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

Respectable Bird– Confusing Name

Respectable Bird
Benjamin Franklin called this animal a respectable bird. They are large birds native to North America where they’re called “turkeys.” The origin of that name is disputed, but it apparently has a connection with the country of Turkey.

Turkeys were brought to England from America, on merchant ships from the Middle East area of Turkey. After being domesticated in England, turkeys spread throughout the British Empire, including India. From India, they were taken to various other countries where they were known as “a bird from India.” For that reason, the name for turkeys in several languages is connected to India. In the country of Turkey, turkeys are called “Hindi” which means “India” in Turkish. To make things even more confusing, in Portuguese a turkey is called a “peru” which is apparently derived from the name of the country of Peru. To further compound the confusion, there are several other birds in other countries that have “turkey” names but are not related to the American turkey.

Native Americans first used turkeys for their feathers in about 800 BC. It was almost 2,000 years later before they used turkeys for meat. In the United States, turkeys are a popular food on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

The founders of the United States chose the bald eagle as a national symbol. Benjamin Franklin was famously critical of that. He called the eagle “a bird of bad moral character” and wrote that “the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” With respect for Mr. Franklin, the truth is that the only creature God created that has “moral character,” whether good or bad, is the human creature. All other creatures do what God created them to do. Humans often choose to do otherwise.
–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.

Our Ancestor Was a Rat

Our Ancestor Was a Rat
The headline of a lead article in USA Today for November 8, 2017, said: “Our Ancestors Were Rats.” Written by Doyle Rice, the article claims that fossils prove our distant ancestor was a rat.

According to the article, Steve Sweetman of the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. says we know about this ancestor of ours. He said it is “undoubtedly the earliest yet known from a line of mammals that led to our own species.” The article further said that line of mammals included blue whales and pygmy shrews. Sweetman says the mammals they have discovered “were small furry creatures.” He speculates that they were nocturnal, possibly burrowers, and ate insects and possibly plants.

Would we not assume that this newly discovered fossil had a skeleton and traces or impressions of fur? Wouldn’t we have found coprolite (petrified poop) to make claims about what the animal’s diet was or perhaps plant or insect material in the animal’s stomach? Would we not also assume that the biosphere in which the animal lived was well documented by fossils of what the animal ate? Are we not assuming that the “line of mammals that led to our own species” has been so well documented that no reputable scientist would deny it?

The fact is that an undergraduate student was sifting through rocks and fossils in a box in his geology lab when he found two teeth which he showed to Sweetman who is a mammal expert. That is all the evidence we have for this rat which was supposedly our ancestor. How do you determine the animal had fur from two teeth?

There is great controversy about the phylogenetic trees that various scientists have constructed to develop theories about the history of life on planet Earth and human life. Many scientists believe that multiple trees and cladistic techniques better explain the history of life than the our ancestor was a rat version that Sweetman promotes.

We have said that when there is a conflict between faith in God and science, it is because of bad theology and/or bad science. Maybe bad journalism is another source of problems. This story is grossly misleading and represents the source of many of the conflicts that young people have between what they hear at Church and what they hear from the media.
–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

How to Stop the Aging Process

Stop the Aging Process
It’s scientifically impossible to stop the aging process. That is the conclusion of a new study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 25, 2017. You can read the full report here.

The problem is defined mathematically in that report. It involves two forces that take place in multicellular organisms, such as humans. As cells reproduce, mutations accumulate causing the cell functions to become sluggish and lose function. The result is wrinkled skin, gray hair, weakened bones, and many other things. When the body’s cells are young, they cooperate to weed out imperfect cells. With age, there are more cells with imperfections, and the body can’t keep up with removing the bad ones. At the same time, some cells start to reproduce uncontrollably. We call it cancer. Either we have sluggish cells or out of control cell reproduction.

Removing the sluggish cells leaves more room for the out of control cancer cells. Removing the cancer cells leaves the sluggish cells. A balance between the two is not mathematically possible to sustain. Eventually, the math catches up with us and death results. According to the report, scientists who are looking for the cure for aging are not going to succeed. Of course, we all know that lotions, creams, vitamins, and health foods have limited success in keeping us looking and feeling young. According to the research, either your cells will become more sluggish, or they will become cancerous. There is no other option. There is no fountain of youth. You can’t stop the aging process.

But wait! Genesis 2:9 tells us about the trees in the Garden of Eden, and mentions two of them by name. God commanded the first couple not to eat from only one of those two. The other one that they could eat from was called the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve were banished from the garden that God had prepared for them, they were cut off from the Tree of Life. God said that if they ate from it, they would live forever (Genesis 3:22). For them to live forever in their fallen state, separated from God, would be worse than death. On that fateful day, Adam and Eve died spiritually, and their bodies began to die physically. Ever since then, humans have tried to cheat death and live forever. The result has been a long history of failure.

But God had a better plan. He prepared a way to restore the descendants of the human race to Himself. He hinted at it in Genesis 3:15. The plan was revealed and completed by Jesus Christ. He set out to finish the task of restoration (John 4:34 and 5:36), and He did (John 19:30). We read in Revelation 22:1-2 about the River of Life flowing from the throne of God. Growing along the sides of that river we find the Tree of Life. No longer will it be out of reach. Until then–according to this scientific report–scientists are searching in vain to find a way to stop the aging process and death.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Different Shades of Brown

Different Shades of Brown
Racial prejudice based on skin color is a function of ignorance. I am amazed that promoters of violence against black-skinned people have daughters who are using tanning booths to get darker. There is no inferior race, and there are no different species of humans. Acts 17:26 tells us that God “has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth…” We are all just different shades of brown.

Many years ago the preacher of the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama, invited me to participate in a television panel discussion. The format was a call-in where callers could ask questions for the panel to answer. On the panel with me was the black president of a small African-American college in East Texas.

The discussion took place during the time of racial strife in Birmingham. A caller asked if black people were evolved apes and white people were created by God in His image. I responded by pointing out that apes and white people have more features in common than apes and black people. This includes hair texture, jaw shape, skull shape, and even skin color when you look under the hair. This produced some antagonism from our host but was followed by the question of why black people are black and white people are white.

I took my hand and laid it on a white sheet of paper and asked if I was really white? The answer, of course, was that I wasn’t white like the paper. I was light brown. Then I asked my black friend to lay his hand on the same sheet of paper, and I asked if he was really black? The answer was obvious. He was just a darker shade of brown. I then made the point that we are all just different shades of brown, and we are all equally created in God’s image.

My black friend leaned over and whispered in my ear as we looked into some rather hostile people at the TV station. He said, “Ain’t neither one of us getting out of here alive.” I am glad to say that we did.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Neanderthal Genes

Neanderthal Genes
There has been a lot of confusion about the Neanderthals in both religious publications and scientific writings. Scientists have reported that there are Neanderthal genes in modern humans.
Many have treated the Neanderthals as ape-men, and there have been multiple theories about how they originated.

Religious publications have speculated about Neanderthal influence on biblical characters. Those who wish to find “giants” in biblical accounts have claimed that the Neanderthals were giants, and at least one set of fake pictures of huge skulls has circulated on the internet attempting to back that up.

Researchers in Germany have just reported on DNA studies of the Neanderthal genes in modern humans. They found 15 Neanderthal DNA traits in modern humans. What is interesting is that these 15 traits show up in people of British ancestry, but people of pure African descent have no Neanderthal DNA. This will certainly complicate some of the “out of Africa” theories about the origin of humans.

We suggest that most of the claims of prehistoric humans involve racial variations. No claim of different species of humans is supported by the evidence. The biblical claim that Eve is the mother of all humans (Genesis 3:20) continues to be strongly supported as we study our past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use
A newly released study indicates the dangers of long-term marijuana use. The bottom line is that it alters brain cells.

The study was published in Jneurosci (The Journal of Neuroscience) on October 16. The researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are concentrated there. Those receptors give a person the sensation of pleasure.

The scientists conducted the study on mice in their “teen” and “adolescent” stages of life. The mice received injections of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) every day for a week. THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana (as well as opioids and alcohol) stimulates the VTA to release dopamine resulting in an experience of pleasure and the desire for more. There is a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) cell in the VTA which acts as an inhibitor. When the brain releases GABA, it serves to restrain the desire for pleasure and keep it under control.

In the week of receiving THC, the GABA neurons lost their ability to control the desire for pleasure. They were in a state of “long-term depression” (LTD). This caused the dopamine to remain longer in the VTA giving a sense of being “spaced out,” and leading to addiction.

The researchers stated that the long-term effect of the THC was to remodel the brain’s synapses resulting in reduced “synaptic plasticity.” The synapses carry electrical or chemical signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. This “synaptic modification” is changing the brain at the cellular level.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is the standard reference used by mental health professionals at all levels. The current edition is DSM-5. It defines cannabis (marijuana) use disorder as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

In other words, marijuana impairs the ability of people to do things they need to do or even want to do. We have cautioned before about the dangers of long-term marijuana use and the consequences of legalization and wide-spread availability. This study confirms that danger.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Biological Clock Circadian Rhythm

Biological Clock Circadian Rhythm
Three scientists have just received Nobel Prize in medicine for proving scientifically something we knew all along. The scientists share the 1.1 million dollar prize for proving that we really do have a biological clock. The fact that you are alert at certain times and sleepy at others is not just in your head.

In 1984 they sequenced the “period gene” which others had discovered in fruit flies in 1971. The gene controls the circadian rhythm which regulates the daily sleep and wake patterns of all creatures, including humans. Following up on that work, in 1998 they found that the gene encodes a protein called PER. The PER levels build up at night and drop during the day. This discovery enables scientists to understand the molecular makeup of the biological clock.

Learning more about our biological clock leads to some useful understandings, including when is the best time to take certain medications. It also relates to shift work, jet-lag, and school classroom times. The understanding of circadian rhythms can be incorporated into practical medicine and the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that prepares us for sleep.

A group of sleep researchers a few years ago did some research on biological clocks. They sent a group of volunteers on a tent-camping trip to the Colorado Rockies. They found that people who work indoors where they are not exposed to outdoor light may need to have their biological clocks reset. When people are indoors during the day and exposed to electric lights at night, their clock can become out of sync. Exposure to strong artificial light at night can delay our master clock. That delays the production of melatonin at night, and then the melatonin level is still high in the morning when it’s time to get up.

The campers were only allowed to use campfires for light and no cellphones or flashlights. After spending a week away from artificial light and exposed to more daylight, the volunteers fell asleep earlier and woke up earlier. Their melatonin levels rose earlier in the evening and dropped earlier in the morning.

The recommendation of the researchers was to start your day with a morning walk and when you have to be inside open the shades to get exposure to some sunlight. You may find that you will sleep better and wake up more refreshed.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night’…God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:14, 17).
–Roland Earnst © 2017