New Discoveries and Old Truths
It is an exciting time to be alive. All around us we see amazing things that man has accomplished and some new tools have informed us about features of the cosmos and the world around us that are incredible. Each new discovery and accomplishment that is made opens new understandings and applications, and each understanding has implications for our beliefs in God and our understandings about how God relates to us. Faith is not some dead object. Faith is a growing, living, changing thing which is dynamic and active. To accomplish all of this, faith must be fed. We feed our faith by worship, prayer, our association with other Christians, reading the Bible, and by continuing to study and learn about God through His creation (Romans 1:18-22 ; Psalm 19:1). What we would like to do in this article is take a look at some of the new discoveries that have been made by scientists and see what implications these discoveries have for those who believe in God.
Life in Volcanic Vents in the Deep Sea
In recent years, mankind has built some remarkable diving machines. These devices are able to dive to the ocean floor in depths measured in thousands of feet. When the first dives were made, scientists found the huge pressures and cold temperatures they had expected. It has been known for a long time that there are places in the ocean where a great deal of geologic activity takes place in the form of earthquakes and volcanic activity. Several years ago, scientists took their deep diving machines to areas where the geologic activity was known to exist. When they got close to volcanic vents where hot water loaded with dissolved minerals were gushing from the earth, they were amazed to find a whole new world of life forms. There were large clams with red flesh, there were 16-foot-long worms which lived in tubes, there were crabs and shrimp and even some fish. These animals did not seem to exist in a world dependent on light as surface forms in the ocean do, but rather depended on chemicals to derive their life energy. Sulfur seems to be the foundation of this life system and instead of photosynthesis being the primary life support system, the process is chemosynthesis
As this new kind of life has been studied and understood, many astronomers have suggested that similar life forms might be found on icy moons in the solar system. We know, for example, that there is water ice on the surface of some of Jupiter's moons. We also see some of the ice moving around, which suggests that there is water underneath it. Other moons of Jupiter like the moon called Io show volcanic activity. If there were volcanic activity under the ice on Jupiter's icy moons, there could be thermal vents like the ones we have studied on the earth, and there could be chemosynthetic life forms present. Many scientists are proposing that life may have started around volcanic vents and later may have switched to photosynthetic processes.
It is important to notice that the life forms discovered around the sea vents were not new to man taxonomically. The clams look like ordinary clams. They are a foot long and have red flesh, but they are not hard to identify. The shrimp, worms, and fish are not difficult to identify either. If the life forms found would not fit into any existing phylum or order, the whole picture would be much more confusing; but the fact that the animals are familiar tells us that they are related to animals in the surface waters. What has happened is that life has either adapted to the conditions in the vent regions as it migrated from the surface, or it has adapted as it migrated from the vents to the surface. In both cases, there has been an incredibly complex and highly designed system that made such a migration possible. The microscopic life forms in the vents which form the base of the food chain are very much like those in the surface layers, further supporting this point.
If a clam were found in a sea vent on Europa (one of Jupiter's moons), it would be a different situation because a clam could not easily migrate from one of Earth's deep ocean vents to one on Europa. All of the arguments for the design of life as opposed to it happening by chance are further reinforced by this discovery.
Life on Mars?
Over the past several years there has been a surge of interest in Mars. First of all there were the studies of old photographs taken from Viking and other Martian probes which revealed an obvious lake that existed at one time on Mars--complete with inlet, delta, outlet, and terraces. Then came the reports of studies of Mars rocks that were thought to have landed on Earth which had features that suggested that bacterial life had existed at one time on Mars. Then came the Sojourner vehicle that analyzed the Martian surface and reported on weather and surface conditions.
The results of all this so far have been negative. Mars is very much like Earth in major physical ways, but its slightly smaller size seems to be fatal to the developement of any kind of life. Its smaller atmosphere produces incredible extremes in temperature--even within a few feet of the surface. The rocks have turned out to be common volcanic rocks, suggesting that the water was on Mars for a short time and the water features have not produced significant sediment or other vital conditions necessary for life. We are all anxious to know if any kind of life can exist in the conditions that Mars offers, but the uniqueness of Earth and the difficulties involved in developing and sustaining an environment in which life can thrive as it does on Earth has been emphasized by the studies on Mars.
Supernova 1987A Aftershocks and Pillars of Stars
In 1987, astronomers were amazed and delighted to have the opportunity to watch a star explode. It had been a very long time since a star explosion close enough to Earth to see it clearly had taken place, the last one being in the eleventh century. As astronomers watched the explosion, they were able to see a lot of their ideas about how stars live and die being carried out. The star's outer layers have been observed to move out from the explosion, and huge amounts of neutrinos have been emitted as most notions of stellar explosions expect. New elements heavier than those originally in the star have been seen confirming the principle of fusion believed to power stars. In 1997, some ten years after the original detonation, the outer layers of the star can be seen to be interacting with other components of the region giving off expected radiation. There is a pulsating star flickering at the center of the explosion which is the gut of the star left from the process.
When we measure the distance to this object, we find it is nearly a million light years away. The process of measurement is the same process used to build bridges and construct sky scrapers, so it is quite reliable. To be a million light years away, the light must have left the object a million years ago. What we are watching is not something going on now, but something that happened in the past. This is true of everything we look at in the sky. If the sun went totally dark, it would be over eight minutes before we would know it. It takes that long for light from the sun to reach the earth. Our eyes can see the Andromeda galaxy, but the light left that galaxy some two million years ago, so we are seeing Andromeda as it was two million years ago, not as it is now. If there are beings on Andromeda looking at Earth, the same situation exists in reverse.
One argument from those who wish to attach a particular age to the earth that is inconsistent with evidence is to suggest that God created the cosmos full grown with the appearance of age. If God could create Adam full-grown in a garden of mature plants, He could have created the cosmos with the appearance of age. The question is not what God could have done, but what He did. If God is God, He has the ability to do anything. To suggest, however, that Supernova 1987A was created in operation with the light arriving at the earth from an event that never happened is another matter. To see these events far out in space and say they happened very recently, one has to suggest that God created the light from these objects on its way to the earth. If the object is measured to be 20,000 light years out in space, and if the earth is 6,000 years old, then the only way we could see it would be for the light to have been created on its way to Earth from the object. If the object were 20,000 light years out and the cosmos is 6,000 years old, the light would still be 14,000 years away from reaching the earth. This is resolved by suggesting that the light was created in place at the same instant as the object, so Adam would have seen the same thing we see.
This problem has hundreds of examples. Recently NASA released pictures of pillars of stellar material in space photographed by the Hubble telescope. The evidence is that new stars are being formed from this material. The distance to these areas is far beyond 10,000 light years, again suggesting the same problem as in Supernova 1987A. God creating light that we can see is not a problem or an issue theologically. Having that light show us a physical historical event is a problem. If we can see an event taking place that never happened, we are being deceived. If we watch a Supernova blow up in Andromeda two million light years away and, if the earth is only 6,000 years old, then God had to project an image of an event that never took place and sustain the image for as long as men can observe. How can this be anything other than deception on God's part?
The answer to this whole question is that the earth is not 6,000 years old. The events we see have happened and are continuing to produce the consequences we see. Our measurements could be off, but the event is real, and the event has its own messages. The processes designed into the cosmos provide a constant source of energy and recycled elements for the cosmos as a whole. Mankind has only begun to utilize the power of the atom. We have still not really solved the problem of nuclear wastes. If we travel in space, these sources will be vital to us. God has provided in the past, He provides today, and we can see that the design of the cosmos is such that we will be provided for in the future. These discoveries stretch our imaginations and radiate the wisdom, power, and intelligence of God.
The Fabrication of Life
It is difficult to pick up a newspaper today and not see an article dealing with man's progress in understanding life and duplicating in some way its processes. Cloning, invitro fertilization, artificial organs, and countless others occupy the front pages of our papers nearly every day. Many times these processes are headlined with words like "create," "make," "control," "produce," and "design." There is also frequently some kind of reference to religion in a way that suggests that this new ability has religious implications that are negative.
There are certainly moral issues raised by such areas of research, and religious values provide a basis to make moral judgments. An atheist deciding such issues would not have an absolute frame of reference from which a moral judgment could be made. While there are these kinds of considerations in these issues, there are no implications for the existence of God.
Suppose mankind learns how to successfully clone humans. What has really been accomplished and how was it done? First of all, mankind has spent literally thousands of years understanding how life works. I remember asking my father one time how a fishing reel works. He handed me an old reel and a screwdriver and said, "Here, take this apart and find out." I took the reel apart and saw how the gears and wheels enabled the reel to do what it does. I marveled at the design of the reel and wondered how anyone could just "come up" with such a device. Years later as an adult, I made a reel. My years of taking reels apart and observing how they work gave me a foundation from which I could make one of my own. Have I lost my appreciation of reel makers? Just the opposite has occurred. My respect and admiration has grown as I have duplicated the process myself.
There are important questions about what man should and should not do in the manipulation of life. What is not at stake is the beauty, wisdom, power, and intelligence of God. Man is using machines of incredible strength and precision to manipulate life. Even with all of our work, the process is incredibly slow, and there are thousands of failures for every success. As David said, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and that my soul knoweth right well" (Psalm 139:14).
Man may accomplish some great things in manipulating life; but if he does, it will only be because he has learned how it was designed in the first place. To assume that something came into existence by chance that has taken man thousands of years to even understand stretches credibility to the breaking point.
The areas we have looked at have been from different disciplines, but they have a common thread of truth. While they demonstrate some incredible accomplishments on the part of man, they do not denigrate the creative wisdom of God--rather they glorify it. The Bible was written for the men and women of Jesus' day as well as ours. All ages and all men and women have to be able to understand it. The result is that Genesis just says God did it, not how God did it. Man is learning a great deal about the way things are put together. Like the fishing reel, we can be awed by what we see, but the old truth was expressed by God as He looked at His handwork and said, "It is good."
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Nov/Dec97.