The Weightier Matters

The Weightier Matters (Part III)

One has only to ponder the numerous remarkably intricate life processes necessary in reproduction, growth, and development to be impressed by the fact that it takes a high degree of intelligence to comprehend these phenomena

R. M. Ritland, Director GeoScience, Research Institute

WHEN the news of a volcanic eruption in the sea off the Vestmann Islands reached the ears of Icelandic geologists in the early morning of November 14, 1963, some of them had to have it repeated to them, and they received it with a grain of salt all the same. And when they in the spring and summer of 1964 wandered about the island which was being born then, they found it hard to believe that this was an island whose age was still measured in months, not years. An Icelander who has studied geology and geomorphology at foreign universities is later taught by ex­perience in his own homeland that the time scale he had been trained to attach to geological developments is misleading when assessments are made of the forces—constructive and destructive—which have molded and are still molding the face of Ice­land. What elsewhere may take a thousand or more years may be accomplished here in one century. All the same he is amazed whenever he comes to Surtsey, because the same development may take a few weeks or even a few days here.

On Surtsey only a few months sufficed for a landscape to be created that was so varied and mature that it was almost be­yond belief. During the summer of 1964 and the following winter we not only had a lava dome with a glowing lava lake in a summit crater but red-hot lava flows rush­ing down the slopes, increasing the height of the dome and transforming the config­uration of the island from one day to an­other. Here we could see wide sandy beaches and precipitous crags lashed by the breakers of the sea. There were gravel banks and lagoons, impressive cliffs, gray­ish white from the brine that oozes out of the tephrite, giving them a resemblance to the white cliffs on the English Channel. There were hollows, glens, and soft undulating land. There were fractures and fault scarps, channels and screes. There were often furious gales and sandstorms, which reduced the visibility to zero, and Agir, the northern counterpart of Nep­tune, dealt blows of no less violence. You might come to a beach covered with flow­ing lava on its way to the sea, with white clouds of steam rising high up in the air. Three weeks later you might come back to the same place and be literally confounded by what met your eye. Now there were precipitous lava cliffs of considerable height, and below them you would see boulders worn by the surf, some of which were almost round, on an abrasion plat­form cut into the cliff, and a sandy beach where you could walk at low tide without getting wet. The next time you came there, glowing lava falls rush over the sea cliff. One day the surf had cut a large section out of a tephritic wall. The next, the lava spread across the sandy beach, protecting the cliff from further inroads by the sea. In this way destructive and constructive forces waged a constant battle for this is­land, which is and will be a true paradise for geomorphologists.

One is reminded of words of the psalm­ist: "Thou didst set the earth on its founda­tions, so that it should never be shaken. Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the moun­tains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the sound of thy thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which thou didst appoint for them. Thou didst set a bound which they should not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth" (Ps. 104:5-9, R.S.V.).

4. Concerning the living world: the appar­ent exceedingly complex organization of even the simplest, independent living or­ganism is suggestive of a high order of de­sign

One has only to ponder the numerous remarkably intricate life processes neces­sary in reproduction, growth, and develop­ment to be impressed that if it takes a high degree of intelligence to comprehend these phenomena, it must take a vastly su­perior order of intelligence to design them.

In a paragraph or two one can scarcely more than point in the direction in which thoroughgoing studies, many still in prog­ress, are leading. A hint as to the complex­ity of the cell may be had by considering just a little of what seems to be required of that mechanism that is known as the control center or controlling substance within a cell, often abbreviated by the ini­tials DNA. Within the DNA of a single microscopic cell nucleus, the fertilized hu­man ovum (egg), is contained the neces­sary information to guide its growth into a complex human being composed of 60,000 billion cells. And each man with his own unique characteristics and abilities—per­sons with the capacity for reason, judg­ment, memory. The same DNA guides thousands of complex biochemical proc­esses, some partially understood, many others still obscure. It has been calculated that the DNA in one such fertilized hu­man egg contains some 6 billion steps with more coded information than could be compressed into several sets of encyclope­dias and yet it weighs no more than two ten-trillionths of an ounce.

A similar microscopic quantity of DNA in a cell that is not very different in many respects records the instructions which guide the development and processes that result in a sperm whale that weighs 100 tons; still another leads to giant redwoods 3,500 years old; another to a microscopic flagellate, Euglena, whose single cell carries on most of the complex functions of the highest forms of life, even including photo­synthesis of its own food. Could this be the result of chance combinations and selection? If so, chance must be omniscient. Do we not rather see the infinite wisdom revealed in design of the highest order?

As one reflects on these "weightier mat­ters" problems fade into insignificance, and we are reminded of the word of the Lord through His prophets and messen­gers.

"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well" (Ps. 139:14). "Not all the wisdom and skill of man can produce life in the smallest object in nature. It is only through the life which God Himself has imparted, that either plant or animal can live. So it is only through the life from God that spir­itual life is begotten in the hearts of men." —Steps to Christ, p. 67.

5. Man, his intellectual, moral, and spirit­ual nature and capacities

There are philosophers who discount the evidence from science which seems to provide overwhelming justification for a recognition of order, of plan, of a Designer, of a God of incomparable ability who has been deeply concerned with man and the natural world. They may con­cede that the evidence seems to point to such a Creator-God of science, but they argue that such a being is at best amoral, unconcerned with beauty, good­ness and truth, with right and wrong. Apart from revelation one cannot give a fully satisfactory answer; but consider, is it logical that a superior being in the uni­verse would create, by whatever means, a race of beings—man—which has a higher sense of values, esthetic and ethical, of ap­preciation of right and wrong, of beauty, of truth than the Creator Himself? I can­not concede that such a conclusion is ra­tional. The eminent geneticist Edmund W. Sinnott comments: "Man is a spirit, and it is as hard to fit him into a purely material mold as to weigh the beauty of a symphony in a pair of scales."—In the Biology of the Spirit (1962, Viking Press, New York), p. 131.

To the Christian, reason may point to a Creator, but we are not left with reason alone. Confirmation and identity are given in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and fe­male created he them" (Gen. 1:27). "Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: 'I am the Lord, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth'" (Isa. 44:24, R.S.V.). "The mechanism of the human body cannot be fully under

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R. M. Ritland, Director GeoScience, Research Institute

November 1967

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