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

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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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About Reasons to Believe

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Chilean Telescope Find Affirms Big Bang Creation Model

Chilean Telescope Find Affirms Big Bang Creation Model

BY HUGH ROSS – AUGUST 10, 2020

Many Christians affirm that God has given us two “books” in which he reveals himself the book of Scripture and the book of nature. The more we learn from the book of nature the more evidence we uncover for the trustworthiness and reliability of the book of Scripture. Two papers submitted to the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics by an international team of 140 astronomers provide a recent example.1 Results from this considerable research effort deliver yet another confirmation of the biblically predicted big bang cosmic creation model.

Big Bang Parameters in the Bible
Millennia before astronomers discovered that the universe has been continuously expanding from a cosmic creation event a finite time ago, seven different Bible authors described the four most fundamental features of what is now known as the big bang model for the universe:

  1. The universe had a beginning a finite time period ago, a beginning that included the creation of space and time.
  2. The universe has been expanding since the moment it began to exist.
  3. The laws that govern the universe are unchanging.
  4. One of the laws governing the universe is a pervasive law of decay, also known as the law of entropy or the second law of thermodynamics.

Interested readers will find the biblical basis for these four features in several places2 including this online article written by theologian John Reaand me and this online article commenting on what theologians living about a millennium ago wrote.4

Tracing the Creation Event
The two papers by the 140 astronomers present results from four years of observations using the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT). The ACT is located in the driest temperate region on Earth, Chile’s Atacama Desert, at an altitude of 5,190 meters (17,030 feet). The location and altitude were chosen to minimize water vapor contamination (average precipitation at the site is below 1 millimeter per year), the greatest barrier to millimeter-wavelength observations. Astronomers designed the ACT to make high-resolution maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), the radiation remaining from the cosmic creation event. This radiation is brightest at millimeter wavelengths, hence the need for a super-dry location. The more that astronomers are able to learn what this leftover radiation looks like, the more they will learn about features of the universe’s beginning.

With a 6-meter diameter primary mirror, the ACT ranks as the second largest telescope (the South Pole Telescope, with a similar mission, has a 10-meter diameter mirror) designed to map the CMBR (see figures 1 and 2). ACT’s goal is to map the CMBR at a resolution of about an arcminute down to a temperature sensitivity of a few millionths of a degree Celsius.

blog__inline--chilean-telescope-find-affirms-big-bang-1

Figure 1: Atacama Cosmology Telescope with Cerro Toco Mountain in the Background
Image credit: Ahinks, English Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution

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Figure 2: Atacama Cosmology Telescope Viewed from the Top of the Outer Protective Screen
Image credit: M. Devlin, University of Pennsylvania, released into the public domain

On July 16, 2020, the 140 astronomers presented arcminute resolution maps of the cosmic microwave background temperature and polarization anisotropy taken from observations made from 2013–2016. The maps cover more than 17,000 square degrees of the sky. For 600 square degrees of their maps the team achieved a temperature sensitivity well below 10 microdegrees per arcminute.

Cosmology Results
The maps produced the following cosmological results compared to results from the Planck satellite maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Note that the age of the universe is in billions of years; the cosmic expansion rate, a.k.a. the Hubble Constant, is in kilometers per second per megaparsec where 1 megaparsec = 3.26156 million light-years; and the cosmic density components are given as fractions of the total cosmic density.

Cosmological parameter ACT Planck ACT + Planck
age of the universe 13.832±0.047 13.791±0.025 13.791±0.021
cosmic expansion rate 67.9±1.5 67.51±0.61 67.53±0.56
dark energy density 0.696±0.022 0.6867±0.0084 0.6871±0.0078
total matter density 0.302±0.010 0.3118±0.0036 0.3115±0.0034

Astronomers appreciate maps like these of the CMBR because they provide the tightest cosmological constraints of any current data source. They reveal the state of the universe just 380,000 years after—an instant, in astronomical time—the cosmic creation event.

The researchers comment that “ACT and Planck measurements cover significantly different ranges of angular scales.”5 This means that the consistent results are even more striking. ACT offers improved E-mode polarization measurements, which is a geometric depiction of the flow of gravitational waves. Another reason for excitement is that the researchers attained one of ACT’s goals, which was to make a second, experimentally independent, set of measurements of cosmological parameters that are important for cosmic creation models based on the state of the universe when it was very young.

Big Bang Implications
The above table shows remarkable agreement between the ACT and Planck measurements. The cosmological parameters derived from the Planck maps were all consistent with the ΛCDM big bang creation model where ΛCDM implies that the universe is primarily dominated by dark energy and secondarily by cold dark matter. The ACT maps provide a second independent confirmation of the ΛCDM big bang model based on the CMBR.

When scientists achieve independent confirmations, they know a model is gaining strength. And yet, according to the international team, much more confirmation is coming. The team currently is analyzing four times as much data from observations made from 2017–2019. Beginning in 2020, the team has expanded the range of wavelengths over which they will be taking observations. By 2021, for the first time for any instrument, the cosmological constraints they can derive from polarization measurements will become more powerful than those derived from temperature measurements. This advance will provide additional consistency tests on cosmic creation models. However, already the team has provided results that demonstrate that the more we learn about the universe, the more evidence we accumulate for what the Bible has taught about the universe’s origin and history.

blog__inline--chilean-telescope-find-affirms-big-bang-3Featured image: a portion of one of the maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation observed by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope
Image credit: Atacama Cosmology Telescope collaboration

Endnotes
  1. Simone Aiola et al., “The Atacama Cosmology Telescope: DR4 Maps and Cosmological Parameters,” July 14, 2020 (preprint), arXiv:2007.07288v1, https://arxiv.org/pdf/2007.07288.pdf; Steve K. Choi et al., “The Atacama Cosmology Telescope: A Measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background Power Spectra at 98 and 150 GHz,” (July 14, 2020), arXiv:2007.07289v1, https://arxiv.org/pdf/2007.07289.pdf.
  2. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018), 25–31; Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, 2nd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 135–44, https://shop.reasons.org/product/280/a-matter-of-days.
  3. Hugh Ross and John Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Facts for Faith (quarter 3, 2000): 26–31, https://reasons.org/explore/publications/facts-for-faith/read/facts-for-faith/2000/07/01/big-bang-the-bible-taught-it-first!
  4. Hugh Ross, “Does the Bible Teach Big Bang Cosmology?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), August 26, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/08/26/does-the-bible-teach-big-bang-cosmology.
  5. Aiola et al., “Atacama Cosmology Telescope,” 30.

About Reasons to Believe

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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.

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Does a Religion’s Rapid Growth Mean It’s True?

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – JULY 7, 2020

Many religions claim high growth rates that are not merely due to population increases. If a religion acquires a large number of followers, does that growth count in favor of its truth claims? Christianity experienced rapid growth in its early period but so have many religions, including Islam and Mormonism. Is Christianity unique, and if so, how?

Fast-Growing Religions and Their Causes

Historically, Islam and Mormonism (Latter-day Saints) have undergone rapid growth in their early stages and have persisted throughout the years. Islam began in the seventh century and claims about 1.9 billion adherents (second to Christianity) while Mormonism began in the nineteenth century and claims over 16 million members. So one may wonder if this growth also supports their distinctive religious claims.

Islam has experienced enormous growth through the centuries but I think the causes of its specific emergence are diverse. It is true that Muhammad claimed to have received verbal divine messages (which would ultimately become the Qur’an), but his success in forming the religion of Islam also had to do with military and political factors combined with a distant connection to biblical revelation (back to Abraham through Ishmael instead of Isaac). In other words, it doesn’t seem that the religion of Islam emerged by the direct effect of Muhammad’s divine encounters alone. Nor does Islam’s rise point to a death and resurrection of the prophet.

The LDS church has experienced significant growth over almost two centuries. But again the cause seems more nuanced than that of Christianity. Founder Joseph Smith is said to have received a vision in 1823 where an angel, Moroni, spoke of golden plates that Smith would recover and which would become the Book of Mormon. Through Smith, God would restore the Christian church that had strayed from its primitive roots. However, it can be argued that apart from specific LDS truth claims, Mormonism’s worldwide growth is significantly dependent upon its claim to be Christianity’s authentic form. However, Mormonism’s prophet also died and remained dead.

Biblical Connections and Growth

Interestingly enough, both Islam and Mormonism claim to be the rightful fulfillment of biblical revelation by claiming the Jewish-Christian Scriptures (Bible) have been corrupted and compromised and are thus rescued by later revelation (either through the Qur’an [Islam] or the Book of Mormon [LDS]). Thus I think a big part of the attraction of Islam and Mormonism is their claimed connection to the Bible as well as their bold claim to be the Bible’s true revelatory heir. Yet orthodox Christianity views these two religions as serious departures (heretical sects) from biblical and Christian truth.

A Resurrection Movement

Christianity exploded on the scene in the ancient world. Within 300 years it dominated the entire Roman Empire and, over the course of two millennia, dominated all of Western civilization. Today it stands as the largest religion in the world with approximately 2.3 billion adherents.1 Though also deeply connected to the Hebrew Bible, in a very short time span, Christianity developed a distinct cultural and theological identity apart from that of traditional Judaism. According to the New Testament, the unique religion of Christianity came into being directly because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The apostles claimed having eyewitness experiences with Jesus. A merely crucified (dead) Messiah would be viewed by Jews as a false prophet and as cursed by God. According to the Scriptures, the apostles turned the world upside down with the truth of the resurrection, and the historic church emerged. This is why many have called the historic Christian church the community of the resurrection. Thus, the resurrection appears to be the central cause of Christianity’s sudden emergence.

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright observes that:

“Christianity began as a resurrection movement….There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief…. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”2

Growth vs Truth

While the historic emergence of Islam and Mormonism require an explanation, in comparison with Christianity I think the issue is not so much the growth as it is the initial causal explanation for the emergence of the religion. Sociocultural factors along with claims to biblical connections may have contributed greatly to the rise of Islam and Mormonism regardless of their specific truth claims (actions of Muhammad and Smith).

If the resurrection didn’t cause the emergence of Christianity, what did? There seems to be no other adequate natural explanation. Thus the heart of historic Christianity is found in the remarkable happenings of the first Easter Sunday.3

Reflections: Your Turn

Do you see any difference between how these religions began? Given that all three claim connections to the Hebrew Bible maybe it is best to evaluate the claims and lives of the particular religious leaders who promoted these faiths (Jesus [or the apostles], Muhammad, Joseph Smith) in light of the Old Testament. Which figure best reflects biblical truth and which figure is backed up by the evidence surrounding their specific historical claim? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

One way to learn more about the specific religions of Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism is to read the New Testament, the Qur’an, and the Book of Mormon.

Endnotes
  1. Conrad Hackett and David McClendon, “Christians Remain World’s Largest Religious Group, but They Are Declining in Europe,” Pew Research Center (April 5, 2017), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/.
  2. T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” NTWright page, accessed June 30, 2020, http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/christian-origins-and-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-resurrection-of-jesus-as-a-historical-problem/.
  3. See Kenneth Samples, “A Dozen Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus,” Reflections (March 27, 2018), https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/a-dozen-evidences-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus/.

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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Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

BY FAZALE RANA – JULY 8, 2020

How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 104:24

I don’t remember who pointed out thedarksideofnature Instagram account to me, but their description was intriguing enough that I had to check it out. After perusing a few posts, I ended up adding myself to the list of followers.

I can’t say I enjoy the photos and videos posted by thedarksideofnature—which depict nature “red in tooth and claw”—but I do find them mesmerizing. Their website states that it is “all about showing the world a different side of nature. A side that may not be the prettiest, but it is the realist.”

The posts from thedarksideofnature are a stark reminder of the dichotomy in the animal kingdom, simultaneously beautiful and brutal, highlighting the majesty and the power—and danger—of the world of nature. For many people the beauty, majesty, and power of nature evince a Creator’s handiwork. For others, nature’s brutality serves as justifiable cause for rejecting God’s existence. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God create a world in which animal pain and suffering appears to be gratuitous?

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the seemingly senseless cruelty of nature more so than the widespread occurrence of filial (relating to offspring) cannibalism and filial abandonment among animals. Many animals eat their young or consume eggs after laying them. Others abandon their young, condemning them to certain death.

What an unimaginably cruel feature of nature. Why would God create animals that eat their offspring or abandon their young?

Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

What if there are good reasons for God to permit pain and suffering to exist in the animal kingdom? Scientific research seems to offer several reasons.

For example, some studies reveal purpose for animal pain and suffering. Others demonstrate that animal death promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability. There are even studies that provide reasons for filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment (see the Resources section, below). Most recently, a team of investigators from Europe and Australia provide additional reasons why animals would consume their own offspring.1

These researchers didn’t set out to study filial cannibalism. Instead, they sought to understand why the comb jelly, native to the Atlantic coast of North America, has been so successful at colonizing new habitats. For example, this invasive species has made its way into the Baltic Sea, which has longer periods of low food availability compared to the comb jelly’s native habitat. The comb jelly has adapted to the food shortage by engaging in behavior that, at first blush, is counterintuitive and seems to be counterproductive. As it enters into the late season, when the prey field begins to empty, the comb jelly makes a massive investment in reproduction, even though the larval offspring have virtually no chance of survival. In fact, after three weeks the comb jelly progeny stop growing, then shrink in size, and die.

 

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Figure: Comb Jelly. Credit: Shutterstock

As it turns out, the late season wave of reproduction explains the comb jelly’s success as an invasive species. The researchers learned that the bloom of offspring serve as a food source for the comb jelly adults, replacing the disappearing prey. In other words, as the comb jelly’s available prey begins to decline in number, the jellies reproduce on a large scale with the juveniles serving as a nutrient store that lasts for an additional three weeks beyond the collapse of the prey fields. While this short duration may not seem like much, it affords the comb jelly an opportunity to outcompete other marine life during this window of time, ecologically making the difference between the flourishing and the decline of the species.

Instead of viewing the filial cannibalism among the comb jelly in sinister terms, the investigators found it to be an ingenious design. They argue that the comb jelly population appears to be working together as a single organism. According to research team member Thomas Larsen:

“In some ways, the whole jelly population is acting like a single organism, with the younger groups supporting the adults through times of nutrient stress. Overall, it enables jellies to persist through extreme events and low food periods, colonizing further than climate conditions and other conditions would usually allow.”2

In effect, the filial cannibalism observed for the comb jelly is no different than the autophagy and apoptosis observed in multicellular organisms, in which individual cells are consumed for the overall benefit of the organism.

Filial Cannibalism and the Logical Problem of Evil

These insights into the adaptive value of filial cannibalism for the comb jelly help address the logical problem of natural evil. As part of the problem of natural evil, questions arise about God’s existence and goodness because of brutality in the animal kingdom. Many skeptics view the problem of evil as an insurmountable challenge for Christian theism:

  1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
  2. Therefore, we would expect good designs in nature.
  3. Yet, nature is brutal, with animals experiencing an undue amount of pain and suffering.
  4. Therefore, God either does not exist or is not good.

Skeptics argue that this final observation about nature is logically incompatible with God’s existence, or, minimally with God’s goodness. In other words, because of natural evil either God doesn’t exist or He isn’t good. Either way, Christian theism is undermined. But what if there is a good reason—as research shows—for pain and suffering to exist in nature? We could modify the syllogism this way:

  1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
  2. Therefore, we would expect good designs in nature.
  3. There are good reasons for God to allow pain and suffering in the animal realm.
  4. Animal death, pain, and suffering are part of nature.

In other words, if there are good reasons for animal pain and suffering, then God’s existence and goodness are logically coherent with animal pain and suffering. Also, who is to say that pain and suffering in the animal kingdom is excessive? How could anyone possibly know?

The God of Skepticism or the God of the Bible?

When considering the problem of natural evil, it is important to distinguish between the God of naturalistic philosophy and the God of the Bible. Though some philosophers may see pain and suffering in the animal realm as a reason to question God’s existence and goodness, the authors of Scripture had a different perspective. They saw animal death as part of the good creation and a reason to praise and celebrate God as Creator and Provider.3 The insights from science about the importance of animal death to ecosystems, and the adaptive value of pain and suffering provide the rationale for calling these features of nature “good.”

All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

Psalm 104:27–30

Resources

Animal Death and the Problem of Evil

The Argument from Beauty

Endnotes
  1. Jamileh Javidpour et al., “Cannibalism Makes Invasive Comb Jelly, Mnemiopsis leidyi, Resilient to Unfavorable Conditions,” Communications Biology 3 (2020): 212, doi:10.1038/s42003-020-0940-2.

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 »

Support Reasons to Believe

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The Battle For Our Minds

By Will Myers

The secular humanist gruff at the thought of the biblical prophecy of 666 which is to be planted in the forehead of each person enabling them to trade and participate in the capitalistic system.  The modern day interpretation of this is a chip shall be installed in every person.

At present, we have the gold standard for our economy in order to back our paper currency. This gold system is founded on the human’s love for gold. If humans suddenly lost their love for money then the economy would collapse; the paper would be just that. We can have the love for Christ Jesus to be our standard, and this would be a more perfect system. This is not so far fetched when we observe the human secularists are moving toward the chip being planted on each person which is commonly called electronic point of purchase using a credit card. The chip is ready and is being experimented in the field. From this activity, special interest groups (SIG) collects private, sensitive information on each private citizen. SIG also has the capabilities of giving  credit or debit to any person thus eliminating the paper currency or even the credit card.  The standard would have moved from the gold standard or any other standard and unto SIG who would begin to be our god.

The SIG snake organization’s goal is to bring in hyper-communism whereas the government virtually owns the mind of each citizen. With this in mind, we can clearly understand why God and Jesus has been pushed out of public schools, workplaces, and now the nation. SIG knows that founding of America favored the concept that nothing, no one, no group, and no government shall place itself between the citizen and it’s God.

The SIG organization has crept back since the decapitating actions of the McCarthy Committee on un-American activity. I notice that SIG has been screaming of how inhumane the committee’s actions were. I have realized that SIG is protecting itself while, once again, attempting to steal our free democracy with civil liberties. The SIG snake organization is the cause of school mass killings, workplace killings, and mass killings in other venues in our nation.

The battle for our mind is not between God and Satan because no entity can challenge God; the battle is between Satan and ourselves. Do we accept Satan or Christ Jesus as our gold standard in the spiritual realm and the natural realm.

 

 

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