Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?
Reuters.com reports that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has solved the technical problems of cloning higher life forms. Mu-ming Poo announced that two long-tailed macaques named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were produced using somatic cell nuclear transfer in which transferred DNA was taken from fetal monkey cells and put into cells from which they had removed the DNA. By stimulating these eggs, they developed into embryos which were implanted in female surrogates and two live births of cloned monkeys resulted.

The question of cloning has many dimensions to it. Cloning can be used to solve many problems. An article in The Week (February 16, 2018) says that this process could “revolutionize research on diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” The potential to address food shortages could lie within cloning of unusually large plants and animals or food stocks with special characteristics such as protein content, resistance to pests, etc. Cloning could also be used destructively to produce diseases or science fiction products like human androids.

The question remains whether scientists will clone humans. Since scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland cloned “Dolly” the sheep in 1996, others have cloned 22 mammal species including cows, dogs, horses, and rabbits. Now the Chinese researchers have broken the primate barrier with cloned monkeys.

In cloning the macaques, 127 eggs resulted in 79 embryos which led to only six pregnancies and two live births. The ethics of such an inefficient process with humans raises a whole new set of abortion questions and Frankenstein type scientific, moral issues. Scientists will address the physical issues with future improvements in techniques, but someone must address the moral issues before they attempt human cloning.

The Bible defines a human as a being created in the image of God. A cloned human would be as human as one produced by artificial insemination or surrogacy or by the old-fashioned method. What we CAN DO and what we SHOULD DO are not necessarily the same. We need people with Christian moral values making the decisions on what we should do.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Romeo Seeking Juliet

Romeo Seeking Juliet
It’s a case of Romeo seeking Juliet. He has been called “the loneliest frog in the world.” His name is Romeo, and he’s a Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare). He may be the only one left.

Sehuencas water frogs lived in the subtropical and tropical areas of Bolivia. Romeo has lived in the Cochabamba Natural History Museum in Bolivia for the past ten years. No Sehuencas water frogs have been seen in the wild since 2008. Their life expectancy is up to 15 years, and that means Romeo’s time for finding a mate is limited. Unless he can find a mate, the species will probably become extinct.

Because of this emergency situation, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative have taken matters into their own hands. They have teamed up with the dating site Match.com to find a mate for this lonely frog. Actually, it is doubtful that any female Sehuencas water frogs–if there are any–will see Romeo’s posting on Match. However, the groups are hoping to raise awareness and to raise $15,000 by Valentine’s Day to launch expeditions into the areas where these frogs formerly lived in the hope of finding a mate for Romeo.

The story of Romeo seeking Juliet has gone on for years. When Romeo was a young frog, he sent out mating calls with no response. Those calls have slowed down in recent years. In Romeo’s Match listing he says, “I’m a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home.” His status is shown as, “Never married.” He concludes with the statement, “So, if you believe in love and want to help an old frog out, please donate to my cause.”

Is there any hope for this species to continue? If all else fails, researchers are considering the possibility of cloning. Many species that are part of the natural balance God created have been threatened by human actions. Habitat loss and the introduction of alien predatory species are two of the major causes. We must learn to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Design of Snow Is Awesome

Design of Snow Is Awesome
As I write this, we are sitting here in Michigan after having experienced a record snowfall for one day. As we shovel and snow-blow our driveways and around our mailboxes, we hear a great deal of abusive language from our neighbors. Still, there is a great deal of good in every snowflake because of the design of snow.

It is not just the aesthetic value of snowflakes that makes them good, although that certainly is a wonderful thing to see under a hand lens or microscope. The snow has a variety of other positive attributes designed into its structure.

A snowflake is made of water which is a polar molecule meaning that it has a positive and a negative end. The reason ice forms and water expands as it freezes is that the positive end of one molecule is attracted to the negative end of the next molecule. This structure also allows the snowflake to attract particles in the atmosphere that have a polar makeup. Salt, for example, has a sodium atom which has a plus charge, attracted to chlorine which has a negative charge. A salt molecule in the atmosphere will be attracted to a snowflake. Even molecules such as carbon compounds, which do not generally have a polarity, are attracted to the snowflakes. Snow cleans the air, and many of us enjoy being outside when it is snowing because of the freshness and purity it gives the air.

Snow stores water in places where water shortages are a problem. The western United States gets heavy snow in the mountains in winter. Water has a high heat of fusion. What that means is that it takes extra energy to melt ice–80 calories per gram of ice to be exact. For that reason, snow stays in the solid state for a long time after the temperature has risen above freezing. That allows snow to melt slowly sending a constant supply of water to dry areas at lower elevations.

The design of snow is also friendly to animals, especially small animals. When the snow is finally off the ground here in Michigan, there will be small tunnels visible in the ground where mice, voles, squirrels, and other small animals have built passageways under the snow. The low temperatures of the air in winter are not a problem for these animals because the snow is a good insulator. Predators cannot easily get to the animals because the snow covers them from aerial attacks.

Water is unique in many ways. Its freezing temperature and its boiling temperature are only 100 Celsius degrees apart. That allows water to exist on our planet as a solid, a liquid, and a gas. Each of those states of water allows some form of life to exist.

In Job 38:22 God questions Job, “Have you entered into the treasures of the snow? Or have you seen the treasures of ice which I have reserved against the time of trouble…” The Hebrew word translated “treasure” in this verse is atsar meaning “a thing laid up.” It is doubtful that Job knew anything about the water cycle or how he benefited from snow. But the God who designed snow and its role on Earth to benefit humans and all living things certainly knew all about the design of snow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Michigan also has “summer snow”

Christian Ministers Who Advanced Science

Christian Ministers Who Advanced Science
In the past, a large number of famous Christian ministers and church leaders were also outstanding scientists or worked to advance science. The attempts of some writers to portray the historical relationship of science and faith as a continuous war are at odds with the evidence. There were leading Christian ministers who advanced science. Christianity Today in the December 2017 issue had an interesting article on some of them:

FRANCOIS-ETIENNE JALLABERT was a Huguenot minister and was the first chair of mathematics at the University of Geneva in 1704.
JONATHAN EDWARDS was a minister in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1720 became the president of College of New Jersey which became Princeton University.
INCREASE MATHER was a preacher and in 1721 became the president of Harvard University.
COTTON MATHER was a religious leader in England and was a leading advocate for smallpox inoculation in the 1720s.
JOHN WESLEY was the founder of Methodism and was a leading promoter of the use of science and modern medicine in 1740-50.
JEAN JALLABERT was a preacher and a professor of physics in 1748.

The Christianity Today article details how these Christian ministers who advanced science promoted the use of science as a coworker with faith to benefit humanity. Many religious leaders of the past were highly educated in science and used scientific concepts to encourage people in their faith. True science and true faith are friends, not enemies.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.

It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.

It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.

Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Driving to Mars in a Red Convertible

Driving to Mars
On February 6 SpaceX launched a red Tesla roadster convertible owned by billionaire CEO Elon Musk in a trajectory toward Mars. The photo from an onboard camera shows the dummy driver leaving Earth and driving to Mars.

Will the car ever get there? Astronomers say that it will go into orbit around the Sun and eventually come to the vicinity of Mars. However, it will probably not come very close to the planet depending on the timing of orbits. It has no onboard thrusters to adjust its direction for driving to Mars. At any rate, it will take several months to arrive anywhere near Mars. The closest Mars ever comes to Earth is 33 million miles (54.6 million kilometers). It takes a long time to “drive” that far.

Musk has been promoting the idea of colonizing Mars. His company has developed the world’s most powerful space rocket, the Falcon Heavy Rocket, which they used to launch Musk’s car. However, Mr. Musk doesn’t seem to be doing much to solve the problems of interplanetary space travel. For humans to survive on long space flights away from the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, will require much more effort than launching them into space.

Earth has been designed to shield us from the deadly effects of space. Of course, the vacuum of space would be deadly to anyone not in a pressurized suit or cabin. That problem has been solved to allow astronauts to live in the International Space Station and make spacewalks. If the tires on the car were pressurized, I suspect they would have blown out by now. Another problem is food, medicine, and other supplies. Resupply launches provide for the needs of people on the ISS, but that would not be practical for people traveling to or colonizing Mars.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is cosmic radiation and debris coming from outer space. Earth’s atmosphere is designed to protect us from those things. The space station in low Earth orbit is still somewhat within the magnetic field of Earth. In outer space, the only protection is what you can take with you. Apparently, from what Elon Musk posted on Twitter, his car was headed on a dangerous trip into the asteroid belt beyond Mars.

Musk said in a news conference that the car was “just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years.” That may be doubtful. Musk admitted that SpaceX had not tested the materials of the red convertible for space endurance. The mannequin space traveler is wearing an authentic space suit, but the car is made of the usual materials. Even if the car avoids major collisions with asteroids, it will become riddled with pockmarks from micrometeorites. Leather, fabrics, plastics, and even the carbon-fiber frame will break down from exposure to unfiltered sunlight and cosmic radiation. The carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds in those materials will break down, and the car will fall apart. At least one scientist, William Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University and an expert on plastics and organic molecules, said, it won’t last a year in space.

One more thing to note is that the radio in the car was playing David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity.” However, sound can’t travel through a vacuum, and since there is no atmosphere in space, the radio is playing the sound of silence. The battery will run down in a short time anyway. Driving to Mars is going to be a challenge, even in a well-designed spaceship. The need for power, food, protection from the elements and many other things, make us very happy to live on planet Earth. It almost seems as if Someone designed this place for us to call “home.”
–Roland Earnst © 20018

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