The Bystander Effect and Christians

No More Bystanding
No More Bystanding
Several years ago there was an incident in which a young woman on a New York street was attacked, beaten, and eventually killed by a young man while over 100 people stood around and watched. No one came to the young woman’s aid, and there have been similar incidents in other places in the United States. Psychologists have labeled this the “bystander effect.” There have been numerous studies done to answer the question of why this happens. Our culture seems to fear involvement, and the “lawyer effect” where people are afraid they will get sued or hurt is only part of the issue. Thanks to cell phones we now can assume that everyone can call for whatever help they need, and our view of others is becoming an isolationist view.

If your religious view is “survival of the fittest,” then anyone who needs help is simply not fit and endangering your fitness by helping them is not going to happen. When I was an atheist, I would be likely to stop and help a woman who was having car trouble, but my motives were less than altruistic. I would be very unlikely to help a man in the same situation. Not all atheists are so selfishly guided, but the logic of atheistic beliefs would deny endangering oneself to benefit another. Some religions would push a person to help others of the same faith, but people of a different faith are considered to be enemies and would not be helped. The “golden rule” is recognized by almost everyone as a nice philosophy, but the bystander effect seems to be more widely practiced in today’s world.

In Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, the bystanders were the people most qualified to give aid. The twist is that the outcast Samaritan, rejected by the people to whom Jesus was speaking, refused to be a bystander and give aid to the wounded man. The first century Church stood out in the society in which it functioned by responding to the needs of everyone in Jerusalem (Acts 3-5). Throughout the New Testament, we see the emphasis on doing good to everyone.

How do we as individuals take the “bystander effect” out of our thinking? I would suggest that we need to spend some time looking at what Jesus taught, and how the early Church responded to the culture of the day. When you read James 5, you get the picture of Christians not only addressing the physical needs of those around them but also being a part of the emotional and spiritual struggles of daily living as well. The entire “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) moves us to think differently by allowing God’s Word to permeate our hearts. Second Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that Scripture has value in molding and shaping our attitudes and thoughts. We can be the light of the world that Jesus talks about. The people of Jesus’ day were astonished at his doctrine. Our world today will also be astonished when Christians live as God calls us to live. The deeper our world sinks into secularism and selfish bystander non-involvement, the brighter the Christian light will become.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Many Extinct Species?

Fossils
Fossils
Atheists often challenge us with the widely quoted statistic that “95 to 99 percent of all creatures that have ever lived are now extinct.” Their argument is that if there were a wise God who created life, he would have done a better job. The skeptics are assuming that they know the purpose for which a wise God would have created those life-forms. Perhaps the extinct species had a purpose of preparing the Earth for humans, and they went extinct because they had served their purpose. But I am assuming that humans are the pinnacle and ultimate purpose of God’s creation. Atheists reject that idea. One of our skeptical followers recently posted a comment referring to “the virus called man,” as if humans are a blight on an otherwise good world.

Another possibility is that perhaps the statistic of extinct species is highly exaggerated. Since the life-forms that have gone extinct are no longer around, how do scientists determine how many species have gone extinct since life began? The number of fossils of extinct species we have actually found is estimated to be about 250,000. So we have direct evidence of a quarter of a million extinct species. According to National Geographic (May 2014), there are at least 1.9 million animal species today and at least 450,000 plant species. If it’s true that 95 percent of the animal species have gone extinct and there are 1.9 million living today, that means that over 36 million have gone extinct. If we have fossils of only 250,000 extinct species (plants and animals) how do we know that there were 36 million others for which we have no evidence? According to National Geographic (May 2014), Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University, and his colleagues “reviewed data from fossil records and noted when species disappeared, then used statistical modeling to fill in holes in the record.” In other words, they are filling in the “holes” or “missing links” in the evolutionary record to determine how many other species must have existed that disappeared without a trace.

The questions we might want to ask are, “Why do we have fossils of only 250,000 species out of 36,000,000? Why are we assuming that 36,000,000 species have gone extinct based on the evidence of fossils totaling less than seven-tenths of one percent of that number?” The answer to those questions is apparently the fact that naturalistic evolution from single-celled life to humans requires us to make that assumption. Perhaps this gives us something to ponder.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Cubit Pi Silliness

Cubit Pi There is no limit to the extremes that skeptics will go trying to find mistakes in the Bible. One recent case involves cubit pi. An atheist claimed that the Bible was full of mathematical mistakes and impossibilities indicating the primitive nature and lack of knowledge of the authors. The case used was 1 Kings 7:23-26 and 2 Chronicles 4:2,5 where a laver is described, and numbers are given for its dimensions in cubits. The Bible says that the circumference of the round laver was 30 cubits and that the diameter was 10 cubits from rim to rim. The formula for the circumference of a circle is pi (3.14) times the diameter, so in this case it would be 31.4 cubits, not 30. A Hebrew cubit was 17.5 inches, a Babylonian cubit was 19.8 inches, and an Egyptian cubit was 20.63 inches, so this seems to be about a 19-inch mistake.

One might suggest that the rounding of numbers is the issue here since ancient measuring devices didn’t measure to two decimal places. But there is another interesting possibility. The ten cubits is measured rim to rim which would mean that the outside circumference was 31.4 cubits. However, if 30 cubits is the inside circumference of the laver, that would make the inside diameter 9.55 cubits. Subtracting 9.55 cubits from 10 would leave a difference of .45 cubits. So the thickness of the walls of the laver would be one-half of .45 cubits or .225 cubits (about 3.8 inches). First Kings 7:26 and 2 Chronicles 4:5 states that the walls of the laver were a “handbreadth” in thickness. Excavations of artifacts from ancient times frequently find lavers with that thickness, so the numbers are totally reasonable.

This is just another example of how desperate skeptics are to discard God and His Word. First Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for our faith, but some questions seem too silly to dignify by attempting an answer. This cubit pi challenge may be one of those questions, but we have an answer anyway.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Picking and Choosing Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
As an old physics teacher, I find it interesting to watch people on both sides of the argument about the existence of God pick and choose various parts of Einstein’s work to support their positions. Recently I had an atheist and a Christian dispensationalist both use Einstein’s time dilation equation to support their position. That equation says that your time in motion is determined by your time at rest divided by the square root of one minus your velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared.

This formula indicates that the higher the velocity of motion, the smaller the value of the denominator of that equation becomes. Therefore, time expands. This is a fact. Neutrons in nuclear accelerators might live 18 minutes at rest before decaying into protons and electrons. When accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, they last much longer before decaying.

My atheist friend maintains that since the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion, it will eventually reach the speed of light and time will stop. He then proposes that time will reverse since the value of the denominator in Einstein’s equation would become negative. He then suggests that this process will be repeated in an eternal universe. Therefore, no beginning and no God.

My dispensationalist friend is one of several authors who propose that the universe started out expanding at a much higher velocity with time passing at a different rate than we experience today. This would mean that the evidence for the cosmos being very old is an illusion. In the beginning, time passed more slowly because of the much higher velocity of expansion. Since we move more slowly today, time is passing faster. Therefore, the universe is much younger than it would appear.

Both of these proposals are made to support a personal religious opinion. Both of them are ignoring much of Einstein’s work. When the neutron referred to earlier is accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, not only does its time frame change but its mass changes too. Another one of Einstein’s equations looks just like the time equation but deals with mass. The change in the mass of a particle is equal to its mass at rest divided by the square root of one minus its velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared.

Experimentally this calculation works and can be verified. Perhaps the most well-known equation of Issac Newton is F = MA. This tells us that the force (F) needed to accelerate a mass (M) is equal to its mass multiplied by the acceleration (A). We all know from experience that the greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to speed it up when we push it, and the faster we want it to go the harder we have to push. If the mass increases as you get near the speed of light, what happens to the force you have to exert? Obviously, It increases too. At the speed of light, you would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite force to move it.

Another fascinating equation from Einstein is that the length of an object changes as it approaches the speed of light. In the reverse of the change in time and mass, the length contracts as the object gets closer the speed of light. At the speed of light, the length would be zero, and the object would cease to exist.

These are simplifications of Einstein’s work, but the point is that relativistic effects cannot be picked and chosen while ignoring other effects. God created the cosmos with certain constants and relationships. These choices allow us to exist, but they also put a limit on what is possible. We struggle to comprehend all that is involved in the simple phrase, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Caring for the Environment

Admiring the Beauty of Earth
Admiring the Beauty of Earth
We live at a time where there is great concern about the environment. We have seen the effect of human carelessness in dumping wastes into the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes. As an earth science teacher in the public schools, I always was disturbed by the complacency of students and administrators toward this critical issue. In my lectureships, I have sometimes had skeptics suggest that the problems of ecology are due to Christianity. In Genesis 1:28 God told the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Someone has commented that this is the only command God ever gave that man completely obeyed, and there might be some truth to that. Atheists have maintained that this is the cause of human abuse of the natural world in which we live.

From a biblical standpoint, this is a misuse of the message of the Scriptures. Any statement in the Bible can only be properly understood if you look at who write it, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Genesis 1:28 was written to let us know that God expects us to control the Earth and its resources, but it gives no indication of how to do that. In Genesis 2:15, God told the man to, “take care of the Garden, to dress it and to keep it.” In Genesis 3:23 we are told that after the man had left the garden, he was to “work the ground from which he was taken.”

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, a great emphasis is placed on the beauty of the creation and the great wisdom and power that created it. Proverbs 8:22-31 puts an emphasis on the wisdom involved in all that was done to prepare the Earth for human life. The Psalms are full of references to God’s creation, and Jesus in Matthew 6:26-30 calls his followers to consider the beauty of the creation. Even more important, throughout the Bible humans are viewed as caretakers and guardians of what God has given us. Nowhere is there an instruction or suggestion that the creation is to be exploited or abused.

We are bringing enormous pain upon ourselves and on our children by the way we have mismanaged what God has given us. A great amount of disease, including cancer, is caused by man-made poisons and carcinogens dumped into the environment. The medical effects of mercury, lead, and asbestos cannot be denied. Most of the entry of these materials into our oceans, lakes, and rivers has come from human greed and irresponsibility. God does not cause these things, and a failure to live as God has called us to live is a major part of why these problems exist. Christians are called to take care of the environment, and Christian teachings are not the cause of our ecological issues. We are, however, even more concerned about mental, emotional, and spiritual pollution. If we could bring men and women into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, their change in attitude would resolve most of our social and environmental issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Baptism for the Dead

Baptism
Baptism
Our ministry is designed to help people with faith problems. Most of our focus in on the scientific evidence for the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. Unfortunately, we have to spend a significant amount of time dealing with people who have lost their faith in God because of the actions and/or teachings of people who claim to be Christians. Sometimes things are presented in the name of Christianity that are so outlandish that people can see they don’t make sense. When that happens, we find it’s something that isn’t in the Bible or is a distortion of what the Bible says.

In 1 Corinthians 15:29 the King James translation of the passage reads: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the top governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormon Church), teaches that modern day Mormons should be baptized for dead ancestors who didn’t receive baptism while they were alive. On April 1-2, 2017, the Quorum met at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, that was broadcast in 90 languages throughout the world. They urged members of the Mormon church to participate in the “Baptism for the Dead” ritual.

We have already received some challenges from atheists and skeptics about this practice. The skeptics say that the concept of people choosing to believe in Christ and having the freedom to reject God is destroyed by this practice. We have to side with the atheists here and say that such a practice is ludicrous and makes a mockery of the purpose of baptism. God never forces people to believe or to accept a religious practice and no person can do so on behalf of someone else.

The Mormon baptism is a long way from the baptism described in the Bible. Romans 6 explains baptism as a dying to sin in complete repentance to no longer be a slave to sin. It is an act of becoming a “new person.” Baptism is never portrayed as a ticket to heaven done without understanding or choice. To correctly understand 1 Corinthians 15:29 we need to take it in context. The phrase “for the dead” in the original Greek is “huper nekroon.” This is more accurately translated “on account of.” In the context, beginning in verse 12 the Apostle Paul is writing about the resurrection of Christ. He is challenging those who say that Christ has not been raised from the dead. Then in verse 29, Paul is simply saying, “Why be baptized if there is no resurrection?” In verse 19 Paul points out the fact that if there is nothing after this life, Christians have no hope and should be pitied. But in the entire passage he is insisting that the resurrection of Christ is real, and therefore so will be the resurrection of Christ’s followers who have been baptized. (Examine Romans 6:3-5.) The notion that we can somehow do a proxy baptism flies in the face of everything Paul taught in the rest of the chapter and the rest of the New Testament.

If you are an atheist or a skeptic, it is important to be sure you know what the Bible actually says. Inaccurate translations or human misrepresentations of what the Bible says cannot be attacked as a part of the Christian system. Each of us must answer to God for ourselves. No one can do it for you while you are alive or when you are dead.
The Mormon teaching was reported in an AP news story by Brady McCombs carried in newspapers on Sunday, April 2, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Church-State Problem

Religious Separation
Religious Separation
The polarization that has taken place in America in the past 25 years is appalling. That statement is true on many levels with the political situation being the one that gets the most attention in the media. The relationship between the Church and the State has strong advocates that have very different agendas.

On one side of the issue are groups who advocate freedom FROM religion. They don’t want religious people to take a public stand on moral issues. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is an example of such a group. They say: “We envision an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.” That sounds good, but the problem with groups like this is that they do not want any attempt on the part of religious people to evangelize or to promote moral agendas. You can go to church if you wish, but don’t say or do anything outside of the church walls that demonstrates your faith. Any religious group opposing gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, legalizing marijuana, or any other moral issue is considered to be violating the separation of Church and State. Also when a church congregation helps families with food shortages they cannot let the families know that they are doing so because of their religious convictions or invite them to any church events if they use any government commodities, even if the church purchases those commodities. A Christian can be fined or jailed in America for publicly living out their faith in opposition to gay marriage or other moral issues.

On the other side are groups advocating freedom OF religion. An example is Alliance Defending Freedom who strongly oppose any government interference with individual expressions of religious belief. Groups like this are fighting in courts for the right of religious people to live out their faith in the public arena. The problem is that some fringe religious groups hold to something that clashes with the safety and well-being of innocent people. An example is those who oppose medical treatment for disease. We had a case in Indiana in which a child was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the parents refused to allow the child to have insulin shots on religious grounds.

These are tough questions. The lesson of history is that when a religion gains control of the government, the result is always a disaster. It is also a lesson from history that when a government embraces atheism and enforces it, the result is anarchy and chaos. America has become more and more antagonistic to religious belief and expression, and the result is chaos and conflict tearing at the very fabric of our existence as a nation. The founding fathers had no desire to make America an atheist state. Some people today want to allow any kind of dissent as long as God is not mentioned or involved in any way. Rendering to “Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” should not be that difficult, but vested interests are making it difficult for religious freedom to exist. Romans 13:1-7 spells out the solution. Whether America will officially adopt the atheist religion or turn back to the ideal of our founding fathers remains to be seen.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

License Plate Storm Brewing

Indiana License Plate
Indiana License Plate
Here in Indiana, there has been a battle going for many years about what you can put on a license plate. Personalized plates are legal here, but they must meet three criteria:

*They cannot carry a connotation offensive to good taste or decency.
*They cannot be misleading.
*The BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) cannot consider it improper.

In 2013 when the BMV refused to allow a motorist to have a plate that just had “OINK” written on it, the ACLU sued. Almost any religious message has been considered offensive and improper, so “Jesus Saves” has been rejected and having the name of a church has been rejected. These cases have been local because no one wanted to go to court until this February when Chris Bontrager of Goshen was told he couldn’t put “ATHEIST” on a plate. The ACLU got involved again, and on March 20 Bontrager got his plate.

The question now becomes why an atheist should be allowed to put his belief system on the plate when no one else has been given the same privilege. The answer may simply be that no one asked, but you can be sure there will be people jumping on the wagon at this point, and all kinds of messages will be suggested.

Part of the problem here is the question of religious pluralism. If “CHRISTIAN” can’t be put on the plate because it is offensive to Hindus, Muslims, or Atheists, why can’t the same logic apply to “ATHEIST.” Stay tuned.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Missing the Beginning

Earth, Moon, and Sun
Earth, Moon, and Sun
The first word in the Hebrew text of Genesis is reshith, translated into English as “In the beginning.” For hundreds of years, atheists have tried to dispute the notion that there was a beginning. Until the latter part of the twentieth-century scientists didn’t know that there was a beginning. There is an old joke that says, “What did Moses know that Einstein didn’t?” The answer: “That there was a beginning.” The problem is that if a person admits that there was a beginning, they are faced with the question, “What was the cause of the beginning?” It is much simpler just to deny that there was a beginning and maintain that everything has always been–not necessarily as it is today, but in a form that could change into what we see today.

In the 2003 version of the Humanist Manifesto, the statement was clearly made, “The universe is self-existing and not created.” Older versions had the word “eternal” in the statement. It is obvious that the question of origins is evaded by the use of “self-existing” so the word “eternal” is not needed. Atheists will usually respond to this point by saying that religious people claim God is self-existing, so there is no reason why atheists cannot make the same claim about the universe. Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos said, “Why is it any more reasonable to say that God has always been than to say that the cosmos has always been?”

The answer to this challenge lies in the nature of God and the nature of the cosmos. When we measure light, we measure its frequency in cycles per second. When we measure speed in space, we measure it in meters per second. Force, mass, acceleration, energy, momentum, and inertia are all measured in space/time units. We are limited to understanding things in terms of time and space. Various scientific measuring tools have verified that there was a beginning to time and space. The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, suggesting that it has accelerated away from a place where it began.

Since research in all areas of science has made it increasingly obvious that the cosmos had a beginning, science seeks to explain the beginning. The result is that theories are being proposed such as String Theory which suggests that there are multiple dimensions beyond our own. Since String Theory and proposals of multiple universes cannot be tested scientifically, they fail to give an answer to the beginning. We are limited by our inability to devise experiments to measure and test these theories. The biblical term “In the beginning” refers to the origin of all of reality. Whether God created the universe using strings of energy or a big bang is not relevant.

The atheist will say that being unable to explain origins does not necessarily mean that God did it. We are not proposing a “God-of-the-Gaps” argument in which we say, “God did it because we have no other explanation.” What we are saying is that the Bible makes it clear that God is outside of all other dimensions. God is described as the creator of time and space. God is described as a being with no time/space dimensional limitations (1 John 1:5; 4:8,12,16; 2 Peter 3:8; Colossians 1:16-17). Also, the biblical description of God shows a number of properties that are clearly seen in the cosmos and which blind chance would not produce. These include love, care, design, patience, personality, purpose, wisdom, and planning. More and more evidence is coming to light showing that our universe was designed and fine-tuned to sustain carbon-based life. Atheists and skeptics may try to counter this evidence, but they have no real alternative to offer.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Antony Flew and the Failures of Modern Atheism

Antony Flew was one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century. He wrote over thirty books opposing religion and was a professor at the University of Keele and at Oxford, Aberdeen, and Reading. Flew changed his mind about the existence of God because he said, “You have to go where the evidence leads you.” In his final book There is a God he describes the failures of modern atheism:

1) Atheists refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God’s existence.
2) Atheists do not address the central grounds for positing a divine reality.
3) Atheists fail to address the issue of the origins of rationality embedded in the fabric of the universe, of life understood as autonomous agency, and of consciousness, conceptual thought, and the self.
4) Atheists show no awareness of the fallacies and muddles that led to the rise and fall of logical positivism. The “new atheism” is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy.
5) The excesses and atrocities of organized religion have no bearing whatsoever on the existence of God.

You find more details on each of these points in Flew’s book. Atheists try to suggest that only the ignorant and uneducated believe in God, but the evidence is to the contrary. Flew is just one example of people with extraordinary intelligence who see the evidence and base what they believe on that evidence.
–John N. Clayton © 2017