Dawkins-Remolina Debates in Colombia

Dawkins-Remolina Debates in Colombia
If you have followed this ministry for a while, you will recall that in the summer of 2017 John Clayton spent several weeks in Colombia giving many presentations on evidence for the existence of God. He was invited to speak there preceding debates between atheist Richard Dawkins and Catholic priest Gerardo Remolina. Remolina is a leading scholar at the Jesuit Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota, where the first debate took place. We received a newspaper account of the first debate, and we hope to eventually have a chance to review reports of the Dawkins-Remolina debates at Medellin and Cartagena.

It was interesting that in the first debate there was almost nothing said about the existence of God. Remolina suggested that the age of the universe was 14 billion years and that the age of the Earth was around 5 billion years. Dawkins said he agreed but stated that 40% of the American public thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Dawkins said that is equivalent to believing that the North American continent is only 8 meters wide. Dawkins continued to maintain that belief in God is due to ignorance on the part of believers, and Remolina made no response to Dawkins claims.

Dawkins stated the atheist belief that life evolved mechanically and that the Bible was a collection of diverse myths. Remolina agreed that Adam and Eve are a myth but said that the myth is a structure of thought and does not pretend to explain anything. Dawkins claimed that the Bible was not historical because there is no evidence of the events it describes. Remolina could have given massive evidence for the historical validity of the Bible, but instead, he stated that science uses myths. He quoted Carl Sagan’s statement that the “Big Bang” was a myth because science cannot duplicate it in the laboratory. Dawkins attacked the Catholic tradition of original sin ridiculing the teaching that children are born sinful.

We are reading a translated newspaper report which may be incomplete. The fact is, however, that the debate was about Catholic traditions and opinions of Dawkins on the history of life. The fundamental arguments for the existence of God–cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, moral arguments, ontological arguments, and philosophical arguments–were barely mentioned and evidence was not presented by either side. We hope that later Dawkins-Remolina debates will approach the real questions and the weight of the evidence29. Stay tuned.
–Roland Earnst & John N. Clayton © 2018

Minimalist View of History and the Evidence

Minimalist View of History: City of David
Atheists and skeptics have waged war against the Bible, with the history of Israel as one of their main targets. Philip R. Davies wrote a book in 1992 titled, In Search of Ancient Israel which is widely quoted by biblical minimalists. The minimalist view of history is that the Bible is a doubtful source for information about ancient Israel. They consider it to be unreliable. In Dr. Davies’ book, he states what he maintains are three possible views of Israel:

There may have been a “historical Israel,” but it is not really accessible to us because the Bible text is largely unreliable.

“Biblical Israel” is only a late construct of the biblical writers.

“Ancient Israel” is a modern scholar’s construct, that is, also not real but fictitious.

The answer to all of these claims is to ask for an unbiased examination of the evidence. Assuming the Bible text is unreliable is a closed-minded approach to the issues involved. We have maintained in this “layman’s journal” for nearly 50 years now that if you look at who wrote the Bible, to whom, and why, it is clear and accurate. We have also shown that there are examples of statements in the Bible that are testable. We deal with that in our video series which is available on DVDs, or you can watch it at no cost on our DoesGodExist.tv website.

Archaeological data supports many of the factual statements of the Bible and new data has become available in the twenty-first century. The picture shows the “City of David” archaeological site in Jerusalem. Language and translation problems are certainly an issue, but to say the Bible is inaccessible or unreliable demeans what scholars can do.

There is plenty of evidence to refute the minimalist view of history. We can trust the Bible, but there are times when we have to dig into what it says to understand what it means.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Faith During a Crisis

Faith During a Crisis
On January 13, 2018, something happened that reminds us of the importance of faith during a crisis. At 8:07 AM Hawaii’s Emergency Management System sent out an alert telling the people of Hawaii that there was a ballistic missile threat and they should seek shelter immediately. The New York Times reported that “people flocked to shelters, crowding highways in scenes of terror and helplessness.”

This is not the first time this kind of panic has taken place in America. On October 30, 1938, a radio drama about a Martian invasion was broadcast saying that ground zero was in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. The nearby city of Trenton was completely crippled with phone calls to the police for three hours. Similar incidents have happened in 1944, 1968, 1974, 1983, and 1998.

On February 12, 1949, a radio broadcast in Quito, Ecuador reported that Martians were launching gas attacks and people flocked to the streets. When they realized that the broadcast was a fake, a mob stormed the radio station setting it on fire, killing 20 and injuring 15. Now the media and the politicians are promoting “fake news” in one form or another.

When Jesus talked about the end of the world in Matthew 24:3-7 He told His followers that there would be “wars and rumors of wars: see that you are not troubled.” Followers of Christ should have the faith to realize that God is in control and that our eternal home is not affected by Martians or politicians. Humans deceive other humans, but we can always trust Jesus Christ and His teachings. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), He was assuring us that we can always have faith during a crisis whether real or imaginary.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Data from Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2018 page 5.

IQ and Intelligence

IQ and Intelligence
My first master’s degree was in psychometry, which is the study of tests and measurements. I worked under Dr. David Segel who was a pioneer in that field. One of the interesting things I learned in my studies was that IQ and intelligence are two different things. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is a measure of your ability to perform on a certain kind of test. My mentally challenged son Tim scores very poorly on a Stanford Benet IQ test and very well on a Wechsler Bellevue IQ test. The Stanford Benet test measures an individual’s ability to manipulate and control shapes and spaces. The Wechsler Bellevue is a verbal test. The two tests measure different things, and Tim’s scores were wildly different depending on the type of test.

IQ and intelligence should not be confused. Webster’s dictionary defines intelligence as “the ability to learn and understand,” which has nothing to do with any test. IQ is radically affected by access to education, healthcare, food, living conditions, and the kind of test used. The average IQ in Kenya in 1948 was 72, and today the average is 97. A 25 point gain is not an indication of a change in intelligence, but rather a change in the ability of the people to better answer the questions on the chosen test.

It isn’t possible to compare the intelligence of humans on the basis of race or to compare humans with animals. Some animals do very well on some IQ tests. Koko, the gorilla that we have mentioned in previous issues of our journal, scores a 95 on some IQ tests according to articles in several popular magazines. Crows have high intelligence in solving certain types of problems. A food morsel floating on water in the bottom of a graduate frustrates children under eight years old because the can’t figure out how to get to it. A crow, however, will add pebbles to the graduate until the food floats up to a place where the crow can reach it. Who has the most intelligence?

Human uniqueness is not in our intelligence. It is our spiritual nature that sets us apart and allows us to do things such as art, music, worship, etc. Mentally challenged humans do these things, but intelligent animals do not. Animals may be intelligent and even score high on some IQ tests, but they do not have the capacity to feel guilt, to be sympathetic, or to create. IQ and intelligence aside, humans are unique because of our spiritual nature. We are created in the image of God, and that uniqueness is embodied in what the Bible calls “the soul.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Popular Science, Spring 2018.

Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls
In 2017, Hershel Shanks retired. He was the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review for 42 years. Shanks is important to those of us interested in apologetics because he caused the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls to become available to the general public. He also has been useful in getting material supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God into the hands of the public. A recent example is evidence that David was, in fact, the historical figure the Bible depicts–a belief biblical minimalists have challenged.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, and thousands of fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum which is now called the Rockefeller Museum. A scroll publication team with an editor-in-chief supervised the assembling and reproduction of the scrolls. However, virtually no reproductions had been made available so research on the contents of the scrolls not possible.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were unavailable for study, skeptics attacked the Bible, and the media carried all kinds of claims about what the scrolls contained. One story was that the scrolls said that Jesus was “the great teacher of the Essenes.” Some people made claims that the scrolls showed that apocryphal books should be validated as part of the biblical canon. Shanks began a public campaign to make the scrolls available to researchers, students, and the general public. Hebrew University professor, Emanuel Tov, became the editor-in-chief of the publication team and during his tenure over 100 scholars contributed to the release of the scrolls’ contents.

Hershel Shanks published a preliminary edition of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991, and a landslide of demands for full disclosure of all of the documents followed. Today the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a special building in Jerusalem called “The Shrine of the Book.” They are also available to view in high definition for free on the internet. To see them click here.

The scrolls provide great support for belief in the Bible as the Word of God. You can read many articles that we have published over the years showing archaeological support for the Bible on our journal archives at doesgodexist.org.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April/May/June 2018, Vol. 44, numbers 2 & 3, page 24.

Astronomy Picture of the Day: APOD

Astronomy Picture of the Day
One of my favorite free websites is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Every morning I begin my day by looking at what new image is on that site. Since there is an explanation of the image, this is also an opportunity to learn about objects in space and how those objects might fit into our understanding of the universe. The picture from April 17, 2018, is called “M57: The Ring Nebula.”

M57 is known as a “planetary nebula,” but the glowing material does not come from planets. Scientists believe it is the outer layers expelled by a star very similar to our Sun. It went through a process that we see happening in space where stars explode and seed space with heavy elements produced by the explosion. What is left of the star is the tiny dot at the center of the nebula. That dot is a very dense remnant of the core of the star that is spinning very rapidly obeying the laws of physics as it does so.

This is not creation. The material this explosion produced is not coming from nothing. It is the product of previous materials that were produced at the moment of creation by a process that we cannot duplicate or even adequately describe in scientific terms. The process of fusing hydrogen to heavier elements, seeding space with all of the material produced, and reforming the material to make terrestrial life possible is outside of our capacity to observe. To some extent, it can be described with mathematical equations. The astronomy picture of the day on the NASA site continues to detail the process that produced our world and all we see around us.

God is not limited by time or space or our capacity to understand. In Job 38:4 God challenges Job to deal with “the foundations of the Earth.” In Proverbs 8:22-27 wisdom speaks about the planning and design God made before the Earth came to be (verse 23). Wisdom speaks about the preparation of the heavens (verse 27).

When we look at the astronomy picture of the day on the NASA website, we are not seeing the present. We are looking into the past. M57 went through the process of seeding its neighborhood with heavy elements 2,000 years ago, and we witness that event today. Virtually everything on the NASA website, and in astronomy, is in the past. Seeing these things allows us to wonder at the power, wisdom, and majesty of God. It reinforces David’s statement in Psalms 8:3-4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him?”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Insect Migrations and Earth’s Ecosystems

Insect Migrations and Earth's Ecosystems
It is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and one of the joys of spring is seeing the amazing migrations of birds as they move north from their wintering grounds. We watch the birds without thinking of the logistics that are involved in millions of birds moving over fast distances. How do you feed these hordes of living things? Their needs are even greater than usual because of the energy required for the long flights. We may not realize the importance of insect migrations that occur at the same time. What collateral benefits does this system create?

Dara Satterfield of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. says, “Trillions of insects around the world migrate every year, and we’re just beginning to understand their connections to ecosystems and human life.” This migration not only feeds birds, but they pollinate wild plants and gobble agricultural pests.

We have written in our quarterly journal about the spring migration of monarch butterflies from Mexico to North America. In Europe and Africa, the migration is even more amazing and complex. Each spring the painted lady butterfly travels from Africa across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea into Europe and then retraces that journey in the fall. Because their life expectancy is so short, it takes six generations of butterflies to accomplish this migration. The butterflies avoid the extreme heat of North Africa in the summer, but they arrive in Africa just in time to feed from the flowers in the fall. Those butterflies are vital to the balance of living things in Europe.

Some of the insect migrations are very important to human food production. The marmalade hoverfly eats aphids during the larvae stage, and as adults they pollinate plants. The volume of insects is seen most clearly in the Pyrenees and Alps. Millions of hoverflies use the winds blowing through the mountain passes to get from one place to another. Scientists have been monitoring this migration because of its economic importance to agriculture in Africa and Europe. There is also a hoverfly migration in the western United States, but it has not been studied.

The size of these insect migrations is hard to comprehend, and we fail to understand the complexity of this system. Studies in the southern United Kingdom estimate that 3.5 trillion insects migrate over that area every year. Without those insect migrations, ecosystems on this planet could not exist.

Those of us who believe in God’s design of the creation see this as one more evidence that the simple statement “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is a massive oversimplification. We truly can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

WHY Questions

WHY Questions
When talking to unbelievers, we often hear the WHY questions. “Why is there something instead of nothing?” “Why do bad things happen to us?” “Why does God allow …?” Seekers can’t answer the WHY questions by rejecting the existence of God, because atheism offers no answers at all. Even Christians struggle with the WHY questions when God doesn’t answer their prayers the way they think He should.

We can understand virtually all of the WHY if we look at God’s purpose in what He has done and what He is doing today. In Ephesians 3:8-11 we read:

“Unto me, who am less than the least of Christ’s People yet I was chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the Glad News of the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make clear what is God’s way of working out that hidden purpose which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now to the Archangels and to all the Powers on high should now see the complex wisdom of God’s plan being worked out through the Church in accordance with that purpose that runs through all ages and which He has now accomplished in Jesus Christ, our Master.”

If you believe that evil exists, and atheists like Richard Dawkins deny the existence of evil (see River Out of Eden, page 133), then you can easily understand why there is something instead of nothing. We are in a war between good and evil. It is all around us, and even modern science-fiction writers recognize the struggle and strive to show that good is superior to evil.

The book of Job gives us a picture of the struggle. After facing the challenge of his own suffering and criticism by the wise men of his day, Job finally hears from God. His response to God is, “I have uttered things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know…. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye has seen you, and I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6).

We have seen and are seeing how ugly evil can be. Humans treat each other with such malice that it is hard to comprehend. We can see the consequences of the selfish choices we make in everything from the effects of pollution to the destructive force of crime. Even though I don’t like the bad things that have happened in my life, I know there is a purpose in them. Some of those purposes I have already understood, and eventually, we will all understand.

The song “Farther Along,” which is in our hymn books, deals with the WHY questions. After describing all the injustices and pain we all see, the verse ends with: “Farther along we’ll know all about it, Farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks

Lyrid Meteor Shower
For viewers in the Northern Hemisphere, the early morning hours of Sunday, April 22, will be the best viewing time for the 2017 presentation of the Lyrid meteor shower. From mid-April this year to about April 25 the “shooting stars” are visible with as many as a dozen or so per hour. However, on Sunday morning there will probably be up to 20 per hour.

The Lyrid meteor shower comes around every year in April. There are ten significant meteor showers each year, but the last one was the Quadrantid meteors in early January. Now, at last, with the weather a little warmer we have another chance to watch the sky.

The Lyrid meteor shower gets its name from the fact that it seems to radiate from the constellation Lyra, the harp. No, they are not “shooting stars.” The Lyrid meteors are actually fragments broken off from Comet Thatcher which passed by in 1861. That comet makes a pass through our solar system every 415 years or so.

The Comet Thatcher has been passing through and leaving bits behind for a long time because Chinese sky watchers saw the Lyrid meteor shower in 687 B.C. Apparently they were impressed because they recorded that “stars fell like rain.”

Of course, the ancient Chinese didn’t know what caused the event. We know that it’s the result of those comet pieces falling into our atmosphere, being heated by the friction of the air, and burning up. Our atmosphere does more than just give us oxygen to breathe. It also protects us in many ways. One of those protections is that it causes most objects falling from space to burn up before they reach Earth’s surface. That friction requires heat-shield protection for returning Astronauts, but those of us living on the Earth’s surface can be glad to have an atmosphere to protect us. Recently a Chinese space station the size of a bus fell into our atmosphere and disintegrated before reaching the ground. You don’t need a telescope to see the pockmarks on the Moon’s surface from asteroid impacts because the Moon has no atmosphere.

Speaking of the Moon, it will be in its first-quarter phase and will not set until about 2 A.M Sunday morning. For that reason, viewing the Lyrid meteor shower will probably be best between 2 A.M. and the first light of dawn. However, if you miss it then, you still have a few more days, but the meteors will be fewer and farther between. If you see the Lyrid meteor shower, let it be a reminder of the fact that God has designed a planet that provides for our needs and protects us while we enjoy its beauty.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Are You Jesus?

Are You Jesus?Are you Jesus?
This is a true story relayed to me by a friend of the person involved. I heard it many years ago, and recently one of the persons involved met me and reminded me of what happened. It has a message for all of us.

Some salesmen were at a regional sales convention in Chicago. They were rushing through security with tickets, briefcases, and the usual airport hassle. One salesman inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples as he hurried to get to his flight. Apples flew everywhere. The guilty salesman rushed on without looking back. The other salesmen stopped, looked at each other and then followed his lead. But one salesman stopped and called his wife to tell her he would be taking a later flight.

He returned to the area of the display and realized that a mentally challenged, blind person was operating it. She was crying softly with tears of frustration running down her cheeks. As she groped for her spilled produce, the crowd swirled around her, and no one stopped to help. The salesman knelt on the floor with her and gathered up the apples. He put them back on the table and helped organize her display.

The salesman noticed that many of the apples were battered and bruised. He set those aside in another basket. When he finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you OK?” She nodded through her tears. “I hope we didn’t spoil your day too badly” he continued. As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, “Mister…” He paused and turned back to look at her and responded, “Yes?” “Are you Jesus?” she said.

I question whether that could happen in today’s world, but the question remains whether anyone could ever mistake us for Jesus? The person who gave this account to me pointed out that the goal of our lives should be that we would be so much like Jesus that an innocent, mentally-challenged blind girl couldn’t tell the difference. If we claim to know Jesus, then we should live, walk, and act as He would. Knowing Him is more than simply quoting scripture and going to Church. It’s actually living the Word as life unfolds day by day. Are you Jesus to the people you meet?
–John N. Clayton © 2018