Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend (Part 2)

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Yesterday we mentioned that various groups are celebrating February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, as “Darwin Day.” There are also churches that are designating February 10-12 as “Darwin Weekend” to promote harmony between science and faith. That seems like a positive goal since the purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? program for over 40 years has been to show that science and faith are friends, not enemies.

As this annual commemoration approaches, we want to reflect on what Darwin discovered and how he interpreted it. People knew that animals could change and the breeding of animals for improved features had been going on for centuries. (See our post on January 28 about goldfish breeding and note what Jacob did with Laban’s cattle in Genesis 20:25-42.) What Darwin did was to suggest a method by which these changes can take place in the natural world unaided by outside intervention. In 1859 he published his influential book On The Origin of Species. He advanced a theory that natural selection acting on random mutations was what led to the evolution of all living species from a few common ancestors, or perhaps only one. He suggested that variations within a species occur randomly. If the variation is harmful, it will lead to extinction. If the variation helps the animal to adapt to its environment, that animal will live and pass on those traits to its descendants. In The Descent of Man (1871) Darwin clearly applied this process to the origin of human beings. Darwin concluded that humans must have evolved from an apelike animal based on comparing the anatomy of humans to other mammals. He also based it on similarities in embryological development, and the existence of what he called “rudimentary” organs which today are often referred to as “vestigial” (such as tonsils and appendix). In Darwin’s words, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used.” Darwin fully expected that later fossil discoveries would show the gradual progress of evolution. More than 150 years later, the fossil record is still lacking, but today science points to DNA to show evidence of common descent.

From the beginning, Darwin’s proposal was controversial. Many atheists seized on Darwin’s work to show that God was not necessary. Many theologians condemned the idea of humans descending from “some apelike creature” because of its conflict with the biblical account. However, there were and are people who suggest that evolution is the method God used to create all life, even including humans. A noted scientist today who is a firm believer in God and a Christian is Dr. Francis Collins. He believes that evolution was created by God as a method of bringing all life into existence. He wrote in his book The Language of God, “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life.” Other Christian scientists such as Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fazale Rana argue for God’s intervention into the process of evolution as demonstrated in the “Cambrian Explosion” and the “hominid explosion” which indicate a geologically sudden emergence of new life forms. They see the emergence of new life forms and the creation of Adam and Eve as cases of Divine intervention. They explain this in their excellent book Who Was Adam? now in its second edition updated in 2015.

If you define evolution as change over time, the evidence for that change is all around us. The Creator did not create 25 million different varieties of creatures with all of their specialized features separately and independently. All living things were designed with the ability to change and adapt. Knowing that fact, we have been able to fight diseases, build more productive food sources, and develop agents that solve our problems of handling waste and reversing the effects of pollution. Evolution does not necessarily contradict the Bible. Naturalistic evolution does. Leaving God out of the equation not only contradicts the Bible, but it makes humans an accident of nature with no value or significance. (To be continued tomorrow.)
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend (Part 1)

Darwin Day
Darwin Day
Colleges, schools, museums, and other groups are calling February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, “Darwin Day” to honor his life and work. Also, the weekend of February 10-12 has been designated as “Darwin Weekend” in hundreds of churches to promote a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. Michael Zimmerman, who is credited with initiating Darwin Weekend, states that a critical goal is to “demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter promoting Darwin Weekend says, “Those that claim that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

We applaud the goal of promoting a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. We also applaud the objective of demonstrating that people do not have to choose between religion and science. The problem with Darwin Day and Darwin Weekend comes from the views of those who are leading these events. Anytime you have people with a background in theology trying to address a scientific subject or people with a scientific background trying to explain religious principles and applications; you are bound to have difficulties. Many religious leaders wish to make science and faith so separate and distinct from one another that laymen get the idea they have to decide between one of the two and avoid conflict by never letting the two come in near proximity. Over the five decades that I have been involved in talking about science and faith, I have had many instances where a preacher tells me you just have to believe what the Bible says, and that is that. They insist that all science is the work of humans, is flawed, and not worth your time. The problem is that they think their interpretation of what the Bible says is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. In the meantime, they enjoy the benefits of modern science. Most young people have seen the benefits that science has brought, and they are not willing to embrace an interpretation of the Bible that seems to be mystical. I have also had people who consider the latest evolutionary theory to be sacred, and any questioning of their understanding of the theory to be an indication of religious bigotry. They relegate religion to the geriatric dump as a relic of historical value and nothing more.

As Darwin Day approaches, we need to consider what Darwin actually discovered and what it means for science and for faith. We will look into that as we continue tomorrow with part two.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Giant Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur Footprint
Dinosaur Footprint
How big can an animal get? Science fiction frequently shows animals of enormous size, and yet in reality land mammals can only get so big. The amount of oxygen in the air, the type of muscle development needed to run, the limitations of reproduction by live birth, and a host of other technical problems are involved in limiting the size of land mammals. This is not just true of mammals, but it is true of birds which are also warm-blooded. Reptiles, on the other hand, never stop growing. An 80-year-old T. Rex was still growing, but I can tell you from personal experience that an 80-year-old man is not. This issue has a lot to do with whether the dinosaurs were birds, and whether dinosaurs and humans could have lived at the same time.

Over 20,000 footprints of dinosaurs have been discovered in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. In late 2016, one was found that was 42 inches long and 30 inches wide. In an American shoe size that would be a size 104. Researchers are interested in how the dinosaur was able to stand and walk with such enormous size. One thing seems certain–the conditions on the Earth were different than they are today. Almost certainly there was a higher oxygen content in the atmosphere. God was preparing the Earth for humans, and certain conditions were required to form the materials humans would need for advanced civilization. “In the beginning, God created the earth” just says that God did it. How he did it may have involved far more than we can understand, even today. Reference: The Week, October 21, 2016, page 19.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Evolution in Action: The Incredible Goldfish

Bubble Eye Goldfish
Bubble Eye Goldfish
In Ocean Park in Hong Kong there is a “Goldfish House” which features some 300 different varieties of fish that appear to be creatures from another world. The Red Bubble Eye for example has two cheeks that bulge out like huge balloons with a yellow color bridging off from an orange body. The tricolor Dorsal-Finned Bubble Eye looks similar, but it has a large dorsal fin and its body is black and white and it has a long flowing black and white tail. The tricolor Ranchu has a face like a bulldog and a multicolored body and the Black Dragon Eye has two huge eyes that protrude from the body and large, delicate fins. All of these fish that look so different from one another descended from the Prussian carp, also known as Gibel carp, which were raised by Chinese Buddhists in the Tang Dynasty. By the tenth century these fish which we call “goldfish” were prized as pets.

The Japanese took many of these very different kinds of goldfish back to Japan where raising unusual looking fish became a hobby of many people. By 1850 breeding clubs were formed in the United States and in Great Britain, there is a Goldfish Society with a large number of members. Goldfish have two sets of chromosomes from each parent, which means that mutations are preserved and expressed in many ways. Over 300 varieties exist at the present time.

Our local breeder of goldfish calls this “evolution at its best.” There are practical uses for this hobby. Most of these fish are small–four to ten inches–but there are varieties that grow to 25 pounds. I can remember crappie fishing in the 1960’s with goldfish minnows, which were raised by a fish farm in Martinsville, Indiana. They were effective as bait because of their visibility, but the rapid growth of these fish makes them ideal as a food source in some areas of the world.

Evolution is not a synonym for “man from monkey.” Evolution is a tool for producing new varieties of life which can benefit us in many ways. In the case of the goldfish there is aesthetic value in these changes, but also economic and nutritional value. When young people study biology in high school, they learn about how these genetic processes work and why. The design of the genetic materials that allow all of this is incredibly complex. In the Bible, Jacob used evolutionary change. The flocks of Laban were modified in a beneficial way by Jacob using these same principles. (See Genesis 30.)

All of the goldfish in the world are from the one species. It takes a creative imagination to visualize how some of these strange looking varieties of fish can form, but the changes do not involve adding organs or making massive changes in biological digestive processes.

God is the author of this process, and trying to understand how all of this was designed and how it came to be applied to all the life forms that exist on the earth today is an enthralling field of study for young biology students. Everywhere we look in the natural world we find that a wonder-working hand has gone before. Changes like those shown in the goldfish speak eloquently about how beautiful and creative the genetic design of life can be.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Translation Problems

Bible
Bible
One of the frequently raised issues concerning the Bible is the question of translations. We have maintained that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and have quoted 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” and goes on to say that using it can make us complete. Those who denigrate the Bible, view such a claim as nonsense not only because it’s an ancient book, but also because they say it contains internal contradictions.

The truth is that if a person looks at who wrote a particular passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people of the time would have understood it, most of the claims of error will vanish. The ancient time of the writing is not an issue in the case of the Bible because the subjects the Bible deals with are not time dependent. How to get along with others is not a new issue. How to handle sexual temptation is not peculiar to the modern day. How to raise a child is not a topic confined to the present century. How to deal with failure and grief are not time-dependent questions. The question of race relations and rights for women are topics not just making the headlines today but are questions handled with compassion, wisdom, and common sense in Scripture. It is difficult to read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5–7 and not see the great wisdom and practical value of what Jesus taught for today, not just for that group of Jews on a hillside.

The claims of internal contradictions are also easily handled if a little time is spent looking at who wrote it, to whom, why, and how the people of the time would have understood it. The contradiction between Matthew and Luke in giving the genealogy of Christ, for example, is easily explained by looking at who wrote it and to whom. Matthew is a Jew writing to a Jewish audience. He uses the Jewish symbol of seven and its multiples to give the genealogy with 14, 14, and 14 being used as an indication of completeness (See Matthew 1:1-17). In Luke 3:23–38 the genealogy is given in over in 55 “begats,” but this was written by a Greek author to a non-Jewish audience, so the cultural difference is easily seen. (For more on this see “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” on our doesgodexist.org website.)

Another example we have discussed is in Genesis 6 where the Hebrew word nephilim is translated in different ways by different translators. The literal meaning of nephilim is “fallen ones,” and this is the flood chapter of Genesis. That means it is not talking about aliens or spirit creatures. It refers to humans who rejected God’s teachings and lived selfishly and destructively. The context and the literal meaning of the word are clear. In this case, the King James translators were in error in how they translated the word nephilim. This part of the King James came from the Latin Vulgate translation where nephilim was translated with the Latin word gigantus. The King James translators didn’t know what to make of the word, so they translated it as “giants.” There are many such errors in the King James and other translations. Some of them are obvious, and some are not. In Hebrews 4:8 the King James says, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” If you read other translations of Hebrews 4:8 you will find that it is Joshua, not Jesus that the passage is talking about. The names “Jesus” and “Joshua” are the same in Hebrew. Jesus means “Savior, ” and “Joshua” means “The Lord Saves.” The King James translators simply got it wrong. By looking at what the passage is about, who it was written to, and why, the error is easily corrected.

Second Timothy 2:15 says to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” You don’t have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to do this, but you do need to invest some time and energy in looking at who wrote the passage, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Alien Claims and the Media

No Aliens Are Near
Every time some unusual signal from space is discovered, we see headlines in newspapers about aliens being the source of the signal. In August of 2016, reports came out of a radio telescope in Russia known as the RATAN-600 that had picked up a strong signal in the 11 gigahertz band. This was coming from a star known as HD 164595 and was first detected in 2013. Since that time the RATAN telescope and SETI have listened for repeat signals, but none have been detected. Headlines in the media have been things like “Baffling Alien Signal Detected.” Dr. Eric Korpela who works with SETI says, “There’s always the problem that scientific vocabulary is different from the public vocabulary. Detection, to me, means something was detected. To the public, it may translate as ‘We found aliens.’” It turns out that the signals have several possible natural explanations, none of which involve aliens.

The question remains as to why the public is so obsessed with the theme of aliens. We have pointed out repeatedly that finding life in space doesn’t have anything to do with the existence of God. If God chose to create life in other places for reasons we don’t fully understand, that is no issue. The Bible deals with humans and our existence on Earth. It is becoming obvious that there are no higher forms of life anywhere close to us, so the question is moot. This is not a question that has implications for the existence of God or the credibility of the Bible.

I have had atheists respond to me by saying that if life exists elsewhere, it proves that life can come about by chance. That assumes that God exists only on our planet, which is a misunderstanding of what God is. The fact remains that having a story about aliens sells, and video games and sci-fi movies will continue to propagate the idea. I have often told the story of doing a radio debate with an atheist on the Larry King talk show in Washington D.C. before he became famous. A listener called in and asked the atheist what he would do if a spaceship landed on the White House lawn, and a little green man jumped out with a Bible in his hand and said: “Has Jesus been here yet?” My atheist friend responded “punt,” and maybe that’s what we should all do on this issue until we have more facts. Source of Information: Astronomy magazine December 2016, page 9.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Morality

Right or Wrong
Right or Wrong
We live in a time of moral confusion, but every generation has felt that the question of morality was confused in their day. I can remember as a teenager in the 1950s feeling very confused about what was right and what was wrong. As an atheist, I had no real reason to bring my life into conformity with anyone else’s ideas of right or wrong, but I found that most of my friends who claimed to be religious were not a whole lot different than I was. In recent years we have seen an increasing number of religious/political figures involved in incredible moral turpitude. Atheists capitalize on these incidents to claim that religion has no relationship to morality.

Why should there be such a thing as morality? The more you investigate this question, the more you realize that the issue is rooted in the uniqueness of humans as being created in the image of God. Animals do not have a sense of right ideals or principles. Animals are controlled by instinct. A lion does not think of the morality involved in eating another animal. A beaver does not consider the moral issues involved in building a dam that floods a meadow and drives hundreds of other animals from their homes. On the other hand, humans may oppose a dam on the moral grounds of environmental impact.

The first step in discussing this issue has to be a consideration of the existence of free moral choice in humans. It is our freedom of moral choice that gives us the ability to change the direction of our future. Given a set of rules to govern life, every person must decide whether or not to conform to those rules. A burglar is not controlled in his criminal activity by the lock on the door or the presence of the police. These deterrents may temporarily delay the activities of the burglar, but they will not stop him from breaking into a house. The choice is up to the burglar. If his inner restraints do not stop him, he will break in and steal. Building jails and increasing police department rosters will never completely stop crime.

Free moral agency is one of the most important and most underrated capacities of humans. It is our freedom of choice that allows love to exist. I can enjoy the love of my wife because she has the option of not loving me. If she had no choice in the matter, there could be no love. Sexual love without choice is called rape and is recognized as a perverted, distorted, ugly substitute for love that bears no resemblance to the real thing. Without the freedom of choice, we become animals operating totally by instinct to fulfill our own selfish needs and desires.

If you think through this to any depth at all, you begin to see why we are having a difficult time establishing moral guidelines in our day. If we accept the idea that we are merely animals, totally and completely driven by those instincts and drives that govern all other animals, then morality does not exist! Belief in mechanistic, opportunistic evolution of human beings removes morality and all that goes with it. That includes the family, marital fidelity, family responsibility, integrity, and responsibility toward others. Even the most vociferous atheist will attempt to deny this assertion because we all realize it leads to a dog-eat-dog, jungle aspect of existence.

The starting point of morality is recognizing that we were uniquely created by God with an eternal soul created in God’s image. The consequence of that is free will which has implications in all areas of our lives. Human suffering, the proper standards of how we should live, and our view of how we fit into God’s plan are all rooted in our understanding of who we are and the value we have. The “naked ape” hypothesis cannot adequately deal with this aspect of our existence which is so vital to social order and peace.

Christians must speak out on the foundations of moral issues and teach the uniqueness and value of the human soul. We have a proven guide of conduct. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Rose, Mixed Blessings, and Life

Roses
Roses
There is probably no flower in America that gets more notoriety than the rose. Our music is full of songs about roses–“I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Paper Roses,” etc. We send roses to people for virtually all special occasions and to convey and emphasize all kinds of messages.

Those of us who grow roses are keenly aware of another side of roses–they have thorns. I love to grow roses because they are so easy to grow. Roses are very forgiving to “klutzy” gardeners like me. They do fairly well even when you forget to fertilize them. Even when you forget to spray them until the bugs have eaten off all the leaves or the black spot has covered the foliage, they seem to rebound and carry on. The only thing I do not like about caring for roses is weeding them. Every time I reach to get the weeds out of my rose garden, one of those treacherous thorns catches me and penetrates even my work gloves to draw blood. There is a tendency to castigate the plant for stabbing you when all you were trying to do is help it.

Many things in life are like roses–children, for example. They are beautiful in many ways, and in many ways a joy to help them grow and nurture. When you try to weed out the things you know may strangle and hurt them, you frequently get wounded by the child. Marriage is another beautiful thing that can bring incredible joy, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment into one’s life. But there is always some pain in marriage too. The Church is beautiful and a joy to work with, but it is almost impossible to get involved in helping the Church grow without getting hurt in some way–usually by the ones you are trying to help.

The skeptic might look at this circumstance as an illustration of God’s ineptness. If God exists, why should there be thorns among the roses? It is the thorns in marriage and child raising and the Church that cause many to abandon these institutions. Even in our limited ability to understand, I believe we can see the answer to this question which, on the surface, seems to be a flaw in the design. The rose is not only a thing of beauty, but it is also an excellent source of vitamin C. One of the frustrations of growing roses is the fact that a variety of animals and birds like to eat the flowers. It is only the thorns that protect the plant from predation that would destroy it.

In the same way, our dealings with one another have to be conducted so that each person has a certain amount of protection. When I hear a parent bemoaning the independent streak in their teenager, I sometimes ask them if they really want a child who is dependent on them for life. When someone is complaining about their spouse having a different viewpoint on things, I wonder if perhaps their spouse may be right at least part of the time. Sometimes a different perspective prevents us from making foolish mistakes. When I see struggles in the Church over whether my choice of an action or activity is best for another person, I have to ask whether I want the responsibility of always having to have the right answer for every situation.

The writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). Anything really worthwhile takes effort and demands a price. Do not let the thorns of life keep you from the real beauty.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Lord or Rabbi?

Jesus saying, "This is my body."
Jesus saying, “This is my body.”
At the Passover feast the night before his crucifixion, Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples telling them, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the Passover cup and told them, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Those words are recorded in Matthew 26:26-29. In the preceding verses (20-25) Jesus is telling his twelve disciples that one of them will betray him. One-by-one eleven of them ask, “Surely not I, Lord?” They were concerned about what Jesus had said. They had not yet been tested, and so they were not sure if they would remain faithful under persecution. If the time came to give their lives for their Lord, would they be able to do it? They didn’t know, but Jesus knew. After eleven of the disciples had asked the question, it was time for Judas to ask. Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Notice the difference in his question. The others said, “Surely not I, Lord?” Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi.”

To the questions asked by the first eleven disciples Jesus gave a vague answer saying, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” I suspect that many, if not all of them had dipped bread into the same bowl with Jesus. He then followed with a warning to them, But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” That would have given each of them something to think about. But when Judas asked his question. Jesus replied with a clear answer, “Yes, it is you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. It was the one who called him “Rabbi” not the ones who called him “Lord.”

To eleven of the disciples, Jesus was Lord. All eleven of them remained faithful to their Lord, even when it led to their martyrdom. Judas saw Jesus as merely a teacher. He betrayed his teacher and then in despair took his own life. One word indicated a world of difference in the attitude of these men. One word led to tragedy. The other led to glory. Think about this—do you call Jesus a good teacher, or do you call him Lord?
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Sophisticated Sonar

Pod of Narwhals with Single Spiral Tusk Visible
Pod of Narwhals with Single Spiral Tusk Visible
Let me introduce you to an animal that lives in the Arctic Ocean, spending much of its time under the pack ice. This animal has a refined sonar that is so intense and so directional that it can narrow or widen the sonar beam to find prey over short and long distances. The sound beams are asymmetric, narrowing on the top which minimizes noise clutter coming from the surface of the ocean or from the pack ice it swims under.

This is the most sophisticated sonar observed in a living species, and the animal that possesses it is the narwhal. The mechanism that generates the sonar is like that of a porpoise with clicks being emitted by the animal. The narwhal can do things that no other animal can do. Because narwhals can scan vertically as they dive, they always know where open patches of water exist so they can get back to a place where they can breathe.

Animals live everywhere on earth, but some places like the Arctic Ocean pose significant problems. Not only are there the obvious problems of cold, darkness, and hundreds of square miles of pack ice but the narwhal’s food is spread out over the entire Arctic area. Locating food would be virtually impossible without some specialized equipment, and the narwhal has a tool that humans have only learned to apply to similar situations in recent years. Everywhere we look in the creation we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before. Data from Plos One researcher’s report for November 9, 2016.
–Jnohn N. Clayton © 2017