Thankfulness and Being Human

Thankfulness
We had just left a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. A woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted. She said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was obvious that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to express her thankfulness to her benefactor.

We have many people to thank, such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and teachers; but most of all our thankfulness should be directed toward God. There is something about humans that makes us want to express our gratitude. It’s part of what makes us different from the animals. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. The Psalms often express thankfulness to God for the things He has done. Reformer Martin Luther called thankfulness “the basic Christian attitude.” G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.” In Romans 1:21 the apostle Paul wrote about godless people, “…they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Thank you for reading our daily posts. We hope that you will express your thanks to God who has given us all good things.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Animals Farming and How to Define Humans

Animals Farming
When I was in high school in the 1950s, a human was defined in terms of making tools and cultivating food. The idea that tool use is unique to humans has been disproven many times. Birds, apes, and some fish have all been shown to use tools. We even have examples of animals farming.

In 1967 studies were released showing that Attine ants were gathering fungi into groupings, and then using the fungi as their sole food source. Recent studies have verified that Attine ants get the amino acid arginine from the fungus that they grow in plots. The ants provide the moisture the fungus must have, and the fungus provides the arginine the ants need. This symbiotic relationship is one of many in the natural world that show a critical balance in the processes and workers that allows complex life to exist on Earth.

The definition of what is “human” from a scientific standpoint is very difficult, because complex chemical relationships exist in both the plant and animal kingdoms. These processes can duplicate what is considered to be unique to humans. Things like brain size also cannot be used because of the huge variations that exist among all living things.

Since we have observed animals farming, we know that even that is not a human peculiarity. In recent months scientists have found human remains with brain sizes smaller than what is usually ascribed to humans. So how do we define humans? Humans were created in the image of God, and that definition is the only one that really works. You can see it by observing a human’s ability to create art and music, to worship God, to feel guilt and sympathy, and to be able to learn to think and reason.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, November 11, 2017 page 4.

Benjamin Franklin’s Wisdom

Benjamin Franklin's Wisdom
Skeptics frequently take statements of the founding fathers of America and lift them out of context to make them appear to be rejecting Christianity. A careful study makes it obvious that they were certainly not opposed to Christianity and in fact embraced it. We even see it in Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom.

Franklin made comments in Europe that appear to be antagonistic to Christianity, and he is often cited by skeptics as an unbeliever. However, on July 28, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked and could not agree how to draft the United States Constitution. After five weeks of proposals and counter-proposals, Benjamin Franklin (who was 81 years old) stood up and addressed the convention. This is part of what he said as recorded by James Madison:

“…have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel…”
“I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.”

It is obvious that Franklin was not hostile to faith in God. Today as the United States Congress seems to be deadlocked on so many issues, perhaps they should take a look at history and accept Benjamin Franklin’s Wisdom.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Doomsday Predictions Misguided

Doomsday Predictions
Just about every day you will see a headline in some periodical saying that the world will soon end in catastrophe. These doomsday predictions come from tabloids and church bulletins and always bring some kind of data to support them. Religious periodicals usually quote from Revelation and tabloids will take something out of context from a scientist or political figure.

The fact is that the major possible causes of global catastrophe do not come from periods of unusual natural activity. Earthquake numbers for the past ten years have been much smaller than 50 years ago. Hurricane frequency and intensity are not higher than in the past, although human mismanagement of shorelines has increased the damage even a small hurricane can produce.

The Sun is not becoming more active. The current cycle of solar activity is the lowest it has been in 100 years. In 1990 solar activity peaked at almost 300 sunspots. In the next maximum which happened in 2000, there were just over 200 sunspots. The last cycle which was in 2014, had 100 sunspots. In the December 2017 issue of Astronomy magazine, the lead article by Bruce Dorminey (page 20) is titled “Why Has the Sun Gone Quiet.” He suggests that the Sun will be relatively quiet for a long time.

In spite of the doomsday predictions, the biggest threat to our survival does not come from the natural world. God has designed a world that is remarkably stable. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and solar activity may cause problems, especially where humans have built vulnerable structures and removed natural safeguards, but our greatest danger is from each other. Our biggest problems come from humans refusing to do what Jesus told us would lead to our safety and security now and in eternally. You can read about it in the “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7.
–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

Eating Blood: Is It Moral and Wise?

Eating Blood
We have received several questions about whether Christians should practice drinking or eating blood, eating afterbirth, or injecting or eating animal hormones. This goes back to Genesis 9:3-4 where God told Noah not to eat blood, and the prohibition about eating blood continues throughout the Old Testament (See Leviticus 17:10-11). In the New Testament, we see a prohibition about eating blood in Acts 15:20-29.

There are two different things involved here. One is the question of religious significance, and the other is what is hygienically wise. In the Old Testament blood was a major part of the daily religious life of the Israelites. To offer blood as a sacrifice for sin was to “give up life” for sin, and thus eating blood was a form of idolatry. It was like saying that God was not needed as the life giver and that the eater had power over life. In Acts 15:20 the restriction of not eating blood was included with “abstaining from the pollution of idols” for the reason of the connection to idolatry.

The hygienic issue of eating blood should be obvious. Any disease an animal had could be passed on through the animal’s blood. The warning against eating a thing strangled (Leviticus 17:13-16 and Acts 15:20) was because the blood remains in the flesh instead of being drained out as in the practice of butchering. When Paul wrote to the Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, he advised them when having a meal with an unbeliever, “…whatever is set before you, eat, asking no question.” But then he goes on to point out that Christians must be concerned about how their choices affect others.

In today’s world, we may have hygienic reasons for not eating something, but food prohibitions are not a part of the teachings of Jesus or His apostles.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

E-Cigarettes and Human Suffering

E-Cigarettes
Some are pushing e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. The facts don’t support that claim.

One of the major challenges that we all face is how we reconcile the fact of human suffering with the biblical concept of God. Atheists harp on the question of why God allows suffering, and why we were created in such a way that we have a huge list of diseases and maladies. We all have our “why me” moments as well, and many times we have to admit we don’t understand why certain things happen. Atheists have no alternative to offer, and “survival of the fittest” isn’t much help when you are not the fittest.

The issue is very complex, but a major part of the answer to the problems of human suffering is the fact that we do an incredible number of things to ourselves that result in massive suffering. Sometimes we do it in ignorance. A good example of this is the use of tobacco through the centuries. A hundred years ago we had no idea of how damaging cigarette smoking is. Today anyone who smokes is doing so in defiance of massive evidence that it will bring suffering to them and those around them.

In spite of what some are claiming, e-cigarettes are also terribly destructive to smokers. Chemists at the University of Connecticut have found that e-cigarettes cause damage to human DNA. e-cigarettes use an electrochemiluminescent (ECL) agent. The damage it causes to human DNA is as bad as unfiltered tobacco cigarettes. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes also do damage similar to tobacco cigarettes. The bottom line is that our lungs and our DNA were not designed to handle smoke, and the chemicals it contains.

Genetically caused or triggered diseases have increased enormously in the past fifty years. Some of the most insidious diseases are caused by man-made carcinogens. This isn’t the sole answer to the problem of human suffering, but it is a major factor. God does not cause this kind of problem, and our design is not at fault. The Bible says that our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and it warns us to take care of that temple. Contaminating it with chemicals that harm us and those around us is not a fault of our Creator.
Data from Discover Magazine. December 2017, page 14.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Scopes Monkey Trial Nonsense Continues

Scopes Monkey Trial
In July of 1925, a silly trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee. A school teacher named John Thomas Scopes had broken Tennessee law by teaching evolution. People call it the Scopes monkey trial.

On the prosecution side was William Jennings Bryan, the spokesman for fundamentalist advocates of the Bible. (Bryan is sitting on the left side of the picture.) Clarence Darrow was the humanist opponent arguing for the defense. (You can see him standing on the right questioning Bryan. The judge had moved the trial outside because of the heat in the packed courtroom.) At the time, people called it “the trial of the century.” After eight days of the trial, it took the jury nine minutes to convict Scopes, and the judge fined him $100.

The problem was that no one bothered to define “evolution.” Nobody took the time to see what the Bible really said. The weaknesses of denominational teaching were attacked, not the evidence or understanding of what science and the Bible actually say on the subject. Both sides claimed a win, but in reality, neither side won. Books, theatrical productions, and movies have perpetuated the story, and it has given great promotional value to the little town of Dayton.

The latest example of how this battle goes on appeared on July of 2017 when a statue of Clarence Darrow was dedicated on the Dayton courthouse lawn. The dedication drew an organized protest by fundamentalists who already have a statue of William Jennings Bryan in the area. The newspapers billed it as a “religion versus science” debate. A recent Gallup poll shows that the number of Americans who believe that evolution is the only possible answer to the origin of all living things has grown from 9% in the late 1980s to 19% today.

Science and faith are friends and not enemies. That has to be true because the same God who created the universe and life gave us the account of what He did. If there is a conflict, we either have bad science or bad theology. The lesson of history and the Scopes monkey trial is that we have had a lot of both.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Fire Ant Towers

Fire Ant Towers
Those who live in areas where fire ants are active can tell you about fire ant towers. The ants will encircle a rod, stick, or tree to build a tower that is wide at the base and narrows as it goes up. You can watch this behavior on a video posted here.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology were interested in how the ants do this without crushing the ants at the bottom. What they found was that the ants form rings around the structure at the center using their sticky feet to cling to each other. The rings are all concentric, but they get smaller as the tower grows. Ants near the bottom only stay there for a short time, backing off to take a break and then climbing up to the top to rejoin the structure to keep the tower standing. These towers are temporary, but they shield the colony from outside forces.

This behavior of fire ants cannot be learned. It is certainly not the product of trial and error but is clearly programmed into the ant’s DNA. Many insect behaviors are characteristic and peculiar to a certain species of insect. These built-in skills strongly suggest that the programming was done by an intelligent Creator to enhance the survival of the insects.

Proverbs 6:6 tells us, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.” While the passage is about being active in providing for the future and avoiding poverty, the message also comes to us today to see the handiwork of God in even His smallest creatures. Scientists are studying these ants to learn how they work together and build fire ant towers so that science can apply that intelligence to program robots.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Stretched Out Gravity Waves and the Nobel Prize

Stretched  Out Gravity Waves
One of the interesting words in the Old Testament dealing with space and its creation is the Hebrew word natah–usually translated stretched out.

This word describes God’s act of creating space/time. Natah suggests that the cosmos is a like fabric that can be stretched. It could also mean stretching out as when we pull the cord of a lawnmower or outboard motor. (For uses of the word natah, see: Psalms 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 44:24; 45:12; 51:13; Jeremiah 51:15; Zechariah 12:1)

Three United States scientists won the Nobel physics prize in October of 2017 by detecting ripples of gravitational waves traveling through the universe. In September of 2015, these scientists and others detected gravitational waves for the first time confirming a part of Einstein’s predictions.

The bottom line is that space is not empty, and objects in space are not isolated. The creation is like a garment that can have ripples in it. Stretched out gravitational waves fill the universe.

The next step for scientists will be to learn how to use gravity waves to study cosmic phenomena that they can’t observe by light or other electromagnetic radiation. Gravity waves will help us to learn more about God’s creation, and they are another verification of the biblical description of the nature of the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017