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Return to March/April 2014 articles.

News and Notes for March/April 2014
from Does God Exist? March/April 2014

JURASSIC PARK METHOD FAILS. Dinosaur The popular movie Jurassic Park presented the scenario where dinosaurs were cloned from DNA found in ancient mosquitoes trapped in amber. Studies of insects just 10,000 years old have shown that the DNA in these insects has degraded so much that it could not be recognized, much less used for something like cloning. Source: Science News, October 19, 2013, page 5.

IRAN HIV SKYROCKETS. The Associated Press (December 1, 2013) has released a report from Iranian State television saying that the number of HIV positive citizens registered with the government is 27,000, although that is likely to be five times lower than the actual figure. The endorsement of polygamy and the use of recreational drugs are contributing factors to this huge number, but claims that Islam’s teachings reduce the danger of infection with HIV are not supported by the evidence.

ARIEL CASTRO AND PORNOGRAPHY. Most of us were appalled at the discovery that three women had been kidnapped and held as sex slaves in a Cleveland, Ohio, home for nearly ten years. Before his suicide death by hanging in his cell, Ariel Castro talked about what led him to rape, beat, and imprison the women. Castro not only was sexually abused as a child, but was addicted to pornography. The claim that the viewing of pornography is a private matter is simply not supported by the evidence. Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah wrote in a paper titled “Pornography's Effect on Adults and Children,” “The major consequence of being addicted to pornography is not the probability or possibility of committing a serious sex crime (though this can and does occur), but rather the disturbance of the fragile bonds of intimate family and marital relationships. This is where the most grievous pain, damage, and sorrow occur.” Source: Citizen, December 2013, page 20.

MAN’S FOSSIL LINEAGE SIMPLIFIED. dmanisi, Georgia One of the areas of great interest to scientists and Bible readers is the meaning of various hominid fossils (Homo) found throughout Africa and western Asia. In the past, the major fossils have been divided into four species: Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus. We have suggested in this journal, that not enough attention was being paid to race in labeling these fossils. The fact that a Pygmy and a Swede are the same species even though they look very different, should be an indicator that instead of being separate species these might be racial variations of the same species. A recent find at a site called Dmanisi in the nation of Georgia shows that “the shape and size of the skulls found there don't exceed those found in modern populations of people . . . supporting the idea that all five [skulls found at Dmanisi] represent a single species.” This will be debated among professional anthropologists for some time, but the new finds seem to bring the evidence closer to what the Bible tells us about ancient humans. Source: Science News, November 16, 2013, page 6 and Discover, January/February 2014, page 38.

TEXTBOOK BATTLES CONTINUE IN TEXAS. As a retired public school science teacher, I am amused at the battles that take place over textbook adoption. In Texas, which is one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, the subject is one of great concern. In the fall of 2013, the state textbook review panels had to sort through 14 biology books and give a recommendation to the State Board of Education. Creationist and former State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe recommended nearly a third of the 28 biology book reviewers, who seem to share her views. The Freethought Oasis, a local atheist and skeptic group has weighed in on this as well as a variety of college professors.

As a former teacher, I see this as a political football. Do fundamentalists really want atheist biology teachers teaching their version of creationism? There are at least a dozen different creationist views out there. Which one should be selected? The various views are examined in an article titled “What is Creationism?” by Mark Isaak on The TalkOrigins Archive. You can find it at www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wic.html. Presenting evidence and talking about possible solutions to the evidence can be done without dragging religion or anti-religion into the picture. Getting kids to read and think is what concerns most of us as classroom teachers. Source: the Dallas Morning News, page 3A, September 20,2013.

GLOBAL WARMING AND ICE-CAP COOLING. It does not make the front page, but while the North Pole is losing about 30,000 square miles of sea ice per year the South Pole is gaining sea ice. In the December 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine (page 20) we are told that at the South Pole sea ice hit a 35 year record of 19 million square miles. Researchers believe that the winds around the South Pole are doing this, but much more needs to be learned.

ATHEIST “MEGA-CHURCHES” STARTING. It began in Great Britain earlier this year. Now mega-churches for atheists have sprung up in Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville, and New York, with hundreds of people in attendance. The service is boisterous, filled with live music, some stand up comedy, moments of reflection, and “inspirational talks.” Songs like “Lean on Me” and “Here Comes the Sun” replace gospel songs, and community service projects are encouraged. Source: Associated Press and Foxnews.com November 11, 2013. Well known atheist Ian O'Doherty in Ireland responded to this by saying, “What utter rot. ‘Organizing an atheist church is the spiritual equivalent of a vegetarian eating Quorn [a meat substitute popular in the UK] that has been shaped and colored to look like meat.’ Either worship or don't: You can't have it both ways. Nor can you unite people around a shared sense of unbelief.” Source: The Week, November 15, 2013, page 12.

BABIES IN WOMB SHOW HUMAN CHARACTERISTICS. Baby in a womb Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities have been tracking movements in scans of healthy fetuses between 24 and 36 weeks gestation. Babies are able to open their mouths as they move their hands toward their mouths, and move their lips to form a smile or pain expression during this time of gestation. The claim that babies are not humans and do not do human things until after birth is not supported by the evidence. Source: Carolyn Buchanan, posted on www.whattoexpect.com. October 8, 2013.

COMET ISON HIGHLIGHTS OUR IGNORANCE. Many of us were looking forward to a spectacular appearance of comet ISON at the end of 2013. There had been predictions that the comet would fill most of the sky in North America making it the brightest and most visible comet in modern times. These predictions were based on the position of the comet relative to the earth. ISON passed less than 750,000 miles from the Sun, and that close approach took its temperature to over 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature boiled off layer after layer of the comet.

The problem with all observations of comets is that we do not know how they will react when they come close to the Sun. In October 2007 a periodic comet named 17P/Holmes, which regularly is seen from the earth, suddenly brightened by a factor of half-a-million, with its coma inflating to a diameter greater than that of the Sun.

In spite of the failure of the comet ISON to put on a good show for us casual observers, scientists did get an incredible volume of data which will help us understand the solar system better. There are plans some day to land on a comet so we can learn even more. We are still just beginning to understand how these remains from the creation of the solar system work. Source: Astronomy, January 2014, page 9 and Discover, November 2013, page 32.

FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION (FFRF) IN FUND-RAISING BLITZ. One of the more active atheist groups in the United States today was started by a former Baptist preacher in 1978. They are running full-page ads in Scientific American asking for donations. Their main thrust has been “to keep state and church separate.” That is a goal we certainly support, and which is supported by a majority of Christians. By confusing a valid plea with their atheism, the FFRF has gained many followers and now claims to be “the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics).” Their history has been one of opposing all expression of belief in anything supernatural. Recently they filed a federal lawsuit claiming that “In God We Trust” should be erased from our currency. They claim that “93% of elite scientists reject belief in a personal god or human immortality.” That statistic is based on a study made in 1998 and reported in Nature magazine (vol. 394, no. 669). The study used a poorly designed questionnaire which led the responders to the desired answer. We have followed the FFRF from the early days (our program began in 1968) and know that it has considerable influence.

DARK ENERGY COMPLICATIONS. Dark energy first made the news in 1998 when researchers found that light from a faraway supernova was dimmer than predicted, suggesting that the universe expansion is accelerating. The traditional explanation has been that dark energy is exerting a negative pressure, pushing space outwards. It was assumed that the pushing was constant. New measurements from distant supernovas shows an increase in acceleration. This suggests an eventual tearing apart of the universe sometimes referred to as “the big rip.” — The complexity of the process of creation is huge, and the more data we get the more complexity we see. Source: Science News, November 30, 2013, page 8.

LANGUAGE AND LOCATION. An interesting study of speech patterns by Joshua Katz at North Carolina State University is reported in Science News (July 13, 2013, page 4). It shows how words, even in American culture, mean different things in different regions of the country. An example is a sweetened carbonated drink, which is referred to as “soda” in New England and California, “Coke” in Louisiana and Mississippi, and “pop” in the north. Another example is a thing from which you might drink water in a school, which is a “water fountain” in the southeast, a “drinking fountain” in the west, and a “bubbler” in eastern Wisconsin. When we read the Bible the same problem exists. Both the original writers and translators were affected by where they lived. An example is that the Hebrew word nephilim, in Genesis 6:4 meant a gigantic person to the Vulgate translators, but to the ancient Hebrews it referred to “fallen ones.” In America some have taken this to mean spirit creatures with an angelic reference involved. We have said that to take the Bible literally means to look at who wrote it, to whom, why they wrote it, and how people of the time would have understood it. When you do that, most of the “difficult” passages in the Bible become easy to understand.

NEHEMIAH FOUND IN QUMRAN. A recent discovery of the Book of Nehemiah among some previously unknown Dead Sea Scroll fragments has brought all of the books in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Esther into the collection of scrolls at Qumran. There are some 900 scrolls involved in the Dead Sea community's remains and the canonicity of the Hebrew Bible is strongly supported by this collection. In the case of Esther, it is likely that this story of a Jewish female protagonist, marrying a gentile Persian king was unpopular with the powers that be in this Essene population and that is why Esther is left out. Source: Biblical Archeological Review, November/December 2013, page 82, referring to an article in the May/June 2012 issue.

CHINA FOSSIL PROBLEMS. One of the more publicized fossils found in recent years was a specimen known as Aurornis (or dawn bird). This fossil and a number of others like it have come from the Liaoning area of China. This is also the area from which the Archaeoraptor fossil came. You may remember that fossil was called the “missing link between dinosaurs and birds” by National Geographic in 1999. It was later found to be a fake. It turns out that the Aurornis fossil was not found in the field, but was purchased from a fossil dealer who may have been involved in illegal and unscientific collecting. The Chinese dealers have learned how to make composite fossils, putting two specimens together to make a previously unseen specimen. They have also been good at making convincing fakes. It is important not to jump to conclusions when a find is announced. The National Geographic fake was only discovered when high resolution x-ray CT revealed the specimen was a mosaic of 88 separate pieces mounted onto a shale slab and glued into place with builder’s grout. Source: Science, June 7, 2013, page 1153.

NEW DATA ON AUTISM. One of the growing problems for parents in America is that one in 50 U.S. schoolchildren is affected with autism. The Harvard University School of Public Health has released a study showing that women living in areas with high levels of diesel exhaust and airborne mercury were twice as likely to have a child born with autism as those in places with low levels of these compounds. The presence of other pollutants including lead, manganese, and methyl chloride increases the odds by 50%. Another study by scientists sequencing the genome of humans has been able to show genetic underpinnings to the autism disorder. These two may be related as pollutants can cause mutations, and all of this should eventually lead to medical approaches to reducing the effects of autism. Source: Discover, January/February 2014, page 43 and The Week, July 5 –13, 2013, page 22.

PLANETS SHOW QUIRKS. Solar system As we get more and more data on the planets in our solar system, their unusual natures and features come out. Here are some recently announced strange features. Mercury is blacker than the darkest asphalt road on earth. Its brightness as seen from earth varies immensely, going from magnitude 5.3, which would be invisible from earth, to a dazzling -2.4 which is brighter than Jupiter. The planet slowly spins three times while it orbits the Sun twice. This means that sunrise on Mercury occurs once every 177 earth days. Mercury has a huge basin called the Caloris Basin caused by a meteor impact. It extends half-way around the planet. As Jupiter is pulling on it, Mercury's orbit is being extended making it an eventual threat to hit Venus in the next 5 billion years. Venus has “snow” that covers its highest mountains, except the temperature on Venus is a steady 850 degrees F. Scientists think the snow is white lead (like galena). These are just the first two planets, but the beauty and strangeness of our planetary neighbors is impressive. Source: Astronomy, August 2013, page 11.

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© jonfield. Image from BigStockPhoto
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