The saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-roh) cactus is found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of southern Arizona, northern Mexico, and a small area of southeast California. We call them saguaro desert old-timers for a good reason. Saguaros grow very slowly as a single stem for perhaps 75 years before developing arms. Plants with five arms may be 200 years old.
Saguaro flowers bloom at night from April to June. They close by noon the next day, never to open again. Saguaro flowers can only be fertilized by cross-pollination so there must be a creature to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because the flowers bloom at night, bats are the pollinators. They drink the nectar and transfer pollen from plant to plant.
A successfully pollinated flower will produce a green, oval-shaped fruit with bright red pulp. Many desert creatures eat the fruit and aid the saguaros by spreading their seeds. Only a small percentage of the seeds will ever germinate, but that’s okay because each flower produces as many as 4000 seeds.
Not only do the saguaros have a symbiotic relationship with the bats which consume their nectar and the many creatures who consume its fruit, but it also provides shelter for many desert animals. Saguaros become apartment houses for birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles, as well as a whole entourage of insects.
Saguaros are remarkably well-designed for life in a dry climate. The outside of the plant has pleats like an accordion. The pleats allow expansion for storing large quantities of water when the rains come. As with other cacti, the saguaro has needles rather than leaves to reduce the loss of moisture by transpiration.
Yesterday we began to tell you about last month’s Canyonlands Educational Tour. It was a week of learning about how God works. In the canyonlands area, we can see God’s engineering skills.
Our trip was a bus tour with 50 people participating. We departed from Flagstaff, Arizona. That area allows us to study the basic rocks from which all other rocks were made, and that is volcanic material. Our analysis of elements in space and the minerals in Earth’s crust show us that all rocks are made of materials found in the interior of the Earth. For example, granite is made up of quartz which breaks down into sand and makes sandstone. Orthoclase is another constituent of granite, and it weathers to produce clay which is a major part of shale. Visiting Sunset Crater (pictured) and seeing the volcanic mountains surrounding Flagstaff allows us to understand the method by which God produced all other rocks.
In the first session of our trip on Sunday evening, before we departed, we pointed out the one basic assumption that underlies our entire trip. That assumption is that God is not a magician who does everything by slight of hand and magic. We see God’s engineering skills as He uses natural processes to produce things in the creation. The Bible tells us that “God planted a garden” (Genesis 2:8) not that He waved a magic wand and a garden appeared. When God created man’s body in Genesis 2:7, he “formed man of the dust of the earth.” The Hebrew word used to describe that process is yatshir which is a word denoting something an artist might do in creating a work of pottery from clay.
God did not “zap” the Grand Canyon into existence with all its many kinds of rocks and embedded fossils. Many religious people want to have God “speaking” these things into existence. The Bible indicates that God commanded the creation elements indicating that other agents were doing the actual work. In our twenty-first century mentality of rejecting scams and con-artists, it is important not to put God into the role of being a trickster. God did His creating process in such a way that we can discover the processes. That is the reason the Bible says we can “know God exists through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). In Proverbs 8, wisdom personified speaks of God’s engineering skills.
We see the evidence of God’s engineering skills in the creation processes, and we read the Scriptures that tell what happened. Our approach to all of the evidence and the Scriptures is that they MUST agree. If the same God who gave us the Bible also did the creating, they cannot disagree. If there seems to be a conflict between the scientific evidence and what the Bible says, we either have bad science or bad theology or both. There has been plenty of both.
One month ago, on Sunday, September 9, 2018, we began our thirty-sixth Canyonlands Educational Tour. Since 1968 we have been taking what I call field trips into the Grand Canyon and the areas that surround the Grand Canyon. That includes Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Canyonlands National District including Lake Powell, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and the areas that surround all of those places.
My constant companion and technical expert has been Alan Doty from Sedona, Arizona. He holds advanced degrees in geology and has been a well-known figure in the area and an active Christian. Alan has made over 300 trips to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and was the first to climb Isis Temple. His knowledge of the area is second to none. Our trips into this area have included four boat trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, ten bus trips in which we spend a day at each of the sites of interest, and 16 hikes into points of interest in the canyonlands area. We have prepared field trip guides and have conducted studies and lectures on all of the trips.
Why do we do this? The Does God Exist? ministry is dedicated to providing evidence to convince thinking people that science is a friend of faith in God, and that science and the Bible do not conflict. As educators in the public schools, we have seen a great deal of bad science and bad theology combine to destroy the faith of many young people. There is no area where more bad science and bad theology have been promoted than in the canyonlands area.
Not understanding the evidence and not taking the Bible literally have led to a major source of conflict for many people. By taking the Bible literally, I mean looking at who wrote the passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how people of the time would have understood it. Having a week of concentrated study in one of the greatest natural science laboratories on Earth is a wonderful way to combat bad science and bad theology. It is also our hope that participants will go back home and use what they have learned in our seminars to build the faith of people in their home congregations. At the same time, we want to prepare them to combat the efforts of local skeptics to discredit the Bible and destroy faith in God.