More Treasures in Earth’s Attic

 

BY HUGH ROSS – SEPTEMBER 21, 2020MORESHARE

Did Earth hide some of its treasure on the Moon?

Last week I wrote about how the Moon—Earth’s attic—has uniquely preserved fossils of Earth’s first life in pristine form. I say uniquely because Earth’s geological activity has destroyed those fossils while other solar system sites, such as Mars and Venus, have received far too low a delivery of Earth soil (through meteoroid transfer) to reveal any fossils.

A paper has been published in Science Advances establishing that yet more scientific treasure from Earth has been preserved on the Moon’s surface for us to discover.1 That treasure is hematite—a reddish-brown to black mineral that often comes in crystal form. Learning how hematite got to the Moon will help scientists know what Earth’s atmosphere has looked like over its history—a find that I believe will reveal a Creator’s guiding hand.

Hematite is an iron oxide mineral (with the formula Fe2O3) and a common oxidation product on Earth, where it is abundant on the surface. It is the main ore harvested from iron mines. Hematite’s abundance stems from the enormous quantity of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and the amount of iron in Earth’s crust.

Most of us were taught that the Moon has no atmosphere (gaseous envelope). It is true that the Moon’s gravity is too weak to retain light molecular weight gases and the Sun’s ultraviolet and X-ray radiation that falls on the lunar surface is too intense for the heavier molecular weight oxide gases to survive. However, the Moon does retain a very thin atmosphere of mostly argon gas and smaller amounts of xenon and radon gases. These gases are the end products of heavy radioisotopes’ decay. The gases are heavy enough for the Moon’s gravity to retain them and, being inert elements, they are immune to decomposition by solar radiation.

How Did Hematite Get to the Moon?
The lack of oxygen or oxides in the Moon’s atmosphere implies that any hematite on the lunar surface cannot be indigenous. It must have been deposited there from other solar system bodies.

In the Science Advances paper, a team of seven American planetary astronomers led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii analyzed the Moon Mineralogy Mapper data. They found that hematite is present at high latitudes on the Moon and mostly associated with east- and equator-facing sides of craters, mountains, and hills. Also, hematite is much more prevalent on the lunar hemisphere facing Earth than on the opposite hemisphere. The locations and quantity of hematite found on the Moon imply that oxygen delivered from Earth’s atmosphere is the major oxidant that forms hematite on the Moon.

Lunar hematite presents physicists and chemists interested in a detailed history of the composition of Earth’s atmosphere with an exciting opportunity. In my book Improbable Planet I presented the best available data on the composition history of Earth’s atmosphere.2 However, with respect to oxygen there are long stretches of time, particularly during the boring billion, where there’s great uncertainty on the amount and variability of oxygen content in Earth’s atmosphere.

Treasure-Hunting Implications
Planetary scientists can send spacecraft to hematite-rich regions of the Moon to bring back samples for analysis. Oxygen isotope and age-dating measurements in those samples will, for the first time, provide atmospheric physicists and chemists with an accurate history of the oxygen content in Earth’s atmosphere throughout the entire 3.8-billion-year history of life on our planet.

As I described in Improbable Planet and in a previous article, what we already know about the oxygen history of Earth’s atmosphere has affirmed God’s miraculous hand in shaping the physical, chemical, and biological history of Earth in preparation for human beings and civilization. I am persuaded that an accurate, detailed oxygen history of Earth’s atmosphere will yield even more evidence for God’s miraculous handiwork. Let’s retrieve the hematite treasure from Earth’s attic!

Endnotes
  1. Shuai Li et al., “Widespread Hematite at High Latitudes of the Moon,” Science Advances 6, no. 36 (September 2, 2020): id. eaba1940, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aba1940.
  2. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 94–197, https://shop.reasons.org/category/format/books/improbable-planet.

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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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Mantle Bottom Pancakes Benefit Surface Life

The biggest island in the United States also is the fastest growing. Thanks to a steadily rising hot plume from the lower mantle, Hawaii Island’s land area grows by an average of a little more than 40 acres per year. Though geophysicists have known about hot mantle plumes for several decades, only in the past few weeks have they gained an understanding of the source and mechanisms that produce hot plumes.

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My Early Baptism and Spiritual Development

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – SEPTEMBER 1, 2020

When does God’s saving grace begin working in a person’s life? Is it at the moment the person decides to believe in Christ? Or can God’s saving grace be operative prior to a person believing? Could that saving grace even begin at a young child’s baptism?

Church traditions within Christendom differ over the practice of baptism. Those differences extend to its meaning, spiritual significance, rightful candidates, and how baptism is to be performed. I will not address those questions here but I highly recommend the source below for understanding where Christians agree and disagree over baptism.1

The focus of this article is more autobiographical. I hope you’ll benefit as I share my reflections on how I have understood God to have worked in my life when it comes to baptism and my ongoing spiritual development and vocation.

God’s Early Hand on My Life

My life is inextricably linked to my parents. Both my dad and mom grew up with an evangelical Christian faith in the rural state of West Virginia. They moved to Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1950s and converted to Roman Catholicism in the early 1960s. At age four, I was baptized as a Roman Catholic at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Long Beach, California. I distinctly remember as a young boy staring intently at the crucified Christ statue that hung above the church’s altar. Being very young, I knew little about who Jesus was, but the crucifix told me he had suffered greatly and that he was central to our church.

Catholicism honors its saints and our parish was dedicated to the early church father St. Athanasius (c. 296–373) who had defended Nicene orthodoxy. This meant that he affirmed the Trinity by defending the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit against arguably the church’s greatest heresy—Arianism (a categorical denial of Christ’s deity). I recalled later reading on the church door Athanasius’s famous words uttered during the height of the Arian controversy: Athanasius Contra Mundum (“Athanasius against the world”).

God’s Ongoing Guiding Hand

Many years later I would come to learn about Athanasius’s heroic life as a Christian theologian and apologist. I went on to read his classic work On the Incarnation, which inspired me to write and speak about the person of Christ and the triune God, especially to those contemporary religious groups that deny these doctrines (Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Iglesia Ni Cristo). Many years after my baptism I came to view my own modest apologetics ministry as being carried out in the spirit of Athanasius. I would even write a chapter about Athanasius in my book Classic Christian Thinkers.2

God’s special grace in my life seemed to begin at my baptism all those years ago where I first heard of Jesus Christ and made the sign of the cross and uttered those sacred words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” While theologians debate the concept of baptismal regeneration, I am convinced that God had his providential hand upon me even as a small boy. And while I would not remain a Roman Catholic my whole life, I am indeed grateful for and respectful of what I received and learned as a Catholic and for distinguished Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blaise Pascal, who would continue to teach and inspire me even as an evangelical Protestant Christian.

Reflecting on a Heritage

Several years ago I visited St. Athanasius parish and showed my children the place where my Christian spiritual pilgrimage in life began. I looked again at the statue of the crucified Christ as well as the front door of the church, which still contained Athanasius’s famous words. I reflected anew on how God’s saving grace had worked in my life both then and now.

Reflections: Your Turn

Have you reflected on how God’s saving grace has worked in your life? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes
  1. For different views of baptism within Protestantism, see the book Baptism: Three Views, edited by David Wright.
  2. For an introduction to St. Athanasius and his key ideas as well his battle against Arianism, see chapter two of my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.

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Language and Biochemistry: Evidence for Intelligent Design

BY – JUNE 19, 2020

By Zachary Leung

Have you ever composed a text message on your smartphone and had the app suggest the next word? It is amazing that, many times, the app is correct. How does it work? By sheer chance? Or by reading your mind?

The fact that technology can often predict the next word you are going to type is possible only because your text message comes from your mind. The sentence you type is informative and meaningful because it is intelligently designed and therefore predictable.

Scientists have recently found similar predictability in biochemical systems. Does this similarity mean that biochemistry is also intelligently designed? Before answering this question, let us look at one way that mathematicians characterize information in the sentences we type.

N-Gram Language Modeling

Language is a sophisticated human cognitive process, and N-gram modeling is just one of the language modeling techniques widely employed in a variety of artificial intelligence applications, such as autocorrect and speech recognition. We will consider three main types of N-gram modeling: unigrams, bigrams, and trigrams.

UnigramsWe know that some English words are used more frequently than others. By analyzing millions of sentences, Oxford University Press reports that among the top 10 most frequently used nouns are: “time,” “person,” “year,” “way,” “day”…1 There are also lists of the top 100 and top 10,000 frequently used words. These lists agree with human intuition, contrasting with the most uncommon words, such as “futhorc” and “chaulmoogra.” Unigrams use these lists of word frequencies to predict the next word in a sentence, without relying on previously written words.

Bigrams and Trigrams: Let us look at this partial sentence: “The quick brown fox…” We can probably make some good guesses about what the next word might be: “is,” “eats,” and “jumps” are all possibilities. Similarly, bigrams and trigrams use the previous one or two words, respectively, to predict the probability of the next word, whereas unigrams use the frequency of the next word alone. Thus, in our partial sentence, bigrams and trigrams would use “fox” and “brown fox”, respectively. Generally, the larger N is, the better the predictive power becomes.

Word Perplexity

Perplexity is a mathematical measurement of how well a model predicts a result. Researchers use an information-theoretic metric known as word perplexity to quantify a language’s branching factor, which is the average number of possible words that can follow any word. It is a measure of uncertainty. For example, studies show that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) uses a vocabulary of 19,979 unique English words.2 If a writer who knew nothing about English were to “unintelligently” compose a sentence, they would pick random words from this vocabulary. In this case, the word perplexity would always be 19,979, as shown in Table 1, reflecting a mere chance scenario when the writer uses no intelligence to design the sentence.

Vocabulary
Size
Unigram
Perplexity
Bigram
Perplexity
Trigram
Perplexity
Randomized WSJ 19,979 19,979 19,979 19,979
WSJ 19,979 962 170 109

Table 1: The use of N-grams shows that the perplexity in WSJ is two orders of magnitude lower than the perplexity in sentences of random WSJ words.3

In reality, writers use intelligence to design sentences. By analyzing a WSJ corpus of 38 million words, we can compute the N-gram perplexity, which is found to be 962, 170, and 109 for unigrams, bigrams, and trigrams, respectively. 4 The use of bigrams and trigrams indicates that the word-perplexity of actual sentences in WSJ texts is two orders of magnitude lower than the word-perplexity of sentences of random words (19,979). This significant reduction shows that writers intelligently design sentences to carry information and meaning, rather than relying on random chance. Is there a similar perplexity reduction in nature?

Consider the following example from biochemistry that demonstrates the similarity between intelligent human language and proteins.

Protein Domains

Proteins consist of sequences of polypeptides. These biomolecules form when the cellular machinery links amino acids together.5 Within the structure of proteins, biochemists have discovered compact and self-contained folded regions called protein domains, each possessing a unique biochemical function. Each protein, therefore, consists of a combination of domains.6

Resemblance to Human Languages

Researchers have discovered a remarkable resemblance between the information structure found in proteins and human languages, as summarized in Table 2.

English Biochemistry
Letters Amino Acid
Words Protein Domains
Sentences Proteins

Table 2: Analogy between biochemistry and human languages.

Recently, a team of scientists led by Yu used N-gram modeling to study protein architectures.7 They examined a dataset of 23 million protein domains across 4,794 species. Since most organisms, especially bacteria and archaea, have proteins comprised of two or fewer domains, they used unigrams and bigrams only. These scientists found that (1) over 95% of all possible bigrams were absent, indicating that the protein sequences were far from random; and (2) there was a “quasi-universal grammar” imposed on protein domains, showing the parallel between proteins and languages. For creationists, this result resonates powerfully with the idea that life was created by an intelligent God.8

Protein Domain Perplexity

By analyzing the dataset used by Yu’s team, this author examined perplexity in protein domains. Table 3 shows that the average numbers of protein domains for archaea, bacteria, and eukarya (the three domains of life) are 671, 917, and 2,434, respectively. If proteins were formed by naturalistic processes that link together protein domains at random, the perplexity for archaea, bacteria, and eukarya would always be 671, 917, and 2,434, respectively. This is analogous to the perplexity of 19,979 for WSJ texts if sentences were unintelligently written with random words.

If Protein Sequences
Were Random
Average
Domain Size
Unigram
Perplexity
Bigram
Perplexity
Archaea 671 671 671
Bacteria 917 917 917
Eukarya 2,434 2,434 2,434

Table 3: Perplexity if proteins were formed by randomly linking protein domains.

However, as shown in Table 4, the unigram and bigram perplexity in eukarya is 42 and 16 respectively, which is two orders of magnitude lower than the perplexity in random sequences of eukaryote protein domains (2,434). Similar reductions are found for archaea and bacteria. Analogous to the WSJ texts, N-gram modeling shows that protein domain sequences are far from random. Instead, just like newspaper articles or text messages, they carry information and meaning.

Protein Domains Average
Domain Size
Unigram
Perplexity
Bigram
Perplexity
Archaea 671 28 13
Bacteria 917 32 13
Eukarya 2,434 42 16

Table 4: Perplexity in actual proteins (as shown by unigrams and bigrams) is two orders of magnitude lower than the perplexity in “random” proteins. Perplexities are directly calculated from data sets.9

Intelligent Designers

Sentences are not sequences of random words; you and I write sentences with a perplexity significantly lower than the perplexity of gibberish. This is a hallmark characteristic of intelligent design. Similarly, the perplexity in proteins is much lower than the perplexity in random sequences of protein domains. I see at least as much intelligent design in proteins as in my writing. Perplexity reduction alone builds a positive case that proteins harbor information, and therefore have been intelligently designed. Proteins, like writing, are indeed information-rich. The analogy between proteins and writing—hallmark characteristics of intelligent design—point to a Creator.

Endnotes
  1. Oxford Wordlists, Oxford University Press, https://languages.oup.com/products/oxford-wordlists/.
  2. Daniel Jurafsky and James H. Martin, Speech and Language Processing, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2008).
  3. Jurafsky and Martin, Speech and Language Processing.
  4. Jurafsky and Martin, Speech and Language Processing.
  5. Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design, How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 43.
  6. Rana, The Cell’s Design, 43.
  7. Lijia Yu et al., “Grammar of Protein Domain Architectures,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 116, no. 9 (February 26, 2019): 3636–45,doi:10.1073/pnas.1814684116.
  8. Fazale Rana, “Biochemical Grammar Communicates the Case for Creation,” The Cell’s Design (blog), May 29, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2019/05/29/biochemical-grammar-communicates-the-case-for-creation.
  9. Lijia Yu et al., “Grammar of Protein Domain Architecture,” Supporting Information, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 116, no. 9 (February 26, 2019): 3636–45, https://www.pnas.org/content/suppl/2019/02/06/1814684116.DCSupplemental.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Out-of-This-World Riches

BY HUGH ROSS – SEPTEMBER 7, 2020

Our planet is endowed with extravagantly rich mineral ore deposits. How did we get them and why is it significant? It turns out that the source of these deposits is not indigenous; rather, large asteroid/comet strikes over the past 2 billion years produced Earth’s richest metal ore deposits.

For example, an asteroid or comet 10–15 kilometers in diameter struck 1.849 billion years ago just north of what is now Lake Huron in Canada to form the Sudbury Basin.1 The impactor itself was rich in nickel, cobalt, and platinum group metals. However, it struck with such force that nickel- and copper-rich magma from Earth’s mantle filled the crater. This 150–260 kilometer-diameter crater ranked as the world’s leading source of nickel until the 1970s. For many decades, it accounted for 95 percent of the world’s nickel market.2 It still accounts for a third. At least as far back as 10,000 years ago, the Plano culture people mined copper to manufacture tools, weapons, and jewelry.3 This early use of metallurgy was a significant factor in the launch of human civilization. Also, due to the high mineral content of its soil, the Sudbury Basin is the best agricultural land in northern Ontario.

Earth’s crust does not contain any naturally occurring highly siderophile (iron-loving) elements (gold, platinum, iridium, osmium, rhenium, palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium) and very little of the moderately siderophilic elements (cobalt, nickel, silver, and tungsten). They exist in great abundance, however, in the planet core and lower mantle. It takes asteroids or comets larger in diameter than 10 kilometers striking Earth at high velocity to bring lower mantle material to the surface. Such asteroid and comet impacts were much more frequent previous to 3 billion years ago. Hence, it is no surprise that the only pristine continental crust dating older than 2.5 billion years—the Kaapvaal Craton in South Africa and the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia—are richly endowed with highly siderophile and moderately siderophile elements.

The Kaapvaal Craton is the site of the Vredefort Crater, the world’s largest remaining impact crater. Geologists calculate that the Vredefort Crater was more than 300 kilometers across when it was formed 2.023 billion years ago.4 Without the Vredefort impactor, either the gold and platinum group deposits beneath the Kaapvaal Craton’s surface never would have been discovered or the deposits would have eroded away.

The Vredefort Crater overlaps the Witswatersrand Basin, site of the largest gold and platinum group deposits on Earth. Even after the extraction of over 47,000 tons of gold, the Witswatersrand Basin still contains about half as much gold as the rest of Earth’s surface combined.5

An asteroid 5–8 kilometers in diameter created the 100-kilometer diameter Popigai Crater in northern Siberia. The asteroid struck with such force that it instantaneously transformed graphite in the ground into an abundance of diamonds. These diamonds range in size from 0.5–10.0 millimeters and the Popigai Crater region ranks as the world’s largest known diamond deposit.

In a review of mineral deposits in impact structures, a team of four geologists demonstrated that virtually every impact crater larger than 2 kilometers in diameter has produced economically valuable mineral deposits.These mineral deposits include hydrocarbon fuel deposits as well.

As I explained in previous articles and my book, Improbable Planet,7 the asteroid and comet belts in the solar system are unlike those in other planetary systems. About 80 percent of known exoplanetary systems are devoid of asteroid and comet belts. The other 20 percent possess asteroid and comet belts populated by hundreds to thousands of times more comets and asteroids than is the case for the solar system.

The asteroid and comet belts in the solar system, plus the mass and orbital distance of the Moon, are such that Earth receives enough major impact events, especially early in its history before the appearance of animals, to salt the crust with rich mineral ores. These ores played crucial roles in the early launch of metallurgy and the eventual development of global, high-technology civilization. On the other hand, Earth, especially during the human era, received a sufficiently low number of major impact events to pose no risk to a high human population and global civilization.

Image: The Big Nickel Outside the Sudbury Nickel Mine
Credit: Motorbicycle, Creative Commons Attribution

Endnotes
  1. Donald W. Davis, “Sub-Million-Year Age Resolution of Precambrian Igneous Events by Thermal Extraction-Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometer Pb Dating of Zircon: Application to Crystallization of the Sudbury Impact Melt Sheet,” Geology 36, no. 5 (May 2008): 383–86, doi:10.1130/G234502A.1; Joseph A. Petrus, Doreen E. Ames, and Balz S. Kamber, “On the Track of the Elusive Sudbury Impact: Geochemical Evidence for a Chrondrite or Comet Bolide,” Terra Nova 27, no. 1 (February 2015): 9–20, doi:10.1111/ter.12125.
  2. Tom Jewiss, “The Mining History of the Sudbury Area,” originally published in Rocks and Minerals in Canada (Spring 1983), University of Waterloo, Earth Science Museum, accessed August 16, 2020, https://uwaterloo.ca/earth-sciences-museum/resources/mining-canada/mining-history-sudbury-area.
  3. Jewiss, “Mining History.”
  4. Jason Kirk et al., “The Origin of Gold in South Africa,” American Scientist 91, no. 6 (January 1, 2003): 534–41, doi:10.1511/2003.38.907.
  5. Kirk et al., “Gold in South Africa.”
  6. Wolf Uwe Reimold et al., “Economic Mineral Deposits in Impact Structures: A Review,” in Impact Tectonics, ed. Christian Koeberl and Hebert Henkel (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, January 2005): 479–552, doi:10.1007/3-540-27548-7_20.
  7. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 44–48, 57–60, 63–76, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet; Hugh Ross, “How the Flora Family of Asteroids Shaped the History of Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 1, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/05/02/how-the-flora-family-of-asteroids-shaped-the-history-of-life; Hugh Ross, “Grand Tack Model Reveals More Solar System Designs,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 22, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/05/22/grand-tack-model-reveals-more-solar-system-designs; Hugh Ross, “Is the Solar System Too Fine-Tuned for Modern Science?,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), January 7, 2016, https://reasons.org/explore/publications/tnrtb/read/tnrtb/2016/01/07/is-the-solar-system-too-fine-tuned-for-modern-science.

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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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STILL CURIOUS? LEARN MORE…

More Treasures in Earth’s Attic

Did Earth hide some of its treasure on the Moon?

Continue Reading »

What Was Your Intellectual Epiphany?

Have you ever had a sudden realization that ended up changing your life? You may have had an epiphany, which can be defined as an intuitive flash of insight or discovery as to the deep meaning of something significant that comes through experience and leads to a sense of wonder.

Continue Reading »

Earth’s Attic: Houston, We Have an Opportunity

Those of us who are over 60 will never forget the chilling words spoken by the Apollo 13 command module pilot, Jack Swigert, and repeated by the mission commander, Jim Lovell, late evening on April 13 of 1970, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Continue Reading »https://player.vimeo.com/video/104664126

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Can Artificial Intelligence Think Like a Human?

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – MAY 29, 2020

How close are we to developing machines that can understand and learn anything that humans can? Could such inventions eventually become self-conscious?

A great wealth of information exists regarding the pursuit of what scientists call artificial intelligence. Every now and again, I run across an idea that helps clarify a crucial issue surrounding the pursuit of an intelligence similar to humanity. Computer scientist Judea Pearl articulated one of those ideas in his book, The Book of Why, and titled it “the Ladder of Causation.” This three-level abstraction (see image below) helps identify the key steps to move from an artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) to an artificial general intelligence (AGI), meaning the entity would be able to think like a human being.

Rung 1: Seeing/Observing (“Association”)

The first rung of the ladder entails the ability to see and connect inputs with outcomes. The inputs and outcomes can be complicated and the connections rather hidden, so getting computer programs to do this still represents quite an accomplishment. Everything currently termed artificial intelligence (Siri, Alexa, language translators, facial/voice recognition, even driverless cars) sits on this rung of the ladder. These examples (all are ANIs) operate by using the available data to find correlations in order to make a decision following a predetermined algorithm.

Rung 2: Doing/Intervening (“Intervention”)

The next rung up the ladder of increasing sophistication adds the ability to intervene in an environment and respond appropriately. Pearl illustrates this change by two questions.

  • Rung 1: What is the likelihood that someone who bought toothpaste will also buy dental floss? Correlations in existing sales data will answer this question.
  • Rung 2: What will happen to floss sales if we double the price of toothpaste? In order to find a good answer to this question, one must intervene in the system to gather new data that addresses the question or develop a model that extrapolates from known environments to this new environment.

Scientists routinely exercise rung 2 skills. They ask a currently unanswered question about how the world works, perform experiments or observations to gather appropriate data, and then provide an answer/model that answers the question.

blog__inline--can-artificial-intelligence-think-like-a-human

Rung 3: Imagining/Understanding (“Counterfactuals”)

On this top rung, one has the capacity to understand environments that don’t exist. According to Pearl, the toothpaste question becomes: “What is the probability that a customer who bought toothpaste would still have bought it if we had doubled the price?” In other words, this rung requires the ability to imagine something different than the physical world that already exists.

Humans consistently and effortlessly operate on this third rung. We routinely think about how things would be different if we had chosen the “other” option. The theological importance of this level is that humans recognize our place in this physical universe as well as the existence of reality completely separate from it. All the evidence to date indicates that only humanity operates on this intellectual plane. This evidence aligns well with the biblical idea that humanity alone was created in the image of God.

Not only does Pearl’s ladder of causation provide a great image of the challenges that lie ahead in the quest for true artificial intelligence, it also highlights humanity’s unique understanding of our place in the cosmos. And that fact affirms the validity of Christianity.

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Viruses and God’s Good Designs

BY HUGH ROSS – MARCH 30, 2020

Among the many questions I have received on my social media pages is this one: Why would an all-powerful and all-loving God create a world in which viruses exist?

As I explain at length in my book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, it can be argued that God had multiple reasons for the laws of physics that he chose to govern the universe and Earth.1 I believe one of the more significant reasons is using these laws as tools in his hands for the rapid and efficient eradication of evil and suffering while he simultaneously enhances the free wills of billions of humans who choose his redemption.

The multiple purposes God has for the laws of physics necessitate that there will be design tradeoffs. However, it appears that God has optimized these tradeoffs so that all his purposes for creating the universe and human beings will be fulfilled in as beneficial a manner as possible.

I address many of these tradeoffs in my book More Than a Theory.2 There I point out that we live on a planet with tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and tsunamis, but each of these so-called natural disasters is essential for our existence. They are optimized to bring the greatest possible benefit to humans and the rest of Earth’s life. Viruses are in the same category.

Benefits of Viruses
Life-forms on Earth larger and more complex than microbes would be impossible without an abundance of viruses. Without viruses, bacteria would multiply and, within a relatively short time period, occupy every niche and cranny on Earth’s surface. The planet would become a giant bacterial slime ball. Those sextillions of bacteria would consume all the resources essential for life and die.

Viruses keep Earth’s bacterial population in check. They break up and kill bacteria at the just-right rates and in the just-right locations so as to maintain a population and diversity of bacteria that is optimal for both the bacteria and for all the other life-forms. It is important to note that all multicellular life depends on bacteria being present at the optimal population level and optimal diversity. We wouldn’t be here without viruses!

A high human population and advanced global civilization would not be possible without Earth’s water cycle providing copious amounts of precipitation all over the continental landmasses. All the precipitation components (rain, mist, snow, hail, and sleet), however, require microscopic seeds (or nuclei) to form. In most environments, the most important seeds for precipitation are viruses and bacterial fragments resulting from viral attacks. Wind carries these “seeds” into the atmosphere where ice crystals form around them. Liquid water clumps onto the ice crystals, making them progressively larger. These augmented ice crystals turn into rain, snow, or other forms of precipitation and fall to the ground. While dust and particles of soot can also serve as seeds or nuclei for the formation of raindrops and snowflakes, viruses and bacterial fragments allow the initial ice crystals to form at warmer temperatures. We would not have nearly sufficient precipitation over a sufficiently broad area to sustain our agriculture and civilization if it were not for viruses.

Viruses also play a crucial role in Earth’s carbon cycle. They and the bacterial fragments they create are carbonaceous substances. Through their role in precipitation, they collect as vast carbonaceous sheets on the surfaces of the world’s oceans. These sheets or mats of viruses and bacterial fragments sink slowly and eventually land on the ocean floors. As they are sinking they provide important nutrients for deep-sea and benthic (bottom-dwelling) life. Plate tectonics drive much of the viral and bacterial fragments into Earth’s crust and mantle where some of that carbonaceous material is returned to the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions.

Thanks to Earth’s aggressive carbon cycle the global environment enjoys a great diversity of life that has continual access to the nutrients it needs. Earth’s carbon cycle also plays a critical role in regulating the amounts of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Thanks to viruses we have the carbon cycle running at the rate we need and the amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases that are optimal for our existence and our civilization.

Additionally, viruses already are playing significant roles in medical therapies and in advancing medical technology. In the near future, we can look forward to medical practitioners exploiting viruses to combat cancer and cure genetic diseases.

Making Viruses Worse

As with any good thing in nature, there are potential downsides, which can be made a lot worse by human neglect, abuse, and sin. Mosquitoes are a good example of how we humans made things a lot worse than God intended. Before humans messed things up, mosquitoes occupied only about 10 percent of Earth’s land area, cleaned up debris (like lemming poop), and provided food for many freshwater fish species. Now they occupy over 99 percent of Earth’s land area and are a nuisance and health hazard for much of the human population.

As with mosquitoes, humans have made viruses a lot worse than God intended. If only we had consistently practiced the health mandates written in the Old Testament, we very likely would not have had to deal with HIV, SARS-1, MERS, and SARS-2 (responsible for COVID-19). These are all viruses that were present in animals and jumped to human beings.

We make those jumps more likely where we have have dense populations of domesticated and/or wild animals in close contact with dense populations of humans. The larger, the denser, and the more stressed those animal and human populations are, the greater the opportunity for relatively benign viruses to mutate and become killer viruses.

My prayer is that we learn from our experience with COVID-19 how to better prevent such pandemics from occurring in the future. Changing the ways we manage and trade our domesticated animals to minimize their crowding, stress, and contact with dense crowds of humans would be a start. Minimizing stress and maximizing personal health, fitness, and hygiene in human populations, especially among the poor, is especially important. Let compassion, kindness, and wisdom reign for our benefit and the benefit of our animals!

 

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 153–63, https://shop.reasons.org/product/276/why-the-universe-is-the-way-it-is.
  2. Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 195–208, https://shop.reasons.org/product/269/more-than-a-theory.

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Follow the Science: It Leads to God

BY HUGH HENRY – AUGUST 21, 2020

By Hugh Henry

In recent months you’ve often heard elected officials say: “I follow the science.” They are referring to the current pandemic; but hearing this mantra so many times raises a more general question: does our society in general really “follow the science”?

Increasing Entropy: A Supreme Physical Law

Science is typically defined as the concerted human effort to understand how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding. Few would dispute that the laws of physics are foundational to science. Gravity quickly comes to mind. Yet even more fundamental is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropySir Arthur Eddington, the British scientist who first verified Einstein’s general relativity, famously wrote in his book New Pathways in Science (1935):

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. . . . If your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Einstein echoed this sentiment: “thermodynamics . . . is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced . . . will never be overthrown.”1

I explain the second law to undergraduate physics students with two examples:

  1. Every energy conversion produces both usable energy and unusable energy. The latter is called entropy. For example, coal, oil, or natural gas power plants are less than 50% efficient; more than half of the energy is wasted entropy. Solar panels and your car are even less efficient.
  2. Natural systems tend toward a state of disorder; intelligent, directed energy must be added to create order. As a simplistic example, suppose a completed jigsaw puzzle falls off a table onto the floor. The pieces will not re-assemble themselves; intelligent, directed energy is required. Since this energy only returns the system to a previously ordered state, it is effectively wasted; it represents increasing entropy.

People sometimes learn that the entropy of the universe is constantly increasing and fear it will overwhelm us. But entropy is not a thing; it is only a mathematical construction that attempts to quantify disorder and unusable, wasted energy.

The second law of thermodynamics is not speculation; it is experimentally verified physical law. It was first formulated by Rudolf Clausius in 1850. In the 1870s, Ludwig Boltzmann added the important concept of probability: although it is possible for natural systems to spontaneously reach an ordered state, it is extraordinarily improbable to the point of virtually impossible. Creating order requires directed, external interference.2 some of the significant scientific advances in the past 75 years in this context:

  1. Widespread vaccinations in the mid-twentieth century, minimizing or eliminating many diseases
  2. Transistors in 1947, followed by integrated circuits and the microchip decades later
  3. Satellites in the 1950s and humans on the Moon in 1969
  4. Mainframe computers using punch cards in the 1950s and personal computers in the 1970s
  5. Hand-held electronic calculators replacing slide rules in the early 1970s
  6. CT scanners in the 1970s, making most exploratory surgery unnecessary
  7. Readily available cell phones in the 1980s
  8. Universal access to the world wide web in the 1990s
  9. Today’s smart phones with more computing power than the systems that put men on the Moon

All these inventions and advancements involved the principle of increasing entropy with intelligent, directed external energy input. I was involved with growing gallium arsenide semiconductor crystals and fabricating integrated circuits in the 1970s; I can attest to the intellectual effort and energy needed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the same was required to create all these well-ordered, functioning systems.

Did Evolution Produce Order?

Along with these advancements, science has learned much over the past seven and a half decades about “how the natural world works.” The DNA double helix was discovered in 1953, followed later by the DNA code. In 2000, the human genome was sequenced. We have learned about the incredible complexity of the living cell (see any biology textbook), including many interdependent parts. Yet the standard theory of life is neo-Darwinian evolution, which holds that a complex system naturally self-assembled in less than 5 billion years by creating order out of disorder. This seems contrary to the second law.

Evolutionists offer plausible explanations based on mutations and natural selection, but the explanations seem inadequate in light of interdependencies such as the DNA repair mechanisms. An earlier article reported that DNA, the fundamental building block of life, is inherently unstable; it is kept together by extensive repair mechanisms housed within the cell. DNA could not have preceded the cell because it would have fallen apart, and the cell could not have preceded DNA because there would not have been any means of cell reproduction. External input of energy from the sun is not the answer; energy inputs must be directed to produce such exquisite order—including interdependencies in particular.

A Fine-Tuned Universe

Another important scientific advance was verification and acceptance (beginning in 1965) of the big bang theory. This advance discredited the centuries-old eternal universe theory and established that the universe had a beginning, just as Genesis 1:1 proclaimed. Additional observational data has established the extraordinary fine-tuning of physical constants and of many components of the universe. With only slight variations in hundreds of parameters, life and the earth as we know it would not be possible.3 The second law declares that chance cannot account for such fine-tuning. Nevertheless, the prevailing belief among modern cosmologists is that the universe naturally self-assembled following the big bang.4

Following the Science . . .

What’s wrong with this picture? We know the second law is fundamental to humankind’s technical advances over which we have control. Yet many people take a different attitude toward the “historical sciences” that describe things over which we have no control. The belief in undirected self-assembly of such complex life and of such a fine-tuned universe seems to reject the second law. So who’s following the science? The laws of physics do not turn off and on; by definition, a scientific law applies for all time in all places.

Let’s follow the science. The science says nature tends toward disorder. Self-assembly of the universe and life as we know it seems contrary to the law of increasing entropy, the “supreme law of nature.” A directed external energy input was necessary to create such glorious organization. What or who was that external source?

Christians believe the God of the Bible provides that directed, external energy source to fine-tune our universe for life as we know it, and then to create life itself. So, if we truly “follow the science,” we believe it leads to God.

*Thanks to my friend Paul Naberhaus for suggesting an idea which evolved into this article.

Endnotes
  1. Stephen Hawking, ed, A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion: The Essential Scientific Works of Albert Einstein, (Philadelphis: Running Press Book Publishers, 2007) 353.
  2. The second law is sometimes challenged by noting natural self-organizations such as a crystal lattice structure. However, this occurs due to the forces involved and to the fact that natural systems seek the lowest energy configuration, which is a consequence of the second law.
  3. Hugh Ross has written extensively about fine-tuning. See https://reasons.org/search-results?searchQuery=fine%20tuning&mode=0.
  4. Some scientists implicitly acknowledge the improbability of such fine-tuning of our universe by proposing the multiverse theory. However, even this explanation faces plentiful problems, including a severe lack of evidence.

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How the Trinity Shows God’s Love

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – MAY 26, 2020

Arguably one of the most important teachings in the Bible is the proclamation that “God is love,” which is found in verses like 1 John 4:8 and 16.

This brief, powerful statement is laden with theological implications. I’ve also found it helpful when discussing how God loves people with those who hold non-Christian, yet theistic conceptions of God (God as a single, solitary person and being).

Because “God is love,” one of the most attractive features of my faith as a historic Christian is the Trinity. For God’s triunity reveals that there is a plurality of persons within the one divine being of God. And that means that God is analogous to a loving human family. Theologian Gerald Bray sheds further light on the love shared among the members of the “divine family” so to speak:

“God cannot be love unless there is something for him to love. But if that something were not part of himself, he would not be perfect. The Bible does not teach us that God needed the creation in order to have something to love, because if that were true, he could not be fully himself without it. So Augustine reasoned that God must be love inside himself. To his mind, the Father is the one who loves, the Son is the one who is loved (the ‘beloved Son’ revealed in the baptism of Jesus), and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and binds them together.”1

I think what makes the Trinity so important for Christians to appreciate is that it allows God to “be love” within himself and therefore not in need of finding love outside (in his creation). This idea came out in a recent dialogue I had online with a Jehovah’s Witness. I think this dialogue concerning the triune God and love might be helpful for all of us.

Debating God’s Nature Online

Me: If Jehovah as a single solitary God is also loving, whom did Jehovah love in eternity past before he created Christ, angels, and human beings? Was Jehovah lonely? Did Jehovah have to create to get love?

JW: The Almighty God Jehovah doesn’t have needs. Would that not conflict with being almighty? Appeal to sentimentality cannot reconcile your clearly unscriptural doctrine. Christ will always be in subjection to his father.

Me: Love is not mere sentimentality. If Jehovah is a loving God then he has to give that love to someone. Love is defined by giving. But in eternity past, Jehovah [on the JW view] had no one to love. True love is not narcissistic. As a single, solitary God, wasn’t Jehovah either needy or loveless? The Trinity, on the other hand, has loving equals.

JW: All creation had a beginning including Jehovah’s firstborn [Jesus]. God had no beginning, but has lived forever into the past. He was not lonely, or needy as you imagine. He began creating because he wanted to, not because he had to. He has no insecurities, and no equal.

Me: True love includes both giving and receiving. Jehovah [according to the JW view] had no equal to love and no one to give him love in return. Love requires another equal person. It seems a God with no one to love means either God was desperate or loveless. Neither qualifies as a true God of love.

JW: Love is what moved God to begin creating. He obviously put a lot of thought into it. You’re trying to warp the Scripture. It says God IS love, that doesn’t imply that before he created his firstborn, he was not in love with the concept of creating. It took love to create.

Me: Since the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), how is Jehovah a loving God when before creation he is all alone without someone to love? When you knock on people’s doors as a JW, do you tell people Jehovah is a loving God? What if they ask how? It is OK if you don’t know. Ask the leaders at the Watchtower.

Using the Trinity

I had been interacting with this person off and on over a couple of days online about the Trinity, but it seemed to me that the interaction changed when I asked about God being love. The respondent became more candid and reflective. It was no longer just a cerebral doctrinal debate. I’ve had similar dialogues with Muslims and Jews about a unitarian (single, solitary being; one God, one person) deity and the issue of love. Those who affirm a unitarian God (non-Christian theistic religions) have trouble responding to this argument about love. Non-trinitarian conceptions of God—a supreme, perfect being without needs—put him in a position of lacking someone to love and therefore requiring his creation for fulfillment.

Maybe the reason that this conversation takes on a unique dimension is that all of us want and need love, and especially the perfect love of God.

Think about this argument carefully and consider using it with those who deny the Trinity.

Reflections: Your Turn

How does God being a Trinity make a difference in your life as a Christian? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Gerald Bray, “8 Things We Can Learn from Augustine,” Crossway, November 16, 2015, crossway.org/articles/8-things-we-can-learn-from-st-augustine.

About Reasons to Believe

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Snapshot of Today’s Intellectual Climate

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – JULY 21, 2020

The extraordinary events of 2020 have left many people wondering if we are living in a new era. Times of change and conflict like this often provoke people to ask philosophical questions.

So, as we consider this present time in which we live, I would invite you to consider two probing questions:

If our time is indeed distinct, how would you describe it? In other words, what significant ideas, beliefs, and values uniquely reflect our present cultural climate?

Interestingly, the Germans have a special philosophical term for such reflection: zeitgeist. It means “the spirit of the age.” Drawn from the German words zeit, meaning “time,” and geist, meaning “spirit,” it references what philosophers call the general intellectual, moral, and cultural atmosphere of a given time period.

One person who I think has good insight on the zeitgeist of our age is Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. I heard George give a lecture at Trinity Law School in Southern California a number of years ago. It was an honor to hear him lecture and get to ask him questions personally. In a time filled with diverse opinions and perspectives, I recommend him as a reliable scholar who writes carefully and candidly about cultural issues from a historic Christian worldview perspective.

What follows are three of George’s provocative insights on education, culture, and human nature that I think capture important aspects of today’s intellectual climate and debate. I then offer some brief clarifying comments. As you read these quotes see if you think whether George has put his finger on the key issues happening today. As well, ask yourself what your thoughts are on these subjects. I’ve used these engaging remarks to spark substantive philosophical discussion, especially on social media.

  1. Does college provide education or indoctrination?

“Why can’t people understand the difference—and the importance of the difference—between education (good) and indoctrination (bad)? This is NOT hard. It is not a ‘fine line.’ Teaching young people HOW to think (carefully, critically) is different from telling them WHAT to think.”1

Education is the pursuit and discovery of knowledge, truth, and wisdom through critical analysis. The goal of education is for the student to develop the ability to form an independent, reasonable judgment of the topics studied.

Indoctrination, on the other hand, can mean mere instruction in a given topic, but it often carries the pejorative meaning of instilling ideas in an uncritical manner. Indoctrination stands closer to propaganda than to education.

As George notes, a good education teaches students how to think rather than telling them what to think. Much of the debate in our culture today about identity politics (the controversial topics relating to race, sex, and class) stems from college campuses. But, generally speaking, are colleges today educating or indoctrinating?

An acceptable approach to learning acknowledges the challenge of human prejudice and bias and seeks to promote a reasonable open-mindedness, an evenhandedness, and a basic fairness when considering topics. But discovering genuine knowledge and truth about life and the world is seldom without controversy and disagreement among people. So when topics are divided between viable positions, a sound model of education exposes students to a fair-minded discussion of both sides (including pros and cons) of a controversial issue. Unfortunately, propaganda tends to be manipulatively one-sided in perspective.

2. What mentality characterizes this present cultural age?

“If the medieval period was ‘the Age of Faith,’ and the Enlightenment was ‘the Age of Reason,’ we live in ‘the Age of Feeling.’”2

Today’s zeitgeist generally places a heavy emphasis on how people feel about things. Some even define reality according to how something affects their emotional state (called “post-truth”). This feelings-oriented mindset is common in educational institutions today, such as where George teaches in the Ivy League’s Princeton University, which in turn influences the larger societal conversation.

Yet, while emotions are an important and healthy part of our humanity, subjective feelings must be tested by objective facts and reason.

  1. How is human depravity to be explained?

“Even if I didn’t believe in God, I would believe in Satan and hell. There is no word to describe the trafficking of children—thousands of them—into prostitution except ‘satanic.’ And surely hell awaits the people responsible for so damnable a crime.”3

While secularism appears to be growing, especially in the academic institutions of the Western world, there’s still a foundational biblical principle that is virtually impossible to deny. It is the moral depravity of humankind. The genuine evil encountered in the world and in humans means we live in a moral universe that cries out for justice. While the problem of evil has traditionally been seen as an argument against God’s existence, it may actually be powerful evidence for a God who demands justice.

Whether you accept or reject George’s perspectives, I think he has identified and explored some of the key issues that reflect our current cultural climate.

Reflections: Your Turn

What ideas do you think characterize our present cultural moment? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes
  1. Robert P. George Tweet, @McCormickProf, 03/22/18.
  2. Robert P. George Tweet,‏ @McCormickProf, 09/10/17.
  3. Robert P. George Tweet, @McCormickProf, 06/09/19.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Why So Much Beauty?

BY HUGH ROSS – JUNE 1, 2020

Question of the week: Why is our planet so beautiful? Why is it so beautiful now?

My answer: I like to ask friends and associates who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ these questions. I like to take them to places of exceptional natural beauty and ask them to explain the beauty they are seeing. I like to ask them why they are enjoying the beauty so much. Why is it, if there is no God, that flowers are so gorgeous, trees so majestic, plants so extremely abundant and varied in their food production, beetles so varied and colorful (see If There Is a God, Why So Many Beetles?),1 and animals so playful? I like to ask my fellow astronomers why we call large spiral galaxies “grand design” galaxies and why the public so much enjoys looking through telescopes at planets and deep-sky objects. I like to ask theoretical physicists why the mathematics that describes the physics of our universe is so elegant and beautiful and why is it that the correct answers to physics problems are always the solutions expressed by the most beautiful and elegant equations.

The truth is that everywhere we look, we see an extravagance of beauty in nature. From a naturalistic perspective there is no explanation for such an exuberant display of beauty. Rather, it all testifies to a Creator for whom love, beauty, and elegance are key components of his being.

The extravagance of natural beauty we see now especially testifies of God’s love for humanity. As I explain in Improbable Planet, never before in the history of Earth has there been such spectacular natural beauty. Never before has there been such a diversity of life. Never before has Earth’s life been so eager to serve, please, and relate to human beings. That we humans happen to be here at the most beautiful moment in Earth’s history and simultaneously are endowed with a capacity to recognize and appreciate beauty is yet more evidence for a God who makes everything beautiful in its own time.

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, “If There Is a God, Why So Many Beetles?” Questions from Social Media (April 3, 2020), https://reasons.org/explore/publications/tnrtb/read/questions-from-social-media/2020/04/03/if-there-is-a-god-why-so-many-beetles.

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Reasons to Believe is a nonprofit organization designated as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)3 by the Internal Revenue Service. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Our tax ID is #33-0168048. All Transactions on our Web site are safe and secure.

Copyright 2020. Reasons to Believe. All rights reserved. Use of this website constitutes acceptance of our Privacy Policy.

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