New US Government UFO Report: A Christian Perspective

by GUEST WRITERMark ClarkAugust 12, 2021

For the first time since Project Blue Book in 1969, the US Government has issued a new report on UFOs. On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its preliminary assessment on recent Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)1—the new term for UFOs. Did the report reveal anything extraordinary?

The Report and Its Findings

The Pentagon established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) in response to congressional interest in the highly publicized cockpit videos by US Navy pilots of strange aerial phenomena during several operations in 2014 and 2015. The UAPTF analyzed these phenomena, among others, and reported its findings on 144 incidents over the course of 17 years from 2004 to 2021.

The main findings of this study will likely fail to satisfy the two primary groups advocating for the government investigation: those who believe UFOs and extraterrestrial beings (ET) have been visiting us, and those who believe these incidents involve a foreign power that threatens US national security. The report explains that intelligence analysts could not confirm with any degree of confidence that ET or a foreign power, namely Russia or China, is behind this recent spate of sightings.

In fact, the analysts had confidence to classify only one event that was the result of a deflating balloon. Whereas Project Blue Book assessed some 12,618 sightings and provided specific explanations for all but 701 of them (about 94.4%), this study provides explanations for only less than 1%.

The Report’s Shortcomings

The data set of 144 reports suffers from several problems. The first is uneven human reporting procedures. The US Navy adopted uniform procedures for reporting only in 2019, and the US Air Force adopted them only in November 2020. Of these incidents, 80 include observations by pilots and from multiple sensors, including radar and infrared, but the report indicates these sensors were designed for military missions and are ill-suited to fully capture UAP. Wide variability in the reporting and the very limited data set do not allow for a detailed trend or pattern analysis.

Further, the assessment indicates there may be an observer bias in the reporting. All 144 reports were from US government personnel, primarily US Navy pilots, and clustered around military testing and training ranges.

The UAPTF study indicates all UAP fall within one of five broad categories: “airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG [US government] or industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall ‘other’ bin.” Though unstated in the study, these five categories are the remaining likely explanations intelligence analysts considered in their assessment after discarding all other hypotheses they deemed far less likely, including alien aircraft.

The analysis makes several recommendations for improving upon this preliminary assessment in the future. These recommendations include a request to standardize the reporting across all USG, including the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration; expand the collection of UAP cluster areas when US forces are not present in order to provide a “standard” of UAP activity and limit collection bias; and request additional funding for research to further study the topics laid out in the report.

Unlikely vs. Likely Explanations

If only one of the 144 can be classified with any degree of confidence, what other explanations are there? The assessment doesn’t completely rule out many explanations, but suggests it found no evidence that Russia or China was behind UAP. There are a few reasons supporting this notion.

First of all, Russia’s budget is a fraction of the US military budget, and China’s military jet engines are fraught with problems.2 Further, both nations would likely conduct classified and advanced research in regions away from the prying eyes of US intelligence and US military training areas with the most advanced sensors in the world.

The assessment also says it could not confirm one way or another that some of the phenomena were advanced US military or aerospace research activities. But it seems unlikely that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would release a study on highly classified programs (called Special Access Programs) even if such programs were confirmed. SAPs are compartmented programs known only to a very limited number of people.

The two most likely explanations remain if the previous pattern persists (more than 94% with natural explanations). First, these phenomena may have natural explanations. They may come from advanced research in either drone technology or electronic warfare.3 As the report indicates, the skies are becoming increasingly cluttered with drones and other aircraft, making military training more and more difficult. This could be creating an environment where previously unobserved or rarely seen anomalies are quickly attributed to UFOs or ET instead of being examined in the context of drone technology. Or they could be a yet unidentified natural phenomena, which Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples and I detail in our book, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.4

Second, the phenomena may be supernatural, as we document in our book. We have argued that the small number of residual UFO (RUFO) phenomena that cannot be explained otherwise may be demonic activity that appears to people who have opened doors to the occult.5

Cultural and Theological Impact

This new intelligence report has generated even more interest in UFO phenomena among US citizens. A very recent Pew Research Center survey indicates that 65% of Americans believe that intelligent life exists on other planets, with younger adults (76%) more likely to believe this than those 50 years old and older (57%).

More dramatically, a recent American Worldview Inventory indicates that millennials are more likely to consult their horoscopes than their Bibles for spiritual guidance, further opening doors to the occult. Since we all may know someone who holds interest in UFOs and ET, it remains important for Christians to provide a rational explanation for UAP and to offer a spiritually healthy alternative to belief in ET.

The key takeaways from this assessment are the following:

  1. The report provides no concrete answers to UAP.
  2. The most likely explanations are drone technology or advanced military research, or
  3. The phenomena may include a very small percentage (less than 5%) of RUFOs, which have a rational Christian explanation.

We should continue to prepare ourselves to “always be ready” to provide an answer for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15), especially as more and more people pursue spiritual interests apart from biblical Christianity.

Endnotes

  1. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, June 25, 2021; https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf.
  2. Brett Forrest, “UFO Report Says ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ Defy Worldly Explanation,” Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2021.
  3. Julian Borger, “Why the Pentagon UFO Report Is Deeply Troubling for US Security Experts,” The Guardian, June 25, 2021; Tim McMillan, “Area 51 Veteran and CIA Electronic Warfare Pioneer Weigh in on Navy UFO Encounters,” The War Zone (blog), The Drive, November 25, 2019.
  4. Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark T. Clark, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002).
  5. Mark T. Clark, “Responding to UFOs in the News,” Voices (blog), June 25, 2019.

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BLACK HOLES HAVE PURPOSE

Black holes are anything but the void the name might suggest. By contrast, a black hole is a physical body of enormous mass and density. Its gravitational force wields so much power that nothing—not even light—can escape once caught in its grip.
 
I’m often asked, “If the biblical Creator is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Being you believe in, why would such a God make a universe in which life faces a pervasive risk from the devastating cosmic radiation produced by black holes?”
 
It’s a complicated question. But science and Scripture have provided a clear, harmonious answer that actually recognizes black holes as evidence of God’s care for his creaturesI’ll summarize my findings here, but you can read the full article at reasons.org/blackholes. 
 
God certainly could have created a universe without black holes, but such a universe would lack the stars and planets that physical life needs. It would also lack many key elements—iodine, gold, platinum, uranium, and more—on which advanced life and civilization depend.
 
Without black holes, life as we know it would be impossible. But there’s more!
 
Thanks to a host of fine-tuned features, including the exceptionally low mass of our galaxy’s supermassive black hole and the surprisingly low activity around it, advanced life is able to survive and thrive on Earth. We humans likely occupy a unique location at a unique time with respect to black holes.
 
I believe that these scientific findings provide a way for Christians to reconcile belief in a caring God with the counterintuitive existence of black holes . . . isn’t that exciting?
 
My article “Black Holes as Evidence of God’s Care”—and its publication in a peer-reviewed journal—represents one of my major goals for Reasons to Believe. Through extensive research and a solid understanding of other published scientific literature, we’re able to engage the scientific community in a way they respect.
 
We’re also able to provide our research findings to you and others, equipping you to share your faith with evidence-based confidence. In fact, I hope you’ll take the time today to read the article in its entirety, including the reviewers’ comments and my responses. Then feel free to share it with friends and colleagues who might be interested in this subject matter.
 
I hope this article will deepen your understanding of God’s incredible love for you. . . . The whole universe reveals his thoughtful care!
 
Blessings,
 
Hugh Ross
President and Founder
Reasons to Believe Make a donationHighlights
Red Sky Paradox Points to Rarity of Earth’s Life 

by Hugh Rossread more >>Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs) Protect Early-Stage Human Embryos

by Fazale Ranaread more >>Why the 10 Plagues on Egypt? 

by Hugh Rossread more >>
Can a red dwarf star host a habitable planet? Hugh explains how the resolution of the “red sky paradox” shows that Earth is the only planet that resides in all 13 habitable zones. Fazale addresses an evolutionary challenge by showing how endogenous retroviruses— generally thought to be nonfunctional—help protect human embryos from infection. And Hugh answers a common question about why the biblical plagues seemed so severe.    Copyright © 2021 Reasons to Believe, all rights reserved.

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St. Augustine and the Philosophy of Existentialism

by Kenneth SamplesJuly 20, 2021

One way to engage skeptics of the Christian faith is to discuss the influence Christian thinkers have had on people, regardless of religious affiliation. As a bridge to a philosophically oriented skeptic, I suggest talking about the influence that a fifth-century Christian bishop has had on western philosophy, and on existentialism in particular.

Existentialism is a school of thought that appeals to both atheists and theists. Wikipedia defines it as “a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on the experience of thinking, feeling, and acting.” Thus, historically, famous philosophers and theologians alike have belonged to this intellectual movement. But who was the very first existential thinker and writer in history?

If you’ve studied modern philosophy you know that existentialism was one of the most influential philosophical theories during the middle of the twentieth century. There are many important names associated with this European philosophical and cultural movement.1 Nineteenth-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is often called the father of existentialism, while Friedrich Nietzsche is considered a critical forerunner. Twentieth-century counterparts Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus are usually identified as key secular existentialist philosophers.

But Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, author of On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, has suggested that St. Augustine (354–430) may have been the world’s first existentialist philosopher.2 Not only were Christian thinkers Blaise Pascal and Søren Kierkegaard serious students of Augustine, but secular thinkers such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida paid careful attention to Augustine’s writings as well.3

Existentialism as an approach to philosophy has appealed to prominent theists (Karl Barth, Gabriel Marcel, Jacques Maritain, Nikolai Berdyaevu, Martin Buber) and prominent atheists (Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty). Both religious and nonreligious people resonate with its key features, including:

• an emphasis on finding meaning, purpose, and significance in life especially for the individual,
• a focus on why people have inner longings and experience angst and estrangement with life and within themselves,
• a reaction to the overemphasis on the strictly rational areas of life and thus an appreciation for the subjective areas (the arts, imagination, passions, emotion).

Taking these three themes as important aspects of existentialism, it’s easy to see why Augustine would be popular among existential philosophers.

But Gordon Lewis, a Christian and an Augustine scholar, thought it better to describe St. Augustine as having an existential attitude rather than as being an actual existentialist. In Lewis’s mind, Augustine’s Christian views about ontology (the study of being) set him apart from the secular elements that traditionally define existentialism.

Lewis notes:

“Augustine has an existentialist standpoint of human fallenness, an emphasis on the existing individual, and an existential attitude of involvement. . . . Augustine, then, had striking similarities to the existentialist standpoint and attitude, but was not an existentialist in the ordinary use of the word.”4

Augustine’s biography Confessions appeals to a wide variety of individuals when it comes to reflecting on life’s meaning. His writing in very personal and subjective terms about his life and thought attracts people and causes them to reflect upon their own lives. Pope Benedict XVI, himself an Augustine scholar, has said that he is more attracted to Augustinianism than Thomism (the school of thought based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas).5

Augustine, though not formally trained in philosophy, may have been the most influential philosopher ever.6 His writings provide a worthwhile avenue for exploration of the human condition that all people can appreciate.

Resources

Reflections: Your Turn

Have you read an existential writer? If so, who? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes

1. L. Mastin, “Existentialism,” The Basics of Philosophy, accessed July 8, 2021.

2. Church Times, “The 20th Century Was Augustinian,” October 11, 2019.

3. Church Times, “The 20th Century Was Augustinian.”

4. Gordon R. Lewis, “Augustine and Existentialism,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society (1965), 13–22.

5. Timothy George, “Benedict XVI, the Great Augustinian,” First Things, February 19, 2013.

6. Kenneth Samples, “Contemporary Criticism of Augustine’s Thought, Part 10,” Reflections (blog), September 5, 2012.Philosophy & Ethics

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Are There Archeological Scientific Discoveries That Affirm the Bible’s Historical Accuracy?

by Hugh RossJuly 30, 2021

Question of the week: What are some of the latest archeological scientific discoveries that affirm the historical reliability of the Bible?

My answer: Here are a few blogs/articles on our site—based on the latest scientific literature—that affirm the Bible’s claims about ancient history:

There are several more articles on archeology on our website. See also chapter 19, Navigating Genesis.1

Endnote

  1. Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014), 183–195.

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Earth’s Primordial Magma Ocean Affirms Genesis 1 Creation Events

BY HUGH ROSS – FEBRUARY 1, 2021MORESHARE23

Can science test the veracity of biblical creation events such as whether Earth’s early atmosphere was opaque? I have always maintained that the answer is yes. In fact, the Bible invites such testing. In this way, science can affirm or negate the Bible’s statements about creation.

One such test (or prediction) involves the conditions of the primordial Earth. Reasons to Believe’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and Job 38 holds that Earth’s atmosphere initially was opaque, then transformed to become translucent, and later transformed again to become, at least occasionally, transparent as it is today.

After Earth’s initial formation its surface was a hot molten magma ocean. Recently, six geochemists led by Paolo Sossi demonstrated that outgassing from this magma ocean produced an atmosphere identical to Venus’s and Mars’s in relative chemical composition of gases.

Throughout the entire histories of Venus and Mars the relative chemical gas composition of their atmospheres has not changed. It is and has been 97% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, and 0% oxygen. Through an analysis of the oxygen fugacity and the iron redox state in the silicate melts of Earth’s primordial magma ocean, Sossi’s team determined that degassing from these silicate melts produced an atmosphere that likewise was 97% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, and 0% oxygen. The only significant difference between Earth’s and Venus’s primordial atmosphere was that Earth’s atmosphere was thicker.2

Earth’s Post-Accretion Atmospheric Transformation
Earth’s present atmosphere is radically different from its primordial atmosphere. It is about 200 times thinner and is 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 0.4% carbon dioxide. How did it change? Earth’s present atmospheric difference arose predominantly from two fine-tuned post-accretion events.

Fine-Tuned Collision
The first event was the collision between Theia, a planet 11–15% Earth’s present mass, and the primordial Earth (see figure 1). I devoted most of chapter 5 in Improbable Planet to describing this event. In summation, the collision occurred about 95 million years after Earth’s initial accretion. It formed the Moon, increased Earth’s mass, and stripped away virtually all Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere.

Artists_concept_of_collision_at_HD_172555
Figure 1: Artist’s Depiction of the Moon-Forming Impact Event between Theia and the Primordial Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The thin layer of liquid water on Earth’s surface that remained after the collision between Theia and the primordial Earth and an event called the late veneer3 that quickly followed proved to be permanent. That permanence is due to Earth’s distance from the Sun, its surface gravity and magnetic field, and the Moon.

If Earth were just a fraction of a percent closer to the Sun all, or nearly all, its liquid water would be permanently transformed into water vapor. If Earth were just 1–2% closer to the Sun, its atmospheric electric field would rise above 2 volts, leading to the rapid loss of all its water. If Earth were just 1% more distant from the Sun, all its liquid water would become permanently frozen. If Earth’s surface gravity were a few percent less, all its surface water would escape to interplanetary space. These reasons alone explain why Earth retained surface liquid water and Venus and Mars did not.

Without Earth’s strong and enduring magnetosphere the Sun’s wind and radiation would have sputtered away both Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere. During Earth’s first billion years, it took the coupling of both Earth’s and the Moon’s magnetospheres to prevent the much stronger solar wind at that time from eradicating Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere.

Fine-Tuned Geochemical Cycles
After the collision between Theia and the primordial Earth and the late veneer Earth still had an atmospheric composition similar to that on Venus and Mars. However, the presence of surface oceans and surface continents plus strong plate tectonic activity throughout Earth’s past 4 billion years set in motion four geochemical cycles that transformed the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

The deep water cycle removed a small amount of water and large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane (produced by methanogens) from Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere. The shallow carbon cycle and the deep carbon cycle both removed large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane from Earth’s atmosphere. The deep oxygen cycle removed a large amount of carbon dioxide and added a huge amount of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere.

These four geochemical cycles steadily removed carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor—all powerful greenhouse gases—from the atmosphere. Their gradual removal over the past 4 billion years perfectly compensated for the Sun’s ongoing brightening so that the temperature on Earth’s surface remained optimal for life.

Affirmations of the Genesis 1 Creation Chronology
The analysis achieved by Sossi’s team affirmed in two significant ways the chronology of creation events described on the Bible’s first page. First, it affirmed that Earth’s primordial atmosphere was opaque to visible light.

Sossi’s team provided more evidence that before the collision between Theia and Earth, Earth’s atmosphere was about 200 times thicker than it is today and made up of 97% carbon dioxide and no oxygen. Such an atmosphere would block out all light in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. These conditions seem consistent with Genesis 1:2, which refers to Earth’s initial conditions: “Darkness was over the surface of the deep [Earth’s surface water].” A parallel text, Job 38:9, declares, “I [God] made the clouds its [Earth’s seas] garment and wrapped it in thick darkness.”

The second Genesis 1 affirmation concerns the oxygen level of Earth’s atmosphere. Thinning out Earth’s atmosphere by a factor of about 200 times did permit visible light to reach Earth’s surface. However, the lack of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere made it so hazy that creatures on the planet would have been unable to discern any of the objects in the heavens that were responsible for the light.

As I wrote in 2018, a team of physicists demonstrated in laboratory experiments that increasing the oxygen content in Earth’s atmosphere from less than 1% to 8% or more made the atmosphere sufficiently transparent that animals would be able to discern the positions of the Sun, Moon, and stars in the sky. Genesis 1:14 (NASB) proclaims, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens. . . . they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” As Genesis 1:20 implies, the signs are for the benefit of the animals that God created after Earth’s atmosphere became transparent.

This discovery demonstrates that the more we learn about the history of Earth and Earth’s life, the more evidence we accumulate for the accuracy and predictive power of the Bible’s creation texts. Today, this evidence powerfully establishes that the Bible must be inspired by the One who performed all the creation deeds humans observe.

Endnotes

  1. Paolo A. Sossi et al., “Redox State of Earth’s Magma Ocean and Its Venus-Like Early Atmosphere,” Science Advances 6, no. 48 (November 25, 2020): id. eabd1387, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd1387.
  2. Kevin Zahnle, Laura Schaefer, and Bruce Fegley, “Earth’s Earliest Atmospheres,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology 2, no. 10 (October 2010): id. a004895, doi:10.1101/cshperspect.004895; Kevin Zahnle et al., “Emergence of a Habitable Planet,” Space Science Reviews 129 (August 2007): 35–78, doi:10.1007/s11214-007-9225-z.
  3. Hilke E. Schlitchting, Paul H. Warren, and Qing-Zhu Yin, “The Last Stages of Terrestrial Planet Formation: Dynamical Friction and the Late Veneer,” Astrophysical Journal 752, no. 8 (June 10, 2012): id. 8, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/752/1/8; R. Brasser et al., “Late Veneer and Late Accretion to the Terrestrial Planets,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 455 (December 1, 2016): 85–93, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.09.013.

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Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach p… Read more about Hugh Ross.

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How Christians Can Influence Culture Despite Court Decisions

by Kenneth SamplesJuly 6, 2021

How important is marriage to culture and society? According to the Bible, marriage is a part of the created order for humankind. When Jesus was asked challenging questions about it, he stressed the critical importance of marriage and its basis in creation:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)

What is traditional Christian marriage? How is it to be defined? The catechism of the Anglican Church of North America, which I would uphold, succinctly defines it this way:

“Marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, covenantal union of love between one man and one woman, and a reflection of the faithful love that unites God and his people. Marriage is therefore holy and should be ‘held in honor among all’ (Hebrews 13:4; see also Genesis 2:18–24; Matthew 19:4–6; Ephesians 5:21–33).”1

In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. Though time has passed since that controversial decision, people continue to ask me various questions about it. Thus, I would like to share some of my thoughts about how I think Christians might best influence culture when it comes to controversial social issues.


Christians and Cultural Change
I wonder if evangelical Christians have possibly placed a little too much emphasis and hope on the high court’s deciding in their favor concerning critical moral and social issues. I say this even in light of the Supreme Court having had three conservative justices join its ranks in recent years. I certainly think Christians should allow their worldview to guide their civic responsibilities of voting prudently and supporting legal challenges to imprudent, improper decisions and, especially, those that violate biblical morality. But it seems to me that there may be a more effective way of influencing culture on social issues or at least a way of buttressing the efforts that are made through the courts.

Let’s look at abortion as an example. It seems to me that the pro-life perspective that historic Christendom strongly affirms has made considerable gains against abortion over the last couple of decades. Such progress has come not through the courts but by changing minds—one at a time—through rational, moral, and theological persuasion. Rationally, advancements in scientific understanding (modern human reproductive biology) and in medical technology (obstetric ultrasound) have helped to show that the unborn human is human from the moment of conception. Morally and theologically, seeing humans as being made in the image of God grants them unique dignity and genuine moral worth that competing philosophies cannot possibly match. So, while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land and our country remains divided over abortion, “both the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and Guttmacher [Institute] show significant recent drops and sustained declines over the last 25 years.”2

Of course, that is not to say that abortion doesn’t remain a moral violation that robs precious children made in the image of God of the gift of life. But by marshaling arguments from science, philosophy, and theology, the Christian pro-life ethic has changed minds and hearts on this critical moral issue.

Maybe Christians can achieve similar progress by upholding traditional marriage. Christians can promote the sanctity of marriage by upholding their marital vows. Churches can encourage Christians to promote traditional marriage by offering good premarital counseling and by addressing marital conflicts with faith, hope, and love. Spouses learning to live in the grace and forgiveness of the gospel can overcome problems that could potentially lead to marital separation and divorce. Christians can stress the biblical-theological truth that marriage is a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to his church (Ephesians 5:31–32) and thus marriage is sacred.

Since the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign (Ephesians 1:11), then we know that God has allowed—for reasons we don’t know—traditional marriage to be challenged in contemporary culture. So, let’s consider two things:

First, Christians can align with the Christian worldview by voting for sound pro-life and pro-traditional marriage policies and candidates. Second, Christians can focus on using the godly example of their lives and vibrant families to morally persuade people of the value of traditional Christian marriage. Studies show that the children of traditional marriage are generally healthier, happier, and more well adjusted.3 Both are necessary.

These are some of my thoughts for your reflective and prayerful consideration about Christianity and culture.

Reflections: Your Turn

What obligations do Christians have when it comes to seeking to influence culture? Visit Reflections to comment with your response.

Endnotes

1. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, Approved Edition, ed. J. I. Packer and Joel Scandrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 104–105.

2. National Right to Life, “Reported Annual Abortions, 1973–2018,” accessed June 17, 2021.

3. United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, “The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home,” July 23, 2020.Theology

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Neutron Star Mergers, Part 2: Evidence for Design

by Hugh RossJuly 19, 2021

In last week’s post, “Neutron Star Mergers, Part 1: Evidence for Creation,” I described how astronomers’ observations of binary neutron star merging events is helping us gain a more accurate and detailed cosmic creation model.1 Their observational results affirm what the Bible has taught for millennia about the origin, history, and structure of the universe.

Analysis of the observational results has more than affirmed the biblically predicted cosmic creation model.2 It has ruled out several alternate models of the universe and alternate laws of physics. It also yields more evidence for the design of the universe and the laws of physics to make life, and human civilization in particular, possible. Some examples follow.

Velocity of Gravity Waves
Comparing the measurements for the arrival times of gravity waves from the neutron star merging event, GW170817, with the arrival time measurements of gamma rays from the gamma ray burst associated with GW170817, provided a constraint on the velocity of gravity waves. These measurements established that the difference between the velocity of light and the velocity of gravity waves was less than 3 x 10-15.3 That is, the velocity of light and the velocity of gravity waves are identical to at least 14 decimal places.

This identity means that scientists can place even greater confidence in the standard cosmic creation model and the standard particle creation model. Both these models critically depend on the velocity of light and the velocity of gravity waves being the same. We can rule out speculations based on a difference between the velocity of light and the velocity of gravity waves.

Other speculated alternatives to standard cosmic and particle creation models likewise were ruled out. These comparative measurements placed much tighter limits on possible violations of Lorentz invariance (the laws of physics are the same for different observers). They provided a new test of the equivalence principle. Lorentz invariance and the equivalence principle are cornerstone features of the known laws of physics, of special relativity and general relativity, and of charge, parity, and time reversal (CPT) symmetry. The stronger affirmations of Lorentz invariance and the equivalence principle provide yet more evidence for the standard cosmic and particle creation models, both of which are consistent with what the Bible has taught (in these texts, for example: Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3; Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; Jeremiah 33:25–26Romans 8:20–222 Timothy 1:9Titus 1:2) about the creation and design of the natural realm. In previous articles I have written extensively about what the Bible teaches about the origin, history, and structure of the universe.4

Mass of the Graviton
The standard cosmic and particle creation models and string theory models all predict a zero mass for the graviton, the elementary particle that mediates the force of gravity. Through measurements of the two binary neutron star merger events, astronomers have placed the lowest bound to date on the mass of the graviton. It must be less than 1.76 x 10-23 eV/c2, where eV is an electron volt and c is the velocity of light.5 That is, the graviton is at least 5.33 x 1031 times less massive than a proton or less than 3.14 x 10-59 kilograms.

This upper limit on a possible mass of the graviton is about two times lower than the previous best measured limit. This new limit ranks as another success for the standard cosmic and particle creation models and for what the Bible has taught about creation and design.

Black Hole Mimickers
I feel personally vindicated by the research findings from the two binary neutron star mergers observed so far. When I submitted my paper, “Black Holes as Evidence of God’s Care,”6 to the Religions journal special issue on Christianity and Science: Fresh Perspectives, one of my anonymous peer reviewers claimed that “there is no compelling evidence yet of the existence of black holes.”7 He suggested boson stars as an alternative. In one of my published responses to this peer reviewer, I wrote that after reading all the papers I could find on boson and soliton stars and neutrino balls, “I was struck by how difficult it is to conceptualize such bodies in a way that mimics all the observed features of all the massive, superdense bodies we observe in the universe.”8 I did not write this in my response, but I was also struck by just how difficult it is for such bodies to remain stable for any period of time.

The ringdowns (bunching up of gravity waves that occurs during the last stage of black hole mergers) of gravitational waves observed for all 24 binary mergers where the two bodies comprising each binary are more massive than the highest conceivable mass for a neutron star all perfectly match what physicists expect from black holes operating under general relativity. In the analysis of the observations, astronomers find “no evidence of nontensorial polarizations, or black hole mimickers—exotic compact objects such as boson stars.”9

The lack of evidence for black hole mimickers is yet more good news for the standard cosmic and particle creation models and for what the Bible has taught about creation and design.

Scientific and Theological Future of Gravity-Wave Astronomy
Presently, gravity-wave telescopes have been operating in the states of Washington and Louisiana (LIGO) and in Italy (Virgo). Both LIGO and Virgo are currently undergoing upgrades and will start their fourth observing run in late 2021 or early 2022. Meanwhile, two more gravity-wave telescopes are under construction: one in Japan and one in India. The one in Japan will be ready in time to join LIGO and Virgo for their next observing run.

Instead of just a few merging events detected per year, with the start of the fourth observing run the detection rate of binary black hole and binary neutron star merging events is expected to be over 100 per year.10 Greater instrumental sensitivity means that binary black hole and neutron star mergers will be detected with much higher signal-to-noise ratios and at distances as far away as 12 billion light-years.

The enhanced detection rate and greater sensitivity should yield improved understanding of the birth, history, and death of the most compact massive bodies in the universe, namely neutron stars and black holes. These advances will produce much deeper knowledge of the behavior of dense nuclear matter.

We can look forward to more detailed knowledge and understanding of the creation and history of the universe and how that knowledge and understanding reveals how exquisitely the universe and its various components are designed to make possible the existence of humans and civilization. We can anticipate that the upcoming generation of gravity-wave telescopes will deliver more evidence for the biblical principle (see for example, Job 12:7–10Job 37–39Psalm 8Psalm 104) that the more we learn about the natural realm the more evidence we will uncover for the existence and supernatural handiwork of God.   

Endnotes

  1. Hugh Ross, “Neutron Star Mergers Yield More Evidence for Creation,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), July 12, 2021, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/neutron-star-mergers-yield-more-evidence-for-creation.
  2. Hugh Ross and John Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Facts for Faith (Quarter 3 2000), 26–32; Hugh Ross, “Does the Bible Teach Big Bang Cosmology?,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), August 26, 2019.
  3. LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration, Fermi Gamma-Ray Burst Monitor, and INTEGRAL, B. P. Abbott et al., “Gravitational Waves and Gamma Rays from a Binary Neutron Star Merger: GW170187 and GRB 170817A,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 848, no. 1 (October 20, 2017): id. L13, doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa920c.
  4. Ross and Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!; Ross, “Does the Bible Teach Big Bang Cosmology?
  5. LIGO Scientific Collaboration, Virgo Collaboration, et al., “Tests of General Relativity with the Binary Black Holes from the Second LIGO-Virgo Gravitational-Wave Transient Catalog,”Physical Review D 103, no. 12 (June 15, 2021): id. 122002.
  6. Hugh Ross, “Black Holes as Evidence of God’s Care,” Religions 12, no.3 (March 2021): id. 201, doi:10.3390/rel12030201.
  7. Ross, “Black Holes as Evidence,” Review Reportshttps://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/12/3/201/review_report.
  8. Ross, “Black Holes as Evidence.”
  9. Salvatore Vitale, “Gravitational Waves: The First 5 Years of Gravitational-Wave Astrophysics,” Science 372, no. 6546 (June 4, 2021): id. eabc7397, p. 6, doi:10.1126/science.abc7397.
  10. KAGRA Collaboration, LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration, B. P. Abbott et al., “Prospects for Observing and Localizing Gravitational-Wave Transients with Advanced LIGO, Advanced Virgo and KAGRA,” Living Reviews in Relativity 21 (September 28, 2020): id. 3, doi:10.1007/s41114-018-0012-9.

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A Christian Perspective on the Sixth Mass Extinction

by Fazale RanaJuly 14, 2021

It is hard to imagine that anything good could have come from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But something has. Thanks to the 2020 “lockdowns,” there was a 17% decrease in global carbon emissions and a 20% drop in nitrous oxide levels. Many of the world’s waterways also became cleaner.

Sadly, these environmental gains will only be temporary, as life returns to normal and harmful emissions increase once again.

In addition to these temporary environmental benefits, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a damaging impact on Earth’s ecosystems, one that will be long-lasting. As a result of travel restrictions, the ecotourism industry collapsed. The income generated from ecotourism funds much of the world’s conservation efforts. In a short period of time, this lack of funding has made it harder to prevent poaching and habitat loss, threatening some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, home to species already on the brink of extinction.

This alarming trend isn’t a recent phenomenon. Since our species’ inception, we have caused harm to ecosystems around the world. Humans instigated the extinction of a large number of animals when they began their migration out of Africa and around the world around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago.As early modern humans made their way from Africa and into Asia, Australia, Europe, and eventually the Americas, they precipitated the wide-scale extinction of large animals. (This loss is called the Quaternary Global Megafauna Extinctions.)

Many environmentalists have expressed concern that the damage humans are causing to the world’s ecosystems has accelerated in recent years. In fact, many of these scientists think that we are on the verge of the sixth great mass extinction. Unlike Earth’s previous extinctions caused by some type of cataclysmic event—such as an asteroid impact or massive volcanic eruption—this mass extinction appears to be triggered by human environmental abuse.

Yet others question the human contribution to the sixth mass extinction. In fact, there are even some who question if a mass extinction is underway at all.2 So:

• Are we on the verge of the sixth mass extinction?
• Are humans responsible for ecosystem collapse around the world?
• What should we do about it, if anything at all?
• What should our response be as Christians to environmental crises?

Are We Really Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction?
Species have been lost to extinction throughout Earth’s history. Ecologists refer to the average rate of species loss between mass extinctions as the background rate. It goes without saying: mass extinctions are defined as the periods in Earth’s history when the extinction rate dramatically exceeds the background rate of species loss.

If we truly are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction, then the recent rate of species loss should significantly outpace the background rate.

Determining the rate of species loss is no easy feat. The fossil record is key for determining the background rate of species loss. Those who express skepticism about whether we are entering into the sixth mass extinction question the background rate estimates used by many ecologists of between 0.1 and 1 species extinction per 1 million species per year. The basis for their skepticism, in part, rests on the fact that this estimate is heavily weighted by the marine invertebrate fossil record. These animals are thought to have a much greater species longevity than vertebrates, making the background rate artificially low and the severity of species loss today greater than it may be.

In 2015, an international research team, which included the famed ecologist Paul Ehrlich, sought to put this question to rest.They used mammal extinctions to establish the background extinction rate. Based on the fossil record, mammal species disappear at a rate of 2 species extinctions per 1 million species per year. This background rate is between 2 to 20 times greater than the background extinction rate usually used by environmental scientists as a reference point relative to current extinction rates.

Using data produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, these researchers discovered that, since 1500, 338 vertebrate extinctions have been recorded. Another 279 species are considered as extinct or possibly extinct. Using these numbers, the extinction rate over the last 500 years is 8 to 100 times higher than the background extinction rate (of 2 species extinctions per 1 million species per year). Included in this list are 69 mammal species, 80 bird species, 24 reptile species, 146 amphibian species, and 158 fish species.

A more recent study published in 2021 by an international team of environmental scientists adds further support for the onset of the sixth mass extinction.4 These researchers generated a mathematical map that showed the spectrum of biological traits and behavioral features displayed by 75,000 species of vascular plants (39,260 species), mammals (4,653 species), birds (9,802 species), reptiles (6,567 species), amphibians (6,776 species) and freshwater fish (10,705 species). These traits and features reflect the contribution these species make to the world’s ecosystems. The researchers then mapped the extinction risk for each of these organisms onto the spectra of traits and behaviors.

They discovered that extinction risks weren’t randomly distributed among the sample. Instead, the species that are most vulnerable are larger in size, have a slower pace of life, and lower fecundity. They also discovered that some of the smallest animal species are also extremely vulnerable to extinction because they lack the ability to disperse. This inability keeps them confined to their immediate surroundings, making them vulnerable when their local habitat disappears or becomes damaged from pollution.

On the surface, this result is disconcerting because ecologists have discovered that large animals wield a disproportionate influence on ecosystems. Consequently, the vulnerability of large organisms risks the stability of entire ecosystems.

Along these lines, the researchers discovered that—despite functional and behavioral redundancy in ecosystems (in which two or more organisms perform the same services for the ecosystem)—the loss of vulnerable organisms reduces the functional and behavioral diversity and richness of the world’s ecosystems. Through modeling studies, they learned that these losses will also force ecosystems to reorganize. Both effects exacerbate future extinction risks for remaining organisms, particularly for mammals and amphibians.

In other words, as dire as it may be to think that one-quarter of the world’s plant and animal species (which numbers around one million species) are on the brink of extinction, as these species disappear their loss will become amplified because of the loss of diversity within ecosystems and their ensuing reorganization. In other words, a vicious circle exists in which extinctions lead to more extinctions.

Are Humans Really Causing the Sixth Mass Extinction?
Five mass extinctions have occurred over the last 450 million years of life’s history, each one destroying between 70 to 95% of plant, animal, and microbial species. On this basis, it could be argued that mass extinctions are an inevitable part of life’s history. They are part of the natural order of things.

All five mass extinctions appear to have been triggered by cataclysmic events. For example:

• The Late Devonian Extinction—resulting in the loss of 75% of Earth’s species—appears to have been triggered by a dramatic reduction in the oxygen levels in Earth’s oceans due to either an algae bloom or volcanic eruptions.

• The Permian-Triassic Extinction—resulting in the loss of 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species—appears to have been caused by rampant volcanic activity.

• The K-Pg Extinction—resulting in the loss of 75% of Earth’s species—appears to have been instigated by a massive asteroid impact.

Clearly, a sixth possible mass extinction won’t be attributed to a sudden cataclysm. Instead, it appears to be due to changes in the world’s ecosystems caused by human activity. While humans did indeed trigger mass extinctions when they began migrating around the world millennia ago, the damage they have caused to the environment has exponentially increased since the Neolithic revolution (about 12,000 years ago), which ushered in wide-scale agricultural practices and led to the onset of human civilization. Part of this damage relates to the dramatic increase in the human population size. At the time of the Neolithic revolution, estimates place the human population at about 1 million people. Today the human population is around 7.7 billion and growing. As the human population has ballooned it has led to habitat loss and a polluted environment, which in turn has produced an accelerating rate of extinctions.

The work by Paul Ehrlich and his collaborators (published in 2015) provides empirical support for the relatively recent accelerating rate of extinctions.5 Excluding birds and mammals, the extinction rates for most vertebrates were just above the background extinction rate as recently as the 1500s. While a marked increase in the extinction rate took place in the 1700s (most likely because of the industrial revolution), the last 200 years have been catastrophic for vertebrate populations. Over this period, extinction rates have skyrocketed. The researchers illustrate this point using amphibian extinctions. There are about 7,300 known amphibian species. Between 1500 and 1980, life scientists have documented the loss of 34 species. Since 1980, over 100 species have disappeared.

Using a background rate of 2 species extinctions per 1 million species per year, the team also demonstrated that the extinctions that occurred between 1500 and 1900 should have taken about 10,000 years to transpire, not a few hundred years.

In 2020, another international team of collaborators (which also involved Ehrlich) bolstered the case for accelerating mass extinctions driven by human activity.Instead of attempting to assess the number of vertebrate species that have become extinct, they assessed the extinction risk for nearly 30,000 terrestrial vertebrate species. To do this, they estimated the population sizes of these species. Complicating their analysis is the recognition that many of these species have incomplete or inadequate population data. Of those that do, one-quarter of them have fewer than 1,000 species—in some instances, the numbers are well below 1,000 individuals. They classified these species as on the brink of extinction. Of the 515 species on the brink of extinction, most are birds, followed by amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. Geographically, most of the at-risk mammalian species live in Asia and Oceania and most of the vulnerable bird species locate to Oceania and South America.

The research team also developed another category: species on the road to the brink of extinction. They define this category (which consists of 388 species) as those species that number under 5,000 individuals. Around 85% of species in this category are found in the same locales as species on the brink of extinction.

The researchers then compared the historic geographic ranges for 48 mammal species and 29 bird species that are on the brink of extinction. They discovered that, on average, these species have lost around 95% of their geographical range since 1900. This habitat loss explains the dramatic reduction in local populations of these species. The researchers estimate that around 3,600 populations of the 48 mammal species have disappeared and 2,930 populations of the 29 bird species.

The researchers project that the species on the brink will soon join the hundreds of vertebrate species that have disappeared since 1900, as human activity continues to apply pressure to ecosystems around the world.

What Should the Christian Response Be to Mass Extinctions?
Regardless of one’s worldview, the prospects of a sixth mass extinction should be of foremost concern. Each time a species is lost, its unique contribution to the earth’s ecosystems is lost. In some instances, this loss may be relatively inconsequential. But often, species loss causes irreversible change.

Human civilization depends on functioning ecosystems to provide a stable climate, fresh water, agricultural pest control, control of disease-causing animal vectors, crop pollination, and many other services. To put it another way, humanity depends on functioning ecosystems for our life support. A sixth mass extinction could rightly be viewed as the most serious environmental threat facing humanity.

But for Christians, such an ominous event also raises concerns of a theological nature. If indeed, human activity continues to propel us out of control toward the brink of wide-scale extinctions and reorganizations of ecosystems around the world, then it represents a failure on our part to fulfill the command God gave to the first humans (and by extension to us) to be stewards and caretakers of creation.

According to the Genesis 1 creation account, human beings were uniquely made to bear God’s image. While Scripture doesn’t clearly delineate precisely what the image of God is, it does make it clear that, as image-bearers, we were given certain responsibilities that included:

• Multiplying and filling the earth
• Subduing the earth, bringing it under our control
• Exercising dominion over the creation
• Serving as caretakers for the planet and ensuring the health of all life on Earth

It is clear from these commands that we were to transform the wild and unruly state of creation into the type of order and organization that God instituted when he planted and caused the Garden of Eden to grow. To fulfill this responsibility, we were granted dominion over creation. God made it available for our benefit. But we were not to exploit or ravish creation. Instead, we were to care for it so that all life on Earth would flourish.

Because of these mandates, Christians have an obligation to embrace a responsible form of environmentalism—one that balances care for the environment with care and concern for human life. If anything, the insights into the causes and consequences of the sixth mass extinction drive home the point that these two objectives aren’t mutually exclusive. When we care for the environment, we care for one another.

Our responsibility as the planet’s stewards should also propel us to aggressively pursue green technologies and advocate the use of science and technology to reverse the damage we have caused to the environment. These efforts should include remediating environmental pollution and supporting conservation efforts to prevent additional species loss that may even include the use of emerging biotechnologies such as cloning and gene editing.

The Explanatory Power of the Christian Worldview
Clearly, the destruction of ecosystems that appears to have instigated the sixth mass extinction has part of its etiology in the ballooning worldwide human population, coupled with the activities associated with advancing and sustaining economies throughout the world. Along these lines, it is tempting to think we could mitigate our destructive impact if we reduced our numbers, gave more consideration to managing limited resources, and perhaps even returned to simpler ways of life.

Yet, when we consider the impact that the first humans had as they migrated around the world, it becomes clear that the exponential growth in the human population cannot be the sole explanation for the damage we are causing to the environment. Genetic variability data indicate the first wave of human migrations consisted of relatively small groups. Yet based on the Quaternary Global Megafauna Extinctions caused by human activity, it seems that even in limited numbers, humans possess an innate capacity to wreak environmental havoc on a grand scale.

As a Christian, this observation leads me to suggest that a significant contributor to the destructive impact we have had—and will continue to have—on the world’s ecosystems arises out of something intrinsic to our nature; namely, our propensity to sin and the fractured relationship between humans and nature that resulted from our sinful behavior.

According to Scripture, when humanity rebelled against God, not only was our relationship with our Maker and other human beings marred, so was our relationship with creation itself. As a result, we can no longer effectively serve as caretakers of the planet.

Scripture goes as far as to state that the ground is “cursed” because of human sin. And it appears this has been the case from the days of prehistoric hunter-gatherers to the present.

The Christian worldview also proposes a solution to what may be the most significant environmental threat facing humanity. The answer is found in the transforming power of the gospel. Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we can be reconciled to our Maker. But the impact of the gospel extends beyond our relationship to God. It extends to our relationship with one another as human beings and, even creation itself. The fall of humanity resulted in alienation between humanity and God, humanity with itself, and between humanity and nature. And it is through the redeeming work of Christ that alienation becomes reconciliation. We can be reconciled to God, reconciled to each other, and even reconciled to nature. It is out of this redeemed relationship with creation that we will have the wherewithal to salvage the damage we have caused to the world’s ecosystems and stave off the most serious environmental threat facing humanity.

Mass Extinctions and the Case for Human Exceptionalism
I find it remarkable to think that a single species could wreak so much havoc on the earth’s ecosystems. No other species that lives today—or that has ever lived—has the capability to cause such wide-scale destruction to our planet. This difference in capacities points to something distinct and unique about human beings—something exceptional.

Some anthropologists recognize the exceptional nature of human beings and now work to advance the case for human exceptionalism. For these anthropologists, human exceptionalism largely stems from our capacity for symbolism. As human beings, we effortlessly represent the world with discrete symbols. We denote abstract concepts with symbols. And our ability to represent the world symbolically has interesting consequences when coupled with our abilities to combine and recombine those symbols in nearly infinite ways to create alternate possibilities.

Evolutionary psychologist Thomas Suddendorf describes the difference between humans and other primates this way:

“We reflect on and argue about our present situation, our history, and our destiny. We envision wonderful harmonious worlds as easily as we do dreadful tyrannies. Our powers are used for good as they are for bad, and we incessantly debate which is which. Our minds have spawned civilizations and technologies that have changed the face of the Earth, while our closest living animal relatives sit unobtrusively in their remaining forests. There appears to be a tremendous gap between human and animal minds.”7

Our capacity for symbolism manifests in the form of language, art, music, and even body ornamentation. And we desire to communicate the scenarios we construct in our minds with other human beings. For some Christians, symbolism and our open-ended capacity to generate alternative hypotheses are scientific descriptors of the image of God.

It is our capacity for symbolism that led to the development of technologies that made possible the expansion of human population, human civilization and, consequently, our activities that have caused harm to the world’s ecosystems. It is also our capacity for symbolism that makes possible the scientific enterprise, which provides the means for us to understand the structure and function of ecosystems and to recognize the damage we have caused to the environment. It is our symbolic capacity that allows us to catalog and project species loss around the world. And it is our capacity for symbolism that suggests ways we can mitigate species loss, including using emerging biotechnologies to clone endangered and even extinct species.

From a Christian worldview perspective, our exceptional nature makes human life inherently valuable. But it also imbues us with a responsibility to care for the planet’s ecosystems and to protect and care for vulnerable organisms on the verge of extinction.

Resources

Did Humans Cause the Global Extinction of Mammals?” by Fazale Rana (article)

Human Exceptionalism

Does Animal Planning Undermine the Image of God?” by Fazale Rana (article)

Primate Thanatology and the Case for Human Exceptionalism” by Fazale Rana (article)

Molecular Scale Robotics Build a Case for Design” by Fazale Rana (article)

Endnotes

1. Christopher Sandom et al., “Global Late Quaternary Megafauna Extinctions Linked to Humans, Not Climate Change” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281 (July 22, 2014): doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.3254.

2. John C. Briggs, “Emergence of a Sixth Mass Extinction?” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 122 (October 2017): 243–248, doi:10.1093/biolinnean/blx063.

3. Gerardo Ceballos et al., “Accelerated Modern Human-Induced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction,” Science Advances 1 (June 19, 2015): e1400253, doi:10.1126/sciadv.1400253.

4. Carlos P. Carmona et al., “Erosion of Global Functional Diversity across the Tree of Life,” Science Advances 7 (March 26, 2021): eabf2675, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abf2675.

5. Ceballos et al., “Accelerated Modern Human-Induced Species Losses.”

6. Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich and Peter H. Raven, Vertebrates on the Brink as Indicators of Biological Annihilation and the Sixth Mass Extinction, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117 (June 16, 2020): 13596–602, doi:10.1073/pnas.1922686117.

7. Thomas Suddendorf, The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 2.


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Why Are Supernovae and Kilonovae Essential for Advanced Life?

BY HUGH ROSS – MAY 25, 2020

Question(s) of the week: How does the uranium and thorium from supernovae produce Earth’s magnetic field and plate tectonics? Can you give us more reasons why we need supernovae?

My answer: A supernova eruption event occurs either when (1) a giant star having completed its normative nuclear burning suffers catastrophic gravitational collapse, or (2) when a white dwarf star (a burnt out star) accretes sufficient matter from a companion star to generate a catastrophic gravitational collapse. This collapse produces a pressure and temperature so extremely high in the star’s core that iron and elements lighter than iron are forced to capture neutrons, thereby manufacturing elements heavier than iron.

Nearly all the elements heavier than iron are manufactured by supernovae. The remainder are manufactured by kilonovae, which result from the merger of two neutron stars.1 Without supernovae and kilonovae there would be no elements heavier than iron anywhere or any time in the universe. The following life-essential elements are found in the bodies of every human being: cobalt, copper, zinc, arsenic, selenium, molybdenum, and iodine. Without these heavier-than-iron elements neither human beings, the functional equivalent of humans, nor nearly all large animals could possibly exist. Therefore, advanced life is impossible without supernovae and kilonovae.

I must warn readers, however, about overdosing on supplements rich in these heavier-than-iron elements. They are all “vital poisons.” Too little in your bodies will kill you. Too much in your bodies also will kill you.

Without supernovae and kilonovae there would be no thorium or uranium. Both of these elements are radioactive where the main isotopes of each have decay half-lives equal to 14.05 and 4.46 billion years, respectively. The radioactive decay of these elements generates heat and, because of the long half-lives, the heat release can be sustained for billions of years. Since Earth is super-endowed with uranium and thorium, the heat release from these elements is considerable.

The heat release from the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium is sufficient to produce and sustain a liquid core in Earth’s interior. This liquid core of predominantly ferrous elements (iron, cobalt, nickel) sustains a strong magnetic field. This strong magnetic field generates a magnetic field around Earth that protects Earth’s surface life from deadly cosmic and solar radiation. It also prevents solar radiation particles from sputtering away Earth’s atmosphere into interplanetary space.

The heat released from the decay of uranium and thorium causes the crustal plates of Earth to move relative to one another. This plate tectonics transformed Earth from a water world where water covered the entire surface of Earth to a planet possessing both surface oceans and surface continents. The combination of surface oceans and continents effectively recycles life-critical nutrients. Without long-lasting plate tectonics, life could exist on Earth for only a brief time period. Thus, for many reasons our lives and our civilization critically depend on a large number of supernova and kilonova events occurring in our galaxy. However, the number must be fine-tuned. The radiation emitted by supernovae and kilonovae is deadly. Too high of a frequency of supernova and kilonova events in our galaxy would expose Earth to an intensity of radiation from these events that would rule out the existence of advanced life. Too low of a frequency would mean that Earth would lack the uranium and thorium and other heavier-than-iron elements that advanced life needs.

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, “Neutron Star Merger Produces a Kilonova and Valuable Metals,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), October 23, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/10/23/neutron-star-merger-produces-a-kilonova-and-valuable-metals.

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How Christians Can Influence Culture Despite Court Decisions

by Kenneth SamplesJuly 6, 2021

How important is marriage to culture and society? According to the Bible, marriage is a part of the created order for humankind. When Jesus was asked challenging questions about it, he stressed the critical importance of marriage and its basis in creation:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)

What is traditional Christian marriage? How is it to be defined? The catechism of the Anglican Church of North America, which I would uphold, succinctly defines it this way:

“Marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, covenantal union of love between one man and one woman, and a reflection of the faithful love that unites God and his people. Marriage is therefore holy and should be ‘held in honor among all’ (Hebrews 13:4; see also Genesis 2:18–24; Matthew 19:4–6; Ephesians 5:21–33).”1

In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. Though time has passed since that controversial decision, people continue to ask me various questions about it. Thus, I would like to share some of my thoughts about how I think Christians might best influence culture when it comes to controversial social issues.


Christians and Cultural Change
I wonder if evangelical Christians have possibly placed a little too much emphasis and hope on the high court’s deciding in their favor concerning critical moral and social issues. I say this even in light of the Supreme Court having had three conservative justices join its ranks in recent years. I certainly think Christians should allow their worldview to guide their civic responsibilities of voting prudently and supporting legal challenges to imprudent, improper decisions and, especially, those that violate biblical morality. But it seems to me that there may be a more effective way of influencing culture on social issues or at least a way of buttressing the efforts that are made through the courts.

Let’s look at abortion as an example. It seems to me that the pro-life perspective that historic Christendom strongly affirms has made considerable gains against abortion over the last couple of decades. Such progress has come not through the courts but by changing minds—one at a time—through rational, moral, and theological persuasion. Rationally, advancements in scientific understanding (modern human reproductive biology) and in medical technology (obstetric ultrasound) have helped to show that the unborn human is human from the moment of conception. Morally and theologically, seeing humans as being made in the image of God grants them unique dignity and genuine moral worth that competing philosophies cannot possibly match. So, while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land and our country remains divided over abortion, “both the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and Guttmacher [Institute] show significant recent drops and sustained declines over the last 25 years.”2

Of course, that is not to say that abortion doesn’t remain a moral violation that robs precious children made in the image of God of the gift of life. But by marshaling arguments from science, philosophy, and theology, the Christian pro-life ethic has changed minds and hearts on this critical moral issue.

Maybe Christians can achieve similar progress by upholding traditional marriage. Christians can promote the sanctity of marriage by upholding their marital vows. Churches can encourage Christians to promote traditional marriage by offering good premarital counseling and by addressing marital conflicts with faith, hope, and love. Spouses learning to live in the grace and forgiveness of the gospel can overcome problems that could potentially lead to marital separation and divorce. Christians can stress the biblical-theological truth that marriage is a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to his church (Ephesians 5:31–32) and thus marriage is sacred.

Since the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign (Ephesians 1:11), then we know that God has allowed—for reasons we don’t know—traditional marriage to be challenged in contemporary culture. So, let’s consider two things:

First, Christians can align with the Christian worldview by voting for sound pro-life and pro-traditional marriage policies and candidates. Second, Christians can focus on using the godly example of their lives and vibrant families to morally persuade people of the value of traditional Christian marriage. Studies show that the children of traditional marriage are generally healthier, happier, and more well adjusted.3 Both are necessary.

These are some of my thoughts for your reflective and prayerful consideration about Christianity and culture.

Reflections: Your Turn

What obligations do Christians have when it comes to seeking to influence culture? Visit Reflections to comment with your response.

Endnotes

1. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, Approved Edition, ed. J. I. Packer and Joel Scandrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 104–105.

2. National Right to Life, “Reported Annual Abortions, 1973–2018,” accessed June 17, 2021.

3. United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, “The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home,” July 23, 2020.Theology

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