Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls
In 2017, Hershel Shanks retired. He was the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review for 42 years. Shanks is important to those of us interested in apologetics because he caused the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls to become available to the general public. He also has been useful in getting material supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God into the hands of the public. A recent example is evidence that David was, in fact, the historical figure the Bible depicts–a belief biblical minimalists have challenged.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, and thousands of fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum which is now called the Rockefeller Museum. A scroll publication team with an editor-in-chief supervised the assembling and reproduction of the scrolls. However, virtually no reproductions had been made available so research on the contents of the scrolls not possible.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were unavailable for study, skeptics attacked the Bible, and the media carried all kinds of claims about what the scrolls contained. One story was that the scrolls said that Jesus was “the great teacher of the Essenes.” Some people made claims that the scrolls showed that apocryphal books should be validated as part of the biblical canon. Shanks began a public campaign to make the scrolls available to researchers, students, and the general public. Hebrew University professor, Emanuel Tov, became the editor-in-chief of the publication team and during his tenure over 100 scholars contributed to the release of the scrolls’ contents.

Hershel Shanks published a preliminary edition of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991, and a landslide of demands for full disclosure of all of the documents followed. Today the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a special building in Jerusalem called “The Shrine of the Book.” They are also available to view in high definition for free on the internet. To see them click here.

The scrolls provide great support for belief in the Bible as the Word of God. You can read many articles that we have published over the years showing archaeological support for the Bible on our journal archives at doesgodexist.org.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April/May/June 2018, Vol. 44, numbers 2 & 3, page 24.

Astronomy Picture of the Day: APOD

Astronomy Picture of the Day
One of my favorite free websites is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Every morning I begin my day by looking at what new image is on that site. Since there is an explanation of the image, this is also an opportunity to learn about objects in space and how those objects might fit into our understanding of the universe. The picture from April 17, 2018, is called “M57: The Ring Nebula.”

M57 is known as a “planetary nebula,” but the glowing material does not come from planets. Scientists believe it is the outer layers expelled by a star very similar to our Sun. It went through a process that we see happening in space where stars explode and seed space with heavy elements produced by the explosion. What is left of the star is the tiny dot at the center of the nebula. That dot is a very dense remnant of the core of the star that is spinning very rapidly obeying the laws of physics as it does so.

This is not creation. The material this explosion produced is not coming from nothing. It is the product of previous materials that were produced at the moment of creation by a process that we cannot duplicate or even adequately describe in scientific terms. The process of fusing hydrogen to heavier elements, seeding space with all of the material produced, and reforming the material to make terrestrial life possible is outside of our capacity to observe. To some extent, it can be described with mathematical equations. The astronomy picture of the day on the NASA site continues to detail the process that produced our world and all we see around us.

God is not limited by time or space or our capacity to understand. In Job 38:4 God challenges Job to deal with “the foundations of the Earth.” In Proverbs 8:22-27 wisdom speaks about the planning and design God made before the Earth came to be (verse 23). Wisdom speaks about the preparation of the heavens (verse 27).

When we look at the astronomy picture of the day on the NASA website, we are not seeing the present. We are looking into the past. M57 went through the process of seeding its neighborhood with heavy elements 2,000 years ago, and we witness that event today. Virtually everything on the NASA website, and in astronomy, is in the past. Seeing these things allows us to wonder at the power, wisdom, and majesty of God. It reinforces David’s statement in Psalms 8:3-4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him?”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks

Lyrid Meteor Shower
For viewers in the Northern Hemisphere, the early morning hours of Sunday, April 22, will be the best viewing time for the 2017 presentation of the Lyrid meteor shower. From mid-April this year to about April 25 the “shooting stars” are visible with as many as a dozen or so per hour. However, on Sunday morning there will probably be up to 20 per hour.

The Lyrid meteor shower comes around every year in April. There are ten significant meteor showers each year, but the last one was the Quadrantid meteors in early January. Now, at last, with the weather a little warmer we have another chance to watch the sky.

The Lyrid meteor shower gets its name from the fact that it seems to radiate from the constellation Lyra, the harp. No, they are not “shooting stars.” The Lyrid meteors are actually fragments broken off from Comet Thatcher which passed by in 1861. That comet makes a pass through our solar system every 415 years or so.

The Comet Thatcher has been passing through and leaving bits behind for a long time because Chinese sky watchers saw the Lyrid meteor shower in 687 B.C. Apparently they were impressed because they recorded that “stars fell like rain.”

Of course, the ancient Chinese didn’t know what caused the event. We know that it’s the result of those comet pieces falling into our atmosphere, being heated by the friction of the air, and burning up. Our atmosphere does more than just give us oxygen to breathe. It also protects us in many ways. One of those protections is that it causes most objects falling from space to burn up before they reach Earth’s surface. That friction requires heat-shield protection for returning Astronauts, but those of us living on the Earth’s surface can be glad to have an atmosphere to protect us. Recently a Chinese space station the size of a bus fell into our atmosphere and disintegrated before reaching the ground. You don’t need a telescope to see the pockmarks on the Moon’s surface from asteroid impacts because the Moon has no atmosphere.

Speaking of the Moon, it will be in its first-quarter phase and will not set until about 2 A.M Sunday morning. For that reason, viewing the Lyrid meteor shower will probably be best between 2 A.M. and the first light of dawn. However, if you miss it then, you still have a few more days, but the meteors will be fewer and farther between. If you see the Lyrid meteor shower, let it be a reminder of the fact that God has designed a planet that provides for our needs and protects us while we enjoy its beauty.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Earth’s Magnetic Field

Earth's Magnetic Field
You might say that planet Earth is a very large magnet. We have mentioned before Earth’s magnetic field that is generated by the iron core. The movement of that molten iron generates a magnetic field surrounding our planet. We can see the effect of that field every time we use a compass to find directions.

What you may not realize is that there is also a magnetic field generated by the ocean. Salt water is a good conductor of electricity. Moving electric currents generate magnetic fields. Hans Christian Ørsted discovered that by accident in 1820 when he noticed that placing a compass near a wire carrying an electric current caused deflection of the compass needle.

Salt dissolved in the oceans’ water creates ions, which are electrically charged particles. The movement of ocean tides causes those charged particles to move. Electric current is electrically charged particles in motion. Since electric current generates a magnetic field, the ocean tides generate magnetic fields. Because the movement of ocean currents and tides is complex, the magnetic fields generated by the oceans are more complex than the big magnetic field of the Earth. They are also 20,000 times weaker than Earth’s main magnetic field making them harder to measure.

Today’s satellite technology allows us to map the oceans’ magnetic field. The European Space Agency used three satellites to create a network called “Swarm.” They used the data from those satellites to create a 3-D digital map of this little-known magnetic field. The research shows how the field changes over time. Although the oceans create a relatively small part of Earth’s magnetic field, they play an important role. Mapping this field also give scientists a better picture of how the oceans flow all the way down to the seabeds. That information gives us a better understanding of Earth’s climate.

Combined with the magnetic field produced by the molten core and rocks in Earth’s crust, we are protected by a “cocoon” surrounding our planet. You might say, “Protected from what?” Our Sun frequently erupts in solar storms releasing charged particles that escape into space. Many of those particles travel to the Earth. We call it “solar wind.” Without a protective magnetic shield, those particles would reach Earth’s surface disrupting power grids and aircraft navigation. More basic than that, they would damage human cells causing cancers and other health problems.

We don’t think it’s by chance that we have the protection of Earth’s magnetic field. We see this as one more evidence of the provision of God to make possible life on this planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

New Human Organ Discovery

There Is a New Human Organ Discovery
With all that science knows about the human body, it is truly amazing that they have just made a new human organ discovery. Scientists at the New York University Langone School of Medicine have announced the discovery of a previously unknown organ in the human body. They gave it the name “interstitium.”

The human body is about 60% water, most of which is in the cells. The interstitium is a network of fluid-filled spaces, and it holds about 20% of all the fluid in the human body. The reason this organ wasn’t detected earlier is that researchers treat and dehydrate the tissue samples before they put them under a microscope. That causes the interstitium to collapse. Until now researchers saw the interstitium as a dense wall of the protein collagen. They now realize that it is not a wall but an “open, fluid-filled highway” supported by a lattice of collagen.

The interstitium organ plays a major role in the immune system. Interstitial fluid is the source of lymph, which sends out white blood cells to fight infection. The interstitium’s role in the body’s battle against infection is significant, and this discovery may change how some difficult infections are treated.

Medical researchers discovered the interstitium by using a new imaging technique called probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (pCLE) to examine living tissue. They found interstitium tissue under the surface of the skin, in the lining of the digestive tract and lungs, and surrounding the muscles. This new human organ discovery helps explain how cancer cells spread throughout the body.

We still have much to learn about the design and function of our bodies, but we see God’s wisdom and the complexity of His creation as we grow in our understanding of how our bodies work. David said it best in Psalms 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works God, and my soul knows that very well.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

CRISPR and God’s Design

CRISPR and God's Design
The general media and scientific journals have given great attention to something called CRISPR (pronounced like the name of the refrigerator drawer where you stash fresh veggies). CRISPR was first reported in scientific journals and papers in 2012. Now it is being used by scientists all over the world as a method to modify human embryonic stem cells and answer questions about basic biology and development. Here is a sample of what Wikipedia says about it:

“CRISPR is an abbreviation of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats… A simple version of the CRISPR/Cas system, CRISPR/Cas9, has been modified to edit genomes… CRISPR/Cas genome-editing techniques have many potential applications, including medicine and crop seed enhancement. The use of CRISPR/Cas9-gRNA complex for genome editing was the AAAS’s choice for the breakthrough of the year in 2015. Bioethical concerns have been raised about the prospect of using CRISPR for germline editing.”

That last statement about this technique concerns many people. Are we “playing God” feeling that we can improve on what God has created? Is human genetic engineering going to threaten a catastrophic mistake in the future? Hollywood is already on this with dramas like Netflix’s Luke Cage.

CRISPR exploits something that microbes commonly do in the natural world. Bacteria defend themselves against viruses and other DNA in the environment by having snippets of foreign genetic material as molecular spacers which serve as borders. What scientists are doing is to pick those characteristics that CRISPR can use to eliminate a bad gene and insert a good one in place of it. We are taking something that God has designed into nature and using it to eliminate genetic disorders that may have been caused by human abuse of the environment.

This could be the tool to eliminate nerve damage and give quadriplegics and paraplegics full use of their arms and legs. Trials are already going on to eliminate cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, many forms of cancer, sickle cell anemia, beta thalassemia, and leukemia. This is not replacing God’s original design but rather using some of the tools God created to repair things damaged by time and human abuse. Scientists are harnessing an ancient biological process to edit the code of life. God’s design is what makes this possible and offers great hope for the future of people afflicted with disorders which have not been within our medical reach in the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Notre Dame Magazine, Spring 2018, pages 22-27.

Mollusk Designs

Mollusk Designs
Many of the invertebrate creatures known as mollusks build interesting shells. An article titled “How Seashells Take Shape” describing a study of mollusk designs appeared in the April 2018 edition of Scientific American (page 70). The article begins with this paragraph:

“Mollusks are fabulous architects. They build houses that protect their soft bodies from predators and the elements–shells of uncommon strength, durability and beauty. Many of these shells have spectacularly complex shapes–logarithmic spirals bedecked with fractal spines or other ongoing elements, all executed with near-perfect mathematical regularity. Yet mollusks, of course, know nothing of math. How, researchers have wondered, do these humble creatures produce such intricate patterns so precisely?”

The article goes into the mathematics of the shells and how the animals use complex processes that scientists are still studying. It isn’t just the shapes that are an issue here, but also the physical properties of the shell material including elasticity, ductility, tensile strength, and the use of oscillatory systems. Scientists are trying to understand the fractal-like spine pattern in some mollusk designs. Also, the researchers are curious about why 90 percent of mollusk shells are right-handed and only 10 percent are left-handed. Other “exquisite ornamentations” create a mystery for scientists to study.

Romans 1:18-22 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” The complexity of something as basic as a seashell can speak to us about the design God has used in everything He does. It is only with the advent of mathematics and engineering that we can duplicate what we see in nature. Seashells are an intricate example of the design of living creatures.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Needs Phosphorus

Life Needs Phosphorus
The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.

Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.

Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.

We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”

Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

We Need Each Other

We Need Each Other
God has designed humans to have a unique relationship with God and each other. The terms “brother” and “sister” in the New Testament are a reflection of this relationship. We need each other as we face the challenges of life. When God created man, He said: “It is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder conducted a study of 22 heterosexual couples who had been together for at least a year. They wanted to see how the simple act of a human touch affected various scenarios in life. To conduct this test, they divided the couples into different groups at different times. In one grouping they held hands. Another group sat nearby but didn’t touch. In a third group, the people were in different rooms.

The researchers used brain scans to study each of the groups. They conducted scans before applying a mild pain and again after applying the pain. The tests indicated that holding hands reduced the intensity of the pain by 34%. When the couples held hands, their brain waves became synchronized, especially when the women were in pain.

The conclusion of the researchers was: “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world, and we have fewer physical interactions. This research illustrates the power and importance of human touch.”

This experiment gives scientific proof of what we probably already knew from experience, that we need each other.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Sources: ScienceDaily.com and The Week, March 23, 2018, page 19.

Christianity and Racism

Christianity and Racism
The April 2018 issue of National Geographic is a special issue on race. The history of Christianity and racism has been very bad, and that is unfortunate for many reasons. The most fundamental reason is that it contradicts everything the Bible teaches. The history of science has been just as bad as the Christian denominations in promoting racism and slavery.

Some have called Dr. Samuel George Morton “the father of racism” because he released studies of the skulls of various racial groups and related intelligence to brain size. Morton claimed that there were five races and that they varied in intelligence with Caucasians being the most intelligent, followed by Mongolians, southeast Asians, native Americans, and Ethiopians in that order. When Morton died in 1851, the Charleston Medical Journal praised him for “giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

Such labeling and poor scientific reasoning contradict all the Bible says about humans. If we all came from Adam and Eve, then obviously we are all created in the image of God and are of equal value. The flood of Noah would have wiped out whatever major variations there might have been in human genes. The reason races exist is because God designed humans to live all over the Earth. Major racial criteria such as skin color, physical structure, and hair are features built into our DNA to allow for adaptation to climatic conditions.

The divisions of humans in the Old Testament were not due to physical differences. Joseph was an Israelite, but became a ruler in Egypt, as did Moses. The things that caused national divisions and conflict were over lifestyles, moral choices, and worship. The separation between the Jews and Samaritans is spelled out in John chapter 4. The Samaritan woman was amazed that Jesus would talk to her (see verse 9) and his disciples also were also amazed (see verse 27). The thing that separated the Jews and the Samaritans were the religious histories of the two cultures.

Christianity and racism should never be connected. The Christian perspective is that all humans are created in the image of God and have equal value. Acts 17:26 tells us that we are all “of one blood for to dwell in the face of the earth.” Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is sad that people who claimed to be Christians rejected the clear biblical mandate that we are all equal in God’s sight.

Atheists and skeptics will use the National Geographic article to denigrate Christianity, but the fact is that Christianity contradicts racism. A Christian trying to follow God’s word cannot endorse everything that people claiming to be Christians have done in the past. Christ opposed human-created divisions and prayed that His followers would be united (John 17: 20-21). True Christianity and racism are not compatible.
–John N. Clayton © 2018