Saturday, May 19, 2018

GMOs-->Genetic Editing

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) elicit profound fear in many areas of the world. Foods produced by genetic modification are shunned and outlawed in many countries, even though there have been no documented cases of nutritional harm from human consumption of genetically modified foods or food products. Many optimistic promises of GMOs have been substantially fulfilled. As with any revolutionary technology there are a few legitimate questions. Many scientists are distressed by the slow pace of legal resolution of concerns about GMOs. Some relate to ethical dimensions of human induced horizontal gene transfer (HGT). In nature HGT has occurred as the transfer of DNA genetic material from one species to another, mostly in primitive life forms. Artificial HGT has been accomplished by scientists in the last few decades using novel biotechnology. This is the basis of the GMO phenomenon.    

A different procedure on the genetic editing front raises hopes for success of bio-engineering to an ever higher level. A few years ago new technologies were developed which may be described as a form of genetic modification, lately becoming known as genetic editing. Following is a quote by Jacob Bunge and Amy Marcus from the Wall Street Journal of 4/16/18. The article, “Battle Grows Over Gene-edited Food,” expresses both the hopes and fears inherent in the newest biotechnology techniques: “The new gene-editing technologies enable scientists to achieve some of the same effects by altering the plant’s own DNA, without inserting new genes. With Crispr-Cas9 the most widely used system, scientists can program genetic guides to target a location along the plant’s DNA, where the Cas9 protein cuts the DNA. The cells change the DNA sequence as the cut is repaired. Scientists are using Crispr to make drought resistant corn, reduced-gluten wheat, and tomatoes with easy to remove stems.”

Curious people marvel about processes at the sub-microscopic level where these wonders occur. There are about one trillion cells in our bodies. Each cell contains a nucleus containing 46 chromosomes, each one containing DNA macro-molecules with billions of atoms. Electron microscopes enable us to “see” molecular structure.

Several years ago bio-scientists began applying knowledge they had acquired from observing the manner in which bacteria resist viruses that attacked them. They used the same strategy in more advanced plants and animals to genetically edit the organisms’ genomes in order to give them new traits. Antonio Regaldo, senior editor of MIT Technology Review writes, “Bacteria collect and store snippets of DNA from viruses that have invaded them, splicing the segments out through their own genome in a pattern called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - the language that gives CRISPR its acronym.” The bacteria use the virus’s DNA to create cutting enzymes called nucleases which splice the DNA at the desired place. Scientists in the last few years have shown that this natural bacterial immune process can be repurposed to work in humans in order to target and delete specific genes including those which cause deleterious inherited diseases or aging.

Bio-scientists could delete, add, modify, insert, or replace a gene at the position where the “nuclear scissors” snipped out the unwanted gene from the original DNA sequence. Supporters of the CRISPR process claim it is more “natural” than the process used by GMOs which incorporate genetic material from a different species.

Our knowledge and application of CRISPR technology is still preliminary but potential for the well-being of humanity in the future is high indeed. Many benefits from GMOs and gene editing already astound us. The technology of gene editing is moving very quickly. In 10, 50, or 100 years if Christ has not returned, we predict the world will be very different. Will most diseases be conquered? Could reduced suffering, enhanced diet, and extended patterns of aging cause man to draw closer to God? Or instead, will humanity feel an increased sense of self-empowerment?

Our scientific knowledge has multiplied beyond belief since the days when our grandparents and great-grandparents were young people and adults. We contemplate whether righteousness has increased or diminished. Should the vast knowledge proliferation heighten or reduce personal and collective worship of the Creator of All Things? Our answer should be driven by thoughtful introspection.      

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Genetic Modifications

In the lifetimes of some readers of this blog, the most fundamental knowledge of genetics has been revealed. Even in the 1940s and 1950s geneticists were uncertain which cell features were responsible for heredity and how heritable traits were passed to the next generation. For instance, bioscientists were unsure whether cellular protein or DNA controlled heredity. In the early 1950s scientists confirmed that DNA was the responsible agent. The existence of DNA had been known for several decades but little was known about its workings or function. Scientists discovered that DNA is “species specific” in 1950. In 1953 bioscientists discovered the beauty and complexity of the molecular structure of DNA. Determination of its incredible wonder-inspiring functionality was not far behind. In the 1960s they determined the code for DNA’s production of proteins—building blocks of life itself.

A DNA molecule is composed of three billion base pairs (chemical substances) arranged according to a specific order in a long double helix spiral. There are four bases in the molecule. In humans this long molecule is composed of 46 chromosomes, each with multiple regions containing thousands of genes, units of nucleotides, at a specific location. Each gene carries information for the eventual production of a particular physical characteristic. 

Genetics is the study of how multiple traits of living things are inherited and passed along to the next generation. This definition belies the complexity of the knowledge of genetics. Most people would claim at least a modicum of genetic knowledge. The subject evokes strong responses in the current cultural climate, especially as it relates to one’s personal existence. When the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is raised we encounter strongly diverse reactions along all positions on the approval/disapproval spectrum.

First, we describe one of the most important applications of the GMO world. Since the mid 90s, we have been blessed by the widespread development of GMOs. This discovery is revolutionary, replacing some traditional agricultural practices. It involves transferring a gene from one species to a different species. For example, soil bacteria such as bacillus thuringiensis (bT) possesses DNA which produces a toxin fatal to harmful insects such as corn borers. Before discovery of GMO technology, this bacterial toxin was used to produce large quantities of commercial chemical insecticides. Many crop species have now been genetically engineered to produce their own intrinsic toxic resistance to insect pests; the pests die when they ingest any part of a genetically engineered plant. The new crops have incorporated a gene of bT into their own genome. Consumers benefit from increased crop productivity and reduced costs. There are many other GMOs, lately described under the umbrella term “bio-engineered.”             

Many related issues exist such as the ethical consequences of tampering with naturally occurring genomes. Some authors describe the practice as “genetic tinkering,” a characterization which may impart a negative spin to the GMO phenomenon. Do we “play God” in a morally unacceptable manner? Are we creating, or do we have the potential to create “Frankenstein monsters?” Surely these questions provoke the most fearful human responses only if we permit them to rule our thinking. 

Our position is in accord with God’s instructions to humanity in Genesis 1:28 “…Fill the earth and subdue it.” This verse and verses 29-30 have many applications for man’s prudent management of living things.

Humans have produced genetic modifications in plants and animals for thousands of years. They began in force at the inception of humanity’s agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago. These genetic modifications were manifest in domestication of plants and animals. Some modifications are startling, increasing desirability and productivity in multiple ways. Over many years people selected the most desirable crops and animals for propagation. Unwittingly, they practiced a form of genetic modification. In the past few decades agriculturalists have enjoyed increasingly novel technological potential, doubtless a divine gift for which we give thanks to God. Our prayer is that humanity would not use this technological potential for evil or harm.

The United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina together raise 90% of genetically modified crops worldwide. In view of the proven benefits of GMOs this is a surprising statistic. European Union countries have mandated laws forbidding the sale and use of  almost all bio-engineered crops. There are many examples in which people in underdeveloped nations would strongly benefit from improved nutrition by using bio-engineered GMO foods. For example, golden rice is a GMO. Bio-engineering has produced rice which contains abundant Vitamin A beta carotene, proven to be helpful in populations with vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Hundreds of thousands of children die each year from VAD in underdeveloped countries, but staunch resistance continues.

Science journalist David H. Freeman states in an article in Scientific American that, “Not a single verified case of illness has ever been attributed to the genetic alterations.” On the other hand, there have been many opposing voices casting doubt on the safety of GMOs. The issue generates deep emotions and is intensely ideological. Many other issues are the source of similar emotional disagreements.

Pew Research claims 48% of the US population says the health effects of consuming GMOs are no different from other foods while 39% say GM foods are worse for one’s health. GM foods are better for our health say 10% of those polled. Pew also reports that 29% of people have heard “a lot,” 52% have heard “a little,” and 19% have heard “nothing” about the issue. Their reporting also finds that people with high science knowledge are more likely to favor the use of bio-engineered foods. Personal research on the pros and cons of this and many other controversial matters is a useful exercise. Many discover the importance of ideology which often supersedes factual truth.

In our search for appropriate scripture references on this topic, we encountered a verse by Solomon who had never experienced controversies related to GMOs: “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! (Proverbs 16:16 NIV).



Monday, May 7, 2018

Spring Planting

Three weeks into the month of April our local area began to emerge from the throes of winter. Spring conditions have suddenly arrived to the delight of farmers. “Spring planting” is a term frequently heard in farming regions. Frost is now out of the ground and the soil will soon be warm enough to receive a new infusion of seed. In my youth I was privileged to observe farming operations firsthand thanks to the involvement of close family.  

Personal childhood recollections relate to my father’s active participation in  horticulture and agriculture. He constructed a greenhouse on our property during the 1930s. During World War II two events edged him out of the greenhouse business in central New York and into the state agency of a national agricultural seed company. A heavy snowfall did serious damage to our family-owned greenhouse. In addition, the government mandated that the greenhouse business was non-essential to the collective war effort.

I preferred to explore my grandfather’s farm buildings and fields located next door to my childhood home. In retrospect, when “Agent Dad” taught farmers about hybrid corn varieties and the value of synthetic chemical fertilizers, as a pre-teen I should have listened more carefully. My interests, instead, were along the lines of farm and field exploration and adventure together with fishing in the nearby river. He frequently spoke, for example, about such issues as “single cross” and “double cross” hybrids and the advantages of using synthetic nitrogen-based inorganic fertilizer. Dad was not college trained in contemporary 1940s agricultural technology. Rather, he was self-taught, surpassing the experience and knowledge he had acquired on his family’s farming operation in Northern New York during the 1910s and 1920s. Farmers of that day were not familiar with hybridization or synthetic inorganic fertilizers. As late as the 1940s when my father became an agent for a firm embracing the newest agricultural technology, some of his farmer clients remained dubious and doubtful.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Without hybridization and genetically modified plants, together with heavy reliance on synthetic fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate, our food supply would be woefully inadequate to satisfy the 7.6 billion earth residents of today. 

During the last few decades a large portion of our population has become enamored with organic foods and procedures. Several requirements prevail for foods or food production to be considered organic. Crops may not be raised with synthetic chemical fertilizers, hormones, or antibiotics. Animals must have access to free range conditions. There must be no irradiation of foods. Pest, weed, and disease control must be applied by biological means. They must not be genetically modified. In short, foods and food production methods must be “natural” according to strict regulations.     Organic farming and gardening are deeply ideological.

Flashback to early and mid-20th century farming methods and the agricultural endeavors of my father. He followed the principles established by the famous agricultural innovator Norman Borlaug, considered the father of the “Green Revolution” of the 20th century. In earlier years primitive world agricultural practices had deterred crop production, especially in underdeveloped, high population countries. Residents of those countries faced widespread starvation. Billions of people in those countries were saved from nutritional disaster. Borlaug was the winner of a Nobel Prize for his innovative methods of developing high yielding hybrid plant varieties, use of synthetic fertilizers and chemical treatments for pests, weeds, and diseases, as well as modern mechanization and irrigation. He was recognized for likely saving the lives of one billion human beings. The organic movement arose in response to the Green Revolution. Both had beginnings in the 1940s.

Practices in modern agriculture continue the accomplishments of the Green Revolution. In terms of many contemporary residents during and after World War II my father was ahead of his time in utilizing hybrid crop varieties, chemical fertilizers, and modern technologies of pest, disease, and weed control and irrigation. He taught these lessons to the farmers in his agency region previously steeped in old-fashioned agricultural traditions. He would be among the first to endorse the concept that modern agricultural technologies were merely an extension of processes in the natural world in effect since plant and animal food crops have been present on our planet. These processes sustained the nutritional needs of divinely created humanity. After the Wisconsin Ice Age early humans selected the best plants over many generations— an example of early genetic modification. The value of nutrients in manure was also discovered thousands of years ago. These practices resulted in the appearance of healthy domesticated plants and animals we still enjoy today.

My father, Paul Virkler, was an energetic innovator in his life projects. One of his major ventures was the move from central New York to northern New Jersey in 1951 to take over the pastorate of a small church. This move coincided with my parents’ lifelong desire to serve God. The tiny church did not provide any salary, but God provided for the purchase of a 40-acre parcel of property. Twelve of those acres needed to be cleared of 25 years of shrubby growth and young trees. Paul was “up for the job.” Ultimately, those twelve acres were planted in hybrid sweet corn with one acre reserved for tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers. Lima beans were but one of our personal family favorite veggies along with our famous sweet corn.  

From 1952 to 1985 the family farm produced over three million ears of sweet corn. Virtually ALL of our produce was sold retail at the road in front of our property. Our clients were appreciative and curious concerning the farming expertise needed to bring the crop to maturity. Some customers wondered if our crops were organically raised. I responded that the same chemical nutrients utilized by plants in organic fields were present in the ammonium nitrate fertilizer applied several times to the sweet corn crop during its growth stage. Were these fertilizers “natural?” As a science teacher I could  honestly state that all chemical elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium occur as part of the created “natural” physical world. Most customers were pleased that Dad planted a rye cover crop each fall after the harvest to be plowed down the next spring—certainly the epitome of an “organic” process! The truth was that rigid application of formally defined organic methods would have precluded most of the profit from our family farming operation. As with any technology, we used research and sound advice provided by state and national agricultural organizations to insure the safety of our procedures.

Each year at the roadside stand, we distributed a new edition of our newsletter entitled “Kernels of Truth.” Along with questions posed by our customers in many previous years, we took the opportunity to give God the glory for the miracle of crop development. We combined many questions from customers to ask a rhetorical question: “What is the most important ingredient in growing corn?” Following is our 1984 newsletter reply:

Faith. Jesus Christ spoke of having faith as small as a grain of mustard seed in order to accomplish great things. To watch a tiny seed grow from insignificance to maturity and fruitfulness demands a considerable measure of faith. The same Jesus Christ spoke of an even more significant sphere in which we can exercise our faith when He said, “The true Bread is a Person—the One sent by God from heaven, and He gives life to the world…..I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:33-35 Living Bible) 




Monday, April 30, 2018

Weather Prognostication

Are Earth’s weather and climate systems merely the result of chance? Do they manifest the elements of exquisitely designed systems? Temperature is but one of many weather-defining factors. Our ability to forecast temperatures connects our knowledge of astronomy with the topic of weather. The tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation is central to understanding weather-related temperature variation. Our home planet’s axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its plane of its revolution. Instead, it tilts away from the 90º configuration by the familiar 23.5º. In terms of the welfare of Earth’s population of over 7.5 billion, we should be thankful for its deviation from the perpendicular. 

Considering the reliability or inaccuracy of long term weather forecasting, we may profitably understand factors which cause the overall warm to cold and cold to warm seasonal cycles. In the writer’s neighborhood of extreme northwest Illinois, each year around July 11 Earth begins a slow descent from an 82.2ºF average high temperature to a January 11 average high of only 26.3ºF, a drop of 55.9ºF. Then a reversal occurs. After a week or two of virtually no change, temperatures stage a comeback, recovering slowly at first, then more rapidly before leveling off after reaching their July peak. The running averages are a source of satisfaction for statistics-minded weather addicts.

Next day, three-day, five-day, and ten-day weather forecasts become progressively less reliable. Thirty-day forecasts may reflect already established weather trends. For example, some locations experience a rainy season or dry season. Most weather-aware residents note how much above or below average the temperature, precipitation, and wind speed will be for the current day or the immediate future. Modern technology has refined the accuracy of forecasts.

Most observers are more interested in local weather forecasts than in causes of warm to cold or cold to warm seasonal transitions. Those transitions, however, are fundamental to understanding life conditions on our planet. The most important factor determining temperature conditions at any location is the angle of insolation—the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the Earth’s surface. This determines whether residents live in a tropical (warm) climate, a temperate (moderate) climate, or a polar (cold) climate. In terms of cause of our varying temperature conditions on Planet Earth, we pinpoint the tilt of Earth’s axis as the main cause of variations in the angle at which Sun rays strike the surface of Earth. If we could alter the 23.5º axis tilt to 0º we would not alter Earth’s generally warm, moderate, or cold zones. We would, however, remove seasons from our experience. Life would be very different for Earth dwellers:

Seasonal temperature variation depends on the angle of sunlight striking the earth’s surface. This factor is important wherever we are on the planet. The tilt of Earth’s axis dictates that direct noontime sun rays strike the Tropic of Cancer on June 21. Those residents would see the Sun at their zenith (straight overhead) at noon. Three months later on September 21 the Sun’s direct noon time rays strike directly at the Equator but Tropic of Cancer residents would notice the Sun’s noontime rays have descended to 23.5º south of their zenith. Three months later on December 21 residents at the Tropic of Capricorn would observe their noontime sun directly overhead, but people living at the Tropic of Cancer would observe their noontime Sun 47º south of their zenith while residents directly at the Equator would observe the Sun 23.5º south of their zenith. Dwellers in tropical regions are the only Earth residents ever to observe the Sun directly at their zenith on some occasions. Residents in tropical regions experience fairly direct noon solar rays all year long. This explains why their weather forecasts almost always use adjectives “warm” or “hot.”

North of the Tropic of Cancer in the temperate zone between 23.5º and 66.5º N. Lat. people are more impacted by seasonal temperature variations owing to the indirect angle of insolation. In a previous post we illustrated by reporting that Ft. Myers FL has an average high temperature difference of only 21ºF from June to December while Dubuque IA has a June to December difference of 55ºF. The primary reason is the greater difference in the angle of solar insolation. This angle differs more greatly from the generally vertical the farther north one travels. Specifically, the amount of radiant energy from sun rays striking Earth’s surface at 30º is 50% of the radiant energy received from rays striking at 90º. 

Seasonal temperatures depend slightly on a few other factors in addition to sun angle. For instance, at 41º north latitude June has 15 hours of daylight and 9 hours of night darkness. In December the figures are reversed. In June there are more hours of heating; in December there are less. Other interesting phenomena occur seasonally. In June the Sun rises about 23º north of due east, attains an altitude of 72º above the horizon at noon, and sets about 23º north of due west. The Sun takes a very long trip across the sky on summer days. These conditions supply warmer, more direct summer sunlight, long summer days, and short summer nights. In December the Sun rises about 23º south of due east, attains an altitude of only about 26º above the horizon, and sets 23º south of due west. In short, the December sun is never very high, not very warm, not as bright as summer sun, and not above the horizon many hours.

Proximity to large water and land bodies, the large scale circulation of water and atmosphere, and occurrence of wind and precipitation are just a few other issues of concern to weather prognosticators. Without energy from the Sun there would be no weather at all. Earth would be a lifeless, cold rock. Habitation of this planet is sustained by dynamic life conditions accessible to human discovery. We are gifted with the ability to contemplate the existence of both design and the Divine Designer of our planetary system. We speak of the God of Creation. One design feature, orbital tilt (let’s call it the cause) enables us to discover many interesting and beneficial effects for prosperous human life.   




Sunday, April 22, 2018

Weather of Discontent

Once or twice each year most areas of our country experience truly unusual stretches of weather. In the writer’s Midwest tri-state neighborhood region—Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin,—our local newspaper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald highlighted this year’s “weather of discontent” in an editorial entitled “We Can Stay Silent No More on Source of Our Discontent.” They were true to Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Based on remarkable statistics as well as personal comfort levels April 2018 has been truly atypical. The editorial committee cited the current April 1-18 time frame, claiming its 31.1ºF degree average temperature was 5.1º colder than the previous record first 18 April days of 1975. That was the coldest April ever recorded in this region, narrowly beating the previous all-time April low average temperature in 1907 by 0.1º. On April 16 Green Bay, WI had 23.5” of snow, its largest fall in 130 years. Our four local April snowfalls were minor in contrast. Besting the all time record for  April 1-18 by 5.1º is truly remarkable. For people fascinated with unusual weather statistics and winter folklore, April 2018 has been paradise, at least in our region.

We cite several Midwest local weather phenomena personally experienced in the past few years. By relating these events, we wish to reinforce the concept that weather, replete with unusual manifestations, deserves Mark Twain’s helpless analysis. There is seldom such a thing as an “average” weather day because weather averages are based on numerous above and below average events and conditions—some of them far above or far below average.

Let’s proceed to a few other recent examples from our local weather history. Our winter of 2013/14 exceeded the April 2018 event. There were 43 below zero days recorded with winter snowfall totals approaching the all time seasonal record. In sharp contrast fast forward to the record-setting heat during the six day period of February 17-22, 2017 during which the average temperature was 64 degrees! Now consider a most unusual weather sequence in January 2013: Three separate lightning/thunder episodes in 15 hours with temperatures in the high 50s produced nearly two inches of rain. Those events were followed by a next-day drop in temperature to —6ºF and 6” of snow. The mighty deluge of 15” of rain in just a few hours on July 27-28, 2011 was the result of a mesoscale convective system which gave rise to a phenomenon called “training,” heavy thunderstorms repeatedly traveling over the same narrow geographic area, similar to train cars on a track. The 16.01” of rain in Dubuque, IA, just 25 miles to our west during the month of July 2011 included this deluge and represents their all-time maximum monthly rainfall.  

In 2012 much of the US was struck by the worst drought since 1988. This includes our local Midwest region. The rains finally returned in 2013 before other regions of the country experienced relief. The drought was caused by a phenomenon called the Arctic Oscillation (AO). We list the AO and other related events such as El Nino, not only to instruct our readers in esoteric details, but to raise their awareness that the causes of such incidents are extremely complex and cannot be remedied by ill-advised modifications to the human “carbon footprint” as some climate change experts propose. We cannot explain the diversity of discontent-producing weather events described above by citing anthropogenic global warming caused by CO2 emissions from human consumption of fossil fuels. In short, we are unable to explain global warming by attributing both warming and cooling effects to the same cause. Our climate system is far more complex and majestic.     

Thousands of weather events and conditions blend together over extended time frames. Eventually, these events and conditions describe and define the broader category of climate—a distinction lost on many people who fail to identify the beauty and complexity of long term climate and climate change. Some folks describe themselves as “weather junkies” in a positive sense. One friend obsessively enjoys thunderstorms, perhaps identifying their generous production of life-sustaining water, or their potential for electrically splitting nitrogen atoms into useful forms to fall with the rain, eventually forming soil-enriching nitrates. Awesome accounts of lightning and thunderous downpours from the Book of Job, chapters 36-38, highlight God’s omnipotence and majesty. Some weather events produce fear; others inspire joy and ebullience.    

In his omniscience, the Creator possesses ultimate knowledge of how our planet’s weather and climate systems operate. God created matter and the physical laws governing its behavior. We do not pretend to completely understand these systems but we understand basic causes and effects. Natural climate change has occurred on Planet Earth for uncounted millennia. How do the systems work, we ask? What caution must we exercise as we experience weather events? We respect the majesty of our weather systems. Ultimately, we also respect the beauty of our climate system, mindful that it sustains the lives of 7.5 billion souls. For this sustenance, we give thanks to God.                  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Biblical Food Truths

Human nutrition is a subject of interest for every human virtually every day. Because food is readily available in our modern society, we are usually not engaged with the demands of food procurement. Rather, we focus on the plethora of food choices. For most residents of advanced nations, personal food selections may present a greater challenge than food availability. It was not always so. As we stroll down long supermarket aisles plentifully stocked with a superfluous variety of boxed cereals, for example, we may become “value conflicted.” The advice of I Timothy 6:8—“And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” has a broader meaning, including the provision that our God supplies all that is really necessary for our comfort. 

Marketing food products consumes large fractions of media time in our day. Nutrition is not only a function of life sustainment, but also a function of how fully we enjoy our lives. Agriculture and the food industry is a vital segment of our modern economy.

Scripture conveys powerful messages concerning the role of food. Sometimes food imagery combines spiritual values and mundane life lessons. In one familiar passage Christ uses nutritional imagery—“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). The Apostle Paul links thankfulness for food with knowledge that foods are life-sustaining gifts from the Father and should be received thankfully (I Tim. 4:4).

Under the law of Moses divine instructions concerning consumable foods were related to appropriate nutrition and health of the Chosen People. They were also a test of obedience to the authority of their Creator and unquestioning obedience to Him (Leviticus 11).

God’s gift of human satisfaction appears many times in reference to our enjoyment of food. Psalm 22:26 proclaims, “The afflicted will eat and be satisfied.” In Psalm 107:9, the psalmist exults, “…He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.” The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes (Eccles. 9:7) exhorts readers to “Eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart…” There are several well-known references to feasts and banquets where food was consumed in celebration (Luke 15:23).

We are counseled to request our daily bread from the Heavenly Father (Matt. 6:11). Of course, we must not fail to be thankful for all of our manifold blessings (Rom. 1:21). In the Christian communion celebration, food elements remind us of the life giving sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus (I Cor. 11:24-26).

In our scripture search for references to food, we are overwhelmed with the variety and plentitude of foods especially in Old Testament times. God had provided for human nutrition with a wondrous assortment of tasty and nutritious food products. He does so yet today. Following is a listing of Bible food categories with examples.

GRAINS: wheat, barley, corn (not maize), millet, spelt

FRUITS and nuts: apples, almonds, grapes, raisins, dates, figs, melons, olives, olive oil, pistachio nuts, pomegranates, vinegar, wine

SPICES: mint, dill, cumin, coriander, mustard, honey, cinnamon, anise, dill, garlic, rue    

VEGETABLES: beans, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, onions

ANIMAL MEATS and PRODUCTS: Goats, lamb/sheep, oxen, calf, venison (game), partridge, fowl, pigeon, quail, dove, eggs, honey

When the Bible was written some of these food products had already been altered by domestication. Even before domestication and the human move toward agriculture, there were plentiful, nutritious foods available for humans who hunted and gathered to satisfy their nutritional needs. The mandate of Genesis 1:28—“Be fruitful and multiply…Subdue the Earth”—would not have been possible without the Creator’s provision for human nutrition.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Food Triggers

Previous discussions of the agricultural and domestication revolutions have highlighted startling results for human life. Paramount is the Neolithic agricultural revolution and its effect on human population on our planet. Several other more recent agricultural revolutions have resulted in expansion of the human food supply and population. The  works of God did not end after the six creation days of the first two chapters of Genesis. God’s transformational and sustaining miracles have transpired until this very moment. Theologians agree that divine miracles have resulted in wonderful ongoing and advancing conditions for human life.

Why did the agricultural revolution not commence before the last and most recent Ice Agent ended? During the Ice Age climate variability precluded the beginning of a human agricultural revolution. An inspection of the graph of world temperatures (proxy readings derived from ice cores going back as much as 250,000 years in Greenland) clearly shows a succession of jagged temperature ups and downs for the past 100,000 years. After the last glacial maximum occurred about 20,000 years ago, there were two “final” cold snaps, one from 14,700 to 13,400 years ago, and one from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago just before the ice sheet melted entirely. During events of the Older Dryas and the Younger Dryas, temperatures were altered temporarily for early humanity. The former period transformed Europe from forest to tundra while the latter period froze Europe solid within a matter of months.

The end of the coldest Ice Age about 10,000 years ago initiated major climate changes. Not all of these changes occurred immediately. For example, the current St. Lawrence River drainage pattern of the US Great Lakes toward the Atlantic Ocean began only about 3000 years BC, not long before God’s call to Abraham: “Go to the land that I will show you.” A few Ice Age phenomena persisted and yet persist even though we have entered a period of remarkable climate stability. For example, the crust of the earth is still experiencing “isostatic rebound” in Great Lakes regions where two-mile thick ice had depressed the earth’s crust. This rebound raises surface elevation several feet per century. In our last post we stated that there has been a 7600-fold increase in human population since the agricultural revolution began. The “food trigger” was the onset of the agricultural revolution which was triggered by the end of the deep planetary Ice Age.

What was the Creator’s role when Planet Earth sustained a human habitation of only one million (or less) during the vast eons of the Wisconsin Ice Age but later expanded to a population 7600 times larger since 10,000 BC? Early humanity during the unpredictable climate of the Ice Age subsisted by hunting and gathering. Substantial amounts of their time was consumed in their search for food. That explains why the existence of the prehistoric temple at Gobekli Tepe in southeast Turkey, dated at nearly 10,000 BC was an incredible marvel of human intelligence, engineering, and cooperation. The realities posed by this temple remain a mystery. We are struck by the strength and resilience of humanity when life’s existence was a major challenge.

Life today is also challenging, but in vastly different ways. Most of the human population enjoys plentiful supplies of food. Many agricultural nations cope with an oversupply of some grain products. In the current year US farmers agonize whether to cut back on some crops owing to overproduction while ramping up planting of crops which may be in undersupply. Their discomfort relates to their financial bottom line.

God’s work did not end after the six Genesis creation days. Geologically recent climate stability resulted in triggering the agricultural revolution. This is an example of what some theologians consider a “transformational miracle.” Our planet’s climate has been miraculously transformed. Current agriculturists also enjoy “sustaining miracles” each growing season as crops develop from springtime seed to summer and autumn harvest. Many plants are perennials, reviving themselves each season to produce our annual harvest. This is commonly described devotionally as the “miracle of growth.” The exponential growth of a tiny mustard seed in Matthew 17:20 into a full sized plant could be described as a sustaining miracle. Most living things grow exponentially—one, two, four, eight cells…until maturity. 

Other agricultural revolutions resulted from the application of human intelligence, insight, and skill. Our species is uniquely gifted with the Imago Dei, the Image of God. The climate change food trigger we have described is the result of a “transformational miracle”—one of hundreds evident on our miracle planet. In November 2017 we posted three articles on miracles. We link them in the most meaningful sequence: