Most people think of Old Faithful and the geyser basin when they think of Yellowstone, but the canyon and falls are some of Yellowstone’s most beautiful places.

What does it take to make a canyon like this, and what does this tell us about the history of the Earth? The answers to these questions are remarkably simple. You need something that is capable of cutting down through a material, and you need a material that can be cut. On planet Earth, the primary geologic cutting agent is water. When water is frozen, it gouges and cuts a wide U-shaped channel. This is called a glacier, and the shape of its canyon is easy to identify. In the liquid form, water makes a V-shaped channel like the Yellowstone Canyon. How long the channel is and how deep it is cut are determined by how much water flows, how long it flows, and how hard the rock is. In Yellowstone, most of the rock is geyserite, a soft yellow rock easily cut and eroded by water. This soft rock is produced by volcanic processes, and deep canyons can happen quickly when flooding occurs.

In other places like the Grand Canyon and most of the eastern part of the United States, the rock is much harder and takes much longer to erode. Yellowstone is a young topography caused by recent volcanism. The sedimentary rocks of the eastern United States and the Grand Canyon took a long time to deposit and a long time to erode. All of this points to God’s patience and timelessness. We should not try to lock God into a time-frame that makes God look small and trivial. Remember that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Global Warming Nonsense

Global Warming Thermometer
The “hot button topic” for a wide variety of people today is the issue of global warming. It is easy to understand why political figures want to use this issue to manipulate their followers, but followers of Jesus Christ seem to be getting swept up in the paranoia also. Jesus said, “Take care that no one misleads you. For many will come claiming my name and saying, ‘I am the Messiah’; and many will be misled by them. The time is coming when you will hear the noise of battle near at hand and the news of battles far away; see that you are not alarmed. Such things are bound to happen; but the end is still to come. For nation will make war upon nation, kingdom upon kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes in many places. With all these things the birth-pangs of the new age begin” (Matthew 24:5-8 NEB). We need to be informed, but global warming is not of eternal significance. Some people try to make a religion of climate change. We can get involved scientifically or politically if we so choose, but let us not get involved religiously.

So what are the facts?
#1. Climate change is happening. Anyone can look at climate data worldwide and see the changes on a global scale. This is global–not local. We just had the warmest winter here in Michigan that I can remember, and I have lived here almost 60 years, but that is not directly due to global warming.

#2. This is not the first time. The Earth’s rocks show periods of warming and cooling. Natural processes cause changes in the Sun which affect the Earth. Geologic events such as volcanic eruptions can affect climate for long periods of time.

#3. Humans have altered the planet. This isn’t even worth commenting on, and what we have done has effects that are still unknown. God told us to “take care of the garden” (Genesis 2:15), and as custodians of the planet, we need to take care of it. Releasing greenhouse gasses indiscriminately would seem to be failing to do that.

#4. There are consequences to what we do and what we don’t do. As an example, cancer is mostly caused by human actions. The list of diseases human actions have caused or catalyzed is enormous. Not managing Earth’s resources well has cost us dearly in the past, and it will do so in the future.

Jesus said not to let these things disturb our minds. As Christians, we need to keep our eye on the cross and on our journey to an eternal home free of global warming, war, and all the other things that concern people about the physical world in which we live. The physical is important, but the spiritual is far more significant.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bioethics and Playing God

DNA Molecules
DNA Molecules (Illustration)

Over the past several months, the media has published dozens of articles about a new genetic technique of modifying DNA called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). This method can be used to edit the embryonic or reproductive cells of human beings, passing on genetic changes to future generations. It makes altering our DNA faster and easier. The media has emphasized the possible positive impact of this technique. The Week magazine (March 14, 2016) called it “genetic research nearing a breakthrough that could transform the world.” We know that many diseases are genetic in nature, including sickle-cell anemia, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and some forms of cancer. The problem is that with some 20,000 genes involved and the fact that genes interact, the possible negative consequences of making permanent changes to human DNA are very high. This technique could potentially be used to alter the genomes of a child to suit parental preferences. The question is whether CRISPR will be used for therapy or enhancement or both. This bioethical question cannot be answered by science alone.

For almost 50 years, this ministry has tried to demonstrate how science enhances faith. At the same time, faith can answer questions that science cannot answer. The question of shaping the human body to suit our desires is an issue of science and faith because we are more than just a body. We were created in God’s image, but we are not God. Whether humans use CRISPR in a constructive way or in a potentially destructive way will be answered by the moral and religious belief systems of those who decide how this new technique will be used. An interesting article on this subject is in the March 2017, issue of Christianity Today, pages 49-51.
–John N. Clayton © 2017