I received an E-MAIL from a student a few days ago. He had just finished Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design, in which the authors claim that God is not necessary in order to explain the universe. While I have not read the book yet, reviews (even from non-Christian sources) are far from flattering.
The student informed me that Hawking and Mlodinow credit the Ionian Greeks with the discovery of natural laws. This confused him, because in my book, Exploring Creation with General Science, I make it very clear that modern science was born out of Christianity. This is because the concept that nature operates according to strict laws is a natural consequence of the fact that it was created by a Supreme Lawgiver. Without the concept of a law-giving Creator, there would have been no reason to search for natural laws. Indeed, as Dr. Stanley Jaki tells us:1
…the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a breakthrough in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws
The search for the laws that govern nature was inspired by Christianity, and as a result, modern science is a product of Christianity.
So what of the Ionian Greeks? Did they do something related to natural laws? Not really. They did do something related to science, however, and their contribution should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, it needs to be put in the proper context.
Dr. Lynn Margulis is a very interesting person. When she was a young scientist, she wrote a paper entitled “On the origin of mitosing cells.” It was rejected by several scientific journals, but it was eventually published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology more than 40 years ago. In that paper, she proposed an endosymbiotic theory for the origin of eukaryotic cells.1 If you don’t recognize that term, there are two basic kinds of cells in creation: prokaryotic and eukaryotic. Just as the human body has distinct, smaller organs that each perform specific functions, eukaryotic cells have distinct, smaller organelles that each perform specific functions. Prokaryotic cells are smaller than eukaryotic cells and do not have distinct organelles. While humans, animals, plants, and many microscopic organisms are made of eukaryotic cells, bacteria are made of a single prokaryotic cell.
In her paper, which is now considered a landmark publication, she put forth the idea that the organelles in eukaryotic cells formed because one prokaryotic cell engulfed another, and they both somehow survived to work together. The engulfed cell became the organelle, while the cell that did the engulfing became the first rudimentary eukaryotic cell. While this idea did not originate with Dr. Margulis, her landmark paper was the first to provide biochemical data that supported the view. As a result, she has gotten the lion’s share of the credit for the endosymbiotic theory of the origin of eukaryotic cells.
Now there are serious problems with her theory. For example, she makes much of the fact that mitochondria (eukaryotic organelles that power the cell) are similar to bacteria. As a result, it should make sense that mitochondria were actual bacteria at one time. However, the similarities are rather trivial. There are significant structural and biochemical differences between the two, which makes the idea that mitochondria came from bacteria quite untenable. Nevertheless, endosymbiotic theory is currently the consensus view among evolutionists for how eukaryotic cells arose. Thus, it is not surprising that Dr. Margulis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.
While the problems associated with endosymbiotic theory are interesting, what really fascinates me is how two well-known evolutionists have reacted to her recent interview, published in Discover Magazine.
I write and speak a lot about mutualism (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Not only do I find it to be incredibly fascinating, but I also think it is a clear indication that the living things we see around us have been designed. Indeed, the various ways in which two or more organisms work together to survive are often so intricate and precise it seems crystal clear to me that these mutualistic partners were made for each other.
One of the very common types of mutualism you see in creation involves microorganisms inhabiting and helping plants, animals, and people. As I mentioned in a previous post, for example, our bodies are teeming with microorganisms, and without them, we would not be nearly as healthy. Animals and plants also harbor an amazing variety of microorganisms, which help them do such diverse things as digest cellulose (in the case of termites) and resist heat (in the case of panic grass). Well, I recently came across yet another example of mutualism between an animal and a microorganism, and it adds yet another level of complexity to the process.
Scorpions are part of phylum Arthropoda, which contains all animals that do not have backbones but do have an outer coating of “armor,” which scientists call an exoskeleton. This exoskeleton is a complex structure that is formed primarily with proteins and a molecule called chitin (pronounced KY tin). While the scorpions we know today live on land, the fossil record holds remains of some very scorpion-like animals that most likely lived in water. They are called eurypterids, or sea scorpions.
As far as we know, sea scorpions are now extinct, but you can find their fossils in rocks near the bottom of the geological column. Using scientifically irresponsible dating techniques, paleontologists think that the oldest sea scorpion fossils are well over 400 million years old.1 Evolutionists think that those sea scorpions eventually found their way out of the water and invaded land, evolving into modern-day scorpions.
So why am I telling you this? Well, a new report published in Geology tells us about a surprising discovery made by scientists who were studying a sea scorpion fossil they say is 417 million years old and a land scorpion fossil they say is 310 million years old. This discovery casts a lot of doubt on those outlandish ages.
In a previous post, I mentioned that some Christians don’t like the idea of quantum mechanics. In fact, some take great pains to fight against it, considering it a threat to a Christian worldview. Whether or not you like a theory, however, has little to do with its validity. Only the data are important, and when it comes to the data, there is overwhelming support for the validity of quantum mechanics. As a result, it’s hard to fight against it. In fact, a recent study suggests that rather than fight against it, we should marvel at how God has used it to accomplish some truly incredible things.
The study focused on how European robins sense the earth’s magnetic field. Lots of animals have been shown to be sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field, and they use it to help them navigate. In some cases, such as that of the rainbow trout, it has been shown that the animal does this with magnetite particles in a certain tissue. Those particles move in response to the earth’s magnetic field, allowing the animal to use them to orient itself.1
Migratory birds and homing pigeons have also been shown to be sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field. Magnetite has even been found in the upper beaks of such birds, which lends support to the idea that they sense the earth’s magnetic field in a way that is similar to that of the rainbow trout.2 Oddly enough, however the magnetic sensitivity of these birds is affected by light. Yellow and red light, for example, disrupt the birds’ ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field.3 This is more than a little odd, since the motion of magnetite in a magnetic field should not be affected by light.
I am not sure how this ever made it past the reviewers, but an article in the January 28, 2011 issue of the journal Science discussed research from an intelligent design standpoint. The article reports on research done by Hans-Peter Uerpmann and his colleagues. They were excavating a rock shelter at the end of a long limestone mountain near Al-Madam, Sharjah Emirate (of the UAE), and they found stones that were shaped rather differently than most of the other stones in that same area. Most of them were tapered at one end and curved at the other, and there were specific surfaces that seemed perfectly suited for fingers to hold onto the stones.1 The research is considered important, because if the results stand up to scrutiny, they upset current ideas regarding the migration of human beings out of Africa.
It is hard to keep track of the evolutionary model of the origin of human beings, because it changes abruptly every time new data cannot be forced into compliance. Nevertheless, the evolutionary view currently accepted by the majority of evolutionists is that modern human beings evolved in Africa and then started migrating from there about 50,000-75,000 years ago. Dr. Uerpmann’s research team, however, found these stones in the Arabian peninsula, and based on scientifically irresponsible dating techniques, they claim the stones are 125,000 years old.
As was the case with his other two lectures, Dr. Plantinga began with a couple of funny stories. He then jumped into the topic at hand, which is how science should deal with divine action in the world. Not surprisingly, there are many who think that any consideration of God taking action in this world is an assault on science. For example, he quoted Dr. H. Allen Orr, a professor of Biology at my alma mater (The University of Rochester), as saying:
It’s not that some sects of one religion invoke miracles, but that many sects of many religions do…I agree of course that no sensible scientist can tolerate such exceptionalism with respect to the laws of nature.
Surprisingly, enough, however, there are many theologians who have the same view. Dr. Plantinga noted that Rudolf Karl Bultmann (a Lutheran theologian), John Macquarrie (an Anglican theologian), and Langdon Brown Gilkey (an American Protestant theologian) all agree that modern science forbids God to do any miraculous works. As Dr. Plantinga noted, these theologians believe that since God put the natural laws in place, even He cannot break them.
Dr. Alvin C. Plantinga is arguably the most important Christian philosopher alive today. Best known for his works in epistemology, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics, he is widely credited for the revitalization of Christian philosophy that took place in the mid-to-late 1900s. Indeed, a 1980 Time Magazine article reported on the remarkable resurgence that had occurred in religious philosophy and gave Plantinga the lion’s share of the credit for it, calling him “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.” Thanks to a member of my church, I found out that he would be lecturing at Taylor University, which is only about 35 minutes from my home. I was incredibly excited to hear such an amazing servant of God, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
His first talk was entitled, “Science and Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies.” He started his lecture with several witticisms. For example, many people are surprised to learn that although he is a Protestant, he is currently on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic institution. He says many people wonder why he left his faculty position at Calvin College to go to Notre Dame. “It’s actually quite simple,” he said, “I wanted to become Pope, and there has never been a pope from any university with the name Calvin.” He said he thought it would be fun to be the first Protestant Pope, and the University of Notre Dame would help him get closer to that goal. But he said he quickly found out that “becoming Pope is harder than you might think,” so his dream is still not realized.
I actually think I understand why Dr. Plantinga went from a Calvinist college to a Roman Catholic university. Like all deep thinkers, he understands that in order to be truly educated, we must look at issues from a variety of perspectives. I think part of the reason he ended up as a Protestant philosopher at a Roman Catholic university was so that he could see various aspects of Christian philosophy from a different perspective. I find that quite laudable.
In September, I discussed some of the scientific findings regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed hundreds of millions of gallons of water into the Gulf of Mexico. Those findings were quite encouraging. They showed that the ocean’s natural “cleanup crew” was busy trying to mitigate the damage that we did to the gulf. They demonstrated that the populations of bacteria rose and fell depending on what kinds of hydrocarbons were present in the ocean. This demonstrated there was a good chance that bacteria could take care of most of the oil that was released into the Gulf.
There was one nagging problem, however. While many of the hydrocarbons that were released into the Gulf were being destroyed by bacteria, the lightest hydrocarbon (methane) seemed to be persisting stubbornly. A study of the lighter hydrocarbons in the Gulf, which was published in October of last year, showed that very little methane from the spill had been destroyed.1 In fact, one of the authors of the study said that the results indicated:
methane would persist for many, many years, if not almost a decade.2
Well, it turns out that this particular scientist (and those who agreed with him) just didn’t have enough faith in the ocean’s natural cleanup crew!
Last year, I posted my take on Dr. Craig Venter’s amazing accomplishment in which he copied the genome of one bacterium and transplanted it into a different (but very similar) species of bacterium whose DNA had been removed. It was a marvel of biochemistry, but as I pointed out, it clearly demonstrates the impossibility of abiogenesis (the fantasy that life originated by natural processes). One commenter announced that my claim was bogus and undermined my credibility. He further said that the claim was “infantile and wrong on so many levels.”
Well, I guess there are now at least two PhD chemists whose credibilities have been undermined and who are “infantile and wrong on so many levels.” It turns out that Dr. Fazale Rana, a PhD chemist (with emphasis on biochemistry), also takes the same position in his book, Creating Life in the Lab. Indeed, the theme of the entire book is how modern developments in the attempt to make artificial life have conclusively demonstrated that life cannot the the product of strictly natural processes.
While the goal of Rana’s book is to survey all the different ways scientists are trying to produce life in the lab, he starts out his first discussion of actual laboratory results with Venter. This is probably because Venter has come the closest to producing artificial life. However, as I stated in my original post, Venter’s team had to rely on already-living cells no less than three separate times in order to produce their “synthetic” life form. As Dr. Rana states in his discussion of Venter’s results:
Though not their intention, Venter and his colleagues have provided empirical evidence that life’s components and, consequently, life itself must spring from the work of an intelligent Designer. (p. 46)