Reflections on the Ark Encounter

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

Yesterday, I toured the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter with my wife and a friend. I wanted to visit the encounter as soon as it opened, but because of trips to Italy and China, yesterday was the first opportunity we had. I didn’t know what to expect, so I went in with an open mind.

I originally thought the Ark Encounter would be like the Creation Museum, with a parking lot close to the entryway. I was wrong. When we parked and got out of the car, we could see the ark, but it was a long way off. A building in the parking lot served as a “bus terminal,” where we were picked up and taken to the Ark itself.

When we got off the bus, my first thought was, “Wow. That’s big.” I have seen many models of the Ark over the years, and they all attempt to give you an idea of how big it was, usually by having scale models of trucks or elephants beside it. However, there is simply no substitute for seeing the massive structure built to its actual dimensions! Answers in Genesis bills the Ark as the largest timber-framed structure in the world, and I can believe that. *

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A Real-Life Example of The Prodigal Son

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni

Over the many years since I became a Christian, I have heard hundreds of sermons. Some were given by impeccably-credentialed theologians, others by intellectual philosophers, others by experienced scientists, and others by regular people who were honestly sharing what God had laid on their hearts. Most of them, of course, were given by pastors who have dedicated themselves to studying and explaining the Word of God. While I have learned from many of those sermons, only a precious few made such a lasting impact that I can remember them to this day. The sermon I heard yesterday, however, is one I will never forget. It was given by a student from Anderson University who has been leading the children’s ministry at our church. This young lady, who is still in the midst of finishing her undergraduate degree, shared a powerful message that brought me (and many others in the congregation) to tears.

The main text of her message was the parable of The Prodigal Son, which is given in Luke 15:11-32. I have heard many, many, many sermons that used this parable as its main text. This one, however, was different. It gave a personal, real-life example of a father, his prodigal son, and the rest of his family. More importantly, this young lady was the prodigal son’s sister, and her father’s actions taught her (and the congregation at our church) what it really means to show the love of Jesus.

When this young lady was 13, her brother had a sexual relationship with a foster daughter who was living with her family. The foster daughter became pregnant, but no one knew. Her brother and the foster daughter conspired to accuse her father of molesting the foster daughter. It was all done so convincingly that this young lady believed her brother’s accusation, despite her father’s protestations of innocence. She was taken away from her family because of the allegations, and a restraining order was put in place so that her father could not see her.

Because of many things that happened over the next few months, it became clear to her that her father was, in fact, innocent, and that her brother had done the unthinkable: he had betrayed their entire family for his own selfish reasons. She eventually got to live with her mother again, and her father fought to get the restraining order lifted. That was eventually successful, so she at least got to see her father, but in the end, her father went to jail (where he is to this day) for a crime that he did not commit.

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A Desperate Attempt to Solve an Intractable Problem

Artist's conception of a large asteroid hitting the earth (click for credit)

Artist’s conception of a large asteroid hitting the earth (click for credit)

One of the many problems associated with an ancient earth is the young, faint sun. In a nutshell, we think we understand the way a star produces energy, and based on this understanding, a star starts off dim and grows brighter over time. Based on what we know, then, the sun should have been about 25% dimmer 3.8 billion years ago, when most evolutionists think life first emerged on earth. However, if the sun really were 25% dimmer back then, the earth would be far too frigid to support life.

This problem has been recognized for more than 40 years now, and evolutionists have worked hard on it (see here and here), but a solution has remained elusive. However, a recent paper has proposed a possible solution, and I found it interesting, because it illustrates exactly how desperate evolutionists are to get rid of this intractable problem.

In essence, the paper says that the way to fix the problem is to have earth pummeled by very large (greater than 100 kilometers in diameter) asteroids. They are so large that the authors call them “planetesimals”:

Planetesimals exceeding 100 km in diameter pummeled the early Earth for hundreds of Myr, resulting in large volumes of melt produced both by immediate depressurization and by subsequent mantle convection driven by the impact.

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CRISPR – A Gene-Editing Technology with Promise and Peril

CRISPR, teamed up with Cas9, is a powerful gene-editing tool. (click for credit)

CRISPR, teamed up with Cas9, is a powerful gene-editing tool. (click for credit)

Not too long ago, a reader sent me an email that said:

I just found out about CRISPR and Cas9. From what I have learned about them they are very powerful and will lead to great things (good and terrible alike).

I was wondering if you could write a blog article on them when you get a chance. I would love to hear your perspective.

The reader is exactly right. CRISPR and Cas9 team up to make a powerful gene-editing tool that has incredible potential. While much of that potential is positive, some of it is quite negative.

To best understand the good and the bad of CRISPR and Cas9, you need to know what they are and what they can do together. CRISPR stands for “clustered regular interspaced short palindromic repeats.” Originally discovered in bacteria, it is a strand of RNA that is hooked to a CRISPR-associated protein, called a “Cas.” Cas9 is just one possible protein that can be associated with CRISPR, but it is the one that is most commonly used.

If your eyes are already glazing over, stick with me, because it’s important to understand how this works. RNA is a molecule that links to DNA. A specific RNA molecule targets a specific sequence of DNA. So, if you construct an RNA molecule correctly, it can search an entire DNA molecule, looking for a specific DNA sequence. It can then attach itself to that sequence. That’s what the RNA strand on CRISPR does. It is sometimes called “guide RNA,” because it guides the Cas9 protein to a specific part of an organism’s DNA. Consider the following illustration:

Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9 finding a DNA sequence (taken from the video posted at the end of this article)

Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9 finding a DNA sequence
(taken from the video posted at the end of this article)

In the illustration, the guide RNA has found the DNA sequence that it was made to target. Since Cas9 is attached to the guide RNA, it is now positioned at a specific place in the DNA molecule.

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Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Is a Fake

The papyrus fragment that is now known as 'The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.' (click for credit)

The papyrus fragment that is now known as ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’ (click for credit)

I am in China right now, and I have been here for almost two weeks. However, internet access is sporadic (at best), which is why I haven’t added any articles recently. Things are a bit better today, though, so I thought I would share my thoughts on a story I recently ran across.

On September 18th, 2012 at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, Dr. Karen L. King announced the existence of an astounding 4-cm by 8-cm papyrus fragment. It contained what she thought was a 4th-century Coptic translation of a gospel that she suggested had probably been written in the late second century AD. While the discovery of any ancient papyrus that has writing on it is interesting, this particular fragment was especially interesting because it contained the following phrase:

Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…”

As a result, this papyrus fragment came to be known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

In a peer-reviewed paper that was later published in the Harvard Theological Review, Dr. King presented the results of several tests that had been done on the papyrus fragment. Those tests led her to conclude that it was from the 8th century AD and was not a forgery. In the same issue of the journal, however, another scholar wrote an article concluding that the papyrus was a forgery. The Vatican weighed in as well, dismissing the fragment as a “clumsy forgery.”

Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about the papyrus fragment, and a website was set up to provide all of the latest information about it. Based on subsequent tests done on the fragment and its ink, Dr. King became so convinced that the fragment is authentic that she told Time:

I’m basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?’

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Galileo and his Thermometer

Galileo's thermometer (left) and a closeup of the tube (right).

Galileo’s thermometer (left) and a closeup of the tube (right).

If you read my two previous posts (here and here), you know that my wife and I were recently in Italy, and I was really inspired by some of the things I saw. The art and history are amazing, but for me, one of the major highlights of this visit to Italy was seeing the Galileo Museum. It is filled with scientific instruments and lecture demonstration equipment from the past, and seeing those things helped me to understand the sheer genius of the natural philosophers (scientists) who learned an enormous amount about Creation without the help of fancy, technological gadgets. Instead, they relied on their creativity and their physical insight.

Consider, for example, the glass piece pictured on the far left. It consists of a small vessel, a long, narrow tube rising up from the vessel, and a small bulb at the top of the tube. Believe it or not, that’s a thermometer. Actually, it is more properly called a “thermoscope,” and the first one was designed by Galileo (with the help of some other natural philosophers) in 1593.* Until that time, it was difficult to make any systematic measurement of temperature. People could tell whether it was hot, warm, cool, or cold, of course, but they couldn’t make precise measurements of how hot, warm, cool, or cold it was.

In the late 1500s, Galileo came up with an ingenious solution. He understood that air expanded when it was warmed and contracted when it was cooled. He decided to use that fact to get an accurate measurement of the change in temperature. He designed a device similar to the one above, in which water filled the bottom vessel and ran partway up the thin tube. When the surroundings warmed up, the air above the water (in the tube and in the bulb at the top) expanded, and that pushed the water down the tube. When the surroundings cooled, the air above the water contracted, and that pulled water up the tube.

In other words, the higher the water climbed in the tube, the lower the temperature. By making tiny marks on the side of the tube (shown in the right-hand portion of the picture at the top of this post), he could assign a number to the water’s height. This allowed him to accurately measure changes in temperature. In my elementary science book, Science in the Scientific Revolution, I have students make a very simple version of Galileo’s thermometer with water, a glass, and a plastic bottle.

A clever variation on Galileo's thermometer.

A clever variation on Galileo’s thermometer.

A major drawback of Galileo’s thermometer is that it must be very tall to measure large changes in temperature. While at the Galileo museum, however, I saw a very clever way of getting around that problem, which is shown in the picture on the left. Instead of a tall, straight tube, this thermometer’s tube is a spiral. That way, the water still can travel a long distance through the tube, but the device isn’t absurdly tall. As soon as I saw this device, I thought, “Of course. What an ingenious way of getting around the height problem.”

Despite the fact that I understood exactly how this variation on Galileo’s thermometer would work and why it was superior to the original design, I doubt that I would have ever come up with it on my own. I’m simply not that clever. However, Galileo and the natural philosophers of his day were. The more I learn about people like Galileo, the more I appreciate how intelligent the great thinkers of the past were. Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s possible that they were actually smarter than we are today.

NOTE:

*Please note that a device like this one is often called a “Galileo thermometer,” but Galileo had nothing to do with its design.
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The Interesting Story of Galileo’s Tomb

Galileo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy (click for larger image)

Galileo’s tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy (click for larger image)

My wife and I are currently in Italy, and I can’t express what it means to actually see some of the things I have been writing about. In one of my elementary science books, Science in the Scientific Revolution, I spend 8 lessons discussing Galileo Galilei, who lived from 1564 to 1642. He was the greatest natural philosopher (scientist) of his day, and he set the stage for Sir Isaac Newton, who would revolutionize the study of physics forever.

While he aided our understanding of many aspect of Creation, he is best known for his contributions to astronomy. Based on a friend’s description of a Danish “spyglass,” Galileo made a telescope and used it in his study of the heavens. He discovered sunspots, the four largest moons of Jupiter, mountains and valleys on the moon, and most importantly, the phases of Venus. The moons of Jupiter as well as the phases of Venus supported the idea championed by Copernicus – that the earth orbited the sun, which sat at the center of the universe.

In an effort to communicate these things to other natural philosophers, he wrote a book entitled Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Even though it was accepted by two different Roman Catholic censors (one in Rome and one in Florence), it was eventually used by certain members of the Roman Catholic church to put him on trial. The ruling based on the trial declared that Galileo was:

…vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine – which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures – that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world…

As punishment, he was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

(If you want a more detailed discussion of this saga, I have one here.)

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Insightful Words from Michelangelo

The Florence Pieta by Michelangelo (click for larger image)

The Florence Pieta by Michelangelo
(click for larger image)

My wife and I are currently in Italy. Yesterday we reached our favorite Italian city, Florence. We had visited it once before, but for less than a day. There is so much art and history here, however, that such a short visit didn’t even allow us to scratch the surface. This time, we are here for a total of four nights, so we can explore the city much better.

Today, one of the many places we visited was the New Opera del Duomo Museum. It holds many artifacts related to the Cathedral of Florence, as well as many works of sacred art. It had a piece by Michelangelo that I had never heard of before – the piece pictured on the left. It is Michelangelo’s Florence Pieta, which is quite different from his most famous Pieta. He had intended it to mark his own grave, but he got frustrated with it and intentionally broke it. After he died, it was restored by Tiberius Calcagni, an apprentice to Francesco Bandini. The piece contains the body of Christ taken down from the cross, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary. Most historians say that the face of Nicodemus is a self-portrait of Michelangelo.

While the piece is magnificent and was a complete surprise to me, there was something else in the exhibit that was even more magnificent (in my estimation) and even more of a surprise. It was a piece written by the master artist himself near the end of his life. While his words are about him and his profession, I think they can apply to anyone who has a devotion to his or her career:

The course of my life has now brought me
through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,
to the common port where, landing,
we account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that now I clearly see
how wrong the fond illusion was
that made art my idol and my king
leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy:
what sense have they, now that I approach two deaths-
the first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm
my soul turned to that divine love
that to embrace us opened his arms upon the cross.

(Timothy Verdon, The New Opera del Duomo Museum, Mandragora 2015, pp.64-66)

Flowers Use Electricity to Communicate With Bees!

A bumblebee on a flower (click for credit)

A bumblebee on a flower (click for credit)

Most people know about the incredible relationship that exists between bees and flowers. Flowers produce pollen and nectar, which the bees love. So the bees come to the flower to collect them. Because a single bee visits several different flowers, it ends up passing pollen from one flower to another, which is the way flowering plants reproduce. In this way, flowering plants feed bees, while bees aid in the plants’ reproduction.

There are several means by which flowers attract bees, such as shape, scent, color, and even ultraviolet-reflective patterns. Over the past few years, researchers have found an additional one: electricity. Back in 2013, researchers determined that while bumblebees develop a positive charge, flowers tend to develop a negative charge. In addition, different species of flowers produce different patterns of negative charges. Using some pretty clever experimental techniques, the researchers showed that bumblebees use those patterns of negative charges to help them identify the best sources of nectar and pollen.1

Most of those same researchers now report that they have identified how the bumblebees detect the electrical charges displayed by flowers. They use the hairs (called filiform hairs) that cover their bodies. While these hairs detect motion and sound, the authors showed that they also respond to electric fields. The way they respond allows the bees to “read” the electric field on a flower.2

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Deer Sense the Earth’s Magnetic Field

A herd of roe deer on snow.  (Click for credit)

A herd of roe deer on snow. (Click for credit)

There are many animals that sense the earth’s magnetic field. Monarch butterflies, for example, sense the magnetic field and use it to aid in navigation during their amazing migration.1. Salmon seem to “imprint” a picture of the earth’s magnetic field at the point where they enter the ocean, and they later use that imprint to navigate back to that same point when they return to their birthplace to spawn. Homing pigeons also sense the earth’s magnetic field and use it as a part of their navigation.

Years ago, I read about a study that seemed to say cattle tend to align with the earth’s magnetic field while they graze. It perplexed many scientists, and some didn’t want to believe it. After all, cattle don’t navigate long distances! Why in the world would they need to sense the earth’s magnetic field? However, the study seemed to stand up to scrutiny. When I am speaking, I often use it as an example of experimental data that make no sense, but nevertheless seem to be true. I further suggest that rather than fighting against the conclusion of the study, someone should try to figure out why cattle seem to have a magnetic sense.

Well, no one (to my knowledge) has done that for cattle, but someone has done it for roe deer, which are pictured above. Roe deer tend to congregate in flat areas, so their herds are easy to watch from a distance. Researchers studied them in 60 different locations in three hunting grounds in the Czech Republic. They observed the way the deer faced while they were grazing and, more importantly, how the deer reacted when they were startled.

They found that the deer tend to align their bodies along north/south magnetic field lines while grazing. Then, when startled, they tend to run north or south, regardless of the direction from which the threat comes. These behaviors were more pronounced when the deer were in large herds.2

Why do the deer bother sensing the earth’s magnetic field? Based on their observations, the authors suggest:

…an important function of this behavior is to coordinate the movement in the group, to keep the common course of escape when frightened and to maintain the cohesion of the group.

In other words, it helps the deer escape without running into one another, and it helps them regroup once the threat is gone.

The authors say that this is the first confirmed case of mammals using the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. I suspect that it is merely the first of many. The more I learn about Creation, the more in awe I am of its Creator.

REFERENCES

1. Patrick A Guerra, Robert J Gegear, & Steven M Reppert, “A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migration,” Nature Communications 5:4164, 2014, doi:10.1038/ncomms5164
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2. Petr Obleser, Vlastimil Hart, E. Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Michaela Holá, Michael S. Painter, Jaroslav Červený, and Hynek Burda, “Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 06 June 2016, DOI:10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y
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