Sophia the Robot Speaks at DePauw University

Sophia the Robot
Sophia the robot carries the title of the world’s “first artificial intelligence-fueled android.” She became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in October, has a face that can show expression, metal hands, and a clear skull that shows the working wires of the artificially intelligent brain. An AP news report said that “in past interviews, Sophia has expressed a desire to be immortal, a mother, and smarter than humans.”

Dr. David Hanson is the creator of this interesting computer, and he owns a company called Hanson Robotics. This robot functions through a Wi-Fi connection and has a large memory for storage of information and a large vocabulary. At DePauw University Dr. Hanson was showing what robots can do. He predicts that robots can be designed to look and function in very human-like ways making them a part of the lives of humans in the future.

The definition of “human” is the real issue here. If you define humans in terms of what they can do, then in the future robots might be considered human. The fact that this robot has been made a citizen of Saudi Arabia shows that the government there has a mechanical definition of what a citizen is, and Sophia can do everything their test requires. What is interesting is that this robot did not happen by chance. It is the product of an intelligence, David Hanson, who worked as a designer with the Walt Disney Imagineering team.

The biblical definition of a human is a living being created in the image of God. That image allows spontaneous expression of guilt, sympathy, self-sacrificing love, and the capacity for creativity in art and music. In this case, being human allows the creation of an interesting computer that copies much of what humans possess. However, neither Sophia the robot nor any other android will ever possess those things that make humans special.
(Watch an interview with Sophia in Saudi Arabia.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Yeti or Yogi Bear?

Yeti or Yogi Bear
The Yeti is a legendary creature of the snow-covered Himalayas. He has been described as an ape-like creature taller than a man and covered with white fur. In the 1920s a reporter for a newspaper in India gave the creature the nickname of “the abominable snowman.”

The general public continues to be fascinated with stories about Yeti or his temperate-weather cousin Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Some of the fascination is that there are folks who suggest that this creature offers a proof or disproof about the evolution of humans. The fact that Bigfoot continues to be a show on the Animal Planet network indicates that the value of these mythical creatures is more for entertainment than education.

The first point that we would like to make is that if a human-like creature existed, that science had not discovered yet, it would not have evolutionary implications. Neo-Darwinists would say it was just another dead-end in hominid evolution. Creationists would say that God had created another creature that was previously unknown. Quite often previously unknown species of various creatures are discovered somewhere in the world.

On November 28, 2017, the Proceedings of The Royal Society B, released a report of genetic studies of the remains of bones, teeth, skin, and hair that people claimed were from Yetis. All of them turned out to be from bears. The genome of a bear is distinctive enough that scientists can know with great certainty what creature left the sample. While the report probably won’t cancel any TV series on Bigfoot or interest in Yeti, it does give a rational answer to some of the claims.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Science Standards Battle

Science Standards
During September and October of 2017, the New Mexico Public Education Department was embroiled in a battle over what was called The Next Generation Science Standards. Those standards were edited by the department to weaken the treatment of evolution, climate change, and the age of the Earth. There was a major outcry led by the National Center for Science Education against the attempts to weaken the standards.

This battle over science standards continues in state after state, with religious groups and creationist organizations trying to stop the teaching of these concepts. The battle is unnecessary, and the attempts to stop the teaching of these subjects is misguided. The opposition is often based on denominational beliefs that are not biblical, and a poor understanding of science. Taking the three subjects that were the focus in New Mexico:

Evolution: The subjects being taught are factual change in living things which is the basis of agriculture and animal husbandry. The Bible speaks about these things in the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 30. There is little if any emphasis on theories about human history in the standards, and atheistic concepts are not in the textbooks.
Climate Change: The climate of planet Earth is changing, and it has changed in the past. Much of the area where Jesus walked and taught is different climatically today than it was in His day. Global warming has happened in the past, and all evidence shows us it continues to happen. The Bible makes no statements about climate change. The fact that humans have caused much suffering by our mismanagement of what God has given us is not contestable. This certainly includes the wastes that we put in our waters and our atmosphere.
Age of the Earth: There are major Protestant denominations that have a doctrinal position called dispensationalism. This doctrine teaches that the planet has seven dispensations that are each roughly 1000 years. The doctrine is that Jesus will come to Earth to war with Satan, and establish a political kingdom in Jerusalem on David’s throne for 1000 years. This denominational teaching does not take the Bible literally and contradicts what Jesus said His kingdom was about. (See John 18:36.) For a review of this teaching see “Destructive Dispensationalism” in our journal for November/December 2008, page 11.

We bring reproach to Jesus and the Bible when we oppose things that are clearly factual in educational science standards. There is no battle between science and the Bible. Human creeds and misunderstandings contradict facts and are eroding the faith of many of our young people. We need to follow 1 Peter 3:15 by understanding what the Bible teaches. We also must avoid false science and atheistic traditions.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI)

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Since 1960, scientists have been using radio telescopes to search for signs of intelligent life in the universe. The program is called SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). So far it has been 57 years of listening without any positive results. Scientists have now entered the next phase of the search called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI).

On October 16-18, 2017, scientists beamed a message toward a red dwarf star known as GJ 273 in the hope that there might be someone there listening. Of course, there are always radio and TV signals of various kinds going out from transmitters all over the Earth, but this attempt is a concentrated signal beamed toward this specific system. The transmission contained mathematical and scientific information as well as music. The reason scientists chose GJ 273 is that there are two planets orbiting the star that they hope might be able to support life. And it is the closest possible potential life-supporting location.

Picking one random star to direct a communication signal toward may seem like shooting in the dark–and it is. However, a METI team member said that this is just a prototype of what they want to do “one hundred times, or one thousand times, or one million times.” In other words, this is just the beginning.

So when will the results of this experiment be in? GJ 273 is more than twelve light-years from Earth. So in about 2030, the signal will reach its destination. If there is intelligent life there listening and they respond right away, we might hear something by 2042 or 2043. Translation will be a challenge. If Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence continues to send out signals to other potential inhabitable planets, they will be farther away, and thus it will take longer to hear anything back.

Some scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have criticized this effort because they are afraid it might wake up hostile extraterrestrial beings to the fact that we are here. Perhaps the aliens will not like our music style and decide that they want to put an end to it. They could send their “storm troopers” to start a Star Wars type of scenario. Of course, since they would not be able to travel at anything close to the speed of light (if Einstein is correct), they might arrive here centuries from now to find nobody left on this planet.

We have three observations on this project. First, all indications are that the chances of life existing anywhere in space are very slim. There are far too many variables needed to make life possible on any planet or moon. Secondly, the resources going into SETI and METI could better be used helping people right here on our own planet. Thirdly, as we have said before, whether or not life exists anywhere else in the universe has no bearing on whether God exists. God can create life anywhere He chooses.

When it comes to messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, we believe that there is Intelligence out there. We also believe that He would like to hear from us. We further believe that He has been to Earth to communicate with us. And we believe that if we choose to communicate with Him, we will not be limited to the speed of light. He can hear us instantaneously.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Thankfulness and Being Human

Thankfulness
We had just left a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. A woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted. She said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was obvious that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to express her thankfulness to her benefactor.

We have many people to thank, such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and teachers; but most of all our thankfulness should be directed toward God. There is something about humans that makes us want to express our gratitude. It’s part of what makes us different from the animals. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. The Psalms often express thankfulness to God for the things He has done. Reformer Martin Luther called thankfulness “the basic Christian attitude.” G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.” In Romans 1:21 the apostle Paul wrote about godless people, “…they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Thank you for reading our daily posts. We hope that you will express your thanks to God who has given us all good things.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Respectable Bird– Confusing Name

Respectable Bird
Benjamin Franklin called this animal a respectable bird. They are large birds native to North America where they’re called “turkeys.” The origin of that name is disputed, but it apparently has a connection with the country of Turkey.

Turkeys were brought to England from America, on merchant ships from the Middle East area of Turkey. After being domesticated in England, turkeys spread throughout the British Empire, including India. From India, they were taken to various other countries where they were known as “a bird from India.” For that reason, the name for turkeys in several languages is connected to India. In the country of Turkey, turkeys are called “Hindi” which means “India” in Turkish. To make things even more confusing, in Portuguese a turkey is called a “peru” which is apparently derived from the name of the country of Peru. To further compound the confusion, there are several other birds in other countries that have “turkey” names but are not related to the American turkey.

Native Americans first used turkeys for their feathers in about 800 BC. It was almost 2,000 years later before they used turkeys for meat. In the United States, turkeys are a popular food on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

The founders of the United States chose the bald eagle as a national symbol. Benjamin Franklin was famously critical of that. He called the eagle “a bird of bad moral character” and wrote that “the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” With respect for Mr. Franklin, the truth is that the only creature God created that has “moral character,” whether good or bad, is the human creature. All other creatures do what God created them to do. Humans often choose to do otherwise.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Continental Drift and Recycling

Continental Drift
In 1910 an Arctic explorer by the name of Alfred Wegener coined the term continental drift. Wegener saw the same fossils in South America that he had seen in western Africa, and he proposed that the two continents had been connected at one time. Wegener’s proposal was ridiculed by the scientists of that day who saw the Earth’s crust as too solid to allow any model of that kind to work.

Over the years studies of earthquake epicenters have shown that there is movement of huge slabs of rock called tectonic plates. The rock material bends more and more steeply until the slabs eventually melt into the mantle–the molten interior of the earth. These slabs and everything on them do in fact move.

In 1952 an ocean cartographer by the name of Marie Tharp began making profiles of the Atlantic Ocean floor going from west to east. Her profiles showed a ridge down the center of the Atlantic with younger material in the center and older material on both sides. She proposed that molten material was coming up from the mantle and pushing the two slabs of ocean floor material away from each other. Where the slabs hit the edges of the continent, the material is deflected downward making trenches in the floor of the ocean.

All of these discoveries flew in the face of the accepted geological theory at the time, and Tharp was ridiculed. In time scientists came to understand that the Earth is made up of plates sliding along the surface and sliding down into the mantle when a continent is reached.

There is a message in all of this that what is considered to be scientifically impossible, sometimes turns out to be true. At the same time, a pet theory can ultimately be proven incorrect. One of the beauties of science is that eventually it cleans up its own mistakes.

Another message is that sometimes God addresses a problem long before humans know there is a problem. This whole process is one of the greatest recycling systems of all time. As nutrients and minerals get eroded off the continents, they are deposited on the ocean floor. The movement of the ocean floor ultimately returns this material to the mantle to be recycled back to the Earth’s surface.

No elements are lost from the Earth’s reservoir by this system, and it assures us that there is no waste in the resources of the planet as a whole. Jeremiah 10:12 speaks of God preserving the Earth by His wisdom, and continental drift is one of tools by which He does that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Our Ancestor Was a Rat

Our Ancestor Was a Rat
The headline of a lead article in USA Today for November 8, 2017, said: “Our Ancestors Were Rats.” Written by Doyle Rice, the article claims that fossils prove our distant ancestor was a rat.

According to the article, Steve Sweetman of the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. says we know about this ancestor of ours. He said it is “undoubtedly the earliest yet known from a line of mammals that led to our own species.” The article further said that line of mammals included blue whales and pygmy shrews. Sweetman says the mammals they have discovered “were small furry creatures.” He speculates that they were nocturnal, possibly burrowers, and ate insects and possibly plants.

Would we not assume that this newly discovered fossil had a skeleton and traces or impressions of fur? Wouldn’t we have found coprolite (petrified poop) to make claims about what the animal’s diet was or perhaps plant or insect material in the animal’s stomach? Would we not also assume that the biosphere in which the animal lived was well documented by fossils of what the animal ate? Are we not assuming that the “line of mammals that led to our own species” has been so well documented that no reputable scientist would deny it?

The fact is that an undergraduate student was sifting through rocks and fossils in a box in his geology lab when he found two teeth which he showed to Sweetman who is a mammal expert. That is all the evidence we have for this rat which was supposedly our ancestor. How do you determine the animal had fur from two teeth?

There is great controversy about the phylogenetic trees that various scientists have constructed to develop theories about the history of life on planet Earth and human life. Many scientists believe that multiple trees and cladistic techniques better explain the history of life than the our ancestor was a rat version that Sweetman promotes.

We have said that when there is a conflict between faith in God and science, it is because of bad theology and/or bad science. Maybe bad journalism is another source of problems. This story is grossly misleading and represents the source of many of the conflicts that young people have between what they hear at Church and what they hear from the media.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Avoiding God of the Gaps Explanations

God of the Gaps
One of the better arguments that atheists make is the claim that “god” is something that humans have invented to explain what they didn’t understand. This is known as the God of the gaps approach to explaining things. When people didn’t understand what makes a volcano work, they invented a god or goddess to explain volcanoes. When people didn’t understand what produces weather, gods or goddesses were invented to explain everything from lightning to wind. The names of these gods and goddesses have endured, and they show up in the video games our kids play such as Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Minerva, etc. The atheist argument is that in time they will find scientific answers that disprove any notion that a divine being was responsible.

There are two major weaknesses in the God of the gaps charge that atheists are making. The first is that just because we can propose a possible natural way to explain things that does not mean the explanation is true. Years ago there was a discovery that a female praying mantis after being fertilized by the male turns around and eats him. Promoters of neo-Darwinism developed elaborate theories about how this behavior was a product of evolutionary processes. Some of the explanations sounded fairly plausible. Later it was discovered that this behavior happens in captivity, but not in the natural world. What is proposed is frequently not what happened.

The second weakness of the God of the gaps accusation is that it ignores the probabilities against the natural explanation. For example, there are 10^500 different possible solutions to the string theory equations. (That’s one followed by 500 zeros.) By carefully choosing which equation you use, a scientist can propose one step in the formation of tangible matter. Many more steps are required to get matter that is stable, and multiple steps have to be accomplished before you can get a single atom of hydrogen. When statistics are applied to this model, the probabilities are prohibitive.

When you put all the probabilities together, the final answer makes it clear that chance is a very weak explanation for what we see in the world around us. Romans 1:18-22 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. We don’t invent God to explain anything. We ask for a reasonable acceptance of evidence that stands not only on an intuitive level but also on a mathematical level.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Life on Other Planets Doubtful

Life on Other Planets?
We have repeatedly pointed out that finding life on other planets has no bearing on the question of God’s creation of life on Earth. The Bible does not say that this is the only place where God created life.

Astronomers have observed over 3500 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Many writers have suggested that life in space is natural and likely because of the number of planets that exist. That assumption has a problem. There are an enormous number of variables that must be precisely controlled to allow life to exist.

Scientists have recently discovered that while it takes 243 days for Venus to rotate once, its atmosphere requires only four days in what is called “superrotation.” How can a planet’s atmosphere rotate 60 times faster than the planet itself? What effect does this have on the conditions at the surface of the planet where life could exist?

Another recent discovery concerns Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting in the habitable zone of the closest star to us other than the Sun. The star it orbits, Proxima Centauri, is continuously flaring and driving away any atmosphere that an orbiting planet might have. Astronomers working on the study of this star and the planets around it released a statement saying “any chance for life on Proxima Centauri b may be toast.”

We continue to find that the conditions needed for life on other planets are numerous. Having water is important, but many other factors must be carefully controlled for a planet to support even the most simple forms of life.

God’s creation of the Earth and the conditions that allow life to exist here becomes more and more amazing as we learn more about the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Data from Astronomy magazine, December 2017, pages 12 and 17.