Category Archives: For the Benefit of Mankind

Earth, an Extraordinary Magnet for Life

earth magnetic field

We might take it for granted, but our planet’s magnetic field is no sure thing. A just-published research paper by three Australian astronomers shows that a strong, long-lasting magnetic field is essential for the survival of advanced life and that such magnetic fields must be extremely rare among rocky extrasolar planets.1

Magnetic Field Benefits 

Earth has sustained a strong magnetic dipole (North and South Pole) moment for at least the past four billion years of its history. Such has not been the case for Earth’s companion rocky planets: Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Mars and Venus possess no measurable internal magnetic field and no magnetosphere. Mercury’s magnetic field is only 1 percent the strength of Earth’s magnetic field. Its magnetospheric cavity is 20 times smaller than Earth’s. Furthermore, Mercury’s magnetic field is often extremely leaky.2

Earth’s magnetosphere deflects charged particles in the solar wind away from Earth (see figure 1). It also acts as a protective bubble shielding life on Earth from both deadly solar and cosmic radiation.

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Figure 1: Earth’s Magnetosphere. Exposure to deadly radiation occurs beyond the outer red lines. 

Earth’s magnetosphere not only protects Earth’s life from deadly radiation, but also prevents solar particles from sputtering away much of Earth’s atmosphere. It is particularly critical for maintaining liquid water on Earth’s surface. Without that liquid water, life cannot survive on Earth.

Exoplanet Magnetic Fields

Since a strong, long-lasting magnetic dipole moment is so critically important for life, and especially for advanced life, the astronomical team set out to determine just how likely it is that Earth-like planets outside the solar system will possess such a magnetic dipole moment. They used a mathematical model developed by physicists Peter Olson and Ulrich Christensen3 to estimate magnetic dipole moments for all known rocky exoplanets. The researchers assumed that these exoplanets had convection-driven planetary dynamos and then modeled the maximum possible magnetic dipole moments for each of these exoplanets. Given these parameters, they found that half of the rocky exoplanets—at distances from their host stars where liquid water could conceivably exist on their surfaces—had negligible magnetic dipole moments.

Only one of the exoplanets, Kepler 186f (see figure 2 below), could possibly have a magnetic dipole moment as large or larger than Earth’s. Kepler 186f was the first discovered planet with a diameter roughly similar to Earth’s orbiting another star at a distance where liquid water could conceivably exist on its surface.

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Figure 2: Artist’s Conception of the Kepler 186 System. Kepler 186f is in the foreground. The host star Kepler 186 is the bright dot at lower left. The other four known planets of Kepler 186 all orbit Kepler 186 closer than does Kepler 186f. 

However, Kepler 186f is not a candidate for hosting life. It orbits an M-type star with a mass = 0.54 times the Sun’s mass and a luminosity = 0.05 times the Sun’s luminosity. M-type stars, unlike stars as massive as the Sun, spew out frequent deadly flares.

Because Kepler 186f orbits such a dim star, its surface temperature in the absence of an atmosphere containing abundant greenhouse gases is only -85°C (-121°F), which would make it a little colder than Mars. For Kepler 186f to possibly possess liquid water on its surface, it would need to have an abundance of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere at least 1,300 times greater (if accompanied by 10 times as much nitrogen as Earth’s atmosphere presently possesses), and at least 13,000 times greater (if accompanied by negligible nitrogen in its atmosphere), than what presently exists in Earth’s atmosphere.4 Such a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and nitrogen may not rule out microbial life, but it would rule out the possibility of animal life.

The conclusion that Kepler 186f may possibly possess a magnetic dipole moment as strong as Earth’s assumes that Kepler 186f rotates about as rapidly as Earth does. This assumption is unlikely given that the tidal interaction between Kepler 186f and its host star is about 21 times stronger than it is between Earth and the Sun. Because of this tidal interaction, there is a 50 percent chance that Kepler 186f is tidally locked. Tidal locking means that Kepler 186f’s rotation period is the same as its orbital revolution period of 130 Earth days. If Kepler 186f is not tidally locked, its rotation period most probably will range from 10–100 Earth days. A rotation period of 10–130 days would generate day-night temperature differences that would rule out the possibility of plant and animal life. It would also rule out the possibility of a strong, enduring magnetic field.

Rare Earth

The three astronomers conclude their paper by noting that “planetary magnetism is an important factor” for determining the possible habitability of any exoplanet.5 Their calculations establish that, for rocky planets, a magnetic dipole moment strong enough and long-lasting enough to make life as advanced as plants and animals possible must be extremely rare.

Earth’s magnetic field now ranks as additional evidence for the rare Earth doctrine, the conclusion that Earth is rare, if not unique, in possessing all characteristic features necessary to make possible the existence of advanced life. The sum total of the known features and the degree to which each must be fine-tuned yields a powerful argument that the cause for all these fine-tuned features is a super-intelligent, supernatural Being.

Original article: Earth, an Extraordinary Magnet for Life

Self-Assembly of Protein Machines: Evidence for Evolution or Creation?

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I finally upgraded my iPhone a few weeks ago from a 5s to an 8 Plus. I had little choice. The battery on my cell phone would no longer hold a charge.

I’d put off getting a new one for as long as possible. It just didn’t make sense to spend money chasing the latest and greatest technology when current cell phone technology worked perfectly fine for me. Apart from the battery life and a less-than-ideal camera, I was happy with my iPhone 5s. Now I am really glad I made the switch.

Then, the other day I caught myself wistfully eyeing the iPhone X. And, today, I learned that Apple is preparing the release of the iPhone 11 (or XI or XT). Where will Apple’s technology upgrades take us next? I can’t wait to find out.

Have I become a technology junkie?

It is remarkable how quickly cell phone technology advances. It is also remarkable how alluring new technology can be. The next thing you know, Apple will release an iPhone that will assemble itself when it comes out of the box. . . . Probably not.

But, if the work of engineers at MIT ever reaches fruition, it is possible that smartphone manufacturers one day just might rely on a self-assembly process to produce cell phones.

A Self-Assembling Cell Phone

The Self-Assembly Lab at MIT has developed a pilot process to manufacture cell phones by self-assembly.

To do this, they designed their cell phone to consist of six parts that fit together in a lock-in-key manner. By placing the cell phone pieces into a tumbler that turns at the just-right speed, the pieces automatically combine with one another, bit by bit, until the cell phone is assembled.

Few errors occur during the assembly process. Only pieces designed to fit together combine with one another because of the lock-in-key fabrication.

Self-Assembly and the Case for a Creator

It is quite likely that the work of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab (and other labs like it) will one day revolutionize manufacturing—not just for iPhones, but for other types of products as well.

As alluring as this new technology might be, I am more intrigued by its implications for the creation-evolution controversy. What do self-assembly processes have to do with the creation-evolution debate? More than we might realize.

I believe self-assembly processes strengthen the watchmaker argument for God’s existence (and role in the origin of life). Namely, this cutting-edge technology makes it possible to respond to a common objection leveled against this design argument.

To understand why this engineering breakthrough is so important for the Watchmaker argument, a little background is necessary.

The Watchmaker Argument

Anglican natural theologian William Paley (1743–1805) posited the Watchmaker argument in the eighteenth century. It went on to become one of the best-known arguments for God’s existence. The argument hinges on the comparison Paley made between a watch and a rock. He argued that a rock’s existence can be explained by the outworking of natural processes—not so for a watch.

The characteristics of a watch—specifically the complex interaction of its precision parts for the purpose of telling time—implied the work of an intelligent designer. Employing an analogy, Paley asserted that just as a watch requires a watchmaker, so too, life requires a Creator. Paley noted that biological systems display a wide range of features characterized by the precise interplay of complex parts designed to interact for specific purposes. In other words, biological systems have much more in common with a watch than a rock. This similarity being the case, it logically follows that life must stem from the work of a Divine Watchmaker.

Biochemistry and the Watchmaker Argument

As I discuss in my book The Cell’s Design, advances in biochemistry have reinvigorated the Watchmaker argument. The hallmark features of biochemical systems are precisely the same properties displayed in objects, devices, and systems designed and crafted by humans.

Cells contain protein complexes that are structured to operate as biomolecular motors and machines. Some molecular-level biomachines are strict analogs to machinery produced by human designers. In fact, in many instances, a one-to-one relationship exists between the parts of manufactured machines and the molecular components of biomachines. (A few examples of these biomolecular machines are discussed in the articles listed in the Resources section.)

We know that machines originate in human minds that comprehend and then implement designs. So, when scientists discover example after example of biomolecular machines inside the cell with an eerie and startling similarity to the machines we produce, it makes sense to conclude that these machines and, hence, life, must also have originated in a Mind.

A Skeptic’s Challenge

As you might imagine, skeptics have leveled objections against the Watchmaker argument since its introduction in the 1700s. Today, when skeptics criticize the latest version of the Watchmaker argument (based on biochemical designs), the influence of Scottish skeptic David Hume (1711–1776) can be seen and felt.

In his 1779 work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume presented several criticisms of design arguments. The foremost centered on the nature of analogical reasoning. Hume argued that the conclusions resulting from analogical reasoning are only sound when the things compared are highly similar to each other. The more similar, the stronger the conclusion. The less similar, the weaker the conclusion.

Hume dismissed the original version of the Watchmaker argument by maintaining that organisms and watches are nothing alike. They are too dissimilar for a good analogy. In other words, what is true for a watch is not necessarily true for an organism and, therefore, it doesn’t follow that organisms require a Divine Watchmaker, just because a watch does.

In effect, this is one of the chief reasons why some skeptics today dismiss the biochemical Watchmaker argument. For example, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has insisted that Paley’sanalogy is purely metaphorical and does not reflect a true analogical relationship. He maintains that any similarity between biomolecular machines and human designs reflects merely illustrative analogies that life scientists use to communicate the structure and function of these protein complexes via familiar concepts and language. In other words, it is illegitimate to use the “analogies” between biomolecular machines and manufactured machines to make a case for a Creator.1

A Response Based on Insights from Nanotechnology

I have responded to this objection by pointing out that nanotechnologists have isolated biomolecular machines from the cell and incorporated these protein complexes into nanodevices and nanosystems for the explicit purpose of taking advantage of their machine-like properties. These transplanted biomachines power motion and movements in the devices, which otherwise would be impossible with current technology. In other words, nanotechnologists view these biomolecular systems as actual machines and utilize them as such. Their work demonstrates that biomolecular machines are literal, not metaphorical, machines. (See the Resources section for articles describing this work.)

Is Self-Assembly Evidence of Evolution or Design?

Another criticism—inspired by Hume—is that machines designed by humans don’t self-assemble, but biochemical machines do. Skeptics say this undermines the Watchmaker analogy. I have heard this criticism in the past, but it came up recently in a dialogue I had with a skeptic in a Facebook group.

I wrote that “What we discover when we work out the structure and function of protein complexes are features that are akin to an automobile engine, not an outcropping of rocks.”

A skeptic named Maurice responded: “Your analogy is false. Cars do not spontaneously self-assemble—in that case there is a prohibitive energy barrier. But hexagonal lava rocks can and do—there is no energy barrier to prohibit that from happening.”

Maurice argues that my analogy is a poor one because protein complexes in the cell self-assemble, whereas automobile engines can’t. For Maurice (and other skeptics), this distinction serves to make manufactured machines qualitatively different from biomolecular machines. On the other hand, hexagonal patterns in lava rocks give the appearance of design but are actually formed spontaneously. For skeptics like Maurice, this feature indicates that the design displayed by protein complexes in the cell is apparent, not true, design.

Maurice added: “Given that nature can make hexagonal lava blocks look ‘designed,’ it can certainly make other objects look ‘designed.’ Design is not a scientific term.”

Self-Assembly and the Watchmaker Argument

This is where the MIT engineers’ fascinating work comes into play.

Engineers continue to make significant progress toward developing self-assembly processes for manufacturing purposes. It very well could be that in the future a number of machines and devices will be designed to self-assemble. Based on the researchers’ work, it becomes evident that part of the strategy for designing machines that self-assemble centers on creating components that not only contribute to the machine’s function, but also precisely interact with the other components so that the machine assembles on its own.

The operative word here is designed. For machines to self-assemble they must be designed to self-assemble.

This requirement holds true for biochemical machines, too. The protein subunits that interact to form the biomolecular machines appear to be designed for self-assembly. Protein-protein binding sites on the surface of the subunits mediate this self-assembly process. These binding sites require high-precision interactions to ensure that the binding between subunits takes place with a high degree of accuracy—in the same way that the MIT engineers designed the cell phone pieces to precisely combine through lock-in-key interactions.

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Figure: ATP Synthase is a biomolecular motor that is literally an electrically powered rotary motor. This biomachine is assembled from protein subunits.

The level of design required to ensure that protein subunits interact precisely to form machine-like protein complexes is only beginning to come into full view.2 Biochemists who work in the area of protein design still don’t fully understand the biophysical mechanisms that dictate the assembly of protein subunits. And, while they can design proteins that will self-assemble, they struggle to replicate the complexity of the self-assembly process that routinely takes place inside the cell.

Thanks to advances in technology, biomolecular machines’ ability to self-assemble should no longer count against the Watchmaker argument. Instead, self-assembly becomes one more feature that strengthens Paley’s point.

The Watchmaker Prediction

Advances in self-assembly also satisfy the Watchmaker prediction, further strengthening the case for a Creator. In conjunction with my presentation of the revitalized Watchmaker argument in The Cell’s Design, I proposed the Watchmaker prediction. I contend that many of the cell’s molecular systems currently go unrecognized as analogs to human designs because the corresponding technology has yet to be developed.

The possibility that advances in human technology will ultimately mirror the molecular technology that already exists as an integral part of biochemical systems leads to the Watchmaker prediction. As human designers develop new technologies, examples of these technologies, though previously unrecognized, will become evident in the operation of the cell’s molecular systems. In other words, if the Watchmaker argument truly serves as evidence for a Creator’s existence, then it is reasonable to expect that life’s biochemical machinery anticipates human technological advances.

In effect, the developments in self-assembly technology and its prospective use in future manufacturing operations fulfill the Watchmaker prediction. Along these lines, it’s even more provocative to think that cellular self-assembly processes are providing insight to engineers who are working to develop similar technology.

Maybe I am a technology junkie, after all. I find it remarkable that as we develop new technologies we discover that they already exist in the cell, and because they do the Watchmaker argument becomes more and more compelling.

Can you hear me now?

Original article: Self-Assembly of Protein Machines: Evidence for Evolution or Creation?

How Bacteria Train Our Immune System

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When I was growing up, I learned to fear microorganisms. As a child I remember always being concerned about catching a sore throat because the usual treatment was a five-day course of penicillin shots in my backside, twice a day. After more than a couple of sore throats and multiple penicillin shots, I feared being around people with sore throats or colds because I knew that I would be “tortured” again with those shots. I learned to fear tiny, unseen bugs.

As I got older, I saw this fear extended to the population in general in the form of “antimicrobial soaps” and “antimicrobial surfaces.” It seemed that humanity needed to get rid of all bugs, or else we would be subject to torture similar to what I experienced with my penicillin shots. This scenario raises the question: Why would a good God create viruses or bacteria that have the potential to cause serious diseases?

Intimate Bacterial Friends

In the last decade scientific discoveries have shed light on the positive role that these microorganisms play in the human body and how they are important to our health. In this article I will focus on bacterial cells (although there are also viruses and protozoa associated with the human body whose roles are still not completely understood) and their benefits to humans.

The human body is composed of about 30×1012 (30 trillion) cells. The vast majority of these cells are the red cells that make up our blood. In comparison, about 38 trillion bacterial cells line our body.1 This means that there are more bacterial cells than human cells in a human being. Such cells line our skin, mouths, and gut, and are also found in parts of our respiratory and genitourinary systems. By far, most of these cells live in the gut and are known as the human microbiota. These bacterial cells have unique DNA and they produce a different array of proteins than that of the human body. Scientists estimate that 90% of the genes in a human being are derived from the human microbiota, and they comprise what’s called the human microbiome. These bacteria and their genes help protect the human body against threats, provide the body with chemicals essential for adequate functioning, and play many roles in human metabolism that researchers are starting to discover.

Help Begins Early

A human’s first encounter with bacterial cells happens as soon as we are born. When a baby passes through the birth canal, he or she is exposed to the bacteria that line the genital tract and skin of the mother. The bacteria will start covering the baby’s skin as well as his mouth and respiratory tract. When the baby is fed, she swallows bacteria that will eventually establish their home in the gut. Humans are largely unaware of this silent process, but if we look closer we will find that it is crucial for the adequate function of the immune system.

Probably the most complex system in our bodies, the immune system reveals exquisite design. It includes multiple different cells that play a unique role in the crucial task of differentiating between elements that will be beneficial or harmful for the body. We can think of the immune system as our defending army. Humans are born with the basic foundation of the immune system, but its design and function are calibrated by the bacteria that will come in contact with the human body in the first years of life. In other words, the army needs to be trained.2

A baby’s immune system is set up at birth in a bacterial tolerance mode. This permissiveness allows for the careful recognition of bacteria in their newly encountered environment. Through this training process, the immune system will learn to discriminate between “good” and “bad” bacteria (also called pathogens). A tradeoff results as young children have a higher risk of death from infectious diseases than older children. But this risk is attenuated by other factors, including breastfeeding. Here the baby receives antibodies and immune cells that help fend off those dangers. Breastfeeding also produces chemicals that promote the growth of the right bacteria and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This permissiveness stops around the age of 3 years, after which the immune system will have finished its training and will be fully deployed for the rest of the person’s life. It will not stop learning about new threats, but its response will reflect the training process.

Calibrated and Designed for Human Benefit

During this training process, the immune system calibrates its responses, which produces adequate activation and deactivation pathways. If thought of as a combat analogy, a defending army needs to know when to attack, how strongly to attack, which weapons to use, and when to stop attacking. Deficiencies in the training process may produce an immune system in a persistently attacking mode, which manifests in the body as autoimmune diseases (Lupus, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis) or an immune system that overreacts to environmental elements, which we can see as anaphylactic reactions.

The human immune system exhibits unique foresight in its design. This design not only anticipates encounters with elements that must be identified as threats or nonthreats, but also it anticipates that some elements will need to be embraced and protected for the adequate functioning of the human body. These encounters will also end up calibrating the immune response in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of its responses for years to come.

Such elegant calibration brings to mind the words of the psalmist that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Part of that makeup includes a wide collection of microorganisms that are associated with our bodies. These efficient defenders remind us that the more we discover about microorganisms, the more we can appreciate God’s goodness and love for human beings.

Original article: How Bacteria Train Our Immune System

Splinternet – Breaking the Internet: New Regulations Imperil Global Network

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Is the dream of one global internet still alive?

Increasingly, moves by governments to filter and restrict content are threatening to fragment the system created with the promise of connecting the world with a largely unified body of content.

China for years has walled off some western services, and the fragmentation may be accelerating with regulations being imposed elsewhere, say analysts.

This is leading to a “splinternet,” a term circulated for a decade or more but gaining more traction in recent months.

“The internet is already fragmented in material ways, but each regulator around the world thinks they know how to fix the internet,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

“I think we will see a tsunami of regulations that will lead to a further splintering of the internet.”

The New Zealand Christchurch mosques massacre livestreamed online heightened the sense of urgency in some countries, with debates in the US and EU on curbing incitement to violence.

A new Australian law could jail social media executives for failing to take down violent extremist content quickly.

And a proposal unveiled in Britain could make executives personally liable for harmful content posted on social platforms. Similar ideas have been discussed by lawmakers in Washington.

These moves come as Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has called for a “common global framework” of internet rules.

But free-speech defenders warn it would be dangerous to allow governments to regulate online content, even if social media are struggling.

The UK proposal “is a very bad look for a rights-respecting democracy,” said R. David Edelman, a former White House technology adviser who now heads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s project on technology, the economy and national security.

“It would place the UK toward the far end of the internet censorship spectrum.”

Elsewhere, critics pounced on a bill in Singapore to ban “fake news,” calling it a thinly veiled attempt at censorship.

“It is not up to the government to arbitrarily determine what is and is not true,” said Daniel Bastard of the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

“In its current form, this Orwellian law establishes nothing less than a ‘ministry of truth’ that would be free to silence independent voices and impose the ruling party’s line.”

According to human rights watchdog Freedom House, at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws to restrict online media in the name of fighting “fake news” and manipulation, and 13 countries prosecuted internet users for spreading “false” information.

Goldman argued that the European Union’s General Protection Data Regulation, aimed at improving online privacy, “has been a major milestone in splintering the internet.”

It has led to numerous websites including news sites cut off from Europe, he said.

The EU copyright directive approved last month, aimed at protecting creators, could also result in fragmentation of online information, said Danny O’Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Whatever internet companies and organizations do to comply with 27 or more national laws — from dropping links to European news sites entirely… will be challenged by one rights-holder faction or another,” O’Brien said in a blog post.

The multitude of proposed rules around the world raise the prospect of varying versions of the internet depending on location, with small services potentially blocking out some countries.

Data Nationalism

In addition to online content measures, several countries including India and Brazil are enforcing “data localization” requirements which could limit the availability of services such as e-commerce and banking.

“More nation-states are trying to territorialize information flows and assert control of those services,” said Milton Mueller, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor and co-founder of the Internet Governance Project of analysts.

The fragmentation could have profound consequences both in terms of economics and human rights, according to Mueller.

“The bypassing of these national boundaries when the internet got started was what was revolutionary and led to the expansion of new services,” he said.

“There is now an assertion of national sovereignty and national control, going against globalization and the ability of people to freely interact with each other.”

The “data nationalization” movement gained momentum after the 2013 revelations on surveillance from national security contractor Edward Snowden.

This gave some governments “an excuse to impose far greater state control” of their networks, said Edelman.

Edelman maintained the Snowden revelations represented a turning point because they “ruptured some of the faith in a global consensus” about the internet.

Australia’s efforts to curb content and require access to encrypted devices could prompt some firms to think twice about doing business there, said Edelman.

“The potential is there for companies to simply exit the Australian market,” he said.

Amy Webb, a New York University professor and founder of the Future Today Institute, said the trend toward Balkanization is growing, posing challenges for online services.

“Compliance is going to become more and more difficult for companies who do business in more than one location, which could stifle growth and restrict the flow of meaningful, credible information,” Webb said.

Ira Magaziner, a former policy adviser to president Bill Clinton who helped negotiate deals to bring the internet around the world, said he is optimistic that countries will find ways to keep the internet from fragmenting.

“We are going through a period where there are a lot of questions and a lot of forces for disintegration,” Magaziner said, while noting that countries cutting off data will be hurting themselves.

“If the advantages are large enough, it will hang together,” he said.

Original article: Breaking the internet: new regulations imperil global network


This was inevitable.

As usual, nations around the world (including ours) continue to keep their citizens in the dark, control the political narrative, and either directly (as in the case of China) or indirectly (here in America) enslave their populations to a singular state-approved view of, well, everything.

The old canard that our government must spy on everything you do in order to “…prevent terrorism!” was just that — a canard, another lie. Governments spy on their own citizens not to protect the citizens but to protect themselves from their citizens. These days, most of the political Right is opposed to this while the political Left, always drooling over the sweet dream of totalitarianism, embraces it without question (as usual).

This has been true of every government since governments first existed.

The hideous display of partisan reporting and outright favoritism of the American media in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election proved this reprobate and medieval behavior is alive and well here at home.

Those “domestic enemies” so many in public office swear to defend our nation from — Hollywood, most American media, most Academia, most of the Democratic party — prove at every turn they are what is worst in men and women: true enemies of free thought, free speech, and free belief.

And the very social networks who promised a return to free expression — Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter — are leading the way in marginalizing and ostracizing anyone an danything that does not squeeze through the keyhole of their deranged sociopolitical myopia.

Long ago we had war. Then came mechanized war, then the cloud of nuclear war. Then came economic warfare. And now, digital warfare.

It is astonishing to consider that with all the history of the world behind them to learn from, these people still — still! — choose darkness and death.

Why are you surprised?

They are still dead.

Dead to Courage and Truth.

Ergo, they fear and lie.

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide By C.S. Cowles, Eugene H. Merrill, Daniel L. Gard, and Tremper Longman III

Readers of the Old Testament are often stunned and horrified at the violence which seems to pervade its pages. Particularly troubling are instances in which God Himself commands the nation of Israel to completely destroy Canaanite villages, showing no compassion even on women and children. These passages are especially relevant in the 21st century, given the fact that many groups in the preceding 300 years have attempted to justify genocide on the basis of the Old Testament accounts.

Show Them No Mercy (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2003) by C.S. Cowles, Eugene Merrill, Daniel Gard, and Tremper Longman presents four views of God in light of these difficult Old Testament texts. In particular, the writers each attempt to explain how the loving and non-violent picture of Christ’s first advent harmonizes with the violence of God seen in the Old Testament.

The first view, presented by C.S. Cowles, is the most radical. Cowles asserts that God never truly commanded the Israelites to practice genocide, but that they instead misunderstood the nature of God and acted on the basis of national pride and corporate convenience. He is forced to conclude that the Old Testament is not completely inerrant but instead contains an imperfect and limited perspective of God which is only corrected by the New Testament’s emphasis on the love of Christ.

Eugene Merrill does an excellent job of approaching the problem from a dispensational perspective. He effectively argues that God has not changed but that the Conquest narratives reflect God’s unique relationship with the nation of Israel during a particular period of history. God’s holiness, Canaan’s idolatry, and the Abrahamic covenant made the destruction of Canaanite cities necessary. However, the same conditions no longer operate in the Church Age, and thus Christians have no justification for waging war in the name of Christ.

Daniel Gard and Tremper Longman present two remarkably similar views, although Longman’s case is made in a clearer and more convincing manner. Both connect the passages of violence in the Old Testament to New Testament descriptions of spiritual warfare and to the apocalyptic accounts of Christ’s Second Coming. Their essential argument is that the character of God remains the same, although the manner in which His holiness and wrath are demonstrated varies throughout history. The same God who once acted in wrath upon the Canaanites will one day render judgment and destruction on all who oppose Him.

A major strength of this book is its emphasis on the fact that modern-day genocide cannot be supported by Scripture. Although all of the authors could have done a better job of justifying the necessity for the Israelite’s wholesale extermination of people groups (including seemingly innocent women and children), this book is highly recommended for those who wish to sharpen their understanding of these highly difficult Old Testament passages.

From Amazon: Show Them No Mercy