Just Imagine

Just Imagine
In 1971 former Beatles singer/songwriter John Lennon released the song “Imagine” on an album of the same title. The song became a hit when it was released and then again when it was re-released in 1981 after Lennon’s death. The song challenges the listener to “Imagine there’s no heaven” and “no hell” and “no religion too.” Just imagine the consequences of Lennon’s Imagination.

Rolling Stone magazine called the album and song Lennon’s “greatest musical gift to the world.” Lennon told Rolling Stone that the song was “anti-religious,” but he admitted that it had “sugar on it” to make it more acceptable. He didn’t directly say, “Imagine there’s no God,” but that’s the real message of the song. The song is saying that without belief in God there will be peace and harmony in the world because “the world will be as one.”

So let’s imagine there is no heaven, no hell, and no God. That would mean that there is no reward for doing good. Then why devote your life to helping others? Why do anything good for anyone unless it directly benefits you in some way? If there is no hell, then why restrain yourself from doing what benefits you in this life, even if it hurts or kills others. No crime against humanity will ultimately be punished. Terrorists who kill innocent people are the ultimate winners. Those who sacrifice their lives to save others are the losers. Furthermore, if your life is not going well in this imaginary world, you might as well end it.

The kind of world Lennon imagined is not worth imagining. Now just imagine everyone in the world living according to the example and teaching of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5-7. Treat others with love and respect. Be faithful to your spouse. Love your enemies. Give to the needy. Go the extra mile for others. Don’t worry. Trust God because He does exist, and He cares for you. A world of people living like that is something truly worth imagining.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

In Reason We Trust?

In Reason We Trust?
In the March issue of Scientific American, there was an advertisement for the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They claim to be “the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, working to keep religion out of government.” Actually, they go farther than that. They strive to keep “religion,” especially Christianity, out of the public square. The headline banner of the ad is In Reason We Trust.

This particular ad features a picture of Lawrence Kraus and a quote from him. Lawrence M. Kraus is an American-Canadian theoretical physicist and cosmologist who teaches at Arizona State University. He is a leading atheist who works to reduce the influence of “superstition and religious dogma in popular culture.” You can find videos of him on YouTube debating Christians. He is the founder and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. Their website states that the Origins Project was “created to explore humankind’s most fundamental questions about our origins … ranging from the origin of the universe to the origins of life, modern humans, consciousness, culture, complex systems, and technology.” Dr. Kraus’s Origins Project will not consider the possibility of God in the origins discussion.

The In Reason We Trust ad quotes Kraus saying, “Lack of understanding is not evidence for God. It is evidence of lack of understanding, and a call to use reason to try and change that.” I agree that a lack of understanding is not evidence for God. In the past, humans could not understand things such as lightning or seasons or trees or insects, so they invented gods to explain those things. They saw the world as chaotic, and even their gods were chaotic and capricious. As long as their worldview was chaotic, they could not pursue science. That is why the extremely intelligent ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans did not achieve scientific understanding even though they created great works of engineering and architecture.

Science requires a worldview that sees order and laws. It was the Judeo-Christian worldview that led to modern science. The Judeo-Christian worldview sees logic and wisdom and order in nature because it was created by a wise and loving God. It is only with that understanding that you can begin to look for that order and study those laws to see how God works. Scientists like Lawrence Kraus and the writers and publishers of Scientific American are standing on the shoulders of Christians like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and many others. Those men understood that the world was designed with order and wisdom. They looked for that wisdom, and they used not only reason, but experimentation to see how things work—to see how God did it.

Many scientists today have forgotten the very basis for the science that they practice. Yes, Kraus is right that the lack of understanding is not evidence for God. At the same, our ability to understand how God works does not show that there is no God. It shows that God has created us in His image with the ability to understand and create with reason and wisdom. Instead of In Reason We Trust, we should be thinking, “I trust my reason because it is a gift from a rational God.”
–Roland Earnst © 2018

No-Boundary Proposal and the Big Bang

No-Boundary Proposal and Big Bang
The universe had a beginning. For over two-thousand years from the time of Aristotle until the twentieth century, the accepted view was that the universe was eternal. It took much of the twentieth century for the evidence to compel scientists to concede that there was a beginning to the cosmos. Finally, in the twenty-first century, it was fully confirmed by observations in space. A thousand years before Aristotle, Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Some scientists are still trying to get around the problem of a beginning with the No-Boundary Proposal.

Why is science reluctant to accept the fact that the universe is not eternal? The simple reason is what that implies and the questions that it creates. If the universe had a beginning, that implies that there is something beyond the material world that we observe. The big question then becomes, “What (or Who) brought everything into being?” This leads to the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What is our purpose?” Those are questions that science is afraid to handle. Indeed, those are questions that science cannot handle.

If there was a beginning, there must have been a beginner…a Creator. That Creator, whether personal or impersonal, would have existed “before the beginning.” Science now suggests that the beginning, or the “Big Bang” as it was derisively dubbed by atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle, was not only the starting point for matter and energy, but also for space and time. It was even the starting point for the laws of physics. So how can science explain the beginning? Brilliant scientists have been working on that problem and some have settled on the No-Boundary Proposal.

Last Sunday on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s National Geographic Channel TV show StarTalk, Stephen Hawking said that he knows the answer. Hawking is probably the world’s best-known living physicist and cosmologist. The heart of Hawking’s proposal of what came before the beginning is the No-boundary Proposal. This proposal, according to Hawking, is that before the Big Bang, time was “bent.” According to Hawking’s earlier statements, if we could go back before the Big Bang, we would find that time (and I presume space and matter/energy), “was always reaching closer to nothing but didn’t become nothing.” In other words, there never was a point where something was produced from nothing. There was never nothing. It just seems that way from our perspective. (*You can see the further explanation by Stephen Hawking on the StarTalk show below.)

In a previous lecture, Hawking stated: “Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the big bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the big bang.” This seems to me like a clever way of getting out of speculating on what caused the beginning. It is like saying that the beginning was going on forever and so the beginning never really had a beginning.

Maybe we should call the No-Boundary Proposal the No-Beginning Proposal. It seems to me that this takes us back to Aristotle’s concept of an eternal universe. The difference is that this new proposal says the universe was much more compact before the “beginning.” Is this just a way of getting around the simple statement of Moses in Genesis 1:1?
–Roland Earnst © 2018

*These are Hawking’s words in his interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, “According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, space and time together form a space-time continuum or manifold which is not flat but curved by the matter and energy in it. I adopt a Euclidean approach to quantum gravity to describe the beginning of the universe. In this, ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time which behaves like a fourth direction of space. In the Euclidean approach, the history of the universe in imaginary time is a four-dimensional, curved surface like the surface of the Earth but with two more dimensions. Jim Hartle and I proposed a “no-boundary” condition. The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. In order terms, the Euclidean space-time is a closed surface without end, like the surface of the Earth. One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole, so there was nothing around before the big bang.”

Peaceful Death and God

Peaceful Death
One of the things that old age brings you is that you are constantly brought face-to-face with death. Since the start of 2018, eight people that I knew well have died. The most recent was my younger brother who died from a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. All eight of those people died slowly over a period of months. All of them were aware of their impending death within their last week of life. None were sudden deaths due to an accident or an unexpected stroke or heart attack. Discover magazine (March 2018, pages 66-68) published an article about the connection between spirituality and peaceful death. It tells about a radiation oncologist named Tracy Balboni who is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A major part of the thrust of Dr. Balboni’s work is helping patients make important decisions about the end of life. They can choose whether to use every possible medical technique to prolong their life, or they can decline major interventions and use hospice care and medication for pain control.

I watched my brother die, and I have observed the difference between his dying and the death of atheists I know who died with similar ailments. Every atheist that I have observed exhausted every medical resource possible in an attempt to stay alive. Not only was it expensive, but it brought much suffering to them and anxiety to their family members. One man told me “If this life is all I have been given, then I want to hang onto it as long and as hard as I possibly can.”

In my brother’s case, two years ago this past November I baptized him into Christ. That was the culmination of a great struggle between the atheistic traditions he had grown up with, and the influence of his wife and myself encouraging him to embrace spirituality. When he accepted Christ, he was not facing death, but his mortality was obvious. In the last three months of his life, he became very weak, and his quality of life deteriorated significantly. In the last three weeks, he and I talked extensively. He was resolute in his determination to have no more medical treatments and to be in hospice. His death was a peaceful death.

Balboni has received a two-million-dollar research grant designed to put spirituality on solid ground. To those who would complain that you are measuring nothing in such studies, Balboni says: “No, no, no. There are too many associations that we’re seeing to say it’s spurious and meaningless. That argument doesn’t hold if you care for dying patients.”

A patient’s spirituality gives huge support at the end of life. In our day of rapidly expanding medical technology, faith is a very important tool for peaceful death.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life-Michael Shermer
Perhaps the most influential atheist in America today is Michael Shermer, who expresses his views on the meaning of life. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Shermer has had some theological training. As an atheist, he publishes Skeptic magazine. He also has a regular column in Scientific American magazine through which he promotes his atheistic views and the various books he has written attacking believers in God. His most recent book is Heavens on Earth which he promotes heavily in his column in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American.

Atheists like Shermer view something that they don’t understand as impossible to understand. Shermer spells out a view of the future of the cosmos and the meaning of life–or lack thereof. Suggesting that the cosmos will end in total heat death with nothing but endless darkness, he then says: “In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our more moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.”

Shermer’s views are typical of atheist arguments on the meaning of life. Notice:

1) Heat death is not the only possible conclusion that one can come to as far as the demise of the physical cosmos is concerned.
2) The fact that it is hard for Shermer to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. It is somewhat arrogant to argue that what I can understand is all that is possible.
3) Later Shermer states his belief that, “We live in the here and now, not in the hereafter.” That is a faith statement which is not backed up by empirical scientific data.
4) Shermer denigrates the attempts of Christians to help and serve others by saying that life choice has no cosmic significance. It may not benefit molecules and atoms, but it has huge significance on the future of humanity. The negative effects of humans upon planet Earth fill the pages of Scientific American, and that is not addressed by what Shermer claims is the purpose of our existence.
5) Shermer says, “our most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by doing something “extropic,” in other words, expending energy to survive and flourish. Every demagogue who ever lived would agree with that statement–if they understood it.

The reality is that “It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That is also a faith statement, but it makes more sense to most of us than believing Shermer’s faith which says, “we are sentient beings designed by evolution to survive and flourish in the teeth of entropy and death.”

I am sure that the atheist community will rise in praise of Shermer’s new book. However, his subtitle of the Scientific American article “Science reveals our deepest purpose” is grossly inaccurate. In fact, we suggest that science doesn’t support his faith well at all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Skeptical or Religious Bigotry?

Skeptical or Religious?
Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.

In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.

Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”

It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.

Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.

Maybe the starting place for discussions with a relative or friend who has rejected the existence of God is to ask whether there is anything that would change their mind. The question is whether they are being merely skeptical or religious. Has their unbelief become a religion? At the same time, we should be open to their skeptical questions, but we need to be sure that we are “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the reason for the hope that is within us, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bias Against Atheists in New Study

Bias Against Atheists
A new study reported in Nature: Human Behaviour shows that even atheists have a bias against atheists in judging how a person will act. The study examined how people around the world, even in atheistic cultures, judge the actions of atheists as opposed to religious people.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. The study using people in 13 countries gave a hypothetical situation and asked people what they would conclude about the person in the story.

Participants in the study filled out a questionnaire to identify if they had any religious affiliation as well as asking their age and ethnicity. The questionnaire had a description of a sociopath who tortured animals as a child, and later killed five homeless people he abducted from poor neighborhoods in his home city and buried their remains in his basement. The participants were divided into two groups that were each given two choices of what they concluded about the man in the story. For the first group, the choice was either: 1) the man is a teacher or 2) the man is a teacher and does not believe in any gods. The two choices for the second group were: 1) the man is a teacher or 2) the man is a teacher and a religious believer. There were other questions and brain teasers to distract from the purpose of the study.

The result was that sixty percent of all responders said the man was a teacher and does not believe in any gods. Only thirty percent said that he was a teacher and a religious believer. It is interesting that a large percentage of the participants were atheists themselves. The study concluded that even atheists show bias against atheists in that they expect better behavior from a religious believer than from an atheist. You can argue about why this bias exists, but it seems that most people of all persuasions around the globe seem to think that belief in God has a positive effect on behavior.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Avoiding God of the Gaps Explanations

God of the Gaps
One of the better arguments that atheists make is the claim that “god” is something that humans have invented to explain what they didn’t understand. This is known as the God of the gaps approach to explaining things. When people didn’t understand what makes a volcano work, they invented a god or goddess to explain volcanoes. When people didn’t understand what produces weather, gods or goddesses were invented to explain everything from lightning to wind. The names of these gods and goddesses have endured, and they show up in the video games our kids play such as Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Minerva, etc. The atheist argument is that in time they will find scientific answers that disprove any notion that a divine being was responsible.

There are two major weaknesses in the God of the gaps charge that atheists are making. The first is that just because we can propose a possible natural way to explain things that does not mean the explanation is true. Years ago there was a discovery that a female praying mantis after being fertilized by the male turns around and eats him. Promoters of neo-Darwinism developed elaborate theories about how this behavior was a product of evolutionary processes. Some of the explanations sounded fairly plausible. Later it was discovered that this behavior happens in captivity, but not in the natural world. What is proposed is frequently not what happened.

The second weakness of the God of the gaps accusation is that it ignores the probabilities against the natural explanation. For example, there are 10^500 different possible solutions to the string theory equations. (That’s one followed by 500 zeros.) By carefully choosing which equation you use, a scientist can propose one step in the formation of tangible matter. Many more steps are required to get matter that is stable, and multiple steps have to be accomplished before you can get a single atom of hydrogen. When statistics are applied to this model, the probabilities are prohibitive.

When you put all the probabilities together, the final answer makes it clear that chance is a very weak explanation for what we see in the world around us. Romans 1:18-22 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. We don’t invent God to explain anything. We ask for a reasonable acceptance of evidence that stands not only on an intuitive level but also on a mathematical level.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Freedom from Religion Foundation

Freedom from Religion Foundation
There are always those who just can’t stand the idea of Americans, especially leaders, acknowledging their dependence upon God. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) perpetuates its existence by trying to stamp out every recognition of God from across our land. They are doing the same thing that Communist governments tried to do in the last century.

For over 240 years, our elected representatives to the federal government have begun their public duties with a prayer seeking God’s guidance. This prayer is a reflection of the faith of many people across America who themselves seek His guidance in their lives.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has challenged public monuments, prayer, and virtually any public recognition of religion. Like most on the Left, FFRF engages in bullying tactics threatening to haul the “offenders” into court for their “unconstitutional” activities. Unfortunately, too many school districts and city and town councils hand over their milk money to the bullies and capitulate.

When the Freedom From Religion Foundation actually does sue, a very high percentage of their cases are simply dismissed. However, they occasionally find a sympathetic ear as when a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled in favor of the group’s claim challenging housing allowances for pastors. After failing so many times, the FFRF is now trying a new tactic. Co-president Dan Barker (who has publicly proclaimed his atheism but maintains ministerial credentials) applied to the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain to lead a prayer. His application was rejected, and he sued, claiming the practice of House prayer was in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. That ruling said that permitting ministers to pray before legislative gatherings is constitutional.

Thankfully, Judge Rosemary Collyer from the D.C. District Court wasn’t too eager to go along. She rejected FFRF’s claims, holding that Barker could not piggyback on Town of Greece to demand that the House allow a “prayer” to what or whoever he wanted. The judge wrote: “[C]ontrary to Mr. Barker’s hopeful interpretation, Town of Greece did not reference atheists–who are, by definition, nontheists who do not believe in God or gods–but ‘any minister or layman who wished to give [a prayer].'”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who was named a defendant in Barker’s suit, praised the ruling. He wrote, “Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld, and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated. The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer.” He concluded: “I am grateful that the People’s House can continue to begin its work each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God.”

The interpretation of the Establishment Clause in this and other cases simply doesn’t require what Barker demanded. Sanity has prevailed–for now.
–J.R. Towell © 2017

Noah’s Son Ham and Skeptic Arguments

Noah's Son Ham
It never ceases to amaze me how some skeptic attacks never seem to go away. One of the more bizarre has to do with Noah’s son Ham. Some atheists claim that the story of Ham was invented to justify the persecution of people of color and the use of slaves.

They base their attack on the story recorded in Genesis 9:20-29. After the flood of Noah, Ham discovered his father drunk and naked. Ham told about it, exposing his father to ridicule. Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, discretely covered their father to avoid embarrassment. When Noah recovered his sobriety, he cursed Ham and blessed Shem and Japheth. Some skeptics claim that the name Ham means “dark or swarthy” and that this is an attack on people of color.

However you interpret the story of Ham, it has no relevance to Christianity. Jesus did away with all such boundaries. Passages like Galatians 3:28 make that clear by telling us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is highly unlikely that the intent of the name of Noah’s son Ham referred to skin color or that such characteristic would be passed on to all his progeny.

The message we should take from the story is that we need to care for one another and support each other even in weakness. Instead of quietly covering his father and keeping the incident to himself, Ham disgraced his father. Galatians 6:1-2 tells Christians to gently restore those who sin and bear each other’s burdens. There is no place for disgracing, shaming, or making fun of someone who fails. And there is no excuse for treating anyone differently because of skin color.
–John N. Clayton © 2017