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Discerning Fact from Fiction

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

Many years ago, a minister spoke at a church I attended. He served in a ministry that, along with helping people get their lives back on spiritual track, also promoted healthy living. Tobacco and alcohol were avoided. They also avoided caffeinated products, which meant coffee was out, along with tea products because of tea’s tannic acid.

Since I neither smoke nor drink, the abstinence from tobacco and alcohol didn’t bother me. But the avoidance of caffeinated products seemed a little extreme. Sweetened iced tea and Diet Coke are two of my favorite beverages, although I try to enjoy both of them in moderation. The coffee abstention might seem tough for some Christians: at Pensacola Christian College there was one administrator who told us of his love for coffee and joked of how much he hoped coffee exists in heaven. I also know of Christians who drink and smoke, some because tobacco and alcohol are vices and others because they feel that alcohol is acceptable if consumed in moderation.

This minister then said something else that got my attention. He encouraged the consumption of honey instead of sugar. It’s important to avoid sugar, he said, because the chemical composition of sugar is very similar to that of cocaine. And since cocaine is a highly-dangerous, highly-addictive illegal drug, he continued, it’s best to avoid anything that is similar to it.

Just how similar are the two substances? The molecular structure of table sugar, or sucrose, is C12H22O11. This means it contains 12 parts carbon, 22 parts hydrogen and 11 parts oxygen. Cocaine’s molecular structure is C17H21NO4. This means it contains 17 parts carbon, 21 parts hydrogen, one part nitrogen and four parts oxygen. The difference between sugar and cocaine is 13-atoms, not counting that cocaine-unlike sugar-contains a nitrogen atom. Thirteen atoms might appear to be a miniscule difference when you consider just how incredibly tiny atoms are, but, believe it or not, it can still make a huge difference. Moreover, sugar is a carbohydrate whereas cocaine is an alkaloid. Though a layperson might look at the two substances’ chemical compositions and see some similarities, according to Professor Bill Bordeaux, who teaches chemistry at Huntington University in Huntington, Ind., the two substances are very different.

Furthermore, Professor Bordeaux explained, carbohydrates serve as fuel to provide the needed energy for a living organism to perform non-spontaneous functions (such as movement, production of proteins and other cellular components). Alkaloids exert their effects neurologically and are not food, per se. Therefore, the fates of ingestion of a carbohydrate and an alkaloid are quite different.

“No one would argue that a sugar high in a 7-year-old is the same as the high from crack cocaine, but there are some outward similarities,” the professor added. “They actually produce their respective effects quite differently, and the last I heard, no one had thrown away family and career to support a ‘sucrose habit.'”

It makes me think that the only real thing sugar and cocaine have in common is their color.

That being said, the minister’s argument-though well intentioned-was very flawed, especially since even a one-atom difference can make a huge difference. At the time I heard this message, I was taking high school chemistry. I knew from class that sodium and chlorine by themselves can be very dangerous substances. Sodium, which can burn your skin, reacts violently in water. Chlorine is an extremely pungent and poisonous gas. However, when one sodium atom is joined with a chlorine atom, you get a common, ordinary substance-salt. Water is a substance for which we depend on for life, but if you add an oxygen atom to H2O, you get H2O2, better known as hydrogen peroxide. As great of a disinfectant as peroxide might be, this highly-unstable substance is hardly suitable for quenching thirst. We know about ozone and how it protects us from ultraviolet rays. In itself, ozone is a pungent, poisonous gas. Guess what its chemical composition is? O3-think of it as ordinary oxygen with an extra oxygen atom added.

Here’s what bothered me the most about this minister. We as Christians work very hard to get the world consider the possibility that there might be irreconcilable flaws in the theory of evolution. By doing so, we are able to further plant seeds that might later germinate into a lost person coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And as we learn from Lee Strobel’s book Case for a Creator, there are scientists who, though not necessarily Christians, not only have serious doubts about evolution but also feel that the scientific evidence points to an intelligent designer. But when we as Christians grab on to “science” that sounds good but isn’t really sound, it makes us look very foolish in the process. A close friend of mine noted that secular scientists who believe in evolution are far less likely to take Christians seriously in science debates if we make it a habit of presenting arguments without truly researching the facts.

Even today, I hear of things among Christians that are often accepted as “fact.” One e-mail claims that NASA discovered a missing day in a computer program it ran (in the Book of Joshua, Joshua asks the sun not to set during a battle, and it appears to obey him). One e-mail claims that Charles Darwin, who gave evolution widespread attention with his book Origin of Species , recanted evolution on his deathbed and became a Christian. Outside science, there’s also that longtime rumor that rock star Gene Simmons of Kiss displays his allegiance to Satan by his famous three-finger gesture.

But how do these “facts” measure up? According to urban legend Websites like http://www.truthorfiction.com, NASA has stated that this “missing day” in a computer program it ran is, in fact, a hoax. Darwin may have known that evolution had problems that would need to be reconciled, but there is no convincing evidence that he recanted evolution or became a Christian on his death bed. (Ironically, Darwin earlier in his life had earned a theology degree from Cambridge University and, during that time, might have even contemplated entering the ministry).

And as for Simmons’ three-finger gesture, a little research indicates that it is merely short-hand sign language for “I love you”-something an entertainer might do to express his adoration for his fans. It is often confused with the corna (derived from the Italian word for horn), which is a hand gesture made by stretching the index and pinky fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers with your thumb. This two-finger gesture has been used by some to ward off the “evil eye” and by others as a reference to Satan. It is also, in another context, used harmlessly by University of Texas fans as a “Hook ’em Horns” gesture to show their allegiance to their team. But, again, this gesture uses two fingers; Simmons’ “I Love You” sign uses three. The Israeli-born bassist has emphatically denied that it’s a cloak-and-dagger expression of allegiance to Satan (Simmons, whose spiritual beliefs often suggest agnosticism, has stated that he doesn’t believe in the devil or demons). This is not to say that I agree with the lifestyle and philosophy of Kiss, but that we should be careful to not just believe popular opinion or to read into something what’s not really there.

The Bible tells us in James 4:14 that our time on earth is like a vapor that quickly vanishes away. It is very important that we spend our time immersed in facts and defend the faith based on facts. After all, if God is the author of all truth, what do we really have to be afraid of?

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