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Proteins: Taking Origami To A Whole New Level

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pack rat, but there are some things that I just can’t bring myself to throw away. Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards. The truth of the matter is that the items that I tend to hang onto would not be considered valuable by most people, but to me they are priceless. One of those items is sitting on top of my bookcase. It’s a small swan that was given to me by a friend’s daughter who had carefully folded it for me out of a piece of blue paper. Given that I find it challenging enough to re-fold a roadmap, I have a real appreciation for anyone who has the patience and the skill to do origami. Taking a sheet of paper and transforming it into a work of art is hard enough. Yet there is something else that requires folding in order to make it, and the precision with which it is folded is so critical that life would be impossible without it. This “something” that I’m referring to is a protein.

All living things are made up of proteins, and proteins are made up of “building blocks” known as amino acids. More specifically, those proteins must be made up almost exclusively of left-handed amino acids. Amino acids exist in what has come to be known as “left-handed” and “right-handed” forms. In other words, if you were to look at a three-dimensional model representing each type, you would notice that they exist as mirror-images of each other, similar to placing your hands together, touching fingertips. Again, even though amino acids exist in both forms, living things are made up almost exclusively of the left-handed kind. So, even if you have a long chain of left-handed amino acids linked together, if just one right-handed amino acid finds its way into that chain, the protein’s ability to function is diminished greatly, if not entirely. To make life even more improbable, all of the “letters” of the “genetic alphabet” in that chain must be in exactly the right sequence in order to be meaningful, much like the proper arrangement of letters in a book or a set of instructions. How improbable is it? Just ask the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix design, (evolutionist) Francis Crick:

“If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would this be?….The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time.”

Francis Crick, “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature”, 1981, pp.51-52

We’re not finished yet. Not only do all of the correct amino acids have to be in proper order in the chain, not only do they have to be exclusively left-handed amino acids, in addition to this, the protein must be folded into a three-dimensional configuration to exact specifications. This is a critical step because the folded protein must have the proper “lock and key” fit in order to function and to interact with the other components within the cell that require an exact match to it. To say that the protein must be “precisely folded” is an understatement. In an outstanding presentation titled, “The Origin of Life”, Mike Riddle of the Institute for Creation Research draws our attention to two different studies in order to help us understand how improbable it is to properly fold a protein. He begins with the following statement by H.J.C. Berendsen:

“Scientists have been attempting to be able to determine a protein’s native conformation (or folding) by examining the amino acid sequence. Despite years of study, the ability to do this using even the fastest computers is beyond our reach…”

“…Using a super fast computer (one quadrillion computations per second) it would take 1080 seconds, which exceed the age of the universe by a factor of 60 orders of magnitude! This fact alone may give you a better perspective on the mind of God.”

H.J.C. Berendsen, “Perspectives: Protein Folding, a Glimpse of the Holy Grail?”

-Science, 1998

Or consider another study in Los Alamos, N.M. in October 14th, 2002, where researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, San Diego, used some of the fastest computers available to simulate the folding of a “simple” protein consisting of only 18,000 atoms. (Again, this is after getting all of the right atoms, arranged in the right order- all it has to do is fold the protein properly). How long did it take the computers? It took 6 months on 82 parallel processors, which amounts to 34 years of CPU time! Riddle goes on to point out that by comparison, a living cell folds this particular protein in about 10 microseconds (millionths of a second), which is 100 trillion times as fast as our fastest computers. As it turns out, the fastest “computer” in the world is a cell!

All of this leads one to ask the question:  if there is so much evidence for a Creator, why do so many people, especially in the sciences, continue to deny His existence?  It all comes down to one word- accountability. That is, it’s not a problem with the evidence, it’s a problem with the heart of man. We rebel against the idea that there is anyone who has ultimate authority over us, to whom we will be accountable at the end of our lives. In our attempt to flee from God, we are willing to deny the obvious.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”         (Romans 1:21)

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Absolutely Relative

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Over Memorial Day weekend, some friends of mine brought to my attention an interesting exchange that was taking place between a few college students on Facebook. It all began with a discussion surrounding a movie that had just recently come out.  The first student had rightly pointed out that many things about the movie, including the language, was in very poor taste.  Other comments followed as a few more students joined the conversation.  Most of the students agreed with the first guy and some of them went on to point out that movies which promote such obscene humor not only have a compromising effect on Christians who view them, they have a subtle, yet corrosive effect on our culture in general.

            As expected, not everyone agreed and it wasn’t long before some students began to challenge this idea.  One of those students was “Dave” (not his real name).  Dave, as a non-Christian, identified himself as “Ignostic”, which he said is “not to be confused with ‘agnostic’.”  In any case, Dave made it clear that he was a relativist and he made several comments to try and convince the other students that it’s pointless for them to make moral judgments about such movies because “morality is relative.”  I have no doubt that Dave is a very intelligent guy and he was very persuasive in pointing out several examples from various cultural and historical traditions which, on the surface, give the appearance that morality is “relative to cultures”.  There was one statement in particular that caught my attention as he attempted to summarize his comments by saying, “You cannot escape the context you are born into.” 

            This is not the first time I’ve heard that view expressed.  In fact, I just recently spoke to a woman who teaches political science at one of our universities who stated that this “context” view is quite common within higher education.  While it may be tempting to accept such a view purely on the basis that it’s “generally accepted” today in our colleges and universities, that should not stop us from calling it into question.  In fact, the ability to examine the strengths and weaknesses of an idea is what a good education is all about.  One thing that we often forget is that despite a great education, even a person of great intellect is capable of making egregious errors in reasoning because, just like the rest of us, they’re not perfect.  I believe that this story is an example of that.   

            There is something fundamentally wrong with this relativistic notion that “you cannot escape your context.”  To illustrate, suppose that I’m a Christian student in a college classroom and my professor has just said, “You cannot escape the context that you’re born into.”  If that really is the case, then what would be the point in teaching that to me?  As a Christian, I do not share that view.  So, in order for me to change my way of thinking and to embrace this “context” idea, I can only do so if I have the ability to step out of (“escape the context” of) my Christian worldview.  Yet, my professor has just told me that it’s impossible for anyone to escape their context!  Or suppose that someone was raised in a community that is very racist.  If he cannot escape the context that he was born into, then what would be the point in trying to persuade him that racism is wrong?   It only gets worse at this point.  What about the person who initially came up with this “context” theory?  Isn’t his theory, itself, really nothing more than a result of his or her own cultural context?  Did he come to his conclusions simply because he was raised that way?  If his theory is nothing more than a product of his context, why should the rest of us accept it, even if we could accept it? 

            This “context” view runs into the same problem that undermines all relativistic views-  they can’t live up to their own expectations.  Right from the start, they begin to lose traction because the person promoting the idea is attempting to apply his view or theory to everyone except himself (“the self-excepting fallacy”).  It’s one more example of an idea that has been allowed to take root in our culture, not because it is reasonable, but because we are either unwilling or unable to question the foundation on which the idea was built.  “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”  (Romans 1:22)

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Mutations And “Faded” Genes (Part 2)

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

In my previous post we were examining the claims of evolutionary theory which says that every living thing which exists is the result of an unguided process of natural selection acting upon random mutations.  The point that I emphasized was the fact that natural selection is powerless to create the very thing that is most needed-  new genetic information.  I ended by saying that the evolutionist would remind us that we are overlooking the most important factor of all-  mutations.

            So, do mutations have what it takes to save evolutionary theory?  It’s highly unlikely.  Just as with natural  selection, mutations cannot create any new information.  When asked if new information can originate through mutations, Dr. Werner Gitt, a director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology answered this way:

             “…this idea is central in representations of evolution, but mutations can only cause changes in existing information.  There can be no increase in information, and in general the results are injurious.  New blueprints for new functions or new organs cannot arise; mutations cannot be the source of new (creative) information.”

Gitt,W., In the Beginning Was Information, CLV, Bielefeld, Germany, p. 127, 1997

            It’s bad enough that mutations are not the “hero” that the evolutionist was hoping for.  To make matters worse, mutations actually turn out to be the villain in the story!  Not only do mutations lack the very thing that it takes to drive us forward in some onward, upward evolutionary direction, mutations are actually driving us irreversibly and inescapably in a direction toward decay and death.  In fact, mutations are the primary reason that all of us age and eventually die.  But not only do our bodies, individually, age and die, the overall effect of genetic decay (entropy) is that the entire human race is “aging” genetically and will eventually die.

            In order to understand why that’s the case, we need to understand what mutations are and how they work.  In short, mutations are “typographical errors” that occur in our DNA code as that information is replicated during cell division.  Similar to word-processing errors, mutations can occur as deletions, insertions, “letter substitutions” (point mutations), and inversions.  Just as errors in word-processing corrupt the meaning and integrity of a text, mutations corrupt genetic information.  As a result, the cumulative effect is that the genetic information necessary to build human beings is in a state of disintegration

            In his presentation, “The Mystery of Our Declining Genes”, retired Cornell University Professor Dr. John Sanford comments that a famous geneticist once stated that if the mutation rate was as high as one mutation per person, per generation, human extinction and human degeneration would be certain.  Dr. Sanford goes on to point out that current research in human genetics has confirmed that there are more than one hundred new mutations per person, per generation-  a fact that is well-known among human geneticists.  By the way, the “genetic mistakes” of each generation are passed along and added on to each successive generation.  In other words, each of us will have one hundred more mutations than our parents did.

            Evolutionists insist that it all makes sense once you include natural selection in the process-  that natural selection acting upon those mutations is the key to understanding evolution.  However, that explanation is entirely inadequate to salvage the theory.  For the most part, natural selection cannot select for “beneficial” mutations because they are extremely rare and much too subtle at the genetic level-  so subtle, in fact, that they are virtually “invisible” to natural selection.  On the other hand, natural selection has the additional problem of not being able to select against  (get rid of) bad genes for the same reason (too subtle to detect). 

            Here’s the problem:  Since nearly all mutations are harmful, and since most of them are so subtle that they go largely undetected by natural selection, the overall, cumulative effect on an organism is one of decay and disintegration.  Sanford compares the effect of harmful mutations to rust on a car.  The rusting of metal is a subtle process (one atom at a time) that takes place long before there are any visible signs, and  the overall effect is always destructive not constructive.  In addition to this, it’s important to keep in mind that natural selection cannot “pick and choose” between which genes it “likes” and which ones it “doesn’t like”.  It can only select the entire organism-  it must take the bad genes (the majority) along with the “good” genes (extremely rare by comparison).

            Dr. Sanford says that the declining condition of our genes is well known among human geneticists.  He goes on to say that he is puzzled by the fact that even though geneticists agree that the human race is degenerating, many of those same geneticists continue to believe in evolution despite evidence to the contrary.  What doesn’t surprise Dr. Sanford is why they withhold that information from the general public.  After all, it’s not easy to face up to the fact that the human race is dying, and dwelling on it can leave a person feeling hopeless and in a state of despair.

            However, the good news is that we are not the “byproducts of time plus matter plus chance”.  You and I were created by the purposive act of an awesome, all-powerful God-  the same God who sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to vanquish death and to offer eternal life to those who are willing to place their trust in Him.

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Mutations And “Faded” Genes (Part 1)

Monday, May 16th, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of taking my nephew and niece to the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson where we had the opportunity to observe various wildlife and habitats that are indigenous to Arizona.  Later that evening, I took their two younger sisters to the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe where we visited the Arizona SeaLife Aquarium.  It was a great experience that gave us a chance to take a close-up look at marine life of various sizes and brilliant colors.  As I look back on both of those experiences and as I reflect on all that I had seen, I can’t imagine someone who would come away from such an experience without asking at some point, “How did all of this come to be?” 

            If you accept the explanation given by those who have embraced evolutionary theory, then everything which exists, the universe and everything in it, came about through a purely naturalistic process of “time, plus matter, plus chance”.  More specifically, the theory suggests that every living thing came into existence through a combination of random mutations and natural selection.  Even though that idea has been the dominant view in science for many, many years, the most recent research in various scientific disciplines tells a much different story.

            One area of research that has exposed some of the theory’s weaknesses is the study of genetics.  In order to appreciate its significance, it’s crucial that we begin with an understanding of DNA and its function.  Every living thing, from microbes to man, is built upon genetic information in the form of DNA.  Without this information it’s impossible to build life.  You might think of DNA as a set of “blueprints” or “assembly instructions”.  If you’ve ever had the experience of building a model plane or assembling a child’s bicycle, you know that it’s not enough to simply have all of the necessary parts.  You must also have a set of assembly instructions to tell you exactly how and where each piece fits together.  It’s important to keep in mind that the more complex something is, the more assembly instructions it’s going to require in order to build it.  A model plane or a bicycle may come with a sheet of assembly instructions requiring twenty or more steps.  Designing and building an automobile will take much more information.  A space shuttle will take an even greater amount of information.  This same principle holds true for living things as well.  While the leap in complexity from a child’s bicycle to a space shuttle is unimaginably great, by comparison, the leap in complexity from a bacterium to a human being is far greater.  If evolution is true, if life somehow evolved from single-celled organisms all the way up to complex human beings, it would require an increase in genetic information of staggering proportions! 

            The nagging question for evolutionary theory is this:  Is it likely that an increase in information of that magnitude actually took place?  Is there any mechanism that we’ve observed that has the ability to produce new genetic information?  The reason that I emphasize “new” information is because there are processes that can transfer a loop of genetic material (a “plasmid”) from one place to another.  But notice that such transferred information is not new, created information.  It was pre-existing information that was simply relocated.  Also, in plants there are processes that can result in the doubling of all the chromosomes, but such a process does not create new information.  It would be analogous to a malfunction in a printing press that causes it to double-print the pages in a textbook.  Even though it would result in twice the amount of pages, the book would not contain any more information than that which is in the properly printed book.  This brings us back to the question of whether there is any mechanism capable of producing brand new genetic information. 

            The evolutionist will tell us that mutations and natural selection are the driving forces behind evolution.  But in order for that claim to be true, one must first of all show that those processes have the ability to create the information necessary to build new, novel features. Everything that we’ve observed about natural selection and mutations would indicate that neither are capable of producing the new information that would be necessary for “molecules to man” evolution. 

            While it is true that natural selection is an undeniable process that we observe in nature, it is imperative that we understand the limitations of that process and not attribute to that process abilities that it does not possess.   The most significant limitation of natural selection that we need to acknowledge is that it does not have the ability to produce new genetic information.   Natural selection can only sort out, rearrange, and separate the information that already exists in the genes.  The point is, natural selection cannot create new biological features because it cannot create the information that’s necessary to build  those features. 

            At this point, the evolutionist would remind us that it’s not entirely up to natural selection alone to perform the “miracles”-  it is a combination of natural selection and mutations.  But is that really the case?  Are mutations the “hero” of the plot?  Can mutations come to the rescue of evolutionary theory?  We will explore that question in my next post.

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The Soup Kitchen Remains Closed For Darwin

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

At the end of last year, Access Research Network gave a list of ten of the top scientific discoveries made in 2010 (plus five honorable mentions) that offered a positive case for intelligent design and a challenge for evolutionary dogma.  In a brilliant article titled, “No More Soup For You!”, they cited a paper by evolutionary biologist William Martin regarding origin of life theories, specifically putting to rest the “primordial soup” theory.  The 81-year-old theory was first introduced by J.B.S. Haldane and it proposed that life on earth first began in a “soup” of organic molecules before “evolving” out of the oceans “millions of years” later. 

            The paper that was cited by ARN appeared in Bioessays 27 Jan 2010.  In it, Martin and his colleagues get right to the point in the introduction, “Primordial soup at 81, well past its sell-by date.”  They go on to explain some of the more recent problems that plague the “soup” theory and why it should have been discarded a long time ago.  In place of it, they propose an alternative explanation that involves deep-sea hydrothermal vents.  Even though the “hydrothermal vents” theory faces serious obstacles of its own, (the hydrolytic effects of water, etc.) my main point at this time is to ask why so many outdated evolutionary ideas persist, despite having been thoroughly discredited by reputable scientists.  For example, in the four leading biology textbooks currently being used in our educational system, the discredited “soup” theory continues to be presented as a “fact” to unsuspecting students by way of several references to the famous Miller/Urey experiment in 1953.

            The Miller experiment was conducted in a laboratory apparatus using water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen (to simulate what was believed to be the early earth’s atmosphere), a sparking chamber (to provide an energy source), and a “trap” to catch the final product.  The experiment resulted in a product that contained, among other things, a few amino acids, the basic building blocks of life.  At the time, the media hailed Miller’s experiment as, “Life Created In A Test Tube.”  Since that time, many scientists have pointed out that Miller’s experiment was not only light-years away from “creating life”, it was misguided in every way, from the manner in which it was set up, right down to the final product.

            To begin with, Miller started off with the wrong assumptions about the early earth’s atmosphere.  Knowing that oxygen would actually prevent the formation of any precursors to life, he assumed that the early earth’s atmosphere did not contain any oxygen.   Based on that assumption, he did not include oxygen in his experiment.  However, more recent research has revealed that oxygen has been present in the atmosphere throughout earth’s history.  Secondly, the “trap” Miller used was entirely unrealistic.  In the event that any organic molecules formed, the purpose of the trap was to protect and isolate them from “overexposure” to the very same spark that was used to produce them.  For Miller, the trap would prove to be a Catch-22 because with the trap, any resultant products collected in the trap would run into a dead end.  Yet, without the trap, there would be no way to isolate and protect the delicate product (amino acids) from being destroyed by the same energy source (spark) that was necessary to produce them in the first place.  Lastly, Miller’s experiment produced the wrong results.  Amino acids come in both “left-handed” and “right-handed” forms (mirror-images of each other).  Proteins in living things are made up exclusively of left-handed amino acids, yet Miller ended up with a lifeless mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids.  To make matters worse, the final product resulted in a tar-like substance, a mixture which would have been toxic to life.

            In the end, all naturalistic explanations on the origin of  life require a serious leap of faith.  To believe that random, chance processes organized the necessary building blocks of life, in just the right order, in the correct three-dimensional configuration, (like a lock and key) leading all the way up to a self-reproducing organism, is to invoke an even greater miracle than the one given by an all-wise, all-powerful Creator.  As for Darwin, it appears that the “soup” kitchen remains closed and it’s not expected to open any time soon.

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Did God Forsake His Son At The Cross?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Today is Palm Sunday, a day celebrated by Christians to mark the day that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem-  a day that would lead to a chain of events that would result, a week later, in his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Each year as we celebrate Easter and as we reflect on the events surrounding his crucifixion, questions are often asked by those who seek to make sense of those events.  A question that is frequently asked has to do with one of the statements made by Jesus while he is hanging on the cross.  Two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark, make mention of the fact that at one point Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  This statement has led some people to ask if God had, in fact, forsaken his Son at that moment and if so, why? 

            The answer given by most pastors and Bible teachers is that God could not look upon his Son as he hung upon the cross because Jesus had taken upon himself every crime, every offense that the human race had committed against God.  Since God is holy and cannot look upon sin, he turned away from his Son in that agonizing moment as he became the sin-bearer of the whole world.

            There is nothing contradictory about that explanation (especially in light of the concept of God’s triune nature, known as the “Trinity”).  Even though I find that explanation to be well within reason, I believe that there is another explanation that is worth noting.  This alternative view was first explained to me by my good friend Brian, who said that it was brought to his attention while he was attending a Bible study led by Bible teacher, Kevin Saunders.  Having spent a great deal of time living in the Holy Land and being immersed in that culture, Saunders’ Bible studies incorporate much of the knowledge and information that he’s gained from that experience.  In fact, Saunders says that the significance of this statement made by Jesus was first revealed to him by one of the rabbis that he met while living in Jerusalem. 

            The general idea that Saunders shares with his students goes something like this:  Suppose that you are attending a special event and the guest speaker opens with the familiar phrase, “I pledge allegiance to the flag….”  Even if he were to stop after the first six words, most people in the audience would begin to follow along and recite the entire pledge because they have committed all of it to memory.  It is deeply ingrained in them and in our culture.  Just the opening line alone is sufficient to elicit this response from those listening.  Now let’s think about how this would apply in much the same way to the Jewish culture living in Jesus’ day.  The Jewish people were diligent in their memorization of Old Testament scripture.  Memorizing the Word of God was taken so seriously that some sources say that boys between the ages of six and ten would memorize the first five books of scripture.  The better students would memorize the rest of the Old Testament by age 14.

            This fact about Jewish culture is extremely significant in understanding Jesus’ statement.  As it turns out, Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Just as with our illustration (the Pledge of Allegiance), when Jesus uttered these words, those standing around the cross would immediately begin to mentally recall the entire 22nd Psalm.  This leads us to the next question.  Why would Jesus want them to recall that particular Psalm?  What was so significant about the 22nd Psalm?   If you read it, you will see that it contains an extraordinarily vivid, detailed description of the events taking place during his crucifixion.  It’s important to keep in mind that this Psalm was written by David about 1,000 years before the events took place!

            To appreciate how powerful this is, imagine yourself as a first century Jew living in Jerusalem.  You hear a commotion out in the city streets and your curiosity compels you to go find out what’s going on. You see the man they call “Jesus” slowly making his way through the city streets, surrounded by a mob of local people and escorted by Roman soldiers.  As you get closer, you can see him stumbling, carrying a wooden cross on his shoulders.  His face is so badly bruised and beaten that he is barely recognizable.  His eyes are so swollen that he can hardly open them.  From head to toe, he is bleeding profusely from multiple, deep lacerations inflicted upon him at the hands of the Roman soldiers who scourged him earlier. 

            Caught up in the moment, you become part of the crowd and eventually follow the assembly up to the top of a hill known as “Golgotha” where Jesus, along with two criminals, is nailed to a cross.  There he is, suspended between heaven and earth, on  display for everyone around to look upon him in all of his agony, pain, and humiliation.  As you stand there in utter silence and bewilderment wondering what this poor, pathetic man ever did to deserve such horrific treatment, you look around and you begin to notice several details as this event continues to unfold in front of you.

            The man hanging on the cross has his arms outstretched, with his hands and feet nailed into place.  His arms look as if they are being pulled right out of the sockets and because he’s been stripped of his outer garment, you can see his ribcage heaving as he gasps for air.  In addition to the excruciating pain of his lacerations and his nail-pierced hands and feet, he is severely dehydrated, which further intensifies his torment.  On the ground near the cross, the religious leaders have gathered around to mock him and to hurl insults at him, challenging him to come down from the cross and save himself.  Off to the side, the Roman soldiers who are there to oversee the execution are now engaged in a cruel game of casting lots to see who will get to keep the dying man’s garments.

            Suddenly and unexpectedly, you hear Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  His words immediately trigger a response from you as your mind begins to play back, word for word, the entire 22nd Psalm that you memorized as a child:

            “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…..But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me;  they hurl insults, shaking their heads (saying):  ‘He trusts in the Lord;  let the Lord rescue him.  Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’…….”

            “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.   Many bulls surround me;  strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax;  it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;  you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me;  a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones;  people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing……”


            As we look at the events surrounding the crucifixion from this perspective, is it possible that Jesus intentionally quoted the 22nd Psalm so that those standing nearby would be aware of the fact that David’s prophetic words were being fulfilled right there in front of them?  It’s entirely possible.  Either way, whether you accept that explanation or the view that I mentioned at the start, one thing is for sure, Jesus’ death on the cross is not to be taken lightly.  As someone has said, “Jesus did not go to the cross so that you could ‘have a nice day’.”  Whatever else the cross may tell us, it tells us that God is very serious about our sin and that he is very specific about what he is or isn’t willing to accept as payment for our sin.  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 2)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

In my previous post, I was dealing with a question that is often directed at Christians, “How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  In the process of thinking through that question, we discovered that even though the question, at a glance, seems to involve a contradiction, there is no contradiction in it at all.  Having established that, I want to look further into this question to examine some of the emotional reasons people often give for objecting to the idea of hell.  There is no doubt that the idea of a literal hell is so emotionally charged that just the mention of it is enough to create controversy.  Of those who object to it, their reasons generally fall into one of two categories.  Either: (a) They personally find the very notion of hell to be extremely offensive, or (b) They believe that it’s nothing more than a “scare tactic”. 

            Regarding the first objection, I certainly understand why many people find the idea of hell offensive.  But, as with anything else in life, it’s not a question of whether we’re offended by it- that is irrelevant.  The question that we must deal with is whether or not it’s really true!   That being said, I think that there are good reasons why we should believe that it’s true.  For one thing, there is no question that Jesus clearly affirmed the reality of hell.  Given Jesus’ credentials (i.e., his miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy), if there is anyone who would be in a unique position to know the truth about God, heaven, hell, etc., then Jesus is the most qualified person to speak with authority on those topics.  Therefore, we have good, sound reasons to trust what Jesus said about hell and to heed his warnings about it.

            What about the objection which insists that the idea of hell is nothing more than an invention of man-  a mere “scare tactic”?  Common sense demands that there are some things in life that we should be afraid of.  There is a reason why we use “scare tactics” to warn children about strangers and to warn young people about the dangers of driving while under the influence or while texting.  A doctor who holds back from giving you bad news in order to avoid “scaring” you is not a good doctor.  “Scare tactics” are a legitimate means of warning someone as long as the threat to that person is real.  As I said, there are some things in life that we should fear.  Going to hell is not only one of them, Jesus said that it’s the one thing we should fear the most!  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

            So, is there a way to reconcile the reality of hell with God’s love?  The answer is yes.  Even though God’s holiness demands justice for our innumerable crimes against him, it was God’s intense love for us that sent his Son into this world.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“  (Romans 5:8)  Jesus willingly went to the Cross in order to take our punishment upon himself and to provide the only means by which we can be acquitted.  God has done everything necessary so that we can be pardoned of our offenses against him.  What we, as individuals, choose to do with his generous offer is another matter. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  (John 3:36)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 1)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

“How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  It’s one of those questions that almost every Christian dreads, especially when it’s asked of him or her by a friend, a family member, or a co-worker.  When confronted by it, it seems that most Christians either end up compromising the answer, or else they end up running away from the question altogether.  Why?  I think that there are a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s an extremely emotional question.  If the person asking this question has already lost someone close to them, the thought of their friend or loved one spending eternity in hell is so overwhelming that one cannot dwell on it for very long.  The second reason that many Christians are afraid to face up to this question is because it seems like a blatant contradiction.  After all, it’s become so popular these days to talk about a loving God, there seems to be something terribly inconsistent about suggesting that this same God will actually allow people to go to a literal hell-  forever.

            As I said, at first glance, this question sounds like a contradiction, but when properly understood, there is no contradiction at all.  When a skeptic or an unbeliever asks me this question, the first thing that I ask them is why do they believe that God is loving?  In other words, what are they basing that on?  How do they know that God is loving?  Is it something that they just arbitrarily made up on their own, or do they have good, sound reasons for believing something like that?  It’s an important question because most people just assume that the idea of a loving God is central to most religions, but that’s not the case at all.  A survey of most of the world’s major religions will reveal that the concept of a loving, personal God is nowhere to be found.  For example, the idea of a loving God cannot be found in Buddhism because Buddhism does not believe in a personal God to begin with, yet love must necessarily come from a person. 

            As it turns out, the only way that anyone can speak about a loving, personal God, and do so with any degree of certainty, is if they are willing to begin with the Bible as a reliable, authoritative source of truth.  However, if they’re going to use the Bible as their starting point, even if only for the sake of discussion (as a skeptic), they forfeit the right to pick and choose which attributes of God they like in the Bible and which ones they don’t like.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that even though God is loving, he has other attributes as well.  It goes on to tell us that God is also perfectly righteous and holy.  Even the unbeliever can appreciate the fact that if God is so “loving” that he never punishes evil, then God is not a just judge- he is not a good judge.  Even the skeptic would not respect a God who is so careless or irresponsible with his love that he would allow all of the evil in this world to go unpunished.  So, while it may sound like a contradiction to ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell, there is nothing at all contradictory about a God who is also perfectly holy, just, and righteous allowing someone to go to hell.

            This leads me to my closing thought.  While the question of hell and a loving God involves no contradiction on God’s part, it does, however, expose a glaring contradiction on the part of the skeptic who asks this question.  Those who ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell are oftentimes the very same people who will later ask how a loving God could allow so much evil in our world.  In other words, according to them, if God is loving, he should not punish evil (in hell), yet at the same time, they believe that if God is loving, he should punish the evil and injustice that we see going on in our world-  a contradiction, for sure. 

            In my next post, I want to continue with this topic as we explore the reasons why so many people object to the idea of hell and why their objections don’t add up.

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Posted in Theology | 1 Comment »

It’s A Matter Of Which Bias Is The Best Bias To Be Biased With

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

In my previous post I made mention of an editorial, written by a local high school student, which was published in his school’s newspaper.  I went on to explain that the author of the editorial had expressed a great deal of skepticism with regard to Christianity, the Bible, and the existence of God.  The reason that I decided to use his article as a springboard for discussion is because he raised some very important questions and objections that frequently come up in conversation whenever the topic of Christianity is being discussed. 

          One of the many issues that he raises is the idea that science has not only discredited the Bible, it has somehow called into question God’s very existence.  Throughout the article he attempts to portray the debate over God’s existence as a matter of “science vs. religion” or “facts vs. faith”.  For example, he states, “Of course many religious people dismiss the overwhelming majority of scientists as wrong.”  This idea that science and religion exist in two distinct, separate, and even opposing categories with no overlap between them is a view that seems to be held by most people today, both by believers and unbelievers alike.  As they see it, on the one hand you have science which deals only in matters of fact and reason, proven by experimentation.  On the other hand you have the category of religion which is portrayed as the very opposite of science, logic, reason, and rationality because it supposedly requires a “leap of blind faith”  as a feeble attempt to make up for its utter lack of scientific evidence and credibility.

            Even though this view of “science vs. religion” persists as one of the great myths of our time, it is not grounded in reality.  It cannot be the case that the debate over God’s existence is a matter of “faith vs. science” because both sides of the debate use scientific facts to support their view and both of them require some element of faith.  For example, the atheist, by faith, must believe that the universe either came from eternal matter or that it came from nothing, out of nothing, by nothing for no reason.  (By the way, notice that while some atheists ridicule Christians for believing that Someone created everything, they are apparently willing to believe that nothing created everything!)  In addition to their views on the origin of the universe, the atheist must believe, by faith, that the process of evolution began with the “biochemical evolution” of life from non-living matter.  By faith, the atheist must believe that the staggering complexity and order that we observe at every level in biological systems arose out of chaos and disorder.

            Not only do both sides of the “God debate” require some element of faith, both sides offer scientific arguments in an attempt to support their view.  The creationist and the evolutionist are both examining the same facts from the same fossil record, geology, biology, etc.  In the final analysis, the origins debate is not over the facts themselves.   The debate is strictly a matter of how to best interpret those facts. 

            When it comes to the process of interpreting the facts, one thing that we must be careful not to overlook is the role that one’s bias plays in that process.  In his editorial, the writer falsely assumes that all scientists are objective and unbiased when it comes to the process of interpreting the facts in front of them.  Either that, or he’s  assuming that no scientist would ever allow his or her bias to influence the outcome of their work.  At one point he writes, “Scientists are not trying to prove God is unreal, they base their work on evidence and logical reasoning.”  Let’s be up front and honest here.  Everyone has a bias of some sort, and everyone carries that bias with them wherever they go.  As a result, it influences everything they say and do, whether they are a teacher, a politician, a judge, or a scientist.  There is nothing “magic” about putting on a lab coat that somehow enables a person to suddenly give up their bias.  To illustrate, here are a couple of quotes from two scientists who are atheists:

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”  

-Dr Steven Weinberg

Nobel Laureate in Physics: in New York Times, 11-21-06


“We take the side of science,…because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism….Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”  

-Richard Lewontin (of The Museum of Comparative Zoology) in “Billions and billions of demons.”  The New York Review, January 1997, p.31


So much for the editorial’s claim that no scientist is trying to disprove God’s existence.

            Not only does one’s bias play a role in interpreting the facts in science, it may actually be the most important factor of all.  If that’s the case, then the real question we need to ask is, “Which bias does the best job of explaining the facts?”  Or, as Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis says, “It’s a matter of which bias is the best bias to be biased with.”  The bias of an atheistic worldview suggests the following; Something came from nothing.  Order came from disorder. Life came from non-life.  Mind and consciousness came from inanimate matter.  Moral law and moral obligation came from amoral material.  Non-physical entities, such as information and the laws of logic came from purely physical processes. 

            In contrast to this, the bias of a Christian worldview offers us a more plausible, coherent, and comprehensive explanation that comports with reality.  As C. S. Lewis said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

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Posted in Science | 2 Comments »

There’s Nothing Tolerant About The New “Tolerance”

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

            Over the next few posts I want to look at some issues that came up recently in an article published in the editorial section of a local high school campus newspaper.  I’ve mentioned before that I have the privilege of working with the high school students at my church.  Because of my interactions with them, they will often mention to me some of the issues, topics, and discussions that have come up during the week on their various campuses.  Two of our students recently brought me a copy of their school’s paper which had an editorial written by one of the students on the newspaper’s staff.  The title of the article reads, “If God Is Real, Why Won’t He Reveal Himself?”  The article is by no means limited to that question.  In it, the author raises several thought-provoking questions that range anywhere from the problem of evil, to the areas of science such as the fossil record.  Later, he goes on to raise doubts about God’s fairness and questions God’s apparent unwillingness to reveal himself openly to us today as he did in the Bible.

           Even though the title is rather vague, suggesting that it is critiquing religion in general, there is no doubt that the writer had Christianity specifically in mind as he makes several references to “the Bible”, “Jesus”, and “Christians”.  As one reads the article, it’s hard to miss the author’s cynicism as he openly challenges the Christian students on campus to come up with the goods.  For example, he says, “Have you ever been sitting by yourself, contemplating His existence, and then you ask yourself, ‘Jesus, if you are real will you appear?’  Let me guess, Jesus was a no-show.”  By the way, this is not the first time that this same paper carried an editorial written by a student on the paper’s staff which openly and unashamedly challenged the Christian students. 

              As I read the article, I kept wondering what would have happened if this student had written an editorial that was just as critical toward any other religion, group, or lifestyle on campus.  Based on the cultural trend that I’ve witnessed over the past several years, it’s a pretty safe bet that such an article would have never been allowed to go to print.  Even if it had, it would have drawn a tremendous amount of attention from local organizations and, perhaps, even from the local media who would have immediately condemned such an article as “intolerance”, “bigotry”, and “hate speech”.  There’s no doubt that the “tolerance police” would have been all over that one.

              This brings me to my main thought.  In case you haven’t noticed, there is a big emphasis on tolerance these days not only in our public schools but in the media as well.  Unfortunately, what’s being promoted  today as “tolerance” turns out to be nothing more than a counterfeit of the real thing.  This is why it is imperative that we clearly understand the difference between true tolerance and the distorted version which so many people have come to accept.  Let’s begin with a proper understanding of what it means to be tolerant.  Simply put, true tolerance means that we can agree to disagree.  It’s important to understand that tolerance, by definition, actually requires disagreement.  Why is that?  Because if you’re in agreement with the other person, there’s nothing to tolerate-  you agree with them!  The whole point of genuine tolerance is that it allows us to freely and openly express our disagreement with someone else’s views or lifestyle while still maintaining a sense of respect and civility toward them.

            Now compare this to the distorted version of tolerance being promoted today which says:  1)  “All views are equal”  2) “Everyone has their own truth”  and  3) “You cannot say that another person’s views or lifestyle is wrong.”  While that may sound  like good advice, a closer examination tells us that such a definition of tolerance is not only unreasonable, it’s impossible for anyone to live that way consistently.  Even the writer of the editorial cannot live by that definition.  Even though he doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, his criticisms of Christianity imply that:  1) All views are not equal (Atheism is more true than Christianity)  2)  Christians do not have the truth (Christians have sincere beliefs that are false) and  3)  It’s okay to say that another person’s views are wrong (Christians are wrong).

            Please understand that I am NOT criticizing the author for writing his article or for disagreeing with Christians.  In fact, I respect (tolerate) his right to disagree with us and to openly express that disagreement.  I am simply drawing our attention to the fact that there is an obvious disparity which exists when it comes to which groups are allowed to express their views publicly and which groups are not allowed to do so.  The lesson in all of this is that we need to be careful not to buy into today’s counterfeit version of “tolerance”, because in doing so we surrender our right to speak openly and freely.  As a result, we will no longer have a voice in the arena of discussion and it will become impossible for us to engage anyone in open, honest dialogue.

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Posted in Christianity and Culture | 2 Comments »

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.