It is no secret that there are many problems facing humanity today. Doomsday scenarios are all over the web, and they show up in serious scientific writings as well.
The October 2020 issue of Science News carried a feature titled “Scientists to Watch.” As you read through the descriptions of what outstanding scientific minds are doing, you see a great deal of hope for solutions to some of our physical problems. I find it interesting that the researchers are using natural materials and processes that are already operational on a small level in the world around us.
Spider webs are one example. Medical folklore promoted spider webs as a dressing for wounds. New research has shown that spider silk is coated with chemicals that promote blood clotting and prevent infection. Scientists are studying spider silk as a drug delivery system that can produce scaffolding for tissue repair.
Another exciting solution for humanity’s problems today is research showing that gold nanoparticles are a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into methane and propane. When sunlight shines on the gold nanoparticles, it sets off a series of reactions that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce hydrocarbon fuels. Researchers are also studying the natural process where gold and platinum nanoparticles liberate hydrogen from ammonia. This is useful because many industries need hydrogen for processes, such as fuel cell production.
So far, these processes are slow and inefficient, but speeding them up and making them efficient is the subject of research by today’s outstanding young scientists. God has given us the tools to clean the air, get plastic out of the oceans, and stop global warming. Science is recognizing the wisdom and design built into every corner of the world to solve the world’s physical problems. A more pressing need is getting people to look at the spiritual problems facing humanity today.
One of the weaknesses of evolution’s explanation of the origin of all living things is that it is built on an assumption called uniformitarianism. The idea is that “the present is the key to the past” meaning that no process operated in the past that is not going on today. If there have been global catastrophes wiping out most living creatures, then the theories of gradualism have a problem with explaining life’s origins. Flash-frozen extinct species indicate global catastrophes.
Many years ago, we reported on the 1979 find of an extinct steppe bison mummy near Fairbanks, Alaska. The perfectly preserved corpse had been frozen for thousands of years. The gold miner who discovered the mummy called it “Blue Babe” after the mythical Paul Bunyon’s ox. That was because exposure to air caused it to turn blue due to iron phosphate. Blue Babe (pictured) is now on display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
As the permafrost melts in Arctic areas, people are finding more frozen animals, including mammoths and wooly rhinos. The latest one is a cave bear found on the Lyakhovsky Islands in Russia. Once again, the specimen is complete with all of the soft tissues intact. These animals were preserved in a state we don’t see happening today. They seem to be flash-frozen, not just preserved by falling into a crevasse in a glacier. All of the animals found are extinct, but studies of their DNA and their preservation conditions are opening doors to the scientific research of the past.
As scientists find more flash-frozen extinct species, there will be revisions of theories about the history of life on Earth. One positive aspect of global warming is that it will expand our understanding of life in the past.
Two of the most massive Antarctic glaciers have broken loose from their land connections and are floating in the ocean. This is a concern because if both glaciers melt, there would be enough water to raise the world’s oceans by ten feet. It is not only another evidence of global warming but also a warning to the world that we must pay attention to the coming rise in sea level.
Understand that when ice is exposed to the air on land, it absorbs a minimum of heat, so melting on a landmass is very slow. In water, however, heat exchange is very rapid. We all know that hypothermia takes place when a human gets into icy water. The melting of ice is much faster once it is in water, and the Thwaites glacier, the larger of the two Antarctic glaciers involved, is one of the fastest-changing glaciers on Earth.
Job 38:22-23 refers to the “treasures of the snow” and says that this frozen water is “reserved against the time of trouble.” In Earth’s design, the snow and ice preserve water and provide a vital heat sink to the whole planet. We see evidence that the oceans have been much higher in Earth’s geological history than they are today. There have also been times when they were much lower. The polar ice caps have been the primary water storage areas. Glaciers are also part of the design of Earth to make it hospitable for Life.
If the sea level rises ten feet, imagine what would happen to the world’s major cities located on the edge of the oceans. Since the mass of these two glaciers is enormous, this is not an immediate threat. ( A recent NASA study says that at the present rate, the melting ice sheets would add 15 inches to the sea level by 2100.) But it is a potential catastrophe we can avoid if we recognize that the possible flooding is a consequence of human actions, not a vindictive act of God. We can avoid what has already begun to happen by taking care of the planet as God instructed us to do.
If there is one phrase that needs to shout to everyone on the planet in 2020, it is “Look at the evidence!!” From the president of this country to the teenagers across this land, there has been a huge failure to look at the scientific evidence. Despite all the evidence for how the Covid-19 virus spreads, we still have young people who party without masks, even in a closed interior environment. In spite of the fires on the west coast, the significant increase in hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rise in temperature of the oceans, we still have people denying climate change. Even within the Church, we have a disdain for scientific evidence.
Those who follow Jesus Christ should be the most likely to respond to evidence. Jesus appealed to people to look at the evidence. He told people to see for themselves that things are true. When Thomas was unable to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, how did Jesus convince him? Did He engage Thomas in a philosophical/theological discussion about how the resurrection was logically reasonable? Did He demand that Thomas believe as a test of faith? Read John 20:27-29 and see what He did.
The fact is that the resurrection, all of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, and most of the miracles before He died were to provide evidence so that people could believe. Just like today, some people refused to look at the evidence. They suggested that the miracles were fake, but the kind of miracles Jesus performed could not be faked.
It wasn’t just the miracles that Jesus used to validate His existence as the Son of God. His teachings did that as well. The parables of Jesus were not unbelievable fantasy stories. They were practical, true-to-life, easy to understand evidences for the truths He was teaching. When Jesus talked about relying on God, did He use theological and philosophical models to convince His listeners? Read passages like Matthew 6:25-34. You will find Jesus talking about examples that everyone knew about–fowls of the air, changing one’s height, and the flowers of the field.
Using the things that God has created to teach and make doctrinal points is not denigrating God. Read Romans 1:19-32 and notice what Paul uses to convict the Romans of the destructive path they are following.
Today, we see vast numbers of people refusing to look at the evidence. We don’t need to engage them in philosophical discussions. We need to show them the evidence that God does exist, that He is the God of the Bible, and that Jesus is His Son.
One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.
The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.
Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.
People have paid much attention to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere because they play a significant role in global warming. The main culprit in the greenhouse gas list is carbon dioxide. Not only do we exhale this gas, but fires of all kinds produce it. With the recent major fires in Australia, there is even more concern about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But God has given the Earth some tools to counteract greenhouse gases.
The most efficient tool built into the Earth is a microscopic plant called a diatom. There are 12,000 species of diatoms in Earth’s lakes and oceans. Unlike phytoplankton, diatoms are encased in porous, intricately structured silica shells. Examined under a microscope, these silica shells are beautiful, and they are very resistant to change in shape. That means that the spaces between the shells can collect particulate material. So diatoms are used as filtering agents to filter water for swimming pools and as fillers for aerating soils in yards. The shells are used as diatomaceous earth, which is familiar to most of us, especially those who raise roses or tomatoes.
Diatoms can also absorb gases. In the oceans, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up in the ocean’s depths. Diatoms capture as much carbon dioxide as all the trees, grasses, and other land plants combined. The fancy latticework of the diatom is not just for humans to admire. Because of the twists and turns of their shells, the surface area of diatoms is much greater than that of smooth shells. The increased surface area maximizes photosynthesis and allows the diatoms greater energy for growth and reproduction.
The life expectancy of a diatom is about six days. Because the silicon is heavy, the diatom at death sinks to the ocean floor or lake, taking carbon with it. One solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide is to catalyze the growth of diatoms. Iron nutrients can do that, and seeding the oceans with iron might be a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Diatoms are one more example of the design built into Earth’s structure to allow the planet to exist over the long haul. While diatoms are not apparent to the human eye, they are tools to counteract greenhouse gases and a possible solution to a modern problem.
There are all kinds of evidence that we are in a period of global warming. Many of the examples don’t have so much to do with temperature as with heat. Glaciers, for instance, stay pretty much at the same temperature under the surface. But ice requires 80 calories of heat per gram to melt, without changing the temperature. You can see that when you put ice cubes in your tea. You can also see the effect of global warming on Michigan fruit trees.
We live in an area rich in fruit-growing with apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, and blueberries being major cash crops. My friends who make their living with Michigan fruit trees are very upset with the current weather cycle because it has not been cold enough. Fruit trees require time and temperature to know when to blossom and when not to. They do this by a sophisticated design system. Most fruit trees need a minimum of 250 hours of temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 10 degrees Celsius), and some require up to 1000 hours. Temperatures below freezing don’t count. The “chilling hours” are sensed by the buds on the trees, not the roots. The wisdom in this system is obvious. Michigan winters usually have many days when the temperature goes below 10 degrees C, but there are also those rare days when the temperature gets very warm. This past winter, we had fewer than normal hours in the required temperature range. The buds have not gotten enough chilling to tell them to open. If they didn’t have the built-in time requirement, you can understand what would happen. The first time the temperature dipped below 10 degrees followed by a warm day, the buds would open and blossom only to be killed by the next cold snap.
Trees that are native in southern latitudes don’t bear fruit well when they are moved north. God has suited plants to different climates as well as other environmental factors. Orchards are found near bodies of water for several reasons. One of them is the tempering effect the water has on the air temperature. The presence of Lake Michigan provides a heat sink for our Michigan fruit trees that is as important as the moisture itself. The Psalmist seems to have had some idea of this when he compares a righteous person to a tree: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked … He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (Psalms 1:1-3).
My fruit-growing friends have learned to understand and work with God’s design for their trees, but sometimes weather anomalies can frustrate their best efforts.
Many passages in the Bible seem to be of little significance, yet they are incredibly important. Here is one of them about the water cycle.
“All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” Ecclesiastes 1:7.
It is believed that Solomon wrote those words in 977 BC. What did people understand about the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle, at that time? The answer, of course, is “very little.” Meteorologist Dr. Joseph Scott Greeson says about this passage, “Without using modern words – like ‘evaporation,’ ‘condensation,’ and ‘precipitation,’ this passage describes the results of those processes in these words… My twentieth-century scientific mind recognized that the writer of that passage must have had quite an understanding of the interaction between water on earth and water in the sky.”
There is a delicate balance of processes in the hydrologic cycle that allow us to have water even far from a lake or ocean. Many years ago, I had a friend who was involved in seeding clouds with silver iodide to stimulate them to produce rain. I knew that he was involved in this project and that he had many stories about how the seeding of clouds worked. I also knew he got out of that business, and I asked him why? His response was, “We were doing okay in getting rain started, but we were doing very poorly in knowing how to stop it.”
Global warming is bringing water to places that previously were deserts. We know that temperature controls how much water is lifted into the air by evaporation. A one-inch rainfall over a square mile of land involves the lifting of 72,483.84 tons of water. (Do the math. Water is 62.4 lbs per cubic foot. An inch is 1/12th of a foot, so the volume of water in a square mile of land would be 5280 feet/mile x 5280 x 1/12th or 2,323,200 cubic feet.) How many square miles of land receive an inch of rain in a typical spring storm? This is the start of the water cycle.
As the water flows into streams and rivers, it nourishes everything in its path, ultimately returning to the sea from which it evaporated. The system that powers the hydrologic cycle is massive, and all of life depends on it. God used the water cycle to impress upon Job that he “darkens counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). After talking about the creation, God takes the hydrologic cycle as the first evidence of His knowledge, design, and power. “Who provides a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the storm to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass. Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew…” (See verses 22-30).
Be thankful for the rain that brings life to us and for the water cycle that God designed so that, if properly managed, we all have enough to drink and to grow our food.
Yesterday we mentioned sunspots and their potential effect on our planet. Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than on the rest of the Sun’s surface. We know that sunspots adversely affect electric grids and orbiting satellites. There are unanswered questions about sunspots and Earth’s climate.
When sunspots occur, the stronger magnetic field constricts the hot plasma of the Sun, creating a somewhat cooler area. Why is it, then, that historically in times when sunspots are rare, Earth’s climate has become colder? Are sunspots the cause, or was it just a coincidence?
Scientists refer to the period from 1645 until 1715 as the Maunder Minimum, because sunspot activity was minimal. That also corresponds with the coldest years of what is sometimes called the Little Ice Age. It was not a true ice age, but the Northern Hemisphere experienced winters that were longer and colder than usual. European rivers froze, Vikings abandoned Greenland, and farmers in Norway lost farmland to advancing glaciers.
So the unanswered question concerns sunspots and Earth’s climate. Does the lack of sunspots cause lowered temperatures on Earth, or have past trends been coincidental? We don’t know, and science cannot find an explanation. Many scientists are predicting reduced sunspot activity in the coming years. Perhaps God is providing a way to counter-balance present concerns about global warming, but only God knows what the future holds.
It is interesting that the years 1643 to 1715 also mark the reign of Louis XIV of France, known as “Louis the Great.” He was also known as “the Sun King” because he chose the Sun as his symbol, and his subjects (or perhaps Louis himself) compared him to Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god. Louis the Great reigned for 72 years during the Maunder Minimum. But even the so-called Sun King could not control the Sun. Only the Creator of the Sun, Moon, and stars can do that, and only He knows if there is a connection between sunspots and Earth’s climate.
— Roland Earnst 2019
The big news in environmental concerns for the past ten years has been the apparent rise in the average temperature of planet Earth. The planet has had more dramatic global warming and cooling in the past, but the magnitude of warming today has to be alarming to any thinking person who takes the time to look at the data. It seems likely that human contributions to global warming could be substantial, but the extent of human influence is still being debated. In any case, it seems wise to work toward minimizing what we do contribute. Research proves a relationship between trees, carbon dioxide, and global warming. The Creator has given us a cheap, effective, permanent solution to controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The answer lies in the trees that God gave us from the beginning. Here is some information about how trees can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as presented in Scientific American, April 2019 page 7:
One tree can store an average of 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year.
If agroforestry were practiced, 9.28 gigatons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered by 2050. (Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland.) Trees increase farm productivity and give farmers revenue through fruits, nuts, and timber while storing carbon dioxide.
Landscape restoration would sequester 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide every year.
There is a direct relationship between trees, carbon dioxide, and global warming. The bottom line is that keeping forests intact can go a long way toward saving the planet, and that just means taking care of what God gave us in the beginning.