Imagine a creature that has no backbone, no ribs, in fact, no skeletal structure at all. It can weigh up to 200 pounds (90 kg), and its arms can be almost seven feet (2 m) long. It has three hearts, and the color of its blood is blue. Its limbs are covered with hundreds of tongues which have taste receptors, and its body is embedded with cells that sense light. Its eight arms are covered with suckers that can be moved independently and have tongues and taste receptors embedded in them. This “alien” creature is not as alien as you might think. It’s the octopus.
The octopus is the dominant member of a class of marine animals called cephalopods which number some 750 known living species. Octopuses have about 300 species, and they are far and away the most intelligent of the cephalopods. Trying to keep an octopus in an aquarium is almost impossible because they always find ways to escape. Since they have no skeletal structure, they can squeeze through the smallest crack. They can unscrew a jar lid, fit into a drain pipe, and camouflage their activity by releasing a cloud of ink. In an article on “Animal Intelligence” in the “News and Notes” section of our November/December 2016 printed publication, we told the story of “Inky” the octopus. Inky squeezed through a narrow gap at the top of his tank at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. After flopping to the floor, Inky scooted across the room to the opening of a drain pipe. He got into the pipe and dropped 164 feet (50 m) to where the pipe entered the sea, and there he escaped.
The first word in the Hebrew text of Genesis is reshith, translated into English as “In the beginning.” For hundreds of years, atheists have tried to dispute the notion that there was a beginning. Until the latter part of the twentieth-century scientists didn’t know that there was a beginning. There is an old joke that says, “What did Moses know that Einstein didn’t?” The answer: “That there was a beginning.” The problem is that if a person admits that there was a beginning, they are faced with the question, “What was the cause of the beginning?” It is much simpler just to deny that there was a beginning and maintain that everything has always been–not necessarily as it is today, but in a form that could change into what we see today.
In the 2003 version of the Humanist Manifesto, the statement was clearly made, “The universe is self-existing and not created.” Older versions had the word “eternal” in the statement. It is obvious that the question of origins is evaded by the use of “self-existing” so the word “eternal” is not needed. Atheists will usually respond to this point by saying that religious people claim God is self-existing, so there is no reason why atheists cannot make the same claim about the universe. Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos said, “Why is it any more reasonable to say that God has always been than to say that the cosmos has always been?”
The answer to this challenge lies in the nature of God and the nature of the cosmos. When we measure light, we measure its frequency in cycles per second. When we measure speed in space, we measure it in meters per second. Force, mass, acceleration, energy, momentum, and inertia are all measured in space/time units. We are limited to understanding things in terms of time and space. Various scientific measuring tools have verified that there was a beginning to time and space. The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, suggesting that it has accelerated away from a place where it began.
Since research in all areas of science has made it increasingly obvious that the cosmos had a beginning, science seeks to explain the beginning. The result is that theories are being proposed such as String Theory which suggests that there are multiple dimensions beyond our own. Since String Theory and proposals of multiple universes cannot be tested scientifically, they fail to give an answer to the beginning. We are limited by our inability to devise experiments to measure and test these theories. The biblical term “In the beginning” refers to the origin of all of reality. Whether God created the universe using strings of energy or a big bang is not relevant.
“Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview. Even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us.”
–Paul Davies, Templeton Prize Address, May 1995.
Where did the laws of physics come from? Are they our laws or nature’s laws? Did Newton’s inverse law of gravitation come into existence because of the culture in which Newton lived? According to Davies, to suggest that is “arrant nonsense.” The laws are extracted through experiment and mathematical theory. The laws are not something that our culture presses upon us. They are God’s message to us.
In his presentation, Davies asked why we have these laws instead of some other set of laws. He raised the question of why this set of laws works for us. The laws seem to be contrived, fine-tuned, and formulated so that life and consciousness can exist. Some scientists suggest that there are multiple universes where different laws are present and different sentient beings survive due to those laws. They are making a creative response to this question; but not only is the suggestion un-testable, it also conflicts with the obvious complexity of the laws that work in our universe. Here in the twenty-first century, we are still finding new laws and new understandings that clarify what has been given to us by past scientists.
Dr. John Barrow in his Templeton address observed, “In the history of science new theories extend and subsume old ones. Although Newton’s theory of mechanics and gravity has been superseded by Einstein’s and will be succeeded by some other theory in the future, a thousand years from now engineers will still rely on Newton’s theories. Likewise religious conceptions of the universe also use approximations and analogies to help in grasping ultimate things.”
One of the most detailed discussions of living things is Karl von Frisch’s book Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Von Frisch spent 40 years studying how bees communicate to other bees information about pollen sources. He referred to the honeycomb as a dance floor and described the bee making a “waggle dance” which gave other bees information where to find nectar. The bee dance indicates the direction to this food source and an alteration of the shape of the dance indicates the distance to the source. If the food source was close, the bee uses a round dance instead of the waggle dance. Von Frisch’s study catalogs what the bee does, but it doesn’t tell you how the bee does it.
Barbara Shipman is a mathematician with an interest in bees. There is a mathematical concept known as “manifolds.” Manifolds can have two dimensions, but they can have an infinite number of dimensions. One type of manifold called the “flag manifold” has six dimensions. As Shipman worked with flag manifolds, she saw patterns that were similar to the patterns of the waggle dance of the bees. Physicists use flag manifolds in dealing with subatomic particles called quarks which are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Shipman believes that bees are sensitive to quarks and the sensitivity appears to be a reaction to a quantum field acting on the membranes of selected cells in the bees. It has been demonstrated that bees are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field and the polarization of sunlight. Shipman is seeking to add the dimension of quantum fields to the bee’s repertoire of tools for location and communication.
It is difficult to have discussions about the validity of Christianity without the question of miracles coming up. Some skeptics would flat-out deny that miracles happen today or that they have ever happened.
When you get into a discussion about biblical miracles, there is no physical way to verify what happened. You either accept that it happened by faith or you reject it the same way. Miracles that happen today are a different matter. The kind of miracles Jesus did don’t happen today. No one has verified that a person was raised from the dead. By the same token, there are numerous claims of healings by people that seem to be verified by family and/or friends.
A very useful article appeared in National Geographic (December 2016) titled “Mind over Matter.” The basic thrust of the article is that the brain can have chemical stimulation that is natural or artificial which can make a healing take place. Belief, even if it is false, can be a cause of healing. A Parkinson’s victim in a trial at Stanford was given what he believed was a surgery to alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms. The surgeons did nothing to him, but he believed they did and was “significantly improved.” His comment is “Whether it was placebo or some kind of a drug doesn’t matter to me.”
Most of us know what a Swiss Army Knife is. The one I had as a kid had a knife, can opener, bottle opener, nail file, corkscrew, screwdriver, and scissors all built into one six-inch container. You pulled out of the container whatever you wanted to use. While it didn’t always work well, it did a large number of things.
The mangrove is a tree which God has created to do a large number of different things. The design of the tree is ingenious. The roots of the plant filter out 90% of the salt from seawater so the plant can grow along any ocean shoreline. The leaves of the plant are waxy and thick so that the water inside the plant is stored efficiently. The roots make the plant look like it is on stilts, but their design gives stability even in the worst of storms. Those same roots sequester carbon four times more effectively than tropical rain forests.
In addition to all of those things, the mangrove is home to a wide range of living organisms. The root system is a protective breeding ground for many different species of fish as well as crustaceans, mollusks, barnacles, and turtles. Many varieties of sea birds such as egrets and warblers nest in mangroves. There are about 60 species of mangroves in the world, and they are all beneficial. Not only do they protect the shorelines from beach erosion and shelter fisheries, but the wood is used in a variety of ways.
When my oldest daughter married and moved to West Texas, I worried about how a young lady born and raised in Indiana would fare in an area that was essentially a desert. Leaving a state full of lakes, streams, trees, and fruit and vegetable crops for a world of cactus and yucca seemed to be quite an adjustment. When my daughter and her husband showed us a lot they were buying high on a butte, I worried even more. They were miles from town and surrounded by nothing but thorn-covered plants, mesquite trees, and bare rock and dirt.
Our first visit after they built their new house was during a time when they had been blessed with a great deal of rain. I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in the landscape. Everything was green, and most things were blooming. Even the obnoxious cactus I always managed to get scratched by was covered with beautiful flowers.
There is a great story circulating about a man named Jesse Newton who lives in Arkansas and has a dog. He also has a robotic floor-cleaner called a Roomba. The Roomba is a device you program to run while you are in bed, and it goes all around the rooms you designate sweeping up any dirt and debris on the floor. Last fall Mr. Newton had his robot programmed to clean his house starting at 1:30 AM. The Roomba was doing fine until it hit a pile of dog poop that was picked up by the brushes and wheels of the device. The robot then spread the feces all through the house, on the carpets, the floors, the chair legs, the baseboards, and the kids’ toy box. Mr. Newton tells the whole hilarious story of how he discovered the mess at 3:00 AM and how he spent the next three hours trying to clean it up. He said the Roomba left the house “looking like a Jackson Pollock poop painting.” The story went viral on Facebook and was picked up by many news agencies, newspapers, and their websites, including USA Today and The Guardian. You can Google it to get the whole story.
That story reminded me of articles we have published in the past dealing with the process of cleaning up the waste that accumulates in nature. There are many living things that exist solely on the wastes of animals and plants. A classic example is the dung beetle, which cuts up chunks of “cow pies” or “elephant pies” into small balls and rolls them to their homes underground. Termites process dead trees into fine confetti which helps aerate the soil. Flies produce maggots which process large carrion in such a way that it is returned to the ecosystem in the form of chemicals. Certain kinds of fish clean up the bottom of rivers and lakes. While zebra mussels are a hazard to water-handling equipment, they filter and clean the water of their environment.
Marilyn vos Savant has a column in Parade magazine. In the February 5, 2017, issue (page 8) the above was the title of her column, taken from a reader. We get this same question in one form or another on a fairly regular basis, and it is usually from an adult, not a child. The view of many people seems to be that the gasoline that drives our cars and all of our fossil fuels came from the bodies of dinosaurs that were smushed into crude oil. The fact that the Sinclair Oil Company had a green brontosaurus as their mascot for a long time probably contributed to this misunderstanding. The real answer has a lot to do with our view of how God has provided for advanced human civilization. Reflect on this issue for a moment, and ask yourself what you would answer when a young person asks you where did crude oil come from? In a Bible class context the question might be, “How did God make crude oil?”
The answer to this question comes from our view of how God does things. Do we view God as a magician who zaps things into existence? Did God just zap petroleum products deep underground so that we could find them and use them to drive the industrial age and our infatuation with gasoline-powered cars? We have tried to suggest over the years that God has used natural processes for most of what He has done. In Genesis 1, the word for “create” indicating a process that only God can do is only used three times–verses 1, 21, and 27. These are all major items–space/time in verse 1, life in verse 21, and the human soul in verse 27. All of the other verses in Genesis 1 use a word for “make” or “formed” which implies a natural process. The bottom line is that most of what Genesis 1 describes were things formed by natural processes, not miraculous acts of God. In Genesis 2:3 both words are referred to as methods that God had used: “…he had rested from all his work which God (elohim) created (bara) and made (asah).” (Hebrew words in parentheses.)
So where did the gasoline for your car come from? The answer is that it came from an ecology that God created and shaped to produce it. That ecology was warm, had a special chemical balance, and was full of an animal called foraminifera–a single-celled organism that formed a drop of crude oil in its body during its life processes. When the organism died, the skeletal remains formed diatomaceous earth and the drop of oil from its body united with hundreds of other drops to make a pool of crude oil. The agents that served as the gardeners to provide nutrients, prune, spread seeds, and generally control the ecology were the dinosaurs. Because God used this method, scientists can locate oil deposits literally miles below the earth’s surface. If God had formed the petroleum with a magic trick, humans would not be able to locate these resources. Because we know how the oil was formed, we know where to find it.