A case of the pot calling the kettle black
The new book The Anointed by Drs. Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens caught our attention this week. Answers in Genesis and its president Ken Ham feature prominently (though negatively) in the book. Stephens is an Eastern Nazarene College history professor; Giberson, a well-known anti-creationist, once taught science at the college.
The first chapter deals with AiG and AiG’s president, Ken Ham, in particular. The entire book is a critique of several Christian leaders who are non-academics in the areas about which they make public pronouncements. Therefore, the authors argue, they shouldn’t be speaking authoritatively on issues of the day and that Christians should not be listening to them. Disparaging words like “amateurs” are often used in the book to ridicule high-profile Christian spokespersons. When it comes to evolution and creation, the authors plead that you must trust someone like evolutionist and Christian Dr. Francis Collins over Ken Ham because Ken does not possess an earned doctorate. That’s the pretentious premise of chapter one’s critique of AiG.
The chapter is pock-marked with mistakes. In a more detailed book review that will be posted to this website on Tuesday, AiG will list many of them. For the moment, we will note that in the introduction and first chapter alone the book has errors in dates, mischaracterizations of Christian leaders like Dr. James Dobson, and gross misrepresentations of Christian leaders and their ministries. For example, the authors falsely claim (p. 36) that creation groups like the Institute for Creation Research and AiG believe that evolution is “responsible for much of what's wrong with the world.” AiG has never said or implied that. Instead, AiG and ICR declare that a lack of belief in the Bible’s authority and accuracy (largely due to attacks from secular academia) has led many people to doubt or disbelieve the Bible. Thus, society increasingly sees the moral truths found in the Bible as arbitrary and unreliable, and citizens can therefore justify all sorts of moral behavior that the Bible teaches against. So, if people want to be racists, for example, evolutionary beliefs can justify their racist beliefs (e.g., that some people groups are more advanced than others). But AiG and ICR are clear: evolution in and of itself is not responsible for racism. (Read more about this issue in today’s “And Don’t Miss.”)
The authors often resort to exaggeration to make their alarmist claims about the influence of Christian groups on society. For example, they describe AiG as a “media juggernaut” (p. 59). The Anointed also charges that organizations like AiG are “at war with science” (p. 11) and don’t have scholarship on their side. However, the authors conveniently ignore the fact that AiG has several full-time staff who hold earned doctorates (in astrophysics, genetics, geology, biology, the history of science, and medicine).
As much as anything, the book reveals the academic hubris of Drs. Giberson and Stephens. They express disdain for Christian leaders who speak authoritatively on issues but who in the eyes of Giberson and Stephens are wrong in their beliefs largely because they don’t have earned PhDs to back up their statements.
Ironically, while criticizing Christian leaders by suggesting they are unqualified to address certain topics, the authors themselves frequently address subjects that are outside their own specialties of science and history. They delve into theology, political science, and sociology. Furthermore, Giberson is a physicist, yet he feels qualified to critique AiG in areas far outside his specialty, such as biology and geology.
Even AiG’s highly trained scientists declare that as Christians, our ultimate authority must rest with the clear teachings of the Bible rather than the fallible views of scientists, especially when it comes to the unobservable past and the question of origins. Good scientists are always ready to change their ideas to conform to repeatable experimental observations, but evolutionary scientists resist criticism of those aspects of their beliefs which are unobservable. The authors are clear, however, that evolutionary interpretations of science must trump Scripture: “Many educated evangelicals, informed by biblical scholarship, have thus concluded that the Genesis story of Creation is simply not literal history” (p. 49).
A more thorough review of this mistake-filled and smugly titled book The Anointed will be posted on the AiG website on Tuesday.
Is the neutrino guilty of breaking the cosmic speed limit?
After two years of collecting high-tech “radar gun” measurements of neutrino speeds, CERN researchers have decided to appeal to the world for a verdict. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, nothing can exceed the speed of light as measured in a vacuum. All of modern physics and many of the physical constants that accurately describe the physical world depend on the constancy of this value. Yet scientists involved in OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion tRacking Apparatus) have apparently caught neutrinos exceeding the cosmic speed limit about 16,000 times.
Neutrinos are electrically neutral subatomic particles. They can pass through planets without any hindrance or significant interaction, and they have hardly any mass. Because they are almost massless, they should be able to travel at nearly light speed. But beams of neutrinos fired from the CERN high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva along a 730 kilometer underground pathway have arrived at Gran Sasso Italy 60 nanoseconds too soon. Since the distance should be accurate to within 20 centimeters and the equipment is supposed to be accurate to within 10 nanoseconds, the neutrinos appear to be superluminal.
If true, these results don’t just open up a dream world for sci-fi aficionados delighted to overthrow the laws of cause-and-effect in favor of theoretically possible time travel.1 The entire basis for our Einstein-based physics and the predictable observations it provides would be overthrown.
But before we get too carried away, we should note the OPERA physicists question the results themselves. As CERN’s research director Sergio Bertolucci muses, “We all like the idea of travel in time, but it would be very difficult.”1 He explains, “When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artifact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny. If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.”2 Therefore, OPERA researchers have asked the physics world to scrutinize their work to see if they can confirm the results or discover a loophole that readmits neutrinos to the world of cosmic law-abiders.
This apparent cosmic violation is also at odds with other neutrino travel data. 1987 observations of a supernova confirmed that light and neutrinos emitted by the exploding star arrived at a Japanese laboratory within the same interval of time. Even though the neutrinos appeared to win the CERN light-race by a fraction of a nose (only 20 parts per million too fast), the same excess speed magnified over the distance to that supernova would multiply to a three year difference, according to calculations by Drexel University astrophysicist Dave Goldberg. In other words, if neutrinos could really exceed the speed of light, the neutrinos from the supernova should have arrived three years before the photons which allowed us to see the explosion!3
Actually, the MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) project in Minnesota got results similar to OPERA’s back in 2007, but that team decided there was too much uncertainty in the detector’s exact position to be sure of the measurement’s significance. That lab, and others, will now set about trying to reproduce or refute OPERA’s results. And they will do so with OPERA’s blessings. As OPERA coordinator Antonio Ereditato says, “We want just to be helped by the [physics] community in understanding our crazy result—because it is crazy.”3
So what lessons should we as Christians be taking from all this? First of all, we should applaud the honesty of the CERN researchers for declaring that their results should be taken with a huge grain of salt. When something violates a well-established principle—that which is observable or known from a reliable eyewitness account—we should avoid blithely accepting it. The physics world is exercising discernment and observing sound scientific principles. In science, scientific laws are discovered by making repeated observations. Therefore, if an observation appears to violate all the observations which have gone before, the first thing we should question is the observation itself.
Some of our readers have asked if this result provides an answer to the distant starlight4 problem by proving variability in the speed of light. However, all the distant starlight models5 which rely on a variable light speed suffer from some problems with regard to standard physics. Actually, the big bang proponents struggle much in their efforts to explain their own light-travel problem (the horizon problem) even within the massive time frame they postulate. Astrophysicist and creationist Dr. Jason Lisle has published6,7 a model explaining distant starlight’s transit time which is consistent with the 6,000 year age of the universe provided by biblical chronology and does not violate the laws of standard physics.
Dr. Lisle adds, “This experiment does not in any way support the notion that the speed of light is variable or that any particles can actually travel faster than light. It is unquestionably the result of some tiny miscalibration of the equipment, or an un-accounted-for variable, and does not suggest any new physics. Indeed, all experimental evidence to date is consistent with Einstein’s conclusion that the (round-trip) speed of light in vacuum is constant. The tiny deviation is definitely suggestive of experimental error. The results should not be used to suggest that the standard view of physics is wrong.”
Some have suggested that Answers in Genesis is inconsistent in pointing to the errors of uniformitarian thinking while maintaining that God created the physical universe and put certain physical laws and reliable constants in place. However, the uniformitarian worldview maintains that all things have continued at the same rate without any supernatural or catastrophic events to alter them. Namely, uniformitarianism excludes the Creation by God and the global Flood.8
Moreover, there is a difference between uniformitarianism and uniformity. Uniformity of physical laws in the universe reflects an underlying orderliness due to God’s sustaining power.9
However, uniformitarian thinking inconsistently insists that life evolved by random processes in non-living matter, clearly a violation of the law of biogenesis—a scientific principle of biology which holds that life only comes from life.
As Bible-believing Christians, we should realize that the Word of God provides God’s eyewitness account of His Creation—the time when He supernaturally created the universe, initiated time, and created the physical scientific laws by which the universe operates. The speed of light question here is not one of any biblical consequence per se, but the discernment shown by the scientists involved is a fine example we should emulate when it comes to measuring those things we hear authoritatively reported, measuring all things by the yardstick of God’s Word.
Asteroid cleared of charges, but search continues for another cosmic culprit.
The Baptistina family asteroid believed to have been the culprit that caused mass extinction at the K-T boundary has been exonerated. Scientists who believe an extraterrestrial impact in Chixculub, Mexico, set off climactic derangement sufficient to destroy the dinosaurs (and many other species) have not changed their opinions. But the asteroid thought to have started the whole thing apparently wasn’t in the right place at the right time.
According to the old story, “Baptistina” collided with another asteroid between Mars and Jupiter about 160 million years ago. Fragments pin-balled out of the asteroid belt, and one crashed into the Yucatan peninsula. Scientists who accept this story believe a long time was required for the asteroid fragment to reach earth, so an impact 65 million years ago provides plenty of transit time.
The age of asteroid fragments is calculated from size estimates, which are in turn based on their reflectance. The size is used to calculate how long fragments require to reach their current orbital positions relative to their parent asteroids. But since the reflectance properties of asteroids are affected by the material they’re made of, these size estimates can be “off.”
New data has now come from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, which measures the infrared light emitted by asteroids. Since infrared emanations combined with reflectance do provide a more accurate way to assess asteroid size, project scientists believe they can now give a more accurate estimate of the time required for Baptistina’s fragments to have reached positions from which they could have been hurled toward Earth. After analysis of 1,056 asteroids in the Baptistina family, they believe Baptistina collided with a neighbor only 80 million years ago, giving only a too-short 15 million years for one of its fragments to reach Earth.
“As a result of the WISE science team's investigation, the demise of the dinosaurs remains in the cold case files,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for WISE. “The original calculations with visible light estimated the size and reflectivity of the Baptistina family members, leading to estimates of their age, but we now know those estimates were off. With infrared light, WISE was able to get a more accurate estimate, which throws the timing of the Baptistina theory into question.”
While the WISE data certainly improves the accuracy of asteroid size estimates, there is actually no way to know that the 1,056 “fragments” being measured actually came from the “parent” asteroid. If they did not, then simulations to estimate the travel time for those fragments are meaningless.
The idea that the K-T boundary marks mass extinction due to asteroid impact also has scientific problems.10,11 Proponents of the asteroid hypothesis believe the iridium in an iridium-rich layer at the K-T boundary came from the asteroid impact, the iridium spreading all over the world. Evolutionary geologists believe the iridium came from space because they think any iridium on earth should have sunk into our planet’s molten interior millions of years before the K-T layer was formed. There is, however, too much iridium to attribute to the dust from asteroid impact. Volcanoes, on the other hand, produce iridium and do tend to spread their dust clouds worldwide. Widespread volcanism would have been associated with the Flood, so Flood geology could explain the iridium deposition.
Furthermore, the global Flood explains the massive burials seen in the geologic column. Those layers represent not slow deposition and mass extinctions over millions of years, but rather the order of rapid burial during and soon after the Flood year.12 Many dinosaur footprints and body fossils are found in and below Cretaceous layers (the “K” in K-T). As the Flood waters rose, animals would have naturally sought higher ground. Footprints, often in patterns of uphill climbing, memorialize many animals’ final efforts to flee rising waters. Ultimately, even the larger dinosaurs were overwhelmed, swept from their habitats, and buried.
Rock layers above the Cretaceous are consistent with findings expected in the waning stage of the Flood and the post-Flood time. Fossils there include mammals and birds as well as reptiles and amphibians. The K-T boundary is explained by the biblical Flood model. The catastrophic cause of mass extinction of most of the dinosaur population was the global Flood. Those descended from the ones that got off the Ark eventually succumbed to the same sorts of pressures that cause extinction in animal populations today.
Scientists seeking to explain the K-T boundary by searching for another cosmic culprit would do better to re-examine the K-T “crime scene” on earth a little more closely. There, the evidence is consistent with God’s judgment in the form of the global Flood just as the Bible’s eyewitness account in Genesis chapters 6–9 describes.
Answers for antibiotic resistance sought in “ancient” Australian antimicrobials.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. In the spirit of biomimicry, scientists down under have discovered a uniquely Australian solution which may provide some life-saving answers.
Conventional antibiotics usually attack bacteria by interfering with some necessary process in the bacteria’s life. Some bacteria harbor genes which give them a “work-around” for the targeted step. Those bacteria are already resistant to certain antibiotics. Therefore, when antibiotics kill off their neighbors, the survivors multiply to produce a resistant population.
Researchers funded by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Kangaroo Genomics thought Australia’s marsupials and monotremes might share some helpful secrets of their immunity. Why these creatures? Marsupial babies born long before they have mature immune systems must survive in fairly dirty environments. Monotremes also hatch long before their immune systems are ready to face the world. “It's not a clean environment,” says team leader Benjamin Cocks. “Without some sort of powerful innate immunity, these immune-compromised young could not survive.”
Many organisms produce broad-spectrum antibiotic peptides that defend them against many attackers. “During the course of evolution,” the researchers write, “nature has developed a vast array of antimicrobial peptides.”13 Cocks speculated that marsupials and monotremes “evolved under evolutionary pressure to protect immunologically naïve young”13 with lots of these antimicrobials. Furthermore, the “development of microbial resistance against naturally occurring antimicrobials is rare.”13
Many natural antimicrobials are toxic to humans. These researchers accept the evolutionary idea that marsupials, monotremes, and placental mammals diverged from a common ancestor. Therefore, they expected peptides from animals more closely related to humans to be “more likely to be compatible with humans.” The team examined the genomes of marsupials and monotremes looking for genes which code for cathelicidins. Cathelicidins destroy many kinds of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi by disrupting cell membranes. “Mammalian ancestors likely expressed a broad repertoire of cathelicidin peptides to protect their young,” they speculate. “Over time, with the evolution of longer gestation periods and the birth of young with greater immune competence, [most] cathelicidin genes were lost from the eutherian [placental] lineage.” 13
The team found 14 cathelicidin genes in the tammar wallaby and 8 in the platypus. Several of the corresponding synthetic gene products were very effective against a host of pathogenic bacteria and also appeared nontoxic to humans. Hopeful this discovery will have medical applications, Cocks said, “Now we have access to ancient peptides for future drug development.”
The researchers chose this avenue of antimicrobial research on the basis of their evolutionary beliefs. But were those evolutionary beliefs the basis for their success? No. Do their findings support the idea that humans and platypuses share a common ancestor? No. Does the finding of some genetic similarities and compatibilities prove the genes came down 211 million years to the present from that ancient common ancestor? No, it does not.
The approach the team chose was wise because mammals share some common designs and therefore have fewer incompatibilities with humans than other sorts of animals would. And their choice of mammals was wise because our Common Designer God has evidently equipped marsupials and monotremes with extra protection for their immune-compromised young to enable them to survive in a dirty world.
Just as antibiotic resistance is not an example of evolution 14 in action—since resistant bacteria only exchange genetic material between themselves and never become new kinds of organisms—neither is this discovery an example of the value of evolution in medical research. When scientists copy nature’s secrets for human use, they are making use of God’s designs.
All kinds of creatures were created by God during the week of Creation about 6,000 years ago. Bacteria are a necessary part of the world’s ecology but would not have caused disease in that pre-Fall world. Each kind of creature was fully equipped to function in the world and would have possessed perfect protection to prevent being overwhelmed by contact with bacteria. With this sort of genomic research, we can observe some of the extra provisions God made to safeguard the wallaby and the platypus, and we can imitate those features to to help people.
Tall tales about tall crystals
The largest known gypsum crystals in the world are in the Naica Mexico mine’s Cave of Crystals. Discovered in April 2000, the crystals in the cave are up to 35 feet long and 3 feet in diameter. A study published in the 20 September 2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences asserts that these crystals required nearly a million years to grow.
The extreme clarity and uniformity of these beautiful crystals indicate that the conditions under which they formed remained quite stable. In fact, occasional changes in conditions are indicated by a few visible inclusions of other minerals.15 The crystal-containing limestone caves in this complex are all situated near faults.15
Geologists suspect that geothermal forces pushed mineral-rich water into the caves. Sulfuric acid formed by oxidation of sulfide minerals likely reacted with the limestone to produce calcium sulfate, which crystallizes as gypsum. But what determines the mechanism and speed at which such huge crystals can form?
Crystals form in supersaturated solutions as ionic compounds equilibrate between their soluble and solid forms. Any change in conditions can alter the rate at which crystals form. Alterations in temperature, pressure, ionic concentrations, salinity or acidity of the cave water, and any number of other conditions could disrupt the orderly growth of these crystals or change the rate at which they grow. The growth patterns of these crystals suggest they grew under stable conditions.
The researchers in the present study have measured the incredibly slow rates of growth possible in “the current Naica waters”16 at various temperatures. “This is the slowest growth rate ever measured, not only in nature but in general,” said study author Juan Manuel García-Ruiz.17 From this measurement they calculate the large crystals required about 990,000 years to form. Actually, however, the water in which these crystals were growing was drained in 1975.17 So the researchers are assuming that cave water from another place and time contains exactly the same milieu as that which birthed these crystals.18
As the researchers state in their study, assuming the mechanism they suggest for crystal growth is correct, a one-meter diameter crystal “formed at 55 degrees Celsius from a solution with the same composition as current Naica waters, should have been growing for 0.99 +/- 0.27 million years. The same crystal growing at 56 degrees Celsius should have formed over the course of half a million years.”16 The researchers consider temperature to be the only possible variable.
Yet even if we accepted the possibility of a million-year-timescale (which we do not, as it totally violates the eyewitness chronology from God’s Word), it would be difficult to believe all the chemical components of mineral-rich water supplied by geothermal conditions near a fault remained perfectly stable for nearly a million years. Therefore, another crystal growth mechanism or another set of conditions—which would necessarily result in a different rate of crystal growth—should tell a shorter tale of these tall crystals.
However these magnificent crystals formed, they formed within the few thousand years since the Flood. And given the stability of conditions needed to form them, the true time frame is likely many orders of magnitude smaller than that proposed in the latest study. How long is that? Likely closer to the 30 or so years originally suggested by the mining company geologist and superintendent of exploration in a Mexican newspaper article.19
The researchers point out that their method of dating these crystals seems “awkward” compared to “absolute dating techniques”16 like radiometric dating. But those radiometric dates in which they would put complete faith are impossible to obtain due to the lack of uranium in the gypsum. Yet the method they have chosen requires precise knowledge of past conditions which cannot be known in the present. We should put no faith in either.
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