Turtle on a Fence Post

Turtle on a Fence Post
If you see a bird sitting on a fence post, you don’t have to think about how the bird got there. You assume that it flew in and landed on the fence post. However, if you see a turtle on a fence post, then you have to question how it got there.

I think it should be obvious that the turtle could not have climbed up onto the post by itself. Someone must have put it there. If you look around and don’t see anyone, do you change your mind and conclude that the turtle put itself on the post?

Another possible option is that the turtle hatched and grew there. If so, how did the turtle egg get on the fence post? Could the egg have been blown there by the wind or is it more reasonable to think that someone put it there?

After thinking about those possibilities, you conclude that perhaps the turtle isn’t really there. Maybe you are just imaging that the turtle is on the fence post. Perhaps it’s an optical illusion, and your senses fooling you.

After you have considered all options, you eventually conclude that the rational answer is that someone placed the turtle on the fence post. You can’t see the person, but you know that person must exist because of the evidence.

We look at the amazing design in the world around us from the DNA in our cells to the fine-tuning of the universe, and ask ourselves: “How could this be? Could it happen by accident? Is design merely an illusion? Did all of these things put themselves together out of nothing without any intelligent direction?”

Some scientists have suggested that life on Earth come from outer space. If so, how can you explain the origin of that alien life? If you can’t see the cause, do you conclude that there isn’t one?

Before you reject the idea that God exists, ask yourself how rational it is to believe that everything came into existence out of nothing, by nothing, and for no reason. Remember the turtle on a fence post.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Stephen Hawking’s Death

Stephen Hawking's Death
On the morning of March 14, news media carried the news of Stephen Hawking’s death. His family announced, “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.”

Hawking was a brilliant physicist and cosmologist and probably the best-known living scientist. He wrote the book A Brief History of Time which was published in 1988. That book holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for being on the Sunday Times (London) bestseller list for an amazing 237 weeks. The book has sold ten-million copies and has been translated into 40 languages. Along with Roger Penrose, Hawking devised the theory that the universe began with a singularity in what has come to be known as the “Big Bang.” In his 2010 book The Grand Design he declared that God is not needed to explain the existence of the universe. In an interview, he said, “There is no heaven or afterlife… that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Stephen Hawking lived a remarkable life for a person with a form of ALS, a motor neuron disease. He was diagnosed at age 21, and the doctors gave him two years to live. He survived until age 76 but spent most of those years in a wheelchair unable to move. He could only talk with the aid of a computerized voice.

We are saddened to know that Hawking was never able to accept the Christian faith of his first wife. In the announcement of Stephen Hawking’s death, his three children said, “We will miss him forever.”

We have recently published two postings about Stephen Hawking, and we encourage you to read them by clicking here and here.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Searching for Other Worlds

Searching for Other Worlds
In 1999 astronomers detected the first exoplanet–a planet in another solar system. The number of planets detected orbiting around stars other than our Sun has grown to more than 3,500 today. There are billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy so searching for other worlds is just getting started.

NASA’s main tool for finding exoplanets has been the Kepler space telescope. The method of detecting those planets is watching for occlusions. If there is a planet orbiting a star, it will sometimes pass in front of that star from our viewpoint causing an occlusion or mini-eclipse. The planets are too small for us to see, but we can see a small dip in the light coming from the star. If the dip comes on a regular interval that means it might be an orbiting planet. The amount of the dip in light level indicates the size of the planet in relation to its star. Using this method of detection, astronomers have compiled a catalog of detected planets.

As I said, until now the Kepler telescope has been the method for finding most of these planets, but it will soon end its life. However, 2018 will be the beginning of new opportunities to look for exoplanets because of two new satellite-based observatories. Very soon NASA will launch TESS. That stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. By the end of the year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch CHEOPS or Characterising Exoplanet Satellite. (Aren’t you glad we have acronyms.)

The Kepler telescope was very good at searching for other worlds, but only in a small area of the sky. TESS will take a much wider view with the hope of finding many more. For obvious reasons, so far most of the planets detected are giant planets. TESS will be targeting bright stars in the hope of finding smaller planets that more closely resemble Earth. Astronomers will be able to target TESS more precisely toward selected stars.

It will be interesting to see what new discoveries will come from the investment of time and more than a quarter of a billion dollars. So far there have been no more than a dozen planets that even come close to being possible outposts for life. As we have said before there are many parameters required to sustain any kind of life and even more to support advanced life. We have also said many times before that whether there is life anywhere else in the cosmos has nothing to say about whether God exists. A God who is great enough to create the cosmos can create life anywhere He chooses. We are just glad He chose planet Earth so scientists can continue searching for other worlds.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Letters in the Sand

Letters in the Sand
What do you see in this picture? Look closely, and you will see evidence of letters in the sand.

Notice the waves that were caused by wind blowing across the desert. Then notice the really surprising thing the wind has done! The wind has created some lines in a very interesting pattern. The lines seem to spell out the name of the world’s largest hot desert—SAHARA. Yes, the Sahara Desert covers most of northern Africa and to find something this amazing that the natural forces have “written” on the sand is truly unusual.

Wait a minute! Are you suggesting that those letters are not the effect of the wind and natural forces? Are you thinking that maybe an intelligent being actually wrote in the sand? Consider carefully the fact that the Sahara is huge and there are vast areas of sand. Given enough time and the proper wind directions why couldn’t this word show up by natural forces alone? Surely somewhere in that desert there must be a naturally formed letter—maybe an “S.” Surely in all of that area it is possible that natural forces could have formed the other letters. Given the billions of grains of sand and enough time they could just happen to line up in the proper order to spell a word. Couldn’t they?

Okay, you are not buying my story. Perhaps an intelligent being was involved in the formation of this word in the sand. But if you won’t believe me concerning the six letters in the sand, would you believe three-billion letters? That’s how many letters came together in the proper order to form the DNA strands in every cell of your body. That DNA code gives the complete blueprint for YOU. You can read S-A-H-A-R-A in seconds. If you were to read the three-billion letters of the DNA from one of your cells at the rate of one per second, every second of every hour of every day, it would take 31 years. Do you believe that the DNA code came into existence in a completely natural and unguided way?

Oh, you are suggesting that it all started out with something simple and then evolved into what it is today. Sorry, but fossil evidence shows that even the simplest bacteria that emerged shortly after the Earth came into existence had extremely complex DNA codes. Life just can’t exist without the code. The code is information and information is the product of intelligence. We suggest that just like those letters in the sand, life can’t happen without an intelligent Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Tree Rights: Do Trees Have Feelings?

Tree Rights
A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?

According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.

The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.

Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.

We believe that God has given us the duty to protect the environment. That includes trees. (Genesis 2:9, 15) However, we see great danger in talking about tree rights. Plants and animals are here to serve humans, and we are here to serve God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Chemical Elements and the Laws of Nature

Chemical Elements and the Natural Laws
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.

Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.

The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.

Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.

If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.

Physics and chemistry are subject to laws which control all of the universe. Without those laws, the universe could not exist, and neither could science. Scientific experimentation is based on the consistency of the natural laws which came into existence when the universe was created. Science is unable by experiment to study what happened before the creation of those laws. Why do those laws exist? Why does anything exist? We believe the answer can be found in Genesis 1:1.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

No-Boundary Proposal and the Big Bang

No-Boundary Proposal and Big Bang
The universe had a beginning. For over two-thousand years from the time of Aristotle until the twentieth century, the accepted view was that the universe was eternal. It took much of the twentieth century for the evidence to compel scientists to concede that there was a beginning to the cosmos. Finally, in the twenty-first century, it was fully confirmed by observations in space. A thousand years before Aristotle, Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Some scientists are still trying to get around the problem of a beginning with the No-Boundary Proposal.

Why is science reluctant to accept the fact that the universe is not eternal? The simple reason is what that implies and the questions that it creates. If the universe had a beginning, that implies that there is something beyond the material world that we observe. The big question then becomes, “What (or Who) brought everything into being?” This leads to the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What is our purpose?” Those are questions that science is afraid to handle. Indeed, those are questions that science cannot handle.

If there was a beginning, there must have been a beginner…a Creator. That Creator, whether personal or impersonal, would have existed “before the beginning.” Science now suggests that the beginning, or the “Big Bang” as it was derisively dubbed by atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle, was not only the starting point for matter and energy, but also for space and time. It was even the starting point for the laws of physics. So how can science explain the beginning? Brilliant scientists have been working on that problem and some have settled on the No-Boundary Proposal.

Last Sunday on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s National Geographic Channel TV show StarTalk, Stephen Hawking said that he knows the answer. Hawking is probably the world’s best-known living physicist and cosmologist. The heart of Hawking’s proposal of what came before the beginning is the No-boundary Proposal. This proposal, according to Hawking, is that before the Big Bang, time was “bent.” According to Hawking’s earlier statements, if we could go back before the Big Bang, we would find that time (and I presume space and matter/energy), “was always reaching closer to nothing but didn’t become nothing.” In other words, there never was a point where something was produced from nothing. There was never nothing. It just seems that way from our perspective. (*You can see the further explanation by Stephen Hawking on the StarTalk show below.)

In a previous lecture, Hawking stated: “Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the big bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the big bang.” This seems to me like a clever way of getting out of speculating on what caused the beginning. It is like saying that the beginning was going on forever and so the beginning never really had a beginning.

Maybe we should call the No-Boundary Proposal the No-Beginning Proposal. It seems to me that this takes us back to Aristotle’s concept of an eternal universe. The difference is that this new proposal says the universe was much more compact before the “beginning.” Is this just a way of getting around the simple statement of Moses in Genesis 1:1?
–Roland Earnst © 2018

*These are Hawking’s words in his interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, “According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, space and time together form a space-time continuum or manifold which is not flat but curved by the matter and energy in it. I adopt a Euclidean approach to quantum gravity to describe the beginning of the universe. In this, ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time which behaves like a fourth direction of space. In the Euclidean approach, the history of the universe in imaginary time is a four-dimensional, curved surface like the surface of the Earth but with two more dimensions. Jim Hartle and I proposed a “no-boundary” condition. The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. In order terms, the Euclidean space-time is a closed surface without end, like the surface of the Earth. One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole, so there was nothing around before the big bang.”

Expanding Universe and What It Means

Expanding Universe
We live in an expanding universe. For thousands of years, from Aristotle to Einstein, scientists thought that the universe was eternal. Einstein’s equations proposed in his general theory of relativity in 1915 seemed to indicate that the universe was not stable. Einstein thought it was a mistake and tried to correct for the “error” by creating a variable called the “cosmological constant.” The only error was the cosmological constant, and Einstein later called it “the biggest blunder of my life.”

Later in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble found strong evidence that the universe was expanding. That evidence was further confirmed in 1964 when radio astronomers accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background. It was finally confirmed by space-based experiments in the twenty-first century.

The rate of expansion of the universe based on experiments was established and is known as the Hubble constant. On February 22, 2018, a new survey of the expansion rate was released. This scientific paper was based on the most precise measurements of the universe’s expansion rate using the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists are surprised to discover that the expansion rate is faster than they thought. This new information may require some re-evaluation of the scientific understanding of the universe.

This is not the first time a re-evaluation was needed. Evidence of an expanding universe indicates that it had a beginning. If you trace the expansion backward through time, you can see that at one point the entire universe would have been compacted into a single point. The evidence of the expansion shows that the universe had a beginning when that expansion began. Since the expansion is accelerating, that means that the universe will never contract back and start over. Therefore, the universe is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end.

The bottom line is this: What did Moses know that Einstein and scientists before him did not know? That the universe had a beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood: The Problem

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood
What does a married couple do when they want to have a child but are unable to do so? There are many reasons for the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood. A woman who has had cancer and yet desperately wants a child even though the chemo has made her unable to conceive is very common. Male infertility is a major cause of couples not being able to conceive a child. Diseases like diabetes may make it impossible for a woman to conceive or to carry a pregnancy to birth. My wife was an insulin-dependent diabetic from age ten, and the disease made it impossible for her to conceive a child even though she desperately wanted to be a mother. There are several movie stars who don’t want to have their physical appearance disturbed by pregnancy, or maybe they don’t want to spend nine months carrying a child. The list goes on.

For my wife and I, the answer to this problem was adoption. We adopted three wonderful children, and that in my mind is the best option. But there are complications and issues in adoption. Some couples desperately want the child to be from the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg. “Test tube babies” where fertilization occurs in a petri dish and the egg is implanted in the woman are very common. However, the failure rate is high, and some women simply cannot carry a child.

In this latter case, what a couple sometimes does is hire a surrogate. A surrogate mother is a woman who will allow the baby to be implanted in her womb and carry the child to birth, but the child will legally belong to the couple. The surrogate mother is, in essence, an incubator and has no claim to the child, but is paid for her services. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that 2807 babies were born that way in 2015. That is four times more than in 2014, and when data becomes available for 2017, it will probably be well over 8000.

The issue becomes very complicated when the woman is not producing any viable eggs or if the man is sterile. You then are dealing with donated eggs and sperm which means the genetic background of the baby may be unknown creating all kinds of implications. When a genetically carried disease shows up in the child, there have been lawsuits.

There is no simple solution to the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood, but we will continue our discussion tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Christianity Today, March 2018, Pages 28-35.

God’s Natural Cloning

Natural Cloning of Crayfish
When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.

Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.

Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.

We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.