I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

Feel free to comment, to offer your perspective, or to give suggestions for subjects.
Please take a minute to "Like" us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Years Resolution Revisited - The Chemistry of New Beginnings

On this day five years ago I wrote this entry about New Years Resolutions. With the rough and tumble year we just went through - from sports (Chicago Cubs) to politics (presidential election) to world events (terrorism) - I think this post is still, if not more, relevant today for 2017.

Tonight at Midnight, for most of the World anyway, the year will click over to 2012. And with it the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning if you will. In our physical world of time and space everything has a beginning. The day has a beginning, as does the month and the year. We had a beginning at our conception and then our birth. Our Nation and all of the nations of the world had beginnings at some point in the history of mankind. And all creation had a beginning, at the Big Bang when God spoke the Universe into existence - Genesis 1:1ff (NIV).

For many, tonight will be a night to celebrate - party with friends, watch the ball drop in Times Square or the fireworks in Sydney or Hong Kong. Some will party too much and regret it tomorrow. For some they will meet their end before they can even begin the new year. For all of us, we need to look at the new year and this time of new beginnings as an opportunity for change. Change for the world (World Peace), change for our country (an improving economy) and change for ourselves (make a lifestyle improvement).

Every year many of us make new years resolutions, and many of us fail to keep them, in spite of our best efforts. Estimates show that about 62% of all adult Americans make at least one new years resolution. Of these 75% last a week, 64% a month and 46% last for 6 months. Only 8% keep their resolution for the full year. Even with the poor odds of keeping your resolution for the full year research shows that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't. There is something about having specific, written goals that helps to keep us on track. It gives us an identified target to reach and a sense of hope that when we do reach it, we will be better for having made the effort.

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution
long after the mood in which it was made has left you.
Cavett Robert

To keep a resolution well made requires hard work and determination. As the quote implies, many a resolution is made without forethought as to how it will be carried out. We have all heard the story of "the boy who cried wolf." When he finally spoke the truth he was not believed. If we make lighthearted resolutions and then do not keep them, it is a reflection on our character.

The concept of character implies a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits. The Bible defines character as any behavior or activity that reflects the character of God. The Book of Genesis (Genesis 1:26ff NIV) says that God created man in His own image. Consistency of character is regarded as integrity - the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. We are judged to "have integrity" to the extent that we act according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.

So as we make those same resolutions again this year - lose weight, get fit, quit smoking/drinking - lets make a resolution together much like the one expressed on the left side of the card above: Live a simple, sincere life... cultivate cheerfulness and charity... be frugal in expenses, careful in conversations, diligent in service... and have a child-like trust in God to care for us in all things.

Happy New Year!

Ephesians 4:31-32 - "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (NLT)"

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Turning Outward Part Two - The Earth Around Us

By looking at just 25 of the over 300 finely tuned parameters that must be met to have the chance at life, we have seen that the odds of random chance producing a universe like ours, with a galaxy like ours, with a solar system like ours, with a planet like ours is infinitesimally small. Turning this around we see that the odds against such an occurrence are astronomically great. This shows that we would not exist if it were not for the supernatural intervention of God in our physical world to "hover" over us and gently move creation to that endpoint of supporting life, and then creating life in His image. Genesis 1:2 says, “The Spirit of God was hovering [râchaph] over the waters.” The Hebrew "râchaph" is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 (NIV) to describe an eagle nurturing her young.

In this blog we will look at a few more of the "finely tuned parameters", those related to the Earth itself, but we will skip the calculations as the odds are already weighing heavily towards a Creator. So as mentioned last time, we consider this:

Turning Outward - Proverbs 25:2 (NIV) - It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. - Finding God in the world around us.

Earth poster When we look at the earth, we are considering how it can be a place to allow life to form and flourish. The emphasis here is on the land masses and what is needed to provide an environmentally stable (water, oxygen, carbon based nutrients) place for life.

Thickness of the Earth's Crust
The crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet. On Earth it is about 20-30 miles thick and composed of mineral rock and is covered with decayed organic matter. The crust occupies less than 1% of Earth's total volume. It, together with the uppermost part of the mantle, on which it rests, is called the lithosphere. Because of the hardness of the crust and the molten, fluid movement of the lower mantle (due to the heat within the Earth's core), the Earth's crust is broken into numerous plates that "float" on top of the lower mantle.

If the crust was much thicker, It would adsorb too much oxygen from the atmosphere and there would not be sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere to sustain life as we know it. If it was much thinner, volcanic and seismic (earthquakes) activity would be too great, creating a very unstable environment for life. (probability of 0.01)

God has made the Earth for Life
And placed us here for a Purpose

Seismic/Tectonic Activity
Seismic Activity, although potentially devastating, are essential to life. Movement of sections of the tectonic plates along fault lines produce earthquakes, movement along plate borders is considered continental drift. Such movement helps to recycle the crust, bringing nutrients and other needed chemical changes to the surface.

If seismic activity is too great, too many life-forms would be destroyed. If seismic activity is too low, nutrients from river runoff found on the ocean floors would not be recycled to continental surfaces through tectonic movement. Also, insufficient carbon dioxide would be released from the crust and mantle to balance the atmosphere. (probability of 0.05)

Volcanic Activity
The temperature of the Earth's crust and mantle increase as you go deeper under the surface. At the boundary between the crust and the mantle, temperatures range from about 200 °C (392 °F) to 400 °C (752 °F). As you go deeper into the mantle, the temperature increases dramatically, resulting in liquid rock. This molten rock and a buildup of gases results in volcanic explosions that spew volcanic ash and lava out onto the surface, bringing carbon dioxide gas, water vapor and minerals to enrich the soil.

If volcanic activity was lower, insufficient amounts of carbon dioxide and water vapor would be returned to the atmosphere and soil mineralization would be too low to support life. If volcanic activity was higher, the excessive eruptions of gas and ash would be deadly to life, advanced life at least. (probability of 0.1)

Forest and Grass Fires
Fire also is a requirement for life. It is needed to destroy old growth and return nutrients to the soil to promote new growth. The quantity and extent of such fires is critical to the development of advanced life as we know it.

If these fires are too small and too rare, growth inhibitors in the soils would accumulate, bound nitrogen in the soil would be insufficient and charcoal production for adequate soil water retention would be limited. If there were extensive fires too many forms of plant and animal life would be destroyed. (probability of 0.01)

Water Absorption within the Mantle
The movement and storage of water within the planet's mantle is necessary to supply water for the planet's surface and to cycle carbon, calcium, silicon and other minerals from the mantle to the surface and back through erosion, thus supplying necessary minerals for life and balancing out the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It also impacts plate tectonics and mantle convection, the latter of which allows heat movement to the surface from the core, helping to balance out changes in the luminosity (heat and light production) of the planet's star (the sun).

If water absorption is too low, too much water will remain on the planet's surface covering any land masses and reducing plate tectonics, thus reducing survival rates of any land-based life. The mantle will also become too viscous, further reducing plate tectonics and the convection of heat from the mantle to the crust, decreasing surface temperatures.

If too high, there will be too little water on the planet surface, disrupting the water and carbonate-silicate cycles, increasing plate tectonics, reducing mantle viscosity and promoting the convection of heat to the crust. All this will result in higher temperatures on the surface of the planet, impacting life. (probability of 0.01)

Because the Earth meets all of these diverse "requirements" for supporting life, it has exploded over the millennia with an extremely diverse variety of life forms. Planets, animals, bacteria and fungi. Symbiotic relations between them. Organisms that can survive under the pressure of the depths of the oceans, the boiling heat of geothermal crevasses, and the cold winds and ice of the Antarctic. Amazing molecules - like water, that are required for life. The Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years with the possibility of life existing for the last 3.8 billion. Could all of this be due to random chance - evolution? Or did it require a creator God?

Albert Einstein said, “The harmony of natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” An orderly universe, as we have examined in the last few blogs, has traditionally been seen as “proof” of a creator God who ordained natural law.

Next we will move to "Searching Inward" - finding God in the existence of life; specifically finding God in the formation of the human body.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Revisited - The Chemistry of a Blessing

Five Thanksgivings ago, I posted this blog entry. I pray that all of us will remember the blessings we have received over the years when we take the time this year to be thankful.

A few years back, in 2000, there was a movie out called "Pay It Forward." The premise of the movie was to pass on a blessing to someone, with nothing expected in return. In the movie Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears of his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures up the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward--repaying good deeds not by payback to the original person, but with new good deeds done to three new people. As he works on his assignment, it transforms his life and all of the lives of those touched by the ever-growing circle of good deeds.

Thanksgiving is a day to remember all who "Paid It Forward" to and for us. Before 1863 it was being celebrated separately in many states on different dates to commemorate the original Thanksgiving from 1621 when the Pilgrims and Indians gathered for a harvest celebration. The day was established by Abraham Lincoln as a national day for our country to celebrate all of the blessings we have. He set forth a proclamation on October 3rd, 1863 (now a 153 year tradition), in the middle of the Civil War no less, to set apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."

Thanksgiving was set apart by Abraham Lincoln
"As a day of Thanksgiving and Praise
To our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"

Here is the Proclamation:

      "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

We in America are truly blessed. We have all we need and then some. Even the poorest among us are generally richer than many in other countries. We have much to be thankful for. Recently with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement (or this year, a division over the national election results) and a general sense of entitlements that seems to be growing in our country, we are putting our blessings at risk. Paul states in 2 Corinthians - "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (NIV)

Remember today to thank God for all that He has done in your life and in the lives of those around you. He is the giver of the day and the source of our strength. Remember the blessings you have received and "Pay It Forward" to all around you, with no expectation of return.

2 Chronicles 7:14 - "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (NIV)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veteran's Day -The Chemistry of Freedom - Revisited

I wrote this short blog entry five years ago for Veteran's Day. I wanted to repost it this year. It is still true, we owe our freedoms to the many men and women who dedicated themselves, for a season or a lifetime, to preserving the freedoms we now enjoy in this country. Many made the ultimate sacrifice to protect those freedoms. Remember them all today.

SBDs and Mikuma-crop About a month ago my wife and I visited her Aunt in San Antonio. She had recently moved to a new home and her brother was visiting from Brazil for the first time in about five years. It was a great family reunion. At one point the talk turned to her husband who had passed away a few years back. He had been an Air Force pilot in WWII and had flown 42 missions, many over Germany during a number of fierce air battles. She had a picture that was taken from one of the planes in his squadron showing bombs exploding, sending deadly chunks of metal shooting in all directions, aimed at taking out the low flying planes. He was in one of those planes.

Freedom is Not Free
We Must Fight to Preserve It

My uncle was a rear gunner in the same war, fighting over the Pacific during the battle of Midway. He was only 19 at the time. Both of our uncles survived, living into their 80's. We were lucky they made it home to tell their stories.

Since that war we have had Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. Before WWII there were numerous wars as well, WWI, the Civil War and of course the Revolutionary War, our original call for freedom. All of these battles, right or wrong, were fought in the name of freedom. A freedom America continues to fight for, all over the world, for all of those oppressed by tyranny.

Today is Veteran's Day. A day we remember those who fought to establish and protect the freedoms we can so easily take for granted. It takes a special kind of individual to risk their life in the defense of another. If you see a soldier, thank them for their service. If you know a family who has a loved one deployed overseas, spend some time with them. If there is a family in your circle who has lost a loved one in the line of duty, comfort them. Most of all say a prayer and thank God for the blessing of these brave men and women. Without their courage and dedication, both past and present soldiers, we might not have the rights and freedoms we now enjoy. We owe a debt of gratitude to them all.

Isaiah 53:12a - "I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. (NLT)"

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Turning Outward Part One - The Sky Above Us

Turning Outward - Proverbs 25:2 (NIV) It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. - Finding God in the world around us.

So now we move from looking at the stars, turning outward and looking at the earth around us.

Endeavour silhouette STS-130PHOTO: The Earth's colorful horizon with a silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour. The orange layer is the Troposphere, where all of the weather and clouds which we typically watch and experience are generated and contained. This orange layer gives way to the whitish Stratosphere and then into the Mesosphere.

What factors make the Earth uniquely designed to support life as we know it? Why isn't every rocky planet, like Venus, Mars or any number of the 3000+ planets that we have found circling the stars above, suitable for life? Referring to the same Reasons to Believe list of independent, fine tuned, environmental factors that we referenced in the last few blogs, we find some possible answers.

There are numerous factors that relate to the composition of the soil (quantities of specific elements), the oceans, the crust and mantle and the core of the planet but for the discussion today we will limit ourselves to factors related to the characteristics and composition of our atmosphere. To date, no known exoplanets have been found to have an atmosphere with a composition like that of the Earth's atmosphere.

Atmospheric Pressure
Our atmospheric pressure at the surface is roughly 14.7 pounds/sq inch. If that pressure was somewhat smaller, liquid water would evaporate to quickly and then not condense in sufficient quantities. Nor would our lungs function as they do. These factors would decrease or eliminate the chances of advanced life. If the pressure was too high, liquid water would not evaporate easily, leaving the land too moisture rich for land life. The cloud cover would be too thick reducing the sunlight reaching land. The weather would be too consistent to allow for seasons and we would again have difficulty breathing. (probability of 0.01)

Atmospheric Transparency
Life also requires a clear atmosphere too allow for sunlight and the solar radiation to promote photosynthesis and warm the planet. If the air did not allow for solar radiation in a wide range of wavelengths, the planet would be cold and barren of plant life. If too wide a range of radiation were to pass through, adverse effects from that radiation would harm or prohibit life. (probability of 0.01)

Surface Gravity & Escape Velocity
Surface gravity is required to hold on to the atmosphere. Too low and the atmosphere would be stripped away by solar winds. Even if the gravity was enough to retain an atmosphere, too much water could be lost if the escape velocity was still low. If the gravity was too high, toxic compounds heavier than water, such as methane and ammonia, would be retained inhibiting or preventing life. (probability of 0.001)

The Sky Above Us
Makes our World Unique

Oxygen & Nitrogen Balance
To promote life, the atmosphere needs a proper balance and quantity of nitrogen and oxygen. If too much oxygen, advanced life functions tied to respiration would proceed to quickly. The risk and extent of combustion or fire would be higher as well, with organic matter burning too quickly and easily. If the nitrogen was too high, respiration would be insufficient for adequate oxygen intake. Plants would fix nitrogen at too high a level, inhibiting diversity of plant life forms. (probability of 0.1)

Carbon Dioxide & Water Vapor
The levels of carbon dioxide and water vapor are also critical for advanced life. Too much of either of these molecules and we would have runaway global warming. Too little carbon dioxide and photosynthesis would be hindered and too little water vapor and there would be insufficient rainfall for advanced land life forms. (probability of 0.01)

Rainfall & Erosion
Rainfall needs to be sufficient and widespread (cover the earth). Too little rain and there would be inadequate water to support life on land and inadequate erosion to support the cycling of nutrients from the soil to the sea. If too much rainfall, there would be too much erosion with the subsequent flood of excess nutrients into the sea and a resultant extinction of species that help maintain all life. (probability of 0.01). Erosion is also impacted by the slope or relief of the land masses. Too much slope and erosion is too high. Too little slope and erosion is inadequate. (probability of 0.1)

Ozone Levels
The final factor we will consider is atmospheric ozone (O3), discussed previously in The Wizard of Ozone. It is a complex factor in that not only does the overall ozone level impact life but the level in the upper, middle and lower atmosphere have different effects on life.

Overall ozone levels that are too high reduce the surface temperature of the planet, impacting life. Not enough ozone and surface temperatures and UV radiation levels would be too high to sustain life.

Ozone in the Troposphere (0-7 miles above the surface of the earth) inhibits reduction of biochemical smog if levels are too low and causes respiratory failure in animals if too high. Stratospheric ozone (7-31 miles up) blocks too much UV radiation reducing plant growth if levels are too high and allows in too much UV radiation, causing skin cancers and reduced plant growth if levels are too low. When Mesospheric ozone (31-50 miles up) is too high or too low, it disrupts levels of life essential gases in the lower atmospheric levels, affecting an overall decrease in life on the planet. (probability of 0.01)

In the last blog, "Looking Upward Part Three - The Heavens, we identified 17 possible finely tuned parameters that reduced the estimated 25 trillion trillion planets in the universe to just 360 possible habitable ones. Adding in just these eight additional factors (a total of 25 out of over 300 possible) means we would need to search approximately 30 trillion UNIVERSES to have a chance of finding just one planet that met all 25 factors we have examined so far.

Romans 1:20 (NLT) - For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween - The Chemistry of Darkness Revisited

Five years ago I posted this message for Halloween. It still seems relevant today so here it is again with some minor revisions.

When I was young, many years ago, we would dress up as cowboys and Indians, soldiers and cartoon characters. We would go around to the neighbors we knew and they would tell us how cute we were and give us a simple bit of candy or gum. It seemed so innocent at the time. Now the houses are decorated as graveyards and ghosts and vampires roam the streets. We have violent movies and vampires made to look like everyday people. The more horrible the act, the more we want to see it on screen. The more devious and grotesque the better.

Is Halloween innocent fun?
Or is it something darker?

Halloween is not just an innocent bit of fun any longer. It is an opportunity for the enemy to get a hook into our lives and make us think it is OK to dwell on the occult. The more we sink into his darkness, the easier it is to think of it as normal and acceptable and the harder it is to see the need for the light of God in our lives. Ephesians 5:11 (NIV) says "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." We need to keep our eyes on the light of His truth and not on the darkness of deception and evil.

2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV) says "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Isn't interesting that we cannot say Merry Christmas or Happy Easter because we might offend someone but it is OK to say Happy Halloween because no one should be offended? Bring His light into your life today and let it shine brightly to expose the darkness of reveling in the spirit of perdition that is all around us on this day. It may seem like harmless fun, but underneath it all lays the potential destruction of our spirit. Do not let it capture your soul.

2 Samuel 22:29 (NIV) - You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Caffeine - Celebrating National Coffee Day! - Revisited

Happy National Coffee Day! Coffee is our number one beverage and boy do we all need our caffeine. It seems that every year they find out something new and usually good, about coffee and its affects on our health. The consensus in the medical community is that moderate regular coffee drinking in healthy individuals is either essentially benign or mildly beneficial. Drink it black and in moderation, it may be good for you. I posted this blog five years ago in 2011 and thought it time to revisit it so here it is.

Today (Sept 29th) is National Coffee Day. To celebrate we will take a look at the main draw in that cup of joe, Caffeine. Check the Internet for coupons from your favorite coffee house; you just might get a free cup.

I don't drink coffee but that does not mean I miss out on my daily caffeine fix. I mentioned it in a blog about Ice last month. Caffeine is the most popular psychoactive drug in the world. Every day enough cups of caffeine (not just coffee) are served up to give one cup to every man, woman and child on the planet!

Although the FDA calls caffeine a "generally recognized as safe food substance", it is clearly a drug with profound physical and psychological effects. In humans, caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. It also has diuretic properties. Long-term consumption can lead to addiction and tolerance. Withdrawal symptoms can also appear within 12 to 24 hours after your last latte. In spite of this, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.

Caffeine is a bitter xanthine alkaloid. It is occurs naturally in varying amounts in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of a number of plants. In these plants it acts as a natural pesticide, killing the insect pests that are damaging to the plant. Caffeine is a natural component of coffee, tea and chocolate, and is added as an energy boost in most colas and energy drinks. About 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine every day in one form or another with more than half of all adults consuming more than 300 milligrams (3 cups of coffee) daily. Caffeine was first isolated from coffee in 1820. Today most pure caffeine comes from the process used to make decaffeinated coffees and teas.

Caffeine is also found in diet pills and some over-the-counter pain relievers and medicines. Medically, caffeine is used as a cardiac stimulant and a mild diuretic. It also acts as a bronchodilator. In beverages, it is used to provide a "boost of energy". More and more people are taking energy drinks to stay awake while working or driving long distances. Many people feel as though they need a morning cup of coffee to get going for the day and provide the wake up jolt it gives them.

Caffeine operates using the same biological mechanisms that amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin use to stimulate the brain. Caffeine impacts the functioning of the neurotransmitters adenosine and dopamine. It blocks the adenosine receptors so you don't feel sleepy and your blood vessels constrict. This causes adrenaline to be released, which stimulates the body. Caffeine also blocks dopamine reuptake thus increasing dopamine levels resulting in elevated mood, improved memory and cognition, and increased heart rate. If you feel like you cannot make it through the day without it, then you may be addicted to caffeine. In excess it can cause restlessness, insomnia, muscle twitching, gastrointestinal disturbance, cardiac arrhythmia and a host of other problems.

The problem with caffeine is its long-term effects, which tend to cycle downward. Once the effects of caffeine wear off you face fatigue and depression. So what are you going to do? You get another cup of caffeine to get the cycle going again. As you can imagine, having your body amped up all day long isn't very healthy, and can make you edgy and irritable.

Worse still is the effect that caffeine has on sleep. The half-life of caffeine is about six hours. That means that half of the caffeine you consume at 3:00pm is still in your body at 9:00pm when you are trying to go to bed. You may be able to fall asleep, but you will probably miss out on the benefits of a deep sleep. The next day you will feel worse, so you need more caffeine as soon as you get out of bed. And the cycle goes on day after day. This is why so many of us consume caffeine daily. Once you get in the cycle, you cannot get out because if you try to stop the caffeine, you get very tired and foggy headed with a splitting headache forcing you to run back to your caffeine crutch.

In spite of all these side effects, we all love our Frappe Mocha Latte in the morning. And caffeine has some benefits as well. We will look at some of our favorite caffeine fixes and their caffeine content as well as the benefits of caffeine in the next blog release.

So the Israelites must have run out of coffee when they confronted Moses on this day! Exodus 15:24 (NIV) - "So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, What are we to drink?"

Caffeine - How Much Do You Need? - Revisited

I first posted this back in 2011. Thought it would be good to share it again.

Now a days, coffee comes in many varieties, such as Frappacino and espresso, as well as different flavors and sizes. Colas are made with artificial flavors and added caffeine. The amount of caffeine in all of these different drinks can vary widely. Coffee used to be just "black". Coca-Cola® was originally made with Kola nut extracts and contained cocaine, no wonder it was so popular! Energy drinks are a new trend in highly caffeinated beverages. They contain a wealth of sugar and other natural stimulants that help provide that sought-after energy boost. Caffeine is also found in many weight loss preparations and in some over-the-counter pain, diet and stimulant medications.

Here are the most common sources of caffeine for Americans:

  • Coffee - Contains about 100mg per 8-ounce cup though most coffee drinkers will use a larger cup (12-16 ounces) for their daily brew.
  • Black Tea - Contains 50mg per 8-ounce cup. Green Tea contains 25mg.
  • Caffeinated Sodas - Coke, Pepsi, and others contain 40-50mg per 12-ounce can.
  • Super-Caffeinated Colas - Jolt contains 70mg per 12-ounce can.
  • Energy Drinks - Red Bull and RockStar contain about 80mg per 8 ounce can.
  • Milk Chocolate - Contains 6 mg/ounce.
  • OTC Medications - Anacin contains 32mg/tablet. Extra Strength Excedrin contains 65mg/tablet. NoDoz and Vivarin each contain 200mg/tablet.
How much do you consume? Add it up and see. I would guess, if you are a typical caffeine consumer, that you top out over 300mg per day.

Caffeine has long been considered an unhealthy lifestyle choice. Caffeine's negative effects on the nervous system and how it increases anxiety, heart rate and sleepless nights have always been a concern. But recently coffee and caffeine have been shown to have some significant medical benefits.

After more than 10,000 scientific studies over the past 30 years the findings indicate that people who drink one to three cups of coffee a day are less likely to contract diabetes, develop Parkinson's disease, or have gallstones. Additionally, coffee reduces the risk of colon cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Some of these findings may be due to the health benefits of the coffee bean itself, but most can be linked directly to caffeine. Coffee has also been shown to be beneficial in asthma (caffeine is a bronchodilator), stopping headaches (a vasoconstrictor) and improving mood (releases dopamine), all due to the systemic actions of caffeine.

In spite of these beneficial effects, it is still recommended to consume caffeine in moderation. Enjoy your day cup(s) of joe - or my favorite, Diet Pepsi® - but remember that too much of a good thing is not always better. Everything in moderation, nothing to excess.

For more on Caffeine, be sure to read my previous blog, Caffeine - Celebrating National Coffee Day.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 (NIV)"A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Looking Upward Part Three - The Heavens

Be careful what you read! Recently a planet was found to be circling Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star very near to Alpha Centauri, and the closet star to our solar system, about 4+ light years away. In many of the accounts of the discovery the headline read something like this: "Potentially Habitable Planet Found Orbiting Star Closest to Sun." But what they tell you is the planet is "earth-like" because it is terrestrial (a rocky planet). But this planet has other things that make it less like earth and more likely to be uninhabitable. For a planet to be a possible life sustaining place, it does not have to be just like earth but must fit within a matrix of conditions that makes most, if not all, contenders unsuitable. In fact the odds are such that no planet can meet the requirements without outside help.


As mentioned in my last blog, Reasons to Believe has listed at least 154 independent environmental factors that must be fine tuned in order for a planet to be capable of sustaining life. That list was from 2004, they have since expanded it to over 300 tune-able factors. The fine tuning is not just for the planet either. Many of these deal with the stars, the galaxies, galaxy clusters and the Universe as a whole.

Just looking at a few of these conditions that deal with the Heavens - galaxies, stars, and planets - should give you an idea how rare our earth truly is. The probabilities listed come from Reasons to Believe and relate to the probability of the existence of space objects that meet the requirement. Thus a probability of 0.001 means that only 0.1% of all existing stars, for example, would be the right size. You must then multiply the probabilities of all factors times the number of stars, since each factor is independent of the others, to get the number of stars that would possibly meet all of the included conditions.

First a few for the galaxies. For a galaxy to be a suitable location for a solar system and ultimately a planet that can sustain life, here are just a few characteristics it must have.

It must be the right size - If it is too big, there would be too many stars and stellar gases that would disrupt the host star's orbit, possibly preventing planet formation or if planets do form, there could be too many collisions between the host planet and stellar debris. (probability of 0.1)

It must be the right type - If too elliptical or irregular insufficient heavy elements (elements heavier than Hydrogen and Helium) for life chemistry would not be available due to limited star formation. It appears that spiral galaxies (like our own) are the most suitable. (probability of 0.1)

It must be in the right location - Too close to a rich galaxy cluster or a very large galaxy, the host galaxy would be gravitationally disrupted, impacting the formation of a suitable host solar system. If it is too far away from other, smaller galaxies it can pull into itself, there would not be a source for gas and dust to sustain star formation long enough for heavy element formation. (probability of 0.1)

Assuming there are 100 trillion galaxies in the universe, just these three factors reduce the possible life supporting galaxies to 100 billion.

Now lets look at supernovae eruptions within the galaxies. Supernovae are exploding stars that have come to the end of their life and will be seeding the galaxy, the solar system, and specifically the host planet with heavy elements.

If there are too few supernovae - Not enough heavy elements would be present for the formation of rocky planets. Rocky planets are a requirement for life. (probability of 0.1)

If too many supernovae - Too many heavy elements, resulting in planets not able to sustain life plus too many collision events, exterminating any life that may have been able to start. (probability of 0.1)

Also, if supernovae are too soon or too late during the life span of the host planet, the heavy elements may be too few or too many to sustain life. Likewise, if the supernovae are too close or too far from the host solar system. (probability of 0.2)

Did We Just Find Another Earth
Orbiting a Nearby Star?

Now if we take the 100 billion galaxies from above, adding these factors reduces the possible life supporting galaxies to 200 million.

Next we will look at the host star. This next group of factors are requirements of the central star, like our sun, that will be supporting the host planet.

The star must be in the right location within the galaxy (Galactic Habitable Zone or GHZ) - If too close to the center or a spiral arm of the galaxy, the star would be exposed to too much galactic radiation and too many other stars such that planetary orbits around the host star could be affected. (probability of 0.02)

The star must be the right age - If too old or too young, the star's luminosity could change rapidly and impact the surface temperature of the host planet so as to prevent life. (probability of 0.4)

The star must be the right size - If too big the star could burn too quickly, changing the luminosity and burn out before life had a chance to form. If too small, the host planet would have to rotate closer to the star and possibly become tidal locked to the star - the planet would rotate like our moon and one side would always face the star - getting too hot for life on one side and too cold on the other. This is the suspected condition of the planet recently discovered around Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is a Red Dwarf and is most likely not suitable as a life supporting star. (probability of 0.001)

The star must be a constant source of light - If the star's luminosity changes too quickly or too much, the planet will not have a consistent environment in which to sustain life. (probability of 0.0025)

The star must be the right color - If too red or too blue in its light output, photosynthesis could not occur. Another reason that Proxima Centauri is most likely not suitable as a life supporting star. As a Red Dwarf, its light is much more in the Infrared end of the visible light spectrum. (probability of 0.4)

Now if we take the 200 million galaxies from above and multiply by the average number of stars in a galaxy (100 billion), we get 20 million trillion possible stars. Using the factors just discussed reduces the number of possible stars to 160 billion. This is just considering so far a total of 10 of the possible 300+ factors.

Finally we will look at some of the factors directly affecting the host planet. This will just include some of those that relate to the planet's relationship to its host star and other planets within its solar system. There are many others related specifically to conditions about the planet itself that will be considered in a later blog.

The planet must be the right distance from the host star - This is the Circumstellar Habitable Zone or CHZ (sometimes called the Goldilocks Zone). If the planet is not within this zone, the surface will be too hot or cold for a stable water cycle and possible life. If the planet is too close as well, primarily if the star is not the too small, the planet will get tidal locked as mentioned above. (probability of 0.001)

The planet must have a close to circular orbit around the host star - If the planetary orbit is too elliptical, the seasonal temperature differences would be too extreme, thus prohibiting life. (probability of 0.3)

The planet must have a rotational period (day) that is not too long or too short - If the day is too long, surface temperatures would vary too much between the day and the night, thus limiting the possibilities of life. If the day is too short, atmospheric wind speeds would be too great. (probability of 0.1)

The planet must have a small axial tilt - The earth tilts approximately 24 degrees on its axis. This is one of the factors that creates seasonal weather variations. If the tilt was less or zero, there would be no seasons and daily temperature variations could be too high to sustain life. Days would be warmer and nights would be colder. If the tilt is greater than 24 degrees, then seasonal temperature variations would be greater as well. The tilt of the earth has been relatively stable for millions of years, varying from 22.0 to 24.6 degrees. Excessive tilt could produce weather fluctuations much like we are starting to see now. Could a change in the tilt be the cause of "Climate Change?" (probability of 0.3)

The planet must have a large moon at the proper distance - Back in 1993, French astronomer Jacques Laskar and his team showed that the tilt of the earth’s axis has been stabilized over long periods of time because the earth has a large moon (the moon is about 25% the size of earth). They demonstrated that the earth’s axial tilt varied only between 22.0 and 24.6 degrees over many millions of years because of the moon. Without the moon, the earth’s axial tilt would vary between 0 and 85 degrees. Variations in Earth’s axial tilt of much more than a couple of degrees could generate climate changes (as mentioned above) that would be catastrophic for advanced life. (probability of 0.01)

The planet must have a gas giant planet in its solar system, orbiting farther from its star. This gas giant must be the right size and distance from the host planet - If the gas giant is too big or too close to the host planet, the orbit of the host planet could be unstable due to gravitational effects between the two bodies. If the gas giant is too small or too far from the host planet, the host planet could be subject to many asteroid and comet collisions. We saw an example of this with Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 between July 1992 and July 1994 when the comet broke apart and ultimately collided with Jupiter. This collision highlighted Jupiter's role in reducing space debris in the inner Solar System. (probability of 0.01)

Now if we take the 160 million stars from above and multiply by the average number of planets suspected to revolve around each star (2.5 on average), we get 400 million possible planets. Using the planetary factors discussed above reduces the number of possible planets to just 360 in the entire universe! This is just considering 17 of the possible 300+ factors. As you can see, it doesn't take too many more conditions to reduce this number to less than one. In fact, when all 300+ independent environmental factors are considered, Reasons to Believe concludes:

There is less than 1 chance in a million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion (10282) that such a planet would exist anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles. These highly fine-tuned features form one of the cornerstones of the evidence for a supernatural, super-intelligent Creator.

Psalm 19:1 (NIV) - The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9/11 - The Chemistry of Forgetfulness - Revisited

Today is the 15th Anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York by two commercial jetliners, another plane ramming into the military fortress that is the Pentagon and the heroic struggle that ended with a crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania, preventing a possible attack on the White House. All these events occurring at the hands of Islamic extremists on 9/11/2001. I published this article back on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. With all of the terrorist mass shootings and suicide bombings happening around the world, including here at home, I think it is still relevant today. There are still people hell bent on our destruction.


Ask anyone old enough to remember where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001 and they can tell you. Our Nation was rocked awake from its sleepy dreams of safety and protection as the Twin Towers came down and two other planes exploded, each with a passenger list full of Americans. Men, with hatred in their hearts, rammed four jumbo jets into three landmarks and a field in Pennsylvania. The cry was "We shall not forget".

For those that were there or those who lost family and friends, they truly will not forget. The tragic images and unbelievable grief are burned into their memories forever. But what about the rest of our Nation? What is it we will not forget? It needs to be more than just a fading memory of the loss of 3000 American lives that day.

Time is the catalyst of forgetfulness and comfort is its substrate. Complacency is the morphine for the pain and we have become addicted. We have forgotten.

We have forgotten the God we cried out to that day for safety and protection, compassion and mercy.
  • Spontaneous Memorials popped up all over Ground Zero shortly after the attack. Were these just the seed that fell on the rocky soil? (Mark 4:5 NIV)
  • Congress joined across the aisle and embraced - with calls for prayer and songs of unity. We cannot do this today, even as our nation sinks into the quicksand of backbreaking debt.
  • Now are we, in the name of tolerance, denying the same call for prayer on this day of remembrance? Tolerance once meaning open-mindedness now forces an idea on all and calls anyone who does not agree intolerant (or worse - hatred/hate speech).
  • We don't want to display the Cross from Ground Zero because some might find the Cross offensive?

We have forgotten the evil in the hearts of those who did this.
  • Radical Islam is still alive and well, working for the destruction of all who do not believe in its tenets. Yet we continue to support them with our addiction to oil and our acceptance of their treatment of Israel.
  • We squabbled over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero while it seems any peaceful and compassionate religion should see that this is not the time nor place for such an action.

We have forgotten the innocents who died at work or on a plane, their families and the men and women who rushed to their aid.
  • The Memorial at Ground Zero seems to have been more about political posturing than it is about those who suffered and died there. Men, hungry for fame and notice argued over the design much too long. After ten years it is just now coming together, slowed by these continued squabbles about how the site should look, not to be completed for another two years or more.

We can not forget the pain of that day, the suffering of those who innocently died, the memory of those who rushed in unselfishly to save those they could and in doing so suffered or died with them. But especially we can not forget the unity that descended upon our great Nation in a cause and cry for freedom; freedom from tyranny, freedom from hatred, freedom to call upon a God who loves us in our time of suffering. It is this pain and suffering that must be seared into our minds and hearts. We are a great Nation that has been blessed by God and we must continue to fight for the freedoms we have fought so strongly for in the past.

Without pain and without difficulty we come to believe we do not need God, that we can do all on our own. Sometimes a wake up call is needed to take us back to what made this country great. The continued remembering of the events of September 11, 2001 can be that wake up call. This Tenth Anniversary remembrance should not just be a day of great speeches with empty words, or halfhearted soliloquies, but a day for remembering we are one Nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

We must remember, we can never forget.

"If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)"

Sunday, September 4, 2016

It's A Stick Out

Back in the day when my kids were younger, they wanted to believe everything I told them, and I wanted to tell them everything I knew. They would ask me questions and I, in my great wisdom and knowledge, always had an answer. As they grew older, I think they figured out I was not that Guru on a mountain top and sometimes my answers were not exactly on target shall we say.

One Father's Day one of my sons gave me a card (OK, it really was a birthday card) that became an instant family fable. It had a picture of a dad talking to his son (no, it was an older couple, a man and his wife) as they were overlooking the coastline (they were at a lake).

The dad, pointing to a small outcropping of land along the coast (the lake shore) said to his son (no, his wife):

See that piece of land sticking out over there into the water? There's a technical name for that. It's called a "Stick Out".

Inside the card it said:

“Another year older... another year closer to making up crap!”

Instantly my credibility was gone! Everyone in the room laughed and knew that I did not know everything and that sometimes I made up answers from what little knowledge I had on the subject at hand. My answers to their questions were often nonsense, absurdity, silliness... totally made up with very little foundation in truth or reality.

Every kid wants to believe his father knows best but,
We have a Father in Heaven who does and He cares for us.

Every kid wants to believe his dad knows it all but, just like puberty, there comes a day when things radically change and they realize that their dad is an imperfect human being, just like everyone else. It is the day that they start to grow up, become young adults and know that although their dad does not have all the answers, he has always had their best in mind. They are now ready to be dads (or moms) themselves.

It is a secure feeling when you are young to be able to believe that there is someone who always has your back, has experience in this world and wants to teach you, protect you and keep you safe from the things of the world. For many kids, that person is their dad.

We all have a Father in Heaven who is such a person. He does not have to guess at what a "Stick Out" is, he is all knowing and He has prepared a job for us in this life that he will help us through, unto the day of Christ Jesus. We can trust Him in all things and call on Him when we don't know what to do or where to go next. We just need to be patient and listen for His voice.

He is a Good, Good Father!

Happy Father's Day!

Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Looking Upward Part Two - The Rare Earth, A Privileged Planet?

"Pale Blue Dot" is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles). In the photograph, Earth's apparent size is less than a pixel; the planet appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight scattered by the camera's optics.


Voyager 1 (still sending back data over 38 years after its launch) was initially expected to work only through the Saturn encounter. When the spacecraft passed the planet in 1980, Carl Sagan proposed the idea of the space probe taking one last picture of Earth. He pointed out that such a picture would not have much scientific value, as the Earth would appear too small for Voyager's cameras to make out any detail, but it could have been meaningful nevertheless as a perspective on our place in the universe.

In 1994, Sagan wrote a book titled after the photo, "Pale Blue Dot." Here is a quote from Sagan:

"To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." — Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

I agree with Sagan that it is "our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish" the earth, but I think he missed the point. He says because of our insignificance, we should be humble. I think we should be humbled that a Creator God would love us so much that He would share His handiwork with us and nurture and protect us in the vastness he made to sustain us.

Another premise of Sagan's book is that the Earth is just an insignificant bit of space fluff, lost in an extremely vast and expanding universe. He states that:

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."

On the contrary, the fact that our planet is so "rare" in the cosmos leads me to believe that our existence can only be attributed to a Creator God; one who loves us - all of us - such that He would create the vast array of wonders as we now see in space. He did this not only to challenge us to learn and understand it to some degree, but to make it possible for our "pale blue dot" to exist at all as it does with its own array of wonders that support life as we know it. The Universe, with all of its expanse is necessary to allow our habitable planet to exist, and to be able to support His cherished creation on it.

Do Other Planets Exist with Intelligent Life?
Or Are We The Only Ones Home?

Now lets look at how rare our planet really is.

In 1961, Frank Drake proposed an equation to arrive at an estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. This was to stimulate scientific dialogue at a meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Called the Drake Equation, it is a probabilistic argument not intended to actually be solved as most of the factors can not be determined with any degree of accuracy. His equation was written as follows:

N   =   R∗   X   fp   X   ne   X   fl   X   fi   X   fc   X   fL


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible


R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
fL = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

Although this equation was not intended to be calculated, it was supposed that the number "N" would be somewhat large and thus the SETI program had a good chance of finding another advanced civilization within our galaxy. This was the prevailing expectation for many years, even though SETI has not "made contact" as of yet.

In 2000, Peter Ward, a geologist and paleontologist, and Donald E. Brownlee, an astronomer and astrobiologist wrote a book entitled: "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe". In it they argue that the universe is fundamentally hostile to complex life and that while microbial life may be common in the universe, complex intelligent life, like that found on Earth, requires an exceptionally unlikely set of circumstances, and therefore complex life is likely to be extremely rare. The book basically expands on the Drake Equation to include additional factors that must be met for complex life to exist. Their formula looks like this:

N   =   N*   X   ne   X   fp   X   fpm   X   fg   X   fl   X   fi   X   fc   X   fm   X   fj   X   fme

Compared to the original Drake Equation, the new terms are:

N* = the number of stars in the Milky Way
fg = the fraction of stars in the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ)
fpm = the fraction of metal-rich planets (rocky surfaces)
fm = the fraction of planets with a large moon
fj = the fraction of systems with Jupiter-size planets
fme = the fraction of planets with a critically low number of mass extinction events

They also do not calculate "N" but based on their premise, it could be as low as 0 or 1. In the 2001 book "Life Everywhere" by David Darling, written largely in reply to "Rare Earth," Darling states:

"What matters is not whether there's anything unusual about the Earth; there's going to be something idiosyncratic about every planet in space. What matters is whether any of Earth's circumstances are not only unusual but also essential for complex life. So far we've seen nothing to suggest there is."

Three years later, something suggested just that.

In 2004, the book, "The Privileged Planet", by Guillermo Gonzalez, astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design, and Jay Richards, an analytic philosopher and intelligent design advocate, took the Rare Earth formula even farther. They identified 20 finely tuned factors as required for a planet to have intelligent, technological life. Although it is not possible to set a value for every variable, when using 10% as the fraction for each (most are likely much smaller), the result is approximately 100,000 planets in the Universe that "could" support intelligent life. This is much, much smaller than the number of galaxies in the Universe, 100 trillion, such that only one galaxy in a billion would have such a planet.

The authors used most of the factors from the "Rare Earth" equation, with some being defined more precisely. They also introduced some new factors that required fine tuning to produce life, including - the presence of liquid water and carbon based molecules, steady plate tectonics and associated magnetic fields, a clear and proper atmosphere (high oxygen and low carbon dioxide), the right distance from the sun to support water in all three phases, the right size and type of sun to provide consistent heat and luminosity for billions of years, the right age in the formation of the Universe (reduced star formation and radiation), a stable circular orbit, and the right type of galaxy (able to be in the GHZ for an extended period of time).

But this was just the beginning.

In 1986, Reasons to Believe (reasons.org) was founded by Hugh Ross, a Canadian-born astrophysicist and creationist Christian apologist. Reasons mission is to demonstrate that "sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature."

They have since continued to expand on the Drake equation concept proposed in "The Privileged Planet." They have currently identified as many as 154 such finely tuned factors required for any life to exist on any planet. Even using just half of these factors, each at 50%, gives just 165 possible "earth-like" planets in the Universe. This is based on 100 trillion trillion stars in the Universe, each with 2.5 orbiting planets. Using all 154 parameters the chances of finding even one planet with life in the Universe is less than one in a billion trillion. To me, this shows that Genesis 1:2 (NIV) is correct:

"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."

The Hebrew word for "hover" is "rachaph," which means to be moved by tender love, to cherish. God "cherished" the earth as the future home of His creation so much that He made sure that it had all of the "right conditions" to become that one "Privileged Planet" that He would send His only Son to live for three years and to die and rise again to save His creation from sin.


This exquisite fine-tuning of the Universe to allow for life as we know it seems to demonstrate such a tender care. If any of the 154 cosmology or nuclear parameters were changed even slightly we would not exist. It is extraordinarily improbable that all this came together through undirected, random, natural processes — it may, however, reflect hypernatural manipulation by a Creator-God. The conditions in our Universe really do seem to be uniquely suitable for life forms like ourselves, and perhaps even for any form of organic chemistry.

Physicist Paul Davies has observed:

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all... It seems as though somebody has fine tuned nature's numbers to make the Universe... The impression of design is overwhelming."

Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV) - The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Looking Upward Part One - The Big Bang

I am using "Looking Upward" to mean looking into the heavens and thinking abut how they were formed. This takes us to the beginning of time, what is now considered "The Big Bang Theory".

Looking Upward - Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. - Finding God in the universe above.

CMB Timeline300 no WMAP Scientifically, the Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the universe from the earliest known periods (within millionths of a millisecond, or less, of the explosion) through its subsequent large-scale expansion and coagulation. The model suggests that the universe expanded from a very high density and high temperature state, a singularity, into the universe we see now. Some estimates place this moment at approximately 13.8 billion years ago.

The breakdown of general relativity occurs with the singularity and thus, so do all the laws of physics such that it is anyone's guess what actually happened at that moment in time - the beginning of time. Time did not exist before the explosion as the laws of physics as we know them did not exist, nor did matter of any type such as we now know. Scientists can only speculate what occurred in the early fractions of a second, when the singularity exploded and the universe started to expand. In the Big Bang theory it is thought that first there was nothing and then it exploded. The Universe created itself. Based on certain physical laws, the Universe came into existence on its own. This is a hard sell to me in that the laws of physics did not exist before time and matter (nothing to react upon) so how could they cause time and matter to spontaneously generate themselves.

Was it God or the Laws of Physics
That caused the Big-Bang?

The Big Bang is not an explosion of matter moving outward to fill an empty universe. Instead, space itself expands with time everywhere and increases the physical distance between two co-moving points. Space, time and matter only exist within the universe, not outside it. The universe is many, many trillions of miles across, one light-year equals almost 6 trillion miles and we can see stars over 13 billion light-years away. When we see such stars, we are seeing them how they appeared billions of years ago as their light had to travel all of that distance to get to us. Even the closest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light-years away so when we look at it, the light that we see has been traveling in space for over 4 years to reach us.

When we look at the Bible, there is one verse that if we can believe it, we should have no problem believing the remainder of the book. That verse just happens to be the first verse, Genesis 1:1.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

If we can believe that God created the entire physical universe, how can we not believe that He orchestrated the plagues of Egypt or the Miracles of Jesus? Or any other difficult thing found in His Word.

Looking at the Hebrew, the word for "In the beginning" is "re'shiyth" which points to the first - in place, time, order or rank so it could be translated as "In the beginning of Time". The word "bara'", translated "created", means to create, shape, form of new conditions and circumstances as in forming the universe from nothing. And the word for "heavens", "shamayim", means the heavens as in the visible universe. Substituting these extended translations we get "In the beginning of Time, God formed the visible universe from nothing". In at least a half dozen other verses (most notably in Isaiah) it is mentioned that God also stretched out the heavens. The word of God, written over 4000 years ago, closely correlates what we see in the Big Bang Theory.

I wrote about this in a previous blog, "Why I believe Genesis 1:1-2".

Once we move past the "Big Bang" and start to look at the formation of the galaxies, stars and even our Earth, we see that this process is a complex one, and took many billions of years to reach something even remotely like what we know of today. Right after the Big Bang (about 10-6 seconds), there were no elements, only protons, neutrons and electrons. After a few minutes, when temperatures dropped to about 1,000,000,000 degrees Kelvin, hydrogen and helium nuclei formed. It wasn't until after almost 400,000 years that conditions allowed the formation of hydrogen atoms.

All elements heavier than Lithium did not form until they could be generated by the heat of the starry ovens that formed in space. It took several billion years for stars and galaxies to form. The slightly denser areas of the universe (it was originally a soup of nearly uniformly distributed matter) gravitationally attracted nearby matter and thus grew even denser, leading to the formation of gas clouds. These giant clouds of primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form the stars, galaxies and the other astronomical structures observable today, much like raindrops forming in the clouds.

Naturalistic theories of origins are based on undirected, random activities. Such random activities are governed by the law of probability. After the big bang, the overwhelming probability was that the universe-to-be would collapse, or stay as a primordial soup. Yet it overcame these odds to evolve into the universe we see today. This could just be the one in a trillion (or much higher) odds and if it had not been so, we would not be here to see it. Or it could be God’s supernatural activity, manipulating nature laws to influence the odds and arriving at the universe He planned.

Genesis 1:2 (NIV) says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Hebrew words used here point to a formless earth (the primordial soup mentioned above), and God hovering over it. The Hebrew word for hover is "rachaph" which implies a watchful, loving attention to the entire creation process.

As we examine further the process of formation of the universe and life itself, we will see that the odds are small, and even though the universe is massive and the small odds result in still many possible outcomes like our own (as in many possible planets like earth), it does not overshadow the possibility of God.

Science is now reporting a new theory that could replace the Big Bang. New studies of old quantum equations corrected with quantum trajectories describe the expansion and evolution of the universe within the context of general relativity. This approach eliminates the Big-Bang singularity as well as accounts for dark matter and dark energy. In this new model, the universe has no beginning and no ending. This is similar to what was the prevailing theory before the Big Bang.

This is still being studied and does not, yet, eliminate the Big-Bang. If it becomes the new theory of the universe, does it negate the Biblical account? I say no as all of these possibilities are still only theories, it is not possible to prove how the universe came into existence. And saying that the universe always was and always will be creates problems with other theories, such as evolution. If the universe was always here, then why are we not more "evolved?" Why have all of the stars not burned out and the planets all grown cold? Based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which leads to spatial homogeneity of matter and energy, and especially of temperature, all of the universe should be homogeneous. It seems unlikely that the universe would have always existed. How was it formed, it just was, is and will be? This sounds like God to me. He is the great "I AM."

Friday, July 1, 2016

Are God and Science Compatible?

Can we believe in God and still be a scientist? Since the existence of "God" can not be proven or dis-proven scientifically, believing either choice is believing one side of the theory. Those of us who are Christian hold that the God of the Bible does exist and that He created all that we see and know about the universe (and a lot that we do not know). This is considered "Intelligent Design" by many - that the universe as we know it could not have come into existence by random chance.

Those who believe in "Evolution" claim that random mutations of organisms - natural selection - resulted in all of the diversity in the universe and that this can be proven. They do not allow an Intelligent Designer to even be considered. Evolutionists claim that evolution can and has been proven but it appears that what is proven is that natural selection does occur "within species" but that does not prove that every living thing came from one life source and that all species are connected.

None of this even considers the "big bang" and how existence came from nothing. My point is that this is not a finished discussion, evolution is not a proven fact (although natural selection does occur) and that intelligent design should not be ruled out as a possibility. It takes more faith to believe that all of this just "happened" than it does to believe in the God of the universe.

Although I am a Christian and believe in the Bible, I am not pointing to that for the purpose of "proof". Within Creationism there are many different views, old earth, young earth, creation with evolution and others. My belief is that "random chance" as proposed by strict evolutionists is less likely a cause of the universe as we know it than a creation by God. I believe this because I believe the Bible (in spite of the "contradictions" claimed by some) and I believe that the pressure to "evolve" is not sufficient to account for all of the diversity and complexity found in the universe. There is not enough time and most mutations would likely be negative rather than a move in the right direction. Again, none of this even considers the creation of time and space.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Secular Man has tried to understand "why" time and space, the earth, the nature around us and we ourselves exist. He has explained it away as the "big bang", evolution, a random event, a happenstance. But if you look into the Word of God you will see He tells us that He made it all, for a reason, for us to seek Him and find Him in His creation.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Or did it just happen by chance?

It is easy to say that there is no God - scientifically - since science requires a direct observation and God is invisible in a physical sense. But it is even easier to see that God does exist - seeing His work in creation. Evolution, in its strictest sense, can not be proven scientifically either, because it requires an observation of something that happened outside of time, the formation of the universe, or the observation of something that has not happened in the short time that man has been looking for it, the development of a new, more advanced, species from a lower life form.

Scientifically evolution and creation are both theories. Science uses indirect observations of past events, from fossil records or deep space, to support the evolutionary theory. These indirect observations can also be used to support the existence of God. If evolution does occur, less complex life becoming more complex, it does not have to be considered outside of God. God and evolution can co-exist. If God created DNA, He created a way for it to be altered by mutations. This can be part of a design process - allowing for variations within, and between lifeforms.

Romans 1:20 (NIV) For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The purpose of this upcoming blog series is to share known facts about the universe and the world around us that seem to point to a creator, as much as or more than to random chance, so that you can decide for yourself if the universe, the earth and life itself came from the action of an all-powerful source outside of the dimensions of time (God), or were just random actions that resulted, by chance, in the complex world in which we live.

I see this being divided into four parts:

  • Looking Upward - Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. - Finding God in the universe above.
  • Turning Outward - Proverbs 25:2 (NIV) It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. - Finding God in the world around us.
  • Searching Inward - Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. - Finding God in the formation of the human body, and thus in life itself.
  • Moving Forward - Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - How to take this to the next level - confirmation of your faith, or lack thereof. There is more to life than just "existing".

I am a Christian so I have a bias here, that God does exist and He created all we can see and try to understand around us. I can not make that decision for you, however, it is a personal choice but one that can be based on scientific evidence. It takes faith to believe that the universe as we know it was a random chance event, just as it does to believe in a Creator. All of the scientific evidence we have can be used to point in either direction, depending on how you look at it - there is no way to prove the existence or absence of God by the scientific method.

Just as I have a bias that God exists, many scientists have ruled out the existence of God. They do not even consider it a possibility, even though the evidence points just as strongly in that direction. They consider it "pseudo-science" since it can not be proven.

None of these scientific facts, theories or concepts I plan to share will prove either hypothesis, that the universe exists by random chance or that it was formed by a Creator. This can not be done. But they do show that this existence is wondrous and amazing, and fragile. Because of this, to me, the possibility of God is so strongly present in the evidence that the only way to say that God does not exist is to not even consider it as a possible explanation for the world. You must rule it out in your mind before you even start your examination of the scientific evidence. If you don't, you may just find that God is at the center of it all.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day revisited

I posted this message 4 years ago for Mother's Day and thought I would re-post it this year. Since then I have retired and we have added a few new grandkids to the mix. Now that I am home more I can see even more clearly what an amazing wife, mother and grandmother my wife is. I am truly blessed. I can also see what wonderful mothers my daughters, my niece and my daughters-in-law have become as their children grow up. God is good!

Happy Mother's Day - All We Need is Your Love!

My wife and I have 5 kids (and a niece that is just like a daughter). We were blessed with the financial stability for their mom to stay at home and care for them all. All are now married with children of their own. My wife is an amazing Mom and a wonderful Grandma. I was caught up in the business of life when the kids were young and did not appreciate to the full the blessing it was for her to stay home and instruct our children. Thank you honey for all of the love and care and comfort you have brought to our family. You are truly the glue that holds us so closely together. I love you, Happy Mother's Day!

We all have a Mother. No matter how we remember her, when we were young (and even now) we wanted her to love us. I am sure she felt the same, loving us with all her heart and wanting us to love her as well. God knew we would need a Mom in a special way. We see in His Word His love for this most special person in all of our lives.

The word "Mother" appears 338 times in the Bible. God knew that He needed someone special to raise His children:
  • Genesis 3:20 (NIV) - Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
So He specially chose Moms to co-create with Him in the generation of new life within the womb:
  • Psalms 139:13-14a (NIV) - For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
He even chose the woman who would be His mother:
  • Luke 1:28 & 31 (NIV) - The angel went to her [Mary] and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."... 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
And He listened to her and honored her during His life, and His mother treasured all that He did:
  • Luke 2:42, 48 & 51 (NIV) - When He was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom... 48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You."... 51 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
  • John 2:1-3,5,7,9-10 (NIV) - On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to Him, "They have no more wine."... 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."... 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim... 9a and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine... 10b ...[exclaiming] "You have saved the best till now."
He even took care of her in His last moments as He hung on the Cross:
  • John 19:25a-27 (NIV) - Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother... 26 When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
And after His death, His mother continued to pray:
  • Acts 1:14 (NIV) - They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
So now we all must remember to:
  • Deuteronomy 5:16 (NIV) - "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  • Proverbs 6:20b (NIV) - ...and do not forsake your mother's teaching.
So that "Your father and mother may be glad and may she who gave you birth rejoice! Proverbs 23:25 (NIV).

Monday, April 25, 2016

Artificial Sweeteners - Getting to Zero


America eats too much! So what is the solution? Eat less? Eat healthier? For some maybe, but for most of us it is now to use zero or low calorie sweeteners in place of those natural sweeteners we discussed in the last two blogs ("How Sweet it Is!" and "Are Nature's Other Sweeteners Better?") to help reduce our calorie intake without cutting out of our diet the things we love. So today we will discuss the most common non-carbohydrate sweeteners. They are often called artificial sweeteners but several are actually from natural sources (made from naturally occurring organic compounds).

The list includes - Saccharin, Cyclamate, Aspartame, Stevia, and Sucralose - the five most common artificial sweeteners used in the United States today.

Artificial Sweeteners

Sweetness (by weight) Trade Name FDA Approval
Saccharin 300 Sweet'N Low 1958
Cyclamate 30-50 SugarTwin Banned 1969 Approved outside of USA
Aspartame 200 NutraSweet 1981 Amino Acid based
Aspartame-Acesulfame 350 Equal Original, TwinSweet 1988 --
Neotame 9000 NutraSweet (mfg) 2002 Chemically similar to Aspartame
Stevia 150 Truvia -- Naturally derived plant sweetener
Sucralose 600 Splenda, Kaltame 1998 Sugar Alcohol
Advantame 20000 -- 2014 --

Many people trying to get off sugar think they can still have their cake and eat it, too. Most use artificial sweeteners for one of two reasons: weight loss or trying to reduce sugar cravings. Sadly, artificial sweeteners do not accomplish these health goals: they can make your sweet cravings worse, resulting in you consuming more carbs or calories than before. Artificial sweeteners actually increase cravings by continuing your addiction to super-sweet tasting foods. It only takes 3-6 weeks of complete abstinence from sweet tasting substances to eliminate your sweet cravings (psychological cravings will remain). You simply have to avoid all sweet tasting foods (including artificial sweeteners) during this time and your cravings will subside.

Artificial sweeteners may also cause your blood insulin to rise, although this has not been proven. When insulin levels rise, your blood sugar levels decrease. Low blood sugar causes you to crave sugar and eat more. Studies have shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners eat more calories than people who don’t, possibly for this reason. Additionally, this rise in insulin signals your body to store fat or not use it as fuel. So, the weight stays on your body.

Some studies show that you may be able to blame it on the bugs in your gut. Some artificial sweeteners appear to dramatically change the makeup of the gut microorganisms, mainly bacteria, that are in the intestines and help with nutrition and the immune system. There are trillions of these gut bacteria - many times more than the number of cells in your body. All these physiological changes also have the potential of slowing your metabolism, resulting in increased storage of body fat.

All of this to say that although some artificial sweeteners may be safe and most have no calories, they are not as helpful as they appear when it comes to weigh loss and cutting down carbohydrate intake. In fact, they may alter the brain's natural response to sweet tastes, resulting in a decrease in the bodies ability to know when enough calories have been consumed. It is best to reduce sugar and carbohydrate intake by reducing or eliminating sweet cravings (and sweet tasting foods) from your diet.

Artificial Sweeteners can increase cravings for sweet foods
Resulting in eating more calories than before.

Saccharin (Sweet'N Low)

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It is 300 to 500 times as sweet as sugar and is often used to improve the taste of toothpastes, dietary foods, and diet beverages. The bitter aftertaste of saccharin is masked by blending it with other sweeteners.

Fear about saccharin increased in 1960 when a study showed a possible link to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Further studies later showed that saccharin causes cancer in male rats by a mechanism not found in humans. In 2001 the United States repealed the warning label requirement, and in 2010 the EPA stated that saccharin was no longer considered a potential hazard to human health. It is available in the United States and is making a comeback.

Saccharin itself has zero calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index index of zero, meaning it does not raise body sugar levels. It is usually blended with other sweeteners to mask its metallic taste. These other sweeteners are sometimes sugars, such as dextrose, and can add a few calories to the final product.

Saccharin is a sulfa-based sweetener. Reported side effects include allergic reactions for those with sulfa allergies, nausea, diarrhea, skin problems or other allergy-related symptoms. Saccharin is not metabolized in the body and is rapidly eliminated in the urine. The quantity of saccharin in a typical diet soda (12 ounces) is about 100 milligrams.


In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of cyclamate in 1969 after lab tests in rats indicated that large amounts of cyclamates could cause bladder cancer. Cyclamates are still used as sweeteners in many parts of the world, including Europe. It is marketed as Sugar Twin and Sweet'N Low in Canada.

Cyclamate has zero calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index index of zero, the same as saccharin. It is usually blended with saccharin which produces a more "sugar-like" taste. Cyclamate is not absorbed by the body and is probably safe in small quantities. It has been used for about 70 years and despite the fears, no side effects have been reported in humans. It is now believed not to cause cancer directly, but may increase the potency of other carcinogens so it is best to avoid this sweetener.

Aspartame (NutraSweet)

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 at the G.D. Searle company. A chemist was working on an anti-ulcer drug and accidentally spilled some aspartame, an intermediary product in generating a tetrapeptide of the hormone gastrin, on his hand. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste.

Aspartame is derived from the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar. It is not stable when heated so is used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatins, beverages, and chewing gum. When cooked or stored at high temperatures, aspartame breaks down into its constituent amino acids.

This is also its metabolic path in the body. It is broken down into L-Aspartic Acid, L-Phenylalanine and Methanol. L-Aspartic Acid and L-Phenylalanine are two of the 23 amino acids our bodies use to build protein. L-Aspartic Acid can be manufactured by our bodies, so it is not an "essential" amino acid. L-Phenylalanine is considered "essential" and must be included in our diet. The genetic disorder, PKU or Phenylketonuria, is a disorder of the metabolism of Phenylalanine and requires those with this condition to closely monitor their intake of this amino acid. Too much Phenylalanine in the diet of someone with PKU can lead to intellectual disability, seizures, and other serious medical problems.

Aspartame is metabolized fully in the digestive tract and is not absorbed intact. L-Aspartic Acid and L-Phenylalanine are found naturally in many proteins and thus we routinely consume these in our diet. A typical "dose" of Aspartame found in a diet soda is about 180mg. This is equivalent to about 70mg of L-Aspartic Acid and about 90mg of L-Phenylalanine. A 12 ounce glass of milk contains about 1140mg of L-Aspartic Acid and about 650mg of L-Phenylalanine.

The third metabolite of aspartame is methanol. Here is where much of the controversy is centered. A typical diet soda produces about 20mg of methanol when the aspartame is broken down. Methanol is a toxic substance and when consumed in large quantities (adult doses in excess of 10 grams per day) can cause blindness and other serious complications. But with the diet soda the quantity is very low. Methanol is oxidized sequentially to formaldehyde, then to formic acid and finally to carbon dioxide. These three chemicals are found in many fruits and vegetables and/or are produced within the body or by gut bacteria as breakdown products of metabolism. The body has a means to eliminate the small amount of methanol produced without harm. A 12 ounce glass of orange juice contains about 36mg of methanol, or about twice that found in a similar serving of diet soda. The bodies own metabolic processes can handle several grams per day of methanol without toxic effects.

The safety of aspartame has been studied extensively, including animal studies, clinical and epidemiological research, and post marketing surveillance. Aspartame is one of the most rigorously tested food ingredients to date. Aspartame has been deemed safe for human consumption by over 100 regulatory agencies in their respective countries.

There are claims of many adverse reactions to aspartame, including increased risk of cancers and multiple sclerosis. Others claim that the amino acids in aspartame are chemically manipulated or the amount of methanol produced is toxic. There does not seem to be any hard scientific evidence to support these claims. The amino acids are joined as they would be in any protein and the amount consumed, even from drinking numerous diet soda a day, is not outside of what would be found in proteins from a typical diet. As mentioned above, the quantity of methanol is very low and easily handled by our bodies existing metabolic processes. The one area of concern, as with all artificial sweeteners, is the undocumented possibility that consuming "sweet" substances my alter our bodies processes for recognizing caloric intake and possibly causing an increase in sugar cravings with a subsequent increase in consumption.

A typical diet soda with Aspartame alone contains about 180 mg of aspartame. When combined with Acesulfame, it drops to about around 120 mg. Since aspartame is basically a "protein", consisting of two amino acids, it contains approximately 4 calories per gram, or essentially zero calories in a 12 ounce diet soda. Aspartame has a Glycemic Index of zero.

Aspartame & Acesulfame Potassium (Equal Original, TwinSweet)

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) is 200 times sweeter than sucrose and has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is often blended with other sweeteners (usually aspartame or sucralose), which give a more sucrose-like taste, whereby each sweetener masks the other's aftertaste and also exhibits a synergistic effect in which the blend is sweeter than its components.

Unlike aspartame, acesulfame potassium is stable under heat, allowing it to be used in baking or in products that require a long shelf life. It is also used as a sweetener in protein shakes and pharmaceutical products, especially chewable and liquid medications, where it can make the active ingredients more palatable.

One of the major concerns expressed about this sweetener is that it contains methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Methylene Chloride is used as a solvent in the manufacture of acesulfame but is tested for in the final purity testing of acesulfame and is not detected. The limits of testing for methylene chloride is 40 parts per billion, so the maximum undetected would be 0.0016 micrograms (1 millionth of a gram) in a 12 ounce diet soda. Actual quantity of methylene chloride present is probably much less since it is a highly volatile substance and would be lost during final synthesis of acesulfame. Methylene Chloride is metabolized in the liver and human systems are capable of handling these amounts of methylene chloride safely. Although it is best to avoid exposure when possible, methylene chloride is found in other foods at higher concentrations, such as beer, decaf and some spices as well as in the background air (exposure as high as 30-300 micrograms per day).

Acesulfame is not metabolized by the body and is excreted mainly via the kidneys (95%) with the remainder in the feces. One minor breakdown product is acetoacetamide. In large doses, it has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. This may be one reason to avoid this no calorie sweetener however exposure to this breakdown product is almost negligible from acesulfame used as a sweetener.

Of all the artificial sweeteners, acesulfame-K has undergone the least scientific scrutiny and other sweeteners are available so this may be one to use in moderation, if at all, for now.


Neotame is not sold to the consumer market. Food producers mainly use it. It is chemically related to aspartame, but the difference confers greater chemical stability, enabling this new sweetener to be used in baked foods. It is not metabolized into its related amino acids, as aspartame is, and is eliminated quickly. It is de-esterified and eliminated in the urine and feces. Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times as sweet as sugar, depending on the use, and 40 times sweeter than aspartame so the dose needed is significantly less than with other sweeteners. It has zero calories and a Glycemic Index of zero. Since it is not broken down into its two constituent amino acids, unlike aspartame, there are no concerns for use in PKU.

Over 100 corporate-sponsored studies were conducted on Neotame to prove its safety prior to FDA approval. Neotame is one of only two artificial sweeteners ranked as “safe” by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. It is not used in diet soda currently but based on its sweetness the dose would be about 5mg in a 12 ounce can.

Neotame’s main concern seems to be guilt by association. Because it is a chemical derivative of aspartame, critics of that product are also negative towards Neotame. However, given the number of products containing Neotame now on the market, there have been few reported side effects. The main reason for this may be the tiny amount of the sweetener per serving. Unless new information arises, it appears to be safe.

Stevia (Truvia)

Stevia has been widely used as a natural sweetener in South America for centuries. It is an herb native to Paraguay that is about 150 times sweeter than sugar. It has been found in many studies to be completely safe. It even has some health benefits. It appears to improve insulin sensitivity to fight obesity and diabetes and can reduce hypertension.

Stevia comes in many forms. It comes dried, powdered, and in a concentrated liquid extract. Due to its characteristics of zero glycemic index and zero calories, it is fast becoming popular world-wide. Stevia consists of two active components, rebaudioside (Reb A) and stevioside. Most studies of Stevia have shown it to be completely safe, but most of the research on long-term use with stevia extracts has been done with stevioside, not rebaudioside A or Rebiana, the ingredient in most Stevia brands on the market. Much is known about the safety of stevioside (the extract used for years in Japan), but more information is needed about the extracts that are in use today. Stevia contains 80% stevioside and 8% rebaudioside A. Like any sweetener, Stevia should be used in moderation and not consumed in large doses.

Since Stevia is a plant based natural sweetener, there are a growing number of Stevia options on the market; however, not all are the same in quality, taste, bitterness or sweetness. Most powdered versions have some form of sugar as a "filler" since the dose of Stevia is very small and needs to be "bulked up" with another powder.

Clearly, Stevia is a good alternative to the other artificial sweeteners on the market as well as a good alternative to sugar. It has no calories, a Glycemic Index of zero and is appropriate for people with sugar regulation problems.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar. It is produced from sucrose when three chlorine atoms replace three hydroxyl groups. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. It is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods. About 15% of sucralose is absorbed by the body and most of it passes out of the body unchanged, suggesting a reduced risk of toxicity. Sucralose is extremely insoluble in fat and, therefore does not accumulate in fatty tissues; sucralose also does not break down and will dechlorinate only under conditions that are not found in the body. The FDA approved sucralose in 1998.

There are few safety concerns pertaining to sucralose. In determining the safety of sucralose, the FDA reviewed data from more than 110 studies in humans and animals. Many of the studies were designed to identify possible toxic effects, including carcinogenic, reproductive, and neurological effects. No such effects were found, and FDA's approval is based on the finding that sucralose is safe for human consumption.

Most of the controversy surrounding sucralose is focused not on safety but on the marketing of Splenda, a sucralose sweetener. It has been marketed with the slogan, "Splenda is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Sugar manufacturers objected to what this slogan implied. Sucralose has zero calories and a Glycemic Index of zero. Splenda contains dextrose or maltodextrin as bulking agents and has about 3 calories per gram.


Advantame is a high-intensity artifical sweetener based on aspartame, similar to neotame but modified with isovanillin instead of a dimethylbutyl group. These additions block the breakdown of the aspartame group into the two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and was approved by the FDA in 2014.

Although studies generally show it to be safe, its tie to aspartame has automatically made it suspect. Much of the concerns are based on the supposed problems with aspartame, not on anything found specifically with advantame. Further testing is sure to be in the works.

Some other, less common, artificial sweeteners


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is about 70 percent as sweet as sugar. It occurs naturally in some fruits, but virtually all of the erythritol used as a food additive is produced by fermenting glucose. Many companies use it to bulk up other sweeteners and mask their unpleasant after-tastes, such as rebiana (from stevia), aspartame, and sucralose. It contains about 0.2 calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index of zero.

Other than occasional allergic reactions, the main safety concern about erythritol is that eating too much of it could cause nausea. Erythritol’s relative safety is due to its being mostly absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted unchanged in urine. Because 90% of erythritol is absorbed before it enters the large intestine, it does not normally cause laxative effects, as are often experienced after consumption of other sugar alcohols.


Sorbitol naturally occurs in fruit and is a close relative of sugar. It is about 60 percent as sweet as sugar. Moderate amounts of sorbitol are safe, but large amounts may have a strong laxative effect and even cause diarrhea. The FDA requires foods “whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in a daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol” to bear the label statement: “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” Sorbitol may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal conditions even from small ingested amounts. Sorbitol has 2.6 calories per gram and a Glycemic Index of nine (glucose = 100). It is generally considered safe.


Xylitol resembles sugar in consistency and taste, but has only 2.4 calories/gm and a Glycemic Index of seven. It is a great sugar alternative, much like sorbitol. It is as sweet as sugar, but is a sugar alcohol, which can cause intestinal problems. Xylitol is found in fruits and vegetables, but most is made from corn. Birch tree derived xylitol is a great alternative for those who want to avoid corn based products.

Xylitol is used mainly as a sugar substitute in chewing gums, because it produces fewer cavities and reduces plaque. Xylitol may also inhibit cavities by denying plaque bacteria the sugar they need to erode tooth enamel. Xylitol may also help control yeast infections, such as thrush.

Daily consumption of more than 25g of xylitol may cause diarrhea. It can also cause other gastrointestinal issues, such as gas and bloating. Xylitol is generally considered safe, having no known toxicity in humans. It is, however, toxic to dogs with ingestion frequently being fatal.

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit extract is 300 times sweeter than sucrose but contains no calories and has a Glycemic Index of zero. Monk fruit extract can be used in baking as well as in anything calling for sugar. It is combined with erythritol (discussed above) to produce a product that looks and tastes like sugar and can be substituted one-to-one. The sweet taste of the fruit comes mainly from mogrosides, a group of glycosides that make up about 1% of the flesh of the fresh fruit. No incidents of negative side effects of Monk fruit have been reported.

Final Words

In summary, most of these sweeteners are probably safe when used in moderation. The problems seem mainly to arise when taken in larger doses or for extended periods of time, such as when consumed in beverages as a substitute for sugar. Although they help reduce the caloric intake in a person's diet, there is the possible issues with confusion of the food reward pathways, particularly with the sweeteners that contain no calories. Sweetness decoupled from caloric content offers partial, but not complete, activation of the food reward pathways. Activation of the hedonic component may contribute to increased appetite. We seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy need. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the postingestive component, further fuels the food seeking behavior. Reduction in the reward response may contribute to obesity by increasing overall caloric intake to compensate for the lack of closure in this cycle.

It seems that, once again, it is best to reduce total sugar (and sweetener) intake and thus reduce the craving for sweet foods, rather than try to substitute another, lower calorie, sweetener for sugar. This ultimately will reduce the total caloric intake and give the desired result of weight loss. This is easier said than done, however, in that we all, to varying degrees, have a sweet tooth. We can not have our cake and eat it too! Moderation is the key, not trying to fool our bodies.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.