Reasons to Believe https://reasons.org Tue, 18 Jan 2022 02:22:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.3 https://reasons-prod.storage.googleapis.com/wp-content/uploads/cropped-Group-5-1-32x32.png Reasons to Believe https://reasons.org 32 32 Brain Organoids Cultivate the Case for Human Exceptionalism https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/brain-organoids-cultivate-the-case-for-human-exceptionalism https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/brain-organoids-cultivate-the-case-for-human-exceptionalism#respond Wed, 19 Jan 2022 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=310005 Mel Brooks’s horror comedy Young Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie has Igor (pronounced EYE-gor)—played brilliantly by Marty Feldman—informing Dr. Frankenstein that he (Igor) gave the doctor a brain from someone named Abby Normal to transplant into the monster’s head.  Here is the dialogue from that scene: Dr. […]

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Mel Brooks’s horror comedy Young Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies. 

Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie has Igor (pronounced EYE-gor)—played brilliantly by Marty Feldman—informing Dr. Frankenstein that he (Igor) gave the doctor a brain from someone named Abby Normal to transplant into the monster’s head. 

Here is the dialogue from that scene:

Dr. Frankenstein: Igor, would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Igor: And you won’t be angry?
Dr. Frankenstein: I will not be angry.
Igor: Abby . . . someone.
Dr. Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby . . . Normal.
Dr. Frankenstein: Abby Normal?
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
Dr. Frankenstein: Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven-and-a-half-foot-long, fifty-four-inch-wide gorilla! Is that what you are telling me?

All humor aside, a large team of collaborators led by neuroscientist Alysson Muotri from UC San Diego performed a cutting-edge study that could have come from the annals of tales of horror. They grew brain organoids (organ analogues) in the lab from cells that were genetically modified to have the Neanderthal version of the NOVA1 gene and in the process created “Neanderthalized” minibrains.1

It wasn’t maniacal purposes that motivated the researchers. Instead, the team performed these experiments to determine if there are differences in the brain structure and development (hence, cognition) between Neanderthals and modern humans, with the goal of trying to understand what separates us from other species. This pioneering work bears on the question of human exceptionalism and, consequently, carries important implications for the RTB human origins model.

Brain Organoids
Brain or cerebral organoids are three-dimensional cell cultures that could be loosely described as miniature “brains.” Brain organoids are grown from pluripotent stem cells that are coaxed into developing into the different cell types of the nervous system by exposing the cultured cells to a variety of different growth factors. Lab workers can get the cell cultures to grow into three dimensions by cultivating them in a rotating bioreactor. These cultures take several months to grow and develop. Because the cultured cells lack a blood supply their size is limited to about 3 to 5 mm. Depending upon the growth conditions, brain organoids can develop into structures that resemble the cortex, the choroid plexus, retina, meninges, and hippocampus, for example. As the brain organoids grow and develop, their architecture, number of cell layers, and cellular diversity increase over time.

Figure: One Process for Growing Brain Organoids
Credit: Wikipedia

Brain organoids have already proven to be a helpful research tool for investigators studying brain growth and development and neurological disorders, and for pursuing drug development. The Muotri research team’s work can be added to this list. They used these “minibrains” to compare the influence that the NOVA1 gene has on brain growth and development in modern humans and Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The NOVA1 Gene
The research team chose to focus on the impact of the NOVA1 gene because when they compared modern human genomes with those of Neanderthals and Denisovans, they learned that the NOVA1 gene variant found in modern humans is distinct from the version of this gene found in Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. 

This difference is intriguing because NOVA1 is a master regulator that influences the expression of other genes that impact brain development through a mechanism known as alternate splicing. NOVA1 plays a role in synapse formation and mutations to this gene have been implicated in neurological disorders.

The genetic distinction alone is enough to conclude that the brains and, possibly, the cognition of modern humans and Neanderthals and Denisovans differed. But the researchers went one step further by creating and comparing the anatomy and physiology of modern human and “Neanderthalized” brain organoids. 

A Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal Brain Organoids
To create the Neanderthalized brain organoids, the researchers used CRISPR gene-editing technology to convert the modern human NOVA1 gene in human-induced pluripotent stem cells into the Neanderthal/Denisovan version. In turn, they used these genetically engineered induced pluripotent stems cells to grow brain organoids. 

The team noticed significant differences between the modern human and Neanderthalized brain organoids. The modern human brain organoids were larger, smoother, and more spherical than the Neanderthalized brain organoids. The Neanderthalized cell cultures displayed rougher, more complex surfaces. Cell proliferation was slower in the Neanderthalized brain organoids than in their modern human counterparts. The Neanderthalized brain organoids also possessed a greater number of apoptotic cells. 

The gene expression profile of the two brain organoids was different when characterized at 1 month and 2 months. These differences involved genes that are known to play a role in neural development. The neurons of the two brain organoids also displayed differences in the profile of synaptic proteins.

While caution is in order when interpreting these results, they strongly suggest that the brains of modern humans and Neanderthals developed differently and displayed significantly different structural features that likely impacted cognitive capacities.

Corroborating Studies
These results don’t stand in isolation. Other studies have identified genetic differences between modern humans and Neanderthals that would reasonably affect brain growth and development and, in turn, cognitive capacities. For example, genome-wide comparisons of the Neanderthal and modern human genomes have identified different versions of genes that play a role in skull morphology (shape, form) and cognitive development.

Molecular anthropologists have also inferred gene expression differences in Neanderthal and modern human genomes for (1) coding regions implicated in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders in modern humans, and (2) genes that play a role in facial and vocal tract development.3

These observed genetic differences help explain the brain shape differences displayed by modern humans and Neanderthals inferred from the skull and facial anatomy differences. As it turns out, the modern human skull shape is unusual and distinct compared to the skulls of hominins such as Neanderthals. Hominin skull shape was elongated along the anterior-posterior axis. But modern human skull shape is globular, with bulging and enlarged parietal and cerebral areas. The modern human skull also has another distinctive feature: the face is retracted and relatively small. The skull shape difference impacts the shape of the modern human brain and the relative sizes of different brain regions. Many anthropologists believe that these anatomical features help explain modern humans’ advanced cognitive abilities. For example, the parietal lobe of the brain is responsible for: 

  • Perception of stimuli 
  • Sensorimotor transformation (which plays a role in planning) 
  • Visuospatial integration (which provides hand-eye coordination needed for making art) 
  • Imagery
  • Working and long-term memory 

The brain organoid comparisons also explain the differences in the growth and development of the skull and face of Neanderthals and modern humans. For example, a team of paleoanthropologists from the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany determined that as Neanderthals develop from the time of birth to adulthood, their skull never enters the “globularization” phase.4 In contrast, at birth the skull of modern humans is elongated, like that of Neanderthal infants. However, by one year of age globularization of the modern human skull begins. This result indicates that brain growth and development follow a different trajectory in Neanderthals and modern humans.

A convergence of evidence indicates that significant cognitive differences exist between modern humans and Neanderthals and supports an emerging consensus among anthropologists that human beings are exceptional.

Human Exceptionalism
Though it has become unpopular in some circles to claim human exceptionalism, ample evidence shows that modern humans stand apart from all extant creatures (such as the great apes) and extinct creatures (such as Neanderthals). Those who argue for human exceptionalism believe that it arises from a unique combination of four qualities:

  • An ability to represent the world and abstract ideas with symbols
  • An ability for open-ended manipulation of symbols
  • Theory of mind
  • A capacity to form complex, hierarchical social structures

It is reasonable to think that this unique set of behavioral and cognitive capacities arises out of the unique features of modern human brain anatomy and development. These features are undergirded by unique versions of genes responsible for craniofacial features and unique patterns of expression for genes responsible for our neuroanatomy and physiology.

For someone who holds to a Christian worldview, the case for human exceptionalism aligns with the biblical view that human beings uniquely bear God’s image. Thus, human exceptionalism can be marshaled as scientific support for the biblical perspective on human nature and identity.

Modern Humans, Neanderthals, and the RTB Human Origins Model
RTB’s human origins model adopts the view that human beings bear God’s image and seeks to find support from the scientific evidence toward this end. But RTB’s model also seeks to account for the existence and natural history of hominins, including Neanderthals, from a biblical standpoint. Our model regards Neanderthals (and other hominins) as creatures made by God, and with no evolutionary connection to modern humans. These extraordinary creatures walked erect and possessed some intelligence, which allowed them to cobble together tools and even adopt a level of “culture.” However, our model maintains that the hominins were not spiritual beings made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for modern humans.

Based on our view, we predict that biological similarities will exist among the hominins and modern humans to varying degrees. In this regard, we consider the biological similarities to reflect shared designs, not a shared evolutionary ancestry. 

We also expect biological differences because, according to our model, the hominins would belong to different biological groups from modern humans. We also predict that significant cognitive differences would exist between modern humans and the other hominins. These differences would be reflected in brain anatomy and behavior (inferred from the archaeological record). According to our model, these differences reflect the unique presence of God’s image in modern humans and the absence of God’s image in the hominins.

The Muotri team’s cutting-edge work evinces the notion that humans are exceptional, consistent with the biblical claim that we bear God’s image but Neanderthals do not.

Our brains are, indeed, abnormal compared to the brains of Neanderthals and the other hominins. Yet, the abnormal features of our brains make us exceptional. And that is no laughing matter.

Resources

Brain Structure Differences between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

Genetic Differences between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

Endnotes

  1. Cleber A. Trujillo et al., “Reintroduction of the Archaic Variant of NOVA1 in Cortical Organoids Alters Neurodevelopment,” Science 371, no. 6530 (February 12, 2021): eaax2537, doi:10.1126/science.aax2537.
  2. Richard E. Green, “A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome,” Science 328, no. 5979 (May 7, 2010): 710–722, doi:10.1126/science.1188021.
  3. Laura L. Colbran et al., “Inferred Divergent Gene Regulation in Archaic Hominins Reveals Potential Phenotypic Differences,” Nature Ecology and Evolution 3 (November 2019): 1598–1606, doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0996-x; David Gokhman et al., “Reconstructing the DNA Methylation Maps of the Neandertal and the Denisovan,” Science 344, no. 6183 (April 17, 2014): 523–527, doi:1126/science.1250368; David Gokhman et al., “Differential DNA Methylation of Vocal and Facial Anatomy Genes in Modern Humans,” Nature Communications 11 (March 4, 2020): 1189, doi:10.1038/s41467-020-15020-6.
  4. Philipp Gunz et al., “Brain Development after Birth Differs between Neanderthals and Modern Humans, Current Biology 20, no. 21 (November 9, 2010): PR921–R922, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.10.018

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I’m a Scientist Because God Pursued Me https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/im-a-scientist-because-god-pursued-me https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/im-a-scientist-because-god-pursued-me#respond Thu, 23 Dec 2021 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=309834 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:7 The impression that God was pursuing me and had something specific in mind for my life started at an early age. The question of just what that “something specific” was took much longer to figure out. Childhood Trust in […]

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“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

Psalm 139:7

The impression that God was pursuing me and had something specific in mind for my life started at an early age. The question of just what that “something specific” was took much longer to figure out.

Childhood Trust in God as Creator

My decision to follow God’s call on my life took place in my elementary school years in response to my pastor’s explanation of the gospel. For as long as I could remember, I felt that God was my best friend, and now I was surrendering my life to him. This commitment deepened during those early years as I learned to fully trust God and experience the peace that accompanied his faithfulness in seeing me through life’s experiences.

Around this same time, I had my first encounter with the interplay between science and faith—what I would eventually come to see as my life’s true calling—while looking through my father’s telescope at the Moon, stars, and planets. I’m grateful God placed me in a churchgoing family with a father who encouraged my interest in science and a mother who was wise and nurturing. As such, exploring the heavens and the natural world came with the understanding that God was the Creator responsible for all we observed. This understanding was confirmed by what I learned at church, but I was hearing something very different in my public school biology class.

Scientific Challenge to Faith

My junior high biology teacher was an atheist. He informed us that what we’d be studying in his class would contradict what we’d learned at church. Decades later I don’t remember all the details of his lectures, but I do recall the popular diagram he presented. It depicted the steady linear progression from the ancestors of gibbons through about a dozen other primates to modern Homo sapiens. Using this diagram, the teacher implied that evidence from the fossil record proved the completely naturalistic and random-yet-lucky process of human evolution, and that this evidence provided a fully adequate explanation for our origins (contemporary evolutionists now call this famous diagram misinformative1). Leaving God out of the picture presented a dilemma for me: how could the truth about the God behind all creation be contradicted by his own creation? It didn’t make sense but, as a preteen, I didn’t know what to make of this apparent conflict.

Throughout adolescence, I was fully involved with church activities (choir, youth groups, Sunday School classes and Bible studies) and even gave the sermon at my church on “Senior Sunday.” But up until college my faith was mostly internal. Don’t get me wrong, as student body president and FOMO (slang for “fear of missing out”) queen, I was into everything from sports to music to cheerleading, and everyone knew I was one of those “Jesus freaks.”

Owning the Faith Despite Doubts

Still, college was a real turning point in my faith journey as I went through a period of reevaluating what I learned and believed as a child. I realized that the Christian understanding of the God of the universe purposefully creating us with the freedom to choose to follow him and sending his Son to restore relationship with him when we failed made a lot more sense to me than the naturalistic idea that all the intricacy and complexity of the natural world—including humans—came into existence by random chance or lucky coincidence. The result of all this reflection was that my faith became my own, rather than something other people had taught me and I simply accepted. It also became clear to me that my faith in God needed to be expressed externally so people could see that I was different. As the apostle James writes, “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). Ever since that time, I’ve tried to serve others however God directs me. 

Although I was always interested in math and science and had been encouraged by teachers and family members to pursue STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) studies, the cognitive dissonance I’d experienced between the origins explanations given by secular science versus those I held true through my faith and personal observations of the created order caused me to turn my scholastic attention elsewhere. (It would take years of seriously studying both science and theology to resolve this dissonance.) Thus, during my senior year as an undergrad, while finishing my degree in political science, I did an internship at the US State Department studying arms control issues. While there, I realized that I would need a graduate degree to advance my career at the State Department, and that it would be advantageous for me to get a degree in engineering in order to contribute to arms control discussions in a meaningful way.

A Divine Pull toward Science

What followed was a series of miraculous events that demonstrated just how far God would go to pull me back to the STEMM career for which he’d predestined me. I was admitted to a master’s degree program in aerospace engineering at Stanford University, with nothing more than my BA in political science and some decent GRE scores. That program was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, competing with students who’d already studied four years of engineering. But God got me through it, and a few years later I started my doctoral program, also at Stanford’s School of Engineering.

Overlapping with grad school, I worked as an engineer for Lockheed Martin on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station programs. I received commendations from NASA and was designated as Lockheed’s Corporate Astronaut. I also worked at WET Labs on the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, and at The RAND Corporation on policy aspects of aerospace issues, prior to transitioning into academia.

The resolution of my struggles at the interface of science and faith was a gradual process. While others might be able to point to one big “aha!” moment that resolved all their science-faith dissonance at once, for me it happened through years of persistent study and practice in accord with God’s promise that “those who seek me find me” (Proverbs 8:17).

God’s Pursuit Continues

Fast-forward to a few years ago. While teaching a university astronomy class I was invited to write an op-ed article for CNN’s website, giving a Christian perspective on the recent discovery of possible evidence for the cosmic gravity waves predicted by Albert Einstein. The CNN editor independently titled the piece “Does the Big Bang Breakthrough Offer Proof of God?” Probably at least partially due to the provocative title, the article immediately went viral, leading a Christian book publisher to offer me a book contract for God of the Big Bang: How Modern Science Affirms the Creator.2

The threads that weave throughout the book are also the most essential truths that resolved my own science-faith dissonance. Chiefly, these truths are (1) God reveals himself reliably through Scripture and creation, and (2) it is statistically extremely improbable that our life-friendly universe would come to exist merely through random chance. After publication of the article and the book, I was right in the middle of the science and faith dialogue doing radio, TV, and print interviews on a regular basis.

I still feel that God is my best friend, and he directs my paths by opening doors to opportunities for me to serve him in ways I could never have imagined. Every new opportunity reinforces my confidence that God’s ways are much better than my own. So far this has included working with students, building houses in Mexico, playing volleyball all over the world with Athletes in Action, singing around the globe with the Witness Ministry Team, playing women’s professional football, working as a test astronaut, and participating in both local and international conversations about science and faith.

Through the opportunities and experiences that followed my surrender to God many years ago, I’ve come to understand that the “something specific” of my calling is helping people (especially students) bridge the perceived gap between science and faith to realize that it’s possible to be both a faithful Christian as well as a top-notch scientist. This calling is at the heart of why I continue to walk through all the doors God opens for me.

Endnotes

  1. Xantha Leatham, “Theory of Errorlution: Famous Diagram Showing Ascent of Man Idea Is ‘So Wrong’ It Sends Leading Geneticist Ape,” Daily Mail, June 20, 2021, accessed October 9, 2021.
  2. Leslie Wickman, God of the Big Bang: How Modern Science Affirms the Creator (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Books, 2015).

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A New Moral Argument for Human Personhood https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/a-new-moral-argument-for-human-personhood https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/a-new-moral-argument-for-human-personhood#respond Thu, 09 Dec 2021 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=309756 Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charles Darwin’s theory of origins reinforced the dehumanization of black peoples in the West. At this time in history, the consensus among the most influential scientists, philosophers, academicians, politicians, and even leading theologians, was that natural selection kept blacks enslaved to nature—a brutal master whose unguided selection relegated […]

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Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charles Darwin’s theory of origins reinforced the dehumanization of black peoples in the West. At this time in history, the consensus among the most influential scientists, philosophers, academicians, politicians, and even leading theologians, was that natural selection kept blacks enslaved to nature—a brutal master whose unguided selection relegated them to the lower rung of the evolutionary ladder.

A century later as Western culture continues to grapple with how to ensure human equality, a new argument against this kind of dehumanization comes from what I call the moral argument for human personhood. The structure of my argument is based on what is commonly known as the moral argument for God.

Grounding Morality in God

The traditional argument is premised on the observation that some moral laws (e.g., racism is evil) are independent of individual opinion or cultural consensus. The argument may be framed as follows:

Premise 1: If objective moral laws exist then an objective moral lawgiver exists.

Premise 2: Objective moral laws do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, an objective moral lawgiver exists.

This argument establishes the moral lawgiver as the ontological ground for ethical norms and moral duties. For both the religious Jew and Christian, grounding law and duty in God is the key. Why? Because even an atheist who denies the existence of God can choose to believe that racism is wrong, but only the Judeo-Christian belief in God as our creator makes the argument coherent. For the Christian, the logic of this argument is supported by Romans 2:12–15, which says that the existence of God is the necessary ground for knowing objective moral laws and duties exist. But, as compelling as this argument is, the belief in God as our lawgiver is not enough to protect human sacredness. We need to go one step further and ensure that the sacredness of every human person is protected against dehumanization. Building on the moral argument for God, I frame my moral argument for human personhood as follows:

Premise 1: If the objective moral duty to protect human dignity exists, then the objective fact of human personhood exists.

Premise 2: The objective moral duty to protect human dignity does exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, the objective fact of human personhood exists.

What Is Human Personhood?

This new moral argument establishes human personhood as the ontological ground for ethical norms and moral duties. Premise 1, like the first premise of the moral argument, asserts that if we wish to affirm human dignity for every single person, that claim must be connected to the definition of what it means to be a person. The conclusion that the objective fact of human personhood exists is significant because it exposes a deep flaw in the naturalist’s argument that humans evolved from lower animals. How? By recognizing that naturalism is grounded in the presuppositions that reality is circumscribed by nature, sufficiently explained by science, and excludes supernatural causation. This definition of naturalism is often associated with atheists, but it also includes some theists who believe that God did not supernaturally intervene in the process of natural selection. Consequently, all naturalists—atheists and theists alike—are forced to argue that evolving biological systems provide the sole explanation for human personhood.

Human personhood, for the naturalist, is both a contingent and emergent property of nature. But, if biological systems are continually changing, then human personhood itself is continually changing. Certainly, many naturalist philosophers have tried to resolve this problem by connecting personhood to other special features such as self-awareness, consciousness, or social standing. In the end, these philosophers end up conceding that personhood is a property contingent on some combination of these features, and humans who lack these features lack full personhood. Human personhood for the naturalist, therefore, is not a fact that exists independent from natural selection, but a concept of identity that evolves as our biology (or even perception of biology) evolves.

Now comes the problem for naturalists. If some biological systems (and the species they produce) are better suited to survival, then other systems are less fit. And history shows us that this line of reasoning invariably leads to the dehumanization of those humans who are deemed lower on the scale of fitness.

Is a “Herd Instinct” Morality?

In the hope of affirming the second premise (the objective moral duty to protect human dignity does exist), the advocate of theistic evolution may try to claim that the drive to protect the rights of every person emerged as a result of some herd instinct common to a particular group of hominids. However, as philosopher Brian Morley points out, this “instinct to help and support the members of the herd is not genuine morality.”1 In other words, theistic evolutionists may describe how ethics work as an instinct that occurs in nature but they fail to show why we are morally obligated to cooperate with this instinct. I may need to protect the people in my “herd” so that we can survive, but why should this obligate me to protect members of other “herds” who are competing for limited resources?

The desire of theistic evolutionists to ascribe dignity to other humans and protect their rights is, therefore, only a subjective preference for a certain set of actions that the majority of humans believe serve the greater good of the community. Advocates of naturalistic theistic evolution may choose to affirm the abstract principle of human dignity, but they cannot ground that belief in an objective definition of personhood that equally applies to every evolved human.2

Human Dignity Stems from Creation in God’s Image

The moral argument for human personhood, however, establishes an important line of reasoning. It grounds human dignity in the fact of human personhood, which stands outside the boundaries of naturalistic animal-to-human evolution. For the Christian, our belief in Adam and Eve as created in the image of God—the first humans and sole progenitors of every living human—grounds the fact of human personhood outside culture, politics, and nature. While this image of God was deformed by the fall depicted in Genesis 3, creationists affirm that the impact of sin did not destroy the nature of human personhood nor did the fall destroy the sacredness of the material body.

For the apostle Paul, the incarnation of Christ, and his subsequent death and resurrection, transforms the individual believer into his or her ultimate state of being (Galatians 2:19–20). The transformative work of Christ, however, occurs without the individual losing their unique identity as a human person. Therefore, the creationist theology—seen through the lens of Christ’s redemption of humankind—is distinct from the evolutionary worldview that sees the human species as only one short stage of identity along a spectrum of evolved forms. This historic doctrine of special creation provides a stable and persistent foundation for defining human personhood, safeguarding human dignity, and ensuring human rights. The affirmation that every human is a person made in the sacred image of God takes us back to the opening discussion of racism.

Special Creation Grounds Personhood

The moral argument for human personhood, grounded in special creation, offers the most coherent argument against any form of dehumanization. Regardless of how society defines race or dehumanizes based on racial hierarchies, the Christian doctrine of special creation affirms that every human body, regardless of skin color, reflects the image of God and is the object of Christian love. The theology of special creation summarized in the moral argument for personhood undermines racism and does not suffer the definitional problems endemic to theistic evolution. The moral argument for human personhood affirms that discrimination against any racial group is unequivocally a violation of human sacredness and that Christians have a duty to ensure justice for every marginalized group.

Endnotes

  1. Brian K. Morley,Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 262, Apple Books.
  2. See my article for a related discussion, J. R. Miller, “A Response to Clunn’s Axioms of Morality,” Communications of the Blyth Institute 3, no. 1 (January 3, 2021): 39, doi.org/10.33014/issn.2640-5652.3.1.miller.1.

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Cone Cell Mitochondria Focus Attention on Eye Design https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/cone-cell-mitochondria-focus-attention-on-eye-design https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/cone-cell-mitochondria-focus-attention-on-eye-design#respond Wed, 05 Jan 2022 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=309728 I have become painfully aware that my vision is beginning to decline. Objects at a distance appear blurry to me and I need glasses to read. It’s all part of the aging process, I guess.  In light of my failing eyesight, it’s easy for me to forget how remarkable human vision actually is. Did you […]

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I have become painfully aware that my vision is beginning to decline. Objects at a distance appear blurry to me and I need glasses to read. It’s all part of the aging process, I guess. 

In light of my failing eyesight, it’s easy for me to forget how remarkable human vision actually is.

  • Did you know that we can distinguish around one million different colors? 
  • Did you know that our rod cells can respond to a single photon of light?
  • Did you know that on a clear, dark night humans can spot a single candle flame as far away as 30 miles?

In fact, there is no limit to how far we can see provided the object emits or reflects photons of light.

As remarkable as our vision is, there are animals with even better vision. Take eagles, as a case in point. Their vision has better resolution than human vision. These birds of prey see objects more clearly than we do at eight times the distance. For example, they can see a small, camouflaged animal from two miles away, something we can’t do. Eagles can also see a wider range of colors than we can, allowing them to detect hidden prey.

Ironically, many skeptics regard the vertebrate eye as the quintessential example of a flawed biological design and, hence, prima facie evidence for an evolutionary history for life. Yet, the more we learn about the inverted retina, the deeper the rationale for its peculiar design becomes. New insights from a team of researchers from the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD, illustrate this point.1

Design of the Human Eye Factors into the Creation-Evolution Debate
In a Scientific American piece, Trevor Lamb writes:

“The human eye is an exquisitely complicated organ. It acts like a camera to collect and focus light and convert it into an electrical signal that the brain translates into images. But instead of photographic film, it has a highly specialized retina that detects light and processes the signals using dozens of different kinds of neurons. So intricate is the eye that its origin has long been a cause célèbre among creationists. 

The eye, far from being a perfectly engineered piece of machinery, exhibits a number of major flaws—these flaws are the scars of evolution. Natural selection does not, as some might think, result in perfection. It tinkers with the material available to it, sometimes to odd effect.”2

Many life scientists readily point to the inverted structure of the vertebrate retina as its chief flaw. The rod and cone cells responsible for detecting the light that falls onto the retina’s surface are oriented away from the light source, not toward it as most people would reasonably assume. In The Blind Watchmaker, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins insists, “Any engineer would…laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired backwards.”3

Despite these types of pronouncements, careful examination of the anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate eye and—specifically, the inverted retina—reveals a deep-seated rationale for its design, a rationale that undercuts the complaints of skeptics and evinces a Creator’s handiwork. 

Before I describe the details of the National Eye Institute team’s findings, it may be helpful to offer a little bit of background about the vertebrate eye, the vertebrate retina, and the rod and cone cells found in the retina. 

Design of the Vertebrate Eye                        
Vertebrate have eyes that work very much like a camera (hence, they are called camera eyes. (See figure 1). The outermost surface of the eye, the cornea consists of a transparent set of layers made up of epithelial cells and connective tissue. The cornea forms a covering over the anterior chamber, iris, and pupil. The anterior chamber, which is the space between the cornea and the iris (and pupil), is filled with a water-like fluid called the aqueous humor). The thin, colorful iris is annular and is attached to muscles that open and close the pupil in response to the amount of light impinging upon the eye.


Figure 1: The Camera Eye of Vertebrates
Credit: Shutterstock

Light passes through the cornea, the aqueous humor, and the pupil to the lens, which focuses light on the inner surface of the eye, called the retina. Like the cornea, the lens consists of layers of cells and connective tissue. A collection of ligaments suspends the lens in place. After passing through the lens, light is transmitted through the vitreous humor, the colorless gel-like substance filling the eye’s dark chamber. The cornea and the lens work in tandem to focus light on the surface of the retina. Specialized photoreceptor cells in the retina absorb photons of light and, in turn, generate electrical impulses that the optic nerve transmits to the brain.

Structure of the Rod and Cone Cells
Photoreceptor cells fall into two categories: rods and cones. Both cell types possess the same basic structure, with rod cells displaying a more elongated shape than cone cells (see figure 2). These cells have several distinct regions. The central region contains the cell body that houses the nucleus. Extending from one of the poles of the cell body are the inner and outer segments. The inner segment is packed with mitochondria, responsible for generating the energy needed to support the intense metabolic activity that takes place in the outer segment.

The outer region of the cell consists of stacks of membranes. Embedded in the membrane stacks are a large number of copies of the protein called opsin. Associated with opsin is a co-enzyme called retinal. Together opsin and retinal form a complex called rhodopsin in rod cells and conopsin in cone cells. Rhodopsin and conopsin absorb photons of light, triggering a biochemical cascade that prevents the release of a neurotransmitter at the synaptic body, which extends from the opposite pole of the cell body.

Figure 2: Rod and Cone Cells
Credit: Shutterstock

The synaptic body forms a synaptic connection with a neuron called a bipolar cell (see figure 3). This neuron has two projections that extend from opposite poles of the cell. 

Figure 3: A Bipolar Neuron
Credit: Shutterstock

When the rod or cone cell is in a resting state, it releases a neurotransmitter at the synaptic junction with the bipolar cells. This activity prevents the bipolar cell from releasing its own neurotransmitters. When the rod or cone cells absorb light, it causes them to stop releasing their neurotransmitter. This change causes the bipolar cells to release their neurotransmitters, which excites the synapses between the bipolar cell and the ganglia (a group of nerve cells) that, in turn, transmit an electrical signal along the optic nerve to the brain.

The Inverted Retina
The retina consists of layers of neural cells that include 6 to 7 million cone cells and about 90 to 100 million rod cells. The innermost layer of the retina is composed of epithelial cells. The next layer is made up of rod and cone cells. Rod cells primarily provide black-and-white vision, operating under dim light conditions. Cone cells are responsible for color vision and function under bright light conditions.

Biologists describe the vertebrate retina as inverted because the outer segments of the photoreceptors (which absorb photons of light) are oriented away from the retinal surface and the source of the light (see figure 4). The outer segments juxtapose the epithelial cells of the pigmented retinal epithelium. The bipolar cells form the cell layer that sits on top of the layer formed by the photoreceptors. The outermost cell layers of the retina consist of the neurons that comprise the ganglia that coalesce into the optic nerve.

Figure 4: The Inverted Retina
Credit: Shutterstock

Many skeptics question the design of the inverted retina for several reasons. Not only are the outer segments of the rod and cone cells orientated away from the light source, but cellular materials (such as the inner segments and the cell bodies of photoreceptors, along with the bipolar cells and ganglia) occupy the space between the membrane stacks of the outer segments and the light source. This intervening material blocks and scatters the light before it can reach the outer segments.

Adding to these two “flaws” is the blind spot in the field of vision that results from the optic nerve punching a hole near the center of the retina. This configuration is a consequence of the inverted design of the retina. The optic nerve forms from the coalescing ganglia that reside at the surface of the retina. Once the optic nerve forms, it needs to punch through the retina to make it to the brain.

Even though it might be tempting to conclude that the vertebrate retina is plagued by flawed designs, life scientists have discovered features of the vertebrate retina that indicate its design may be far more elegant than commonly thought. For example, researchers have discovered compensatory design features that circumvent the light scattering problems caused by the materials that reside between the retinal surface and the outer segments of the photoreceptors.

Compensatory Designs in the Vertebrate Retina
In February 2021, investigators from the National Eye Institute uncovered one more example of a compensatory design. These researchers learned that the mitochondria in the inner segment—which help supply the intense energy needs of the biochemical processes that take place in the outer segment—interact to form an organelle complex that functions as a microlens, concentrating the light that passes through the inner segment on the membrane stacks of the outer segment. So, instead of interfering with light transmission, the mitochondria reduce light scattering based on the architecture of the subcellular structure that results from mitochondrial interactions. The investigators also discovered that the mitochondrial complex creates an angular dependence of the light intensity as it makes its way to the outer segment. The light near the center of the beam displays a greater intensity than light near the edges. This effect improves visual resolution because this type of angular dependence reduces optical aberrations that would occur near the outer edge of the light beam.

This discovery isn’t the first of its type. In 2009, researchers from Germany learned that the arrangement of chromatin in the nucleus (which is housed in the cell body) forms a microlens in nocturnal animals that focuses low light levels onto the outer segment.4 Again, the nucleus helps capture light, rather than scattering it.

Researchers have also discovered that radial glial cells associated with the retina function as optical fibers. That is, the radial glial cells (star-shaped cells that help maintain the structure of nervous tissue and transport nutrients to neurons) form fibers oriented in the direction of light propagation through the retina. This function allows them to transmit light efficiently from the surface of the retina to the photoreceptors. Radial glial cells have a higher refractive index than the surrounding tissue matrix, serving as a low-scattering conduit for light and thus transmitting images capably and with little distortion.

Elegant Design of the Retina
These insights build upon earlier studies that point to a rationale for the inverted design of the vertebrate retina. For example, the vertebrate eye functions like a premium quality camera. Yet vertebrates’ high-sensitivity, high-resolution vision comes with a steep metabolic cost. On a per weight basis, the retina is the one of the most metabolically demanding tissues in vertebrates. Relatively high levels of nutrients and oxygen must be supplied to the rod and cone cells to sustain the metabolic processes that undergird light absorption and the metabolic cascades that trigger the electrical impulses initiated by the rod and cone cells. 

A bed of capillaries located in the choroid supplies these nutrients and oxygen. The choroid is positioned on one side of the retinal pigmented epithelium and the outer segments of the rods and cones on the other. The proximity of the choroid capillaries and the outer cell segments makes it possible for simple diffusion of oxygen and nutrients to supply the metabolic needs of the outer segments of the rod and cone cells. Moreover, the choroidal capillaries also allow for the efficient removal of waste products generated by the metabolic processes in the outer segments of the cone and rod cells. These capillaries also serve as a sink, removing heat from the outer segments. The intense metabolic activity in the outer segments generates a significant amount of heat, which, if not efficiently dissipated, will cause the proteins in the outer segment to denature.

It is true that orienting the outer segments of the rod and cone cells toward the light source would dramatically reduce light scattering. However, this orientation would also limit the number of cone and rod cells in the retina because it would hamper efficient oxygen and nutrient supply, waste removal, and heat dissipation. Returning to the camera analogy, imagine each rod and cone cell as a pixel. For digital cameras, the number of pixels correlates to the camera’s resolution. Likewise, limiting the number of rod and cone cells in the retina would reduce the resolution of vertebrate vision.

The sensitivity of the vertebrate eye arises from metabolic cascades that amplify the biochemical response when a rhodopsin or conopsin molecule absorbs a single photon. Again, if the photoreceptors were oriented toward the light source, the resulting inefficiencies in nutrient and oxygen delivery and heat and waste removal would limit the capacity of rod and cone cells to mount a sufficient metabolic response to be able to amplify the biochemical processes initiated by the absorption of a small number of photons.

Far from causing engineers to laugh, this rationale highlights a design elegant enough to inspire awe among technologists and life scientists alike.

Even though objects in my field of view have become blurrier as I get older, scientific advance during my lifetime continues to bring the remarkable design features of the vertebrate eye into sharper focus. Instead of the vertebrate eye being a cause célèbre for evolutionary biologists, the rationale that undergirds all of the design features of the inverted retina bespeak a Creator’s handiwork.

Resources

Design with a Purpose” by Brad Sargent (article)

Is the Design of the Human Retina Sensible?” by Eddie Del Rio (article)

How We Keep Our Eyes on Target?” by Eddie Del Rio (article)

Your $45,000 Eyes” by Curt Deckert (article)

Seeing the Wonder of Transparency” by Nick Tavani (article)

Optical Illusion Exposes the Reality of Design” by Fazale Rana (article)

New Research Highlights the Elegant Design of the Inverted Retina” by Fazale Rana (article)

Endnotes

  1. John M. Ball, Shan Chen, and Wei Li, “Cone Mitochondria Act as Microlenses to Enhance Light Delivery and Confer Stiles-Crawford-Like Direction Sensitivity,” BioRxiv (February 12, 2021); doi:10.1101/2021.02.11.430818.
  2. Trevor D. Lamb, “Evolution of the Eye,” Scientific American 305 (July 2011): 64-69.
  3. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 93.
  4. Irina Solovei et al., “Nuclear Architecture of Rod Photoreceptor Cells Adapt to Vision in Mammalian Evolution,” Cell 137 (April 17, 2009): 356–368, doi:10.1016/j.cell.01.052.

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How Darwin’s Lifelong Mentor United Science and Faith https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/how-darwins-lifelong-mentor-united-science-and-faith https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/voices/how-darwins-lifelong-mentor-united-science-and-faith#respond Thu, 06 Jan 2022 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=309692 As a student at the University of Cambridge, Charles Darwin became the protégé of a renowned professor of botany. This professor helped Darwin organize his specimens from the famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and corresponded with Darwin throughout his life. The man was John Stevens Henslow, who in addition to his post at Cambridge […]

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As a student at the University of Cambridge, Charles Darwin became the protégé of a renowned professor of botany. This professor helped Darwin organize his specimens from the famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and corresponded with Darwin throughout his life. The man was John Stevens Henslow, who in addition to his post at Cambridge was a committed philanthropist and parish priest. And though Darwin adopted belief in an atheistic form of evolution, Henslow maintained his faith in God to his death and thought that Darwin’s theories rested on unprovable assumptions. Darwin, for his part, felt that people were drawing “imaginary lines” when they did not follow the principle of natural selection through to its natural conclusion.

But what is most amazing about Henslow is not how he argued for a particular view, but how he lived out his faith as a scientist. In today’s polarized culture, discussions about science and faith often become heated debates where each side looks upon the other with suspicion and/or condescension. Henslow offers us an example of how to integrate science into a life of faith so that we spread the aroma of Christ rather than discord and distrust. This article discusses four ways that Henslow achieved this unity, both in his interactions with Darwin and with broader society.

  1. By respecting those with whom he disagreed

Henslow did not try to discredit his pupil or malign his character when Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Henslow defended Darwin’s integrity as a scientist from those who questioned his character in order to undermine Darwin’s teaching on evolution. Henslow also maintained an active correspondence with Darwin even though they disagreed on this crucial topic. And while Darwin could not persuade Henslow of his views, he still appreciated the opportunity to talk and even collaborate on occasion with his old mentor.

This attitude extended beyond science and faith and into the political realm. In a letter to Darwin regarding disagreements between the Tory and Whig parties—who were opposing factions in eighteenth century England—Henslow says, “Whatever you become I know it will be from honest conviction, and therefore tho’ I shan’t change my principles myself I shall be quite content to allow you to change yours without thinking the worse of you for so doing . . . we will now agree not to let our disagreement (if it should turn out so) trouble us.”1 We could all learn much from Henslow’s ability to maintain deep friendship despite disagreement on strongly held convictions.

2. By demonstrating kindness and integrity in personal relationships

These two excerpts from a letter Darwin wrote show how Henslow demonstrated the Christian virtues of hospitality, humility, patience, integrity, and selflessness in his interactions with his pupil long before Darwin was famous.

As time passed on at Cambridge I became very intimate with Professor Henslow, and his kindness was unbounded; he continually asked me to his house, and allowed me to accompany him in his walks. He talked on all subjects, including his deep sense of religion, and was entirely open. I owe more than I can express to this excellent man. . . . During my five years voyage on the Beagle, he regularly corresponded with me and guided my efforts; he received, opened, and took care of all the specimens sent home in many large boxes; but I firmly believe that, during these five years, it never once crossed his mind that he was acting towards me with unusual and generous kindness.2

During the years when I associated so much with Professor Henslow, I never once saw his temper even ruffled. He never took an ill-natured view of any one’s character, though very far from blind to the foibles of others. . . . A man must have been blind not to have perceived that beneath this placid exterior there was a vigorous and determined will. When principle came into play, no power on earth could have turned him one hair’s breadth.3

3. By using his knowledge and influence to help others

Henslow made numerous contributions to society and looked after the welfare of others with his gifts. Perhaps the best example of his exemplary character came from his time as an Anglican priest and rector of Hitcham, a rural parish in Suffolk. When Henslow began at the parish, “ignorance, crime, and vice” were rampant and the church nearly empty. In addition, many of the village cottages were “old, clay-walled, badly thatched and often totally undrained, with the whole family sleeping in a single room.” 4 Henslow, rather than simply assuming a preaching role at his new church, at once set about helping the congregation in practical ways.

He set up a village school, a series of self-help clubs (coal for heat, clothing for the children, medical aid, and a “wife’s society”), implored the landed gentry (landowners) to treat their workers more fairly, and helped farmers get better yields from their crops by using the latest advances in agriculture. His sincere concern for his parishioners was not lost on Darwin.  

I think he cared somewhat less about science, and more for his parishioners. . . . In one of the bad years for the potato, I asked him how his crop had fared; but after a little talk I perceived that, in fact, he knew nothing about his own potatoes, but seemed to know exactly what sort of crop was in the garden of almost every poor man in his parish.5

Henslow also set up a museum to educate the working classes on natural history, which included a library and regular lectures. He even taught a class on botany to the village school children, which required them to learn technical terms such as “monocotyledons” and “Thalamiflorae” before they could even be admitted to the class. Henslow collected over 400 species of plants with his young pupils, teaching them to collect, press, and label them. His most gifted students became assistants, one of whom, Harriet Sewell, went on to receive a scholarship and serve as both a teacher and governess.

4. By recognizing the limits of science

Henslow discussed the thesis of Darwin’s book with author Leonard Jenyns, who gave Darwin his place on the Beagle due to ill health and wrote a memoir on Henslow. In that memoir Henslow directed a twofold criticism at Darwin’s theory: (1) it rests on too many assumptions that “might or might not be true,” and (2) it leaves no room for God’s intervention in history. Both points suggest that scientists ought to exhibit greater humility in scientific inquiry. For Henslow, an explanation of the origin of species was as intractable as an explanation for the origin of evil.6

Henslow did not hold this position on Darwin’s theory because of an unwillingness to entertain scientific explanations for biblical events. For example, regarding the Flood, Henslow said “I see no reason for supposing that he (God) did not employ the ordinary means of nature as the instruments of his operation”.7 But whether one agrees that there is sufficient evidence to warrant belief in molecules-to-man evolution, Henslow’s second criticism remains. Henslow’s life is a testimony of practicing and championing scientific inquiry. But he also knew that science had its limits and researchers must not allow an explanation of how something works to rule out the explanation of why something is there in the first place or for what purpose it was made.

As C. S. Lewis says,

Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, “I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so. . . .” Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is. . . . But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is “Something Behind,” then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.8

Henslow recognized that no matter how advanced humanity becomes scientifically, greater understanding does not rule out God’s work in history. God is not an explanation for how the universe operates (where thunder comes from, why the stars move across the sky, etc). Rather, God is an explanation for why the universe exists at all and how the laws of nature originated. He is the Creator.

Endnotes

1. S. M. Walters & E. A. Stow, Darwin’s Mentor: John Stevens Henslow, 1796–1861 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 117.

2. Walters & Stow, Darwin’s Mentor, 117.

3. Leonard Jenyns, Memoir of John Stevens Henslow, 1862 (Whitefish, MT: Kesssinger Publishing, 2010), 54.

4. Walters & Stow, Darwin’s Mentor, 188.  

5. Jenyns, Memoir, 54.

6. A modern book that argues along the same lines is David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Basic Books, 2009).

7. Walters & Stow, Darwin’s Mentor, 162.

8. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 23.

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Cambrian Explosion Becomes More Explosive https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/cambrian-explosion-becomes-more-explosive https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/cambrian-explosion-becomes-more-explosive#respond Mon, 17 Jan 2022 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=309105 A period of 410,000 years seems like a long time for most people, but it’s relatively brief for scientists who study Earth’s history. Moreover, from a naturalistic perspective, this period of time would be considered implausibly brief for the required changes in the transition of life-forms from simple to complex. Several new research studies affirm […]

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A period of 410,000 years seems like a long time for most people, but it’s relatively brief for scientists who study Earth’s history. Moreover, from a naturalistic perspective, this period of time would be considered implausibly brief for the required changes in the transition of life-forms from simple to complex. Several new research studies affirm the explosiveness of animal life in Earth’s history and carry implications for evolution and creation.

Life Exploded onto the Scene
The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden, simultaneous appearance of the greatest number of phyla ever witnessed during the 3.8-billion-year history of Earth’s life. A phylum is a broad category of life-forms that share a common basic body plan. In eighteenth-century botanist Carl Linnaeus’s taxonomic classification system, a phylum ranks just below a kingdom in terms of inclusiveness.

Presently, there are a total of 30 phyla that comprise all Earth’s life. The Cambrian explosion, more than a half-billion years ago, saw the sudden appearance of all, or virtually all, these 30 phyla plus many more that became extinct. Estimates of the total number of phyla that appeared in the Cambrian explosion event range from 50 to 100.1 The new phyla that appeared in the Cambrian explosion (a largely marine event) included the first animals to possess skeletons, digestive tracts, circulatory systems, and complex internal and external organs. Not until the Cambrian explosion was there sufficient oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans for such animals to exist.

Animals that suddenly appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian period included the most advanced phyla in Earth’s history. We humans belong to the chordate phylum, which is characterized by animals that possess a dorsal hollow nerve cord and a notochord. All vertebrates and many invertebrates belong to the chordate phylum. Paleontologists have discovered fossils of chordates, including some vertebrates, that date back to the very beginning of the Cambrian period.

Dating the Cambrian Explosion
The textbook date for the Cambrian explosion is 543 million years ago. Recently, this date has been revised to 541 million years ago. While the fossil record establishes that many phyla suddenly and simultaneously arose at the beginning of the Cambrian period, determining an absolute date for this explosion of life has proved notoriously challenging.

Two of the best attempts to determine an absolute date for the Cambrian explosion were undertaken by research teams led by Diazhao Chen and Can Chen, respectively. Diazhao Chen and four colleagues obtained uranium-lead zircon ages from the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary strata, where one stratum contains fossils of Ediacaran (the period prior to the Cambrian) animals and the immediately adjacent stratum contains fossils of Cambrian animals in the Liuchapo Formation in South China.

The fossil record reveals that the Ediacaran animals were the first to appear on Earth. Unlike the Cambrian animals, the Ediacaran fauna lacked digestive tracts, circulatory systems, skeletons, and complex organs. The record shows that the Ediacaran fauna experienced a sudden worldwide mass extinction event that was quickly followed by the appearance of the Cambrian explosion animals.

Diazhao Chen’s team determined a uranium-lead date of 542.1 ± 5.0 million years ago for the basal part of the Liuchapo Formation.2 For the mid-upper part of the Liuchapo Formation they measured a uranium-lead date of 542.6 ± 3.7 million years ago.3 Five years later, Can Chen and his colleague Qinglai Fena achieved a weighted mean uranium-lead zircon age of the lower part of the Liuchapo Formation and demonstrated that the lower part indeed reveals the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary.4 The age of the boundary they produced was 540.7 ± 3.8 [±6.6] million years ago. The unbracketed error bar is the probable statistical error. The bracketed error bar is the probable systematic error.     

Precision Date and Time Breadth of the Cambrian Explosion
In a third research effort, a team of 14 geochemists and geophysicists led by Ulf Linnemann discovered a way to obtain a precision date for the launch of the Cambrian explosion. They found a composite geological section in southern Namibia of the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary that provided biostratigraphic and chemostratigraphic data that was bracketed by radiometric dating.5 Their measurements constrained the date for the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary to no earlier than 538.99 ± 0.21 million years ago and no later than 538.58 ± 0.19 million years ago. Therefore, they concluded that the faunal transition from Ediacaran to Cambrian biota occurred within less than 410,000 years.6

The date for the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary determined by Linnemann’s team is 2 million years younger than the dates measured by Diazhao Chen’s team and by Can Chen and Qinglai Feng. However, it is not discrepant. The three dates agree within the error bars of each of the three dates.

Another Phylum Discovered
In yet another study, researchers discovered evidence of a modern-day phylum that had not been found in Cambrian strata. Bryozoans, commonly known as moss animals, are soft-bodied aquatic invertebrate animals. The body sizes of these animals range from 0.1–1.0 millimeters. They possess tiny tentacles used for filter feeding.

Paleontologists once thought the origin of the bryozoa phylum occurred during the Tremadocian Stage (485–478 million years ago). However, an international team of ten geologists and biologists led by Zhiliang Zhang surmised that, given the soft- and small-bodied nature of bryozoa, fossils dating previous to 485 million years ago would be extraordinarily difficult to find. Zhang’s team made a diligent search in Cambrian strata in South China and Australia. In a recent issue of Nature, they reported discovering bryozoa fossils in early Cambrian strata in both Australia and South China.7 Thus, yet another phylum has been added to the list of known phyla that belong to the Cambrian explosion.

Philosophical Consequences
A time window for the Cambrian explosion briefer than 410,000 years is far too brief for any conceivable naturalistic model for the history of life. It would be far too brief even for the appearance of just one new phylum, let alone 30+ phyla. These discoveries make paleontologist Kevin Peterson’s conclusion in his review paper on the Cambrian explosion—published a dozen years ago—all the more compelling: “Elucidating the materialistic basis for the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself.”8 The same goes for Gregory Wray’s review published in 1992, “The Cambrian ‘explosion’ of body plans is perhaps the single most striking feature of the metazoan fossil record. The rapidity with which phyla and classes appeared during the early Paleozoic coupled with much lower rates of appearance of higher taxa since, poses an outstanding problem for macroevolution.”9

These advances pose no such problems for a creation model that describes a Creator’s intentional activity. Part of that intentionality includes packing the planet with a great diversity and abundance of animals that would help humans launch civilization.

Endnotes

  1. Roger Lewin, “A Lopsided Look at Evolution,” Science 241, no. 4863 (July 15, 1988): 291–293, doi:10.1126/science.241.4863.291.
  2. Diazhao Chen et al., “New U-Pb Zircon Ages of the Ediacaran-Cambrian Boundary Strata in South China,” Terra Nova 27, no. 1 (February 2015): 62–68, doi:10.1111/ter.12134.
  3. Diazhao Chen et al., “New U-Pb Zircon Ages.”
  4. Can Chen and Qinglai Feng, “Carbonate Carbon Isotope Chemostratigraphy and U-Pb Zircon Geochronology of the Liuchapo Formation in South China: Constraints on the Ediacaran-Cambrian Boundary in Deep-Water Sequences,” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 535 (December 2019): id. 109361, doi:10;.1016/j.palaeo.2019.109361.
  5. Ulf Linnemann et al., “New High-Resolution Age Data from the Ediacaran-Cambrian Boundary Indicate Rapid, Ecologically Driven Onset of the Cambrian Explosion,” Terra Nova 31, no. 1 (February 2019): 49–58, doi:10.1111/ter.12368.
  6. Linnemann et al., “New High-Resolution Age Data,” 49.
  7. Zhiliang Zhang et al., “Fossil Evidence Unveils an Early Cambrian Origin for Bryozoa,” Nature 599 (November 11, 2021): 251–255, doi:10.1038/s41586-021-04033-w.
  8. Kevin J. Peterson, Michael R. Dietrich, and Mark A. McPeek, “MicroRNAs and Metazoan Macroevolution: Insights into Canalization, Complexity, and the Cambrian Explosion,” BioEssays 31, no. 7 (July 2009): 737, doi:10.1002/bies.200900033.
  9. Gregory A. Wray, “Rates of Evolution in Developmental Processes,” American Zoologist 32, no. 1 (February 1992): 131, doi:10.1093/icb/32.1.123.

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Lewis Phenomenon Continues in The Most Reluctant Convert https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/lewis-phenomenon-continues-in-the-most-reluctant-convert https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/lewis-phenomenon-continues-in-the-most-reluctant-convert#respond Tue, 16 Nov 2021 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=308750 Shortly before his death in 1963, C. S. Lewis told his secretary Walter Hooper that five years after he (Lewis) was dead he would be forgotten.1 As a prescient and prophetic twentieth-century Christian thinker and writer, that seems to be one of the few things that Lewis got wrong. A potent Lewis phenomenon has been […]

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Shortly before his death in 1963, C. S. Lewis told his secretary Walter Hooper that five years after he (Lewis) was dead he would be forgotten.1 As a prescient and prophetic twentieth-century Christian thinker and writer, that seems to be one of the few things that Lewis got wrong.

A potent Lewis phenomenon has been taking place a generation after his death and shows no sign of waning. His books sell better now than they did during his lifetime. Lewis’s children’s fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best-selling books of all time—having sold one hundred million copies in 47 languages. The Narnia series has also been adapted for radio, television, the stage, film, and computer games.2 Lewis’s most popular theological and apologetics book Mere Christianity was chosen by Christianity Today magazine as the most important Christian book of the twentieth century. And in 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, he was honored in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside some of the greatest writers in English literature.

New Movie about Lewis
A new movie released just before the holidays is a C. S. Lewis biopic entitled, The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis. It’s directed by Norman Stone who also directed the 1985 television movie Shadowlands, a film about C. S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman. The movie features theater actor Max McLean as the middle-aged Lewis who narrates some of the key events in C. S. Lewis’s life, including his acceptance of atheism as a young man, his time as a soldier in World War I, and specifically the events that led to his rediscovery of belief in God and his conversion to Christianity. The movie is based on the McLean play, C. S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert, and reflects some of the content from Lewis’s famous autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

One of the most appealing features of the film includes three actors’ portrayal of Lewis at various stages of his life: young boy, young man, older man. For me, the best part of the movie is McLean’s engaging narration of Lewis as the Oxford Don looks back at various stages and events of his extraordinary life with serious reflection.

Another captivating element of the movie is that it was filmed in and around Oxford, and includes scenes from Oxford University’s Magdalen College where Lewis taught, The Kilns where Lewis lived, the Eagle and Child pub where Lewis met with his fellow Inklings, and Holy Trinity Church where Lewis attended church and where he is buried. I also appreciated that the role of the Anglican priest at Lewis’s church was played by Michael Ward, who biblical scholar N. T. Wright has called “the foremost living Lewis scholar.”

A seemingly confusing feature of the film, at least for me on my first viewing, is the beginning of the movie. It starts out as an apparent documentary as to how the movie was made and then shifts to McLean’s stage play as Lewis and then finally to the narrated movie events of Lewis’s life. The transition and sequence seemed somewhat awkward. The movie also covers a lot of ground in Lewis’s life in a very short time, which may be confusing to people who don’t have extensive knowledge of Lewis.

Takeaway
Yet whether one likes the film or not, (I certainly enjoyed it) there are two larger points to be appreciated. First, like the 2019 biopic film Tolkien about J. R. R. Tolkien, the fact that the life of a prominent Christian thinker and writer is depicted on the big screen is extraordinary. This is especially true in that the film catalogs Lewis’s journey from atheism back to belief in God and then to the acceptance of the truth of Christianity.

Second, the film illustrates that the Lewis phenomenon continues. The film was first scheduled for select, and therefore, limited showings in theaters. But the robust attendance at the film’s initial release has led to extended showings of the movie. People remain interested in C. S. Lewis and the books, plays, television programs, and big-screen movies that tell us more about this extraordinary man.

C. S. Lewis’s words and ideas carry a special persuasiveness concerning the truth of historic Christianity. And by their movie ticket purchases, a lot of people are interested in seeing that message receive a wide public showing.

Reflections: Your Turn
Have you seen the film? What did you think? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013), 363.
  2. Wikipedia, s. v. The Chronicles of Narnia, last edited November 11, 2021.

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Finding Sterile Neutrinos May Solve Cosmic Mysteries https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/finding-sterile-neutrinos-may-solve-cosmic-mysteries https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/finding-sterile-neutrinos-may-solve-cosmic-mysteries#respond Mon, 10 Jan 2022 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=308945 As scientists continue to acquire knowledge of the formation and structure of the universe, their discoveries unlock mysteries that test cosmic creation models. One such mystery is the particles that make up dark matter, which astronomers know accounts for 85% of the universe’s matter. However, thanks to sophisticated instrumentation, scientists may soon be able to […]

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As scientists continue to acquire knowledge of the formation and structure of the universe, their discoveries unlock mysteries that test cosmic creation models. One such mystery is the particles that make up dark matter, which astronomers know accounts for 85% of the universe’s matter. However, thanks to sophisticated instrumentation, scientists may soon be able to identify particles that make up most of the universe’s dark matter and may help resolve cosmic mysteries.  

Searching for Sterile Neutrinos
It’s possible that a large fraction of the universe’s dark matter consists of sterile neutrinos. Thus, researchers spend considerable effort trying to detect them. In 2011, I wrote five articles about sterile neutrinos.1 Sterile neutrinos are distinguished from the active neutrinos that I described in last week’s article, Neutrino Breakthroughs: More Evidence for Cosmic Creation and Design.2 Active neutrinos interact very weakly with photons, protons, neutrons, and electrons through the weak nuclear force and the gravitational force. Active neutrinos come in three “flavors” or types: electron, muon, and tau. Sterile neutrinos are hypothetical particles that are believed to interact only through the gravitational force.

The standard particle creation model requires that there be exactly three different types of active neutrinos. However, if sterile neutrinos exist, there must be at least three different types of sterile neutrinos.3

So far, the only dark matter particles that astronomers and particle physicists have detected are the three active neutrinos. As I stated in my previous article, new measurements establish the sum of the individual electron, muon, and tau neutrino masses = 0.05841–0.087 electron volts (eV). This mass range implies that active neutrinos comprise just a small fraction of the universe’s dark matter.

Astronomers and physicists have proposed that either sterile neutrinos or axions (another hypothetical elementary particle) or both could make up the majority of the universe’s dark matter. These two particles hold the potential of explaining the following cosmic mysteries:

  1. Why the first stars apparently form as early in cosmic history as they do
  2. Why the universe produces slightly more baryons (protons and neutrons) than antibaryons
  3. Why core-collapse supernovae produce unexpectedly high abundances of certain elements with atomic weight greater than 100
  4. Why supernova shocks are so highly energetic
  5. Why dark matter halos are relatively symmetrical and smooth
  6. Why supermassive black holes form as early as they do in cosmic history
  7. How to account for a small amount of warm dark matter to accompany the predominant cold dark matter that astronomers observe

Consequently, for the past two decades astronomers and physicists have sought to discover—both in the lab and in the sky—the existence of sterile neutrinos and/or axions. In the next few sections, I summarize the results of various lines of research. It’s technical, so skim if desired and get the overall picture as you proceed to “Philosophical Implications.”

Laboratory Sterile Neutrino Detections?
In 2018, the MiniBooNE Collaboration announced that they had discovered an excess of electron neutrino oscillations in their MiniBooNE short-baseline neutrino experiment.4 They interpreted this excess as evidence for the existence of a fourth neutrino type at a significance level of 4.7 standard deviations (equivalent to 99.99% certainty). An excess of neutrino oscillation events was also detected by the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) with a similar level of certainty for the existence of a fourth neutrino type.5

Theoretical physicist Joachim Kopp, staff scientist at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, explained in a brief article why the signal detected by the MiniBooNE and LSND experiments is evidence for a sterile neutrino.6 Additional evidence for a fourth neutrino type came from an antineutrino anomaly observed in a French nuclear reactor that is best explained as an excess of electron neutrino oscillations7 and from measurements of antineutrinos in the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment in China.8 The Daya Bay reactor produced 6% fewer antineutrinos than would be the case if only three neutrino types existed. However, combining the antineutrino flux and spectra of the Daya Bay results suggests that the antineutrinos might not be missing after all. It is possible that the predictions from nuclear theory could be incomplete.

Astronomical Sterile Neutrino Detections?
In 2014, a team of astronomers led by Esra Bulbul detected a weak x-ray emission line in the stacked x-ray spectrum of 73 clusters of galaxies.9 Bulbul’s team demonstrated how the decay of sterile neutrinos with a mass of 7.1 keV best explains this spectral line. Also in 2014, a team of astronomers led by Alexey Boyarsky detected the same x-ray emission line in the core of the Andromeda Galaxy and in the Perseus Galaxy Cluster.10

Neutrinos suppress the growth of large-scale structure in the universe in proportion to the total mass of the neutrino types. Neutrinos also affect the expansion rate history of the universe. Therefore, observations of the clustering of galaxies and galaxy clusters plus maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation (the radiation remaining from the cosmic creation event) place constraints on the number of neutrino types and on the total mass of the different neutrino type particles.

The most sensitive maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) yield a measurement of the effective number of neutrino types. Since the three active neutrino types were not completely decoupled at the moment of electron-positron annihilation that occurred when the universe was only a few seconds old, these three types, by themselves, would give a measure for the effective number of neutrino types, Neff = 3.046.11 The best map of the CMBR, the Planck 2018 map, produced a measure of Neff = 2.99 ± 0.17.12 This measurement implies with 95% certainty that Neff must be less than 3.34. Furthermore, observational constraints on the primordial abundances of helium, deuterium, and lithium13 make a value of Neff = 4 highly unlikely.14 As the Planck Collaboration wrote in their paper, “The presence of a light thermalized sterile neutrino is in strong contradiction with cosmological data.”15 Even where the production of sterile neutrinos is suppressed by nonstandard interactions, the sterile neutrino mass cannot be any greater than 0.23 eV. Combining the Planck and Daya Bay data provides an upper limit of 0.2 eV for the sterile neutrino mass in all possible scenarios.15

Latest Constraints on Sterile Neutrinos
Three physicists in Britain, Italy, and Spain combined the latest CMBR, baryon acoustic oscillation, type Ia supernovae, and cosmic structure growth rate observations to produce the tightest constraint on the total number of neutrino types. Their result was Neff = 3.05 ± 0.16, which means with 95% certainty that Neff must be less than 3.37.16 Meanwhile, the MiniBooNE Collaboration upgraded their experiment, dramatically improving its sensitivity. It is now called the MicroBooNE experiment.

In a preprint posted on October 29, 2021, the MicroBooNE Collaboration presented results from their initial observations of electron neutrino interactions from the Fermilab Booster Neutrino Beam using the MicroBooNE liquid argon time projection chamber.17 They achieved greater sensitivity than with MiniBooNE earlier, and found no excess of electron neutrino oscillation events. That is, they found no hint for the existence of sterile neutrinos.

Undeterred, researchers will reemploy MicroBooNE, which is set to deliver even more sensitive results. Another laboratory experiment, the STEREO experiment, is primed to achieve high-sensitivity output.18 Meanwhile, the X-ray sky is about to be probed by the eROSITA and Athena missions19 and the KM3NeT/ORCA telescope.20 If sterile neutrinos are lurking somewhere in the universe, they cannot remain hidden for long.

Constraints on Axions
As I explained in previous articles, the existence of substantial numbers of axions would cause white dwarf stars to cool at more rapid rates.21 As far back as 1992, observations of white dwarf cooling had established that axions, if they exist, could not have a particle mass greater than 0.01 eV.22 About a decade ago, two different teams of astronomers demonstrated that the excess cooling of white dwarfs is well explained by axion emission where the axion particle mass is just a few milli-eV.23 While this excess cooling yielded the first positive indication that axions exist, it implied that axions provide only a small fraction of the universe’s dark matter.

The existence of axions was firmed up by the analysis of additional observations made by one of the two teams. The team led by Jordi Isern noted that the observed excess cooling of white dwarf stars could be an artifact introduced by the star formation rate. However, white dwarf populations in our galaxy’s thin disk, thick disk, and halo each have different star formation rates. The fact that astronomers observe the same excess cooling in all three white dwarf populations means that the excess cooling cannot be an artifact of the star formation rate. It is likely due to axion emission. Isern’s team derived an axion particle mass in the range of 4–10 milli-eV.24

The future of axion astronomy looks promising. More extensive observations of white dwarf cooling curves are underway and an axion telescope, the solar axioscope IAXO, is under development.25 If axions are part of the universe’s undetected dark matter, astronomers will likely know soon.

Philosophical Implications
The constraints on the possible existence of sterile neutrinos have reached a point where, even if they do exist, they cannot make up a significant fraction of dark matter in the universe. Likewise, it is becoming increasingly evident that axions do not comprise a substantial fraction of the universe’s dark matter.

The universe’s dark matter is predominantly cold dark matter that’s comprised of particles traveling at much less than light’s velocity. However, a tiny fraction of the universe’s dark matter is warm dark matter that’s comprised of particles moving at a significant fraction of light’s velocity. Sterile neutrinos, if they exist, would be warm dark matter. It is possible, given current detection limits, that sterile neutrinos make up all, or most, of the universe’s warm dark matter. Axions, on the other hand, are cold dark matter particles.

That sterile neutrinos and/or axions do not comprise a substantial fraction of the universe’s dark matter does not mean that dark matter theories are in trouble. Astronomers and physicists have over thirty other candidate particles that could comprise the universe’s dark matter. However, sterile neutrinos and/or axions, if they do make up most of the universe’s dark matter, hold the greatest prospect for detection. The search for other dark matter candidate particles will be more challenging technologically. This is how science advances. It often takes many small steps to achieve breakthroughs. That’s why scientists test and retest.

As for the biblically predicted big bang creation model,26 all these new dark matter particle findings and the prospects for future dark matter particle discoveries are consistent and anticipated by the big bang creation models. Big bang models that permit the possible existence of physical life predict a specified quantity of dark matter where the dark matter is comprised of particles, a quantity that is consistent with astronomers’ best measurements.27 These findings provide further scientific demonstration that the more we learn about the universe, the more evidence we discover for the intentional, supernatural handiwork of the Being beyond the universe who created and designed it.

Endnotes

  1. Hugh Ross, “Candidates Compete for Top Billing among Cosmic Particles,” Reasons to Believe (June 1, 2011); Hugh Ross, “Have the Real ‘God Particles’ Been Found? Part 1 (of 4),” Reasons to Believe (January 24, 2011); Hugh Ross, “Have the Real ‘God Particles’ Been Found? Part 2 (of 4),” Reasons to Believe (January 31, 2011); Hugh Ross, “Have the Real ‘God Particles’ Been Found? Part 3 (of 4),” Reasons to Believe (February 7, 2011); Hugh Ross, “Have the Real ‘God Particles’ Been Found? Part 4 (of 4),” Reasons to Believe (February 14, 2011).
  2. Hugh Ross, “Neutrino Breakthroughs: More Evidence for Cosmic Creation and Design,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, January 3, 2022.
  3. Masahiro Ibe, Alexander Kusenko, and Tsutomu T. Yanagida, “Why Three Generations?” Physics Letters B 758 (July 10, 2016): 365–369, doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2016.05.025.
  4. A. A. Aguilar-Arevalo et al. (MiniBooNE Collaboration), “Significant Excess of Electronlike Events in the MiniBooNE Short-Baseline Neutrino Experiment,” Physical Review Letters 121, no. 22 (November 30, 2018): id. 221801, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.221801.
  5. C. Athanassopoulos et al., “Candidate Events in a Search for νmu → νe Oscillations,” Physical Review Letters 75, no. 14 (October 2, 1995): id. 2650, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.75.2650; A. Aguilar et al. (LSND Collaboration), “Evidence for Neutrino Oscillations from the Observation of νe Appearance in a νmu Beam,” Physical Review D 64, no. 11 (December 1, 2001): id. 112007, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.64.112007.
  6. Joachim Kopp, “The Plot Thickens for a Fourth Neutrino,” Physics 11 (November 26, 2018): id. 122, doi:10.1103/Physics.11.122.
  7. G. Mention et al., “Reactor Antineutrino Anomaly,” Physical Review D 83, no. 7 (April 291, 2011): id. 073006, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.83.073006.
  8. F. P. An et al. (Daya Bay Collaboration), “Measurement of the Reactor Antineutrino Flux and Spectrum at Daya Bay,” Physical Review Letters 116, no. 6 (February 12, 2016): id. 061801, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061801.
  9. Esra Bulbul et al., “Detection of an Unidentified Emission Line in the Stacked X-Ray Spectrum of Galaxy Clusters,” Astrophysical Journal 789, no. 1 (June 2014): id. 13, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/789/1/13.
  10. A. Boyarsky et al., “Unidentified Line in X-Ray Spectra of the Andromeda Galaxy and Perseus Galaxy Cluster,” Physical Review Letters 113, no. 25 (December 19, 2014): id. 251301, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.251301; Kevork N. Abazajian, “X-Ray Line May Have Dark Matter Origin,” Physics 7 (December 15, 2014): id. 128, doi:10.1103/Physics.7.128.
  11. Gianpiero Mangano et al., “Relic Neutrino Decoupling including Flavour Oscillations,” Nuclear Physics B 729, nos. 1–2 (November 21, 2005): 221–234, doi:10.1016/j.nuclpjysb.2005.09.041.
  12. N. Aghanim et al. (Planck Collaboration), “Planck 2018 Results VI. Cosmological Parameters,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 641 (September 2020): id. A6, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201833910.
  13. Hugh Ross, “Cosmic Creation Model Passes Key Helium Abundance Test,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 8, 2019; Hugh Ross, “New Deuterium Measurements Bolster Big Bang Cosmology,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, December 28, 2020; Hugh Ross, “Is Lithium a Problem for the Big Bang Creation Model?Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, February 20, 2017.
  14. Aghanim et al. (Planck Collaboration), “Planck 2018 Results.”
  15. Matthew Adams et al., “Direct Comparison of Sterile Neutrino Constraints from Cosmological Data, νe Disappearance Data and νmu → νe Appearance Data in a 3 + 1 Model,” European Physical Journal C 80, no. 8 (August 19, 2020): id. 758, doi:10.1140/epjc/s10052-020-8197-y.
  16. Eleonora Di Valentino, Stefano Gariazzo, and Olga Mena, “Most Constraining Cosmological Neutrino Mass Bounds,” Physical Review D 104, no. 8 (October 15, 2021): id. 083504, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.104.083504.
  17. P. Abratenko et al. (MicrorBooNE Collaboration), “Search for an Excess of Electron Neutrino Interactions in MicroBooNE Using Multiple Final State Topologies,” (October 29, 2021), arXiv:2110.14054.
  18. H. Almazán et al. (STEREO Collaboration), “Improved Sterile Neutrino Constraints from the STEREO Experiment with 179 Days of Reactor-On Data,” Physical Review D 102, no. 5 (September 1, 2020): id. 052002, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.102.052002.
  19. Andrea Caputo, Marco Regis, and Marco Taoso, “Searching for Sterile Neutrino with X-Ray Intensity Mapping,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 2020, no. 03 (March 2, 2020): id. 002, doi:10.1088/1475-7516/2020/03/001.
  20. S. Aiello et al. (KM3NeT Collaboration), “Sensitivity to Light Sterile Neutrino Mixing Parameters with KLM3NeT/ORCA,” Journal of High Energy Physics 2021, no. 10 (October 21, 2021): id. 180, doi:10.1007/JHEP10(2021)180.
  21. Ross, “Candidates Compete for Top Billing.”
  22. Jin Wang, “Constraints of Axions from White Dwarf Cooling,” Modern Physics Letters A 7, no. 17 (June 7, 1992): 1497–1502, doi:10.1142/S0217732392001166.
  23. J. Isern et al., “Axions and the White Dwarf Luminosity Function,” Journal of Physics: Conference Series 172 (June 2009): id. 012005, doi:10.1088/1742-6596/171/1/012005; Georg G. Raffelt, Javier Redondo, and Nicolas Viaux Maira, “The meV Mass Frontier of Axion Physics,” Physical Review D 84, no. 10 (November 15, 2011): id. 103008, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.84.103008.
  24. J. Isern et al., “Axions and the Luminosity Function of White Dwarfs: The Thin and Thick Discs, and the Halo,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 478, no. 2 (August 2018): 2569–2575, doi:10.1093/mnras/sty1162.
  25. Sebastian Hoof, Joerg Jaeckel, and Lennert J. Thormaehlen, “Quantifying Uncertainties in the Solar Axion Flux and Their Impact on Determining Axion Model Parameters,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 2021, no. 9 (September 6, 2021): id. 006, doi:10.1088/1475-7516/2021/09/006.
  26. Hugh Ross and John Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Reasons to Believe, July 1, 2000; Hugh Ross, “Does the Bible Teach Big Bang Cosmology?Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, August 26, 2019.
  27. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018), 50–53, 72–76.

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Coping with Lifelong Illness https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/coping-with-lifelong-illness https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/coping-with-lifelong-illness#respond Tue, 14 Dec 2021 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=308401 How does it feel to face a lifelong illness that is not only permanent but also accompanied by continual physical pain and growing disability? Nobody likes to suffer or watch their loved ones undergo such hurt and sorrow. This anguish is part of the perplexing philosophical and practical issue known as the problem of evil, […]

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How does it feel to face a lifelong illness that is not only permanent but also accompanied by continual physical pain and growing disability? Nobody likes to suffer or watch their loved ones undergo such hurt and sorrow. This anguish is part of the perplexing philosophical and practical issue known as the problem of evil, pain, and suffering.

Some time ago I wrote an article, God Shouted in My Pain, in which I described the sorrow and grief my family and I experienced at the death of my brother Frank to suicide. A woman who read the article contacted me and told me about her illness. She was a Christian and was firmly trusting in Christ’s atoning death for the forgiveness of sin. She also conveyed that she was trying to show her family and friends that in spite of her illness, she was resting in the sovereign will of God for her life.

But she was torn because—at times—she also felt hopeless in facing the rest of her life with almost constant pain and increasing physical disability. She said the pain sometimes made her think of ending it all herself. She then asked me for advice to help her face a life of suffering. Here is what I wrote to her.

Facing Ongoing Suffering
My dearest sister in the Lord:

Greetings in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I’m sorry to hear of your constant pain and growing disability. I hope you have good medical care and are able to talk with your doctor about pain medications and possible therapies. I also have a chronic illness and it took a long time for the doctor to find the right medication to help me. Since you’ve asked how you might deal with your suffering, I humbly and respectfully offer the following.

What has been helpful to me in times of pain and increasing disability is knowing that God knows what it is like to suffer. The Father’s Son was the unique God-man and he suffered with us in life and for us on the cross. I’m sure Jesus felt the temptation to give in to hopelessness when he was all alone and facing crucifixion. Our God is a God with wounds. Since Christ and thus the triune God can empathize with our suffering, don’t be afraid to express your lament to God about your painful condition. Remember Jesus’s comforting words in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

It has also been helpful for me to not dwell on the thought of having my illness for the rest of my life. So rather than thinking about the past or the future, I try to live in the present and each day ask God for the grace to get through this day. This focus on the present allows me to try to be courageous and trusting one day at a time.

Another thing that helps is to constantly tell myself I’m not alone in my suffering. I remind myself, especially during lonely periods, that God is closer to me than a friend, a relative, or even my spouse. And I look for ways that God shows his comforting presence.

Lastly, while I am not a mental health professional, I do strongly encourage you to seek professional psychological help if you haven’t already—especially if you have occasional suicidal thoughts. In fact, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is available to chat with you at any time, day or night.

I will pray for you, my sister in Christ. And I will ask the Lord to meet all your needs and to give you strength and courage.

May the Lord’s rest and peace be with you.

Takeaway
If you also battle illness or suffering of any kind, I hope these words will help in some way. Or if you know a person who does, please take the time to pray with them and offer support and encouragement. When you or a loved one undergoes suffering, remember that the God of historic Christianity can empathize with human pain and sorrow.

Reflections: Your Turn
What do you think of Jesus’s promise to give people rest and peace in our suffering? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

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How Christians Can Unite Despite Disagreement https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/how-christians-can-unite-despite-disagreement https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/how-christians-can-unite-despite-disagreement#respond Tue, 28 Dec 2021 13:00:00 +0000 https://reasons.org/?p=308398 Could the doctrinal differences among Christians be a legitimate reason to reject the truth of historic Christianity? Some skeptics think so. In fact, some secular critics of Christianity think the faith is hopelessly divided. Even many Christians say they are turned off by what they perceive as bickering among the various branches and denominations within […]

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Could the doctrinal differences among Christians be a legitimate reason to reject the truth of historic Christianity? Some skeptics think so. In fact, some secular critics of Christianity think the faith is hopelessly divided. Even many Christians say they are turned off by what they perceive as bickering among the various branches and denominations within Christianity. Because of these historic controversies, some believers in Christ have chosen to not use the word “Christian” in describing themselves but rather prefer the term “followers of Jesus” or “Christ followers.”

Some time ago I made the following comment on Facebook, which led to an exchange about the specific agreements and disagreements among Protestants and Catholics (the two major branches within Western Christendom). I can only share parts of the lengthy exchange but I hope the following dialogue will help you to think about and weigh both the unity and disunity within the Christian faith, particularly as it relates to Catholics and Protestants.

Me: The important doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants that emerged at the time of the Reformation remain. But given the state (apparent decline) of our culture I think theologically conservative Catholics and theologically conservative Protestants ought to at least consider working together as moral and cultural allies. To promote this idea I try to emphasize truth, unity, and charity in my interactions with all Christians.

Respondent: Please correct me if I am wrong. You know I respect your work, but this proposal seems a very soft approach considering the strong stands our Reformed forefathers took with Rome. Many Protestants insist that Roman Catholicism is apostate—at least from the Council of Trent (1545–1563) onward. Is this not still true? Does our work with them in the culture war take precedence over these unresolved doctrinal issues? Or, must we be sensitive over these issues for fear that disagreement would jeopardize our cooperation in areas where we can agree?

Me: I like to think my proposal is doctrinally sound and graciously delivered, not soft. In my 1997 dialogue-debate1 with Jesuit scholar Father Mitchell Pacwa I present what I think is a robust defense of sola Scriptura (Scripture as final authority), and in my coauthored book The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary I strongly critique aspects of Catholic Mariology. But as an orthodox or theologically conservative Anglican I may find more common ground with Catholics than do some Reformed Christians, perhaps particularly Reformed Baptists (though some Reformed Episcopalians/Anglicans may say otherwise).

The main doctrinal differences that divide Catholics and Protestants such as authority (the relationship of Scripture and church tradition), justification (relating to salvation), and devotion to Mary—among other topics—remain important and unresolved theological issues. But conservative Catholics affirm every word of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and for me that is a huge part of historic Christianity. So I weigh carefully both where I agree and disagree with Catholics. Accordingly, I don’t view Catholics the way I view Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I think conservative Catholicism is a branch of Christendom with which I share much in common (Trinity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, etc.) but also with which I have sharp doctrinal differences.

I wrote about the common ground and the differences among Catholics and Protestants and their significance almost 30 years ago in the Christian Research Journal (see the reference section below). I also think it is critical that Catholics and Protestants work together to promote a culture of life and marriage that stresses the value and dignity of all people who are made in God’s image.

Respondent: The one area I really question is the gospel, and I’m not trying to be ungracious. Just as it is not being ungracious to say the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship the God of the Bible, it is also not ungracious to say that the Roman Catholic Church has corrupted the gospel itself! They do not preach the gospel the apostles preached, I contend, and many of our forebears died over these truths, including Anglicans! I’m not saying many Catholics are not true brothers in Christ, but only in spite of Rome’s heresy. Why doesn’t the “essential Christianity” movement regard the gospel as just as important as the Trinity, deity of Christ, the virgin birth, and bodily resurrection of Christ?

I also agree with you about working not only with Roman Catholics on the cultural issues, but even with Mormons, Muslims, Jews, etc, to foster a culture of life and decency. Yet I would not hesitate to tell them they are lost without faith in Christ alone, by grace through faith alone as well!

Me: You and I may respectfully disagree on exactly how to evaluate Catholicism and I’m fine with that. In my scholarly studies I have found that thoughtful Christians can arrive at different positions. But may I humbly encourage you to continue to study carefully just where the Catholic view of grace, faith, and works compares with the historic Protestant view. Catholics emphasize the primacy of grace in salvation and in my view that is no small thing. For example, you might consider taking a look at the works of orthodox Anglican theologians George Carey and Peter Toon on the subject as well as read the Catholic Catechism (see the reference section below). Also, you might read the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed and ask yourself how much of Christianity is reflected in these ancient and medieval statements of faith. I think I have weighed carefully all of essential Christianity in coming to my view, including justification by faith.

But I find it interesting that conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches usually accept Catholic baptisms but reject those of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But why accept the sacraments of a false church that preaches a different gospel? Also, if Roman Catholicism is a false church, where was Christ’s church prior to the Protestant Reformation? Something to consider.

I agree with you that we can build common ground on moral values with Mormons, Muslims, and Jews. But I don’t view Catholics in the same way I do adherents of those non-Christian religions. Affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity and all its grace-oriented implications2 puts the Catholic Church in a different category, at least for me.

Takeaway
As a Christian, however you view the agreements and disagreements among Catholics and Protestants, as well as other groups within Christendom, I hope you’ll give careful consideration to matters of truth, unity, and charity. Non-Christians are watching how Christians express their agreement and disagreement in public. And on this basis, they often evaluate the potential truthfulness of the faith.

Reflections: Your Turn
What stands out to you most regarding Catholics and Protestants—their areas of agreement or areas of disagreement? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Father Mitch Pacwa vs. Professor Ken Samples Debate on the the Authority of the Catholic Church #1 of 4 (1997), Ultimate Challenge: A Catholic-Protestant Debate, posted November 15, 2017.
  2. For the Trinity’s unique relationship to salvation by grace, see my article No Trinity, No Salvation.

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