One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.
At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.
A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.
At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”
So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.
The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
In the past, a large number of famous Christian ministers and church leaders were also outstanding scientists or worked to advance science. The attempts of some writers to portray the historical relationship of science and faith as a continuous war are at odds with the evidence. There were leading Christian ministers who advanced science. Christianity Today in the December 2017 issue had an interesting article on some of them:
FRANCOIS-ETIENNE JALLABERT was a Huguenot minister and was the first chair of mathematics at the University of Geneva in 1704.
JONATHAN EDWARDS was a minister in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1720 became the president of College of New Jersey which became Princeton University.
INCREASE MATHER was a preacher and in 1721 became the president of Harvard University.
COTTON MATHER was a religious leader in England and was a leading advocate for smallpox inoculation in the 1720s.
JOHN WESLEY was the founder of Methodism and was a leading promoter of the use of science and modern medicine in 1740-50.
JEAN JALLABERT was a preacher and a professor of physics in 1748.
The Christianity Today article details how these Christian ministers who advanced science promoted the use of science as a coworker with faith to benefit humanity. Many religious leaders of the past were highly educated in science and used scientific concepts to encourage people in their faith. True science and true faith are friends, not enemies.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”
All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.
It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.
It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.
Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
At a meeting last summer, my dear friend Paul Methvin told this story about cake baking. It is so good I would like to share it with you.
“When I was a child I was watching my mother make a cake. She measured out some bitter chocolate. I liked chocolate, so I asked her for a bite, which she let me have. It was bitter, and I spat it out. She took some vanilla and added it to the chocolate. I licked the spoon because I like vanilla, but it too was bitter. She took some lemon juice, which I knew better than to taste, some baking powder which I also didn’t like, and a bunch of lard which she offered me on a spoon. It was disgusting, and I wasn’t about to taste it. She mixed all of these unpleasant things together and put it in the oven. When she took it out of the oven, there was this wonderful smell and later a wonderful taste. The cake was a huge success, but it was made up of a bunch of things that individually were not good at all.”
Don’t you see that life is very much like cake baking? The apostle Paul had a life made up of a bunch of unpleasant things. His father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) which was a group of legalistic, cynical Jews who fought against Jesus. He persecuted the Church (Galatians 1:13) and killed and imprisoned Christians (Acts 7:58) making havoc of the Church (Acts 8:3). He was educated in the graduate school of Gamaliel but became so unpopular that in Damascus the Jewish leaders tried to kill him. He had to be let down the walls of the city at night in a basket to escape (Acts 9:23-25). He spent three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and began a ministry (Acts 13) that involved a long road of beatings, floggings, stonings, and imprisonments. It is from all of these negative things that Paul was able at the end of his life to express a satisfaction and a joy for all he has been able to do (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
My cake baking life has also been made up of a lot of bitter things. I was raised by an atheist family, involved in organized atheism, educated in a very liberal and immoral university, and driven nearly to suicide by consequences of an immoral life. I had a son born with numerous birth defects, and the love of my life died. On top of that, I was rejected and condemned by people who should have been supporting brothers and sisters. Those are the ingredients that went into my “cake.”
How about your cake–your life’s experiences? Each event may be bitter and hard to bear. The oven of life bakes us and at the judgment what God will see is a cake that the Spirit has produced from all our hardships and pain. We just need to add the right ingredients from God’s Word to make it sweet and palatable to God.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Perhaps the most influential atheist in America today is Michael Shermer, who expresses his views on the meaning of life. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Shermer has had some theological training. As an atheist, he publishes Skeptic magazine. He also has a regular column in Scientific American magazine through which he promotes his atheistic views and the various books he has written attacking believers in God. His most recent book is Heavens on Earth which he promotes heavily in his column in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American.
Atheists like Shermer view something that they don’t understand as impossible to understand. Shermer spells out a view of the future of the cosmos and the meaning of life–or lack thereof. Suggesting that the cosmos will end in total heat death with nothing but endless darkness, he then says: “In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our more moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.”
Shermer’s views are typical of atheist arguments on the meaning of life. Notice:
1) Heat death is not the only possible conclusion that one can come to as far as the demise of the physical cosmos is concerned.
2) The fact that it is hard for Shermer to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. It is somewhat arrogant to argue that what I can understand is all that is possible.
3) Later Shermer states his belief that, “We live in the here and now, not in the hereafter.” That is a faith statement which is not backed up by empirical scientific data.
4) Shermer denigrates the attempts of Christians to help and serve others by saying that life choice has no cosmic significance. It may not benefit molecules and atoms, but it has huge significance on the future of humanity. The negative effects of humans upon planet Earth fill the pages of Scientific American, and that is not addressed by what Shermer claims is the purpose of our existence.
5) Shermer says, “our most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by doing something “extropic,” in other words, expending energy to survive and flourish. Every demagogue who ever lived would agree with that statement–if they understood it.
The reality is that “It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That is also a faith statement, but it makes more sense to most of us than believing Shermer’s faith which says, “we are sentient beings designed by evolution to survive and flourish in the teeth of entropy and death.”
I am sure that the atheist community will rise in praise of Shermer’s new book. However, his subtitle of the Scientific American article “Science reveals our deepest purpose” is grossly inaccurate. In fact, we suggest that science doesn’t support his faith well at all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
There is a constant flow of books, articles, television shows, and blogs dealing with the question of why God allows human suffering. All religions deal in one way or another with this issue, and atheists have attempted to dance around it by denial or avoidance.
We have suggested over the years that Christianity offers the only rational solution to the issue because:
1) The question is only for this life and in the context of eternity is of extremely short duration.
2) Suffering allows ministering to others that Christians are uniquely called to do.
3) To be human there has to be choice, otherwise love is impossible, and choices can have consequences.
Most logical people would agree that if you jump off a bridge, you can’t blame God when you hit the bottom. The fact is that massive amounts of human suffering are because we refuse to live as God calls us to and we do things that bring suffering upon ourselves. God doesn’t cause wars and human actions that cause droughts and famines. God also does not cause us to make bad choices that lead to our own suffering and the suffering of others.
Science News in their last issue for 2017 gave a summary of the latest data in four areas where human suffering is human-caused:
1) 13.4 million U.S. adults misused or abused opioids. (Data from 2015).
2) 19 children die or are medically treated for gun-inflicted wounds every day.
3) 9 million people died directly from pollution.
4) 46% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise.
It isn’t 100% of the pain and suffering issue, but a vast percentage of the pain in this world we bring on ourselves. It is not caused by an angry or malicious god who likes to see us hurt.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.
In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.
Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”
It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.
Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.
Maybe the starting place for discussions with a relative or friend who has rejected the existence of God is to ask whether there is anything that would change their mind. The question is whether they are being merely skeptical or religious. Has their unbelief become a religion? At the same time, we should be open to their skeptical questions, but we need to be sure that we are “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the reason for the hope that is within us, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
A Newsweek article for November 30, 2017, reported that more Americans scoured the internet looking for proof that the Earth is flat in the past 12 months than ever before. The first “Flat Earth International Conference” in September drew 500 “believers.” I put the word believers in quotes because there is no way to tell how many of these folks view the whole thing as a joke, and how many people truly believe in a flat Earth.
Atheist and popularizer of secular humanism Neil DeGrasse Tyson got into the act by “sharing a photoshopped image of the moon on Twitter to undermine Flat-Earthers.” The image shows what a lunar eclipse would look like with a flat Earth. Tyson frequently equates belief in God with the flat Earth mentality. We may shake our heads in wonderment at this whole scenario, but it brings to mind the old proverb, “If people don’t believe in something, they will believe anything.”
While the Bible doesn’t discuss this issue directly, there are passages like Isaiah 40:22, Proverbs 8:27, and Luke 17:30-35 which infer that the Earth is round with daytime and nighttime activities taking place simultaneously. Unfortunately, we see some Christians taking positions on scientific issues that are similar to the Flat-Earthers. When the Bible is put in the same arena with flat Earth believers the Bible’s credibility suffers.
You can intelligently and logically believe that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” There is massive evidence to support that statement. The same is not true of those who believe the Earth is flat.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Those of us who had a college major or minor in psychology in the mid-twentieth-century received a heavy dose of “Freudian Theory” and Freudian ideas die hard. We learned that there are forces that explain human psychology called libido, destrudo, and thanatos which refer to sexual, aggressive, and death forces. I was an atheist when I was taking my psychology courses. Since Sigmund Freud was not only an atheist but also a promoter of drug dependence and sexual manipulation in psychological treatments, I swallowed his theories and promoted his views.
After I became a Christian, it was obvious that Freud’s treatments didn’t work. I saw modern psychology in the late twentieth century promoting ideas that were compatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In recent years private letters Freud wrote to Martha Bernays, his fiancee, and research by Frederick Crews have shown the depravity of Freud. In Crew’s words, “…the product of a mind that conjoined illogical and bizarre ideas with misogyny, prurience, and cruelty.”
The problem is that Freudian ideas die hard. We still see his ideas and words used in discussions of psychological disorders. We have seen articles and letters containing Freudian ideas and vocabulary like dissociative reaction, conversion reaction, anxiety hysteria, conversion disorder, and somatization disorder.
Christian principles give the best foundation for psychological stability. However, the resistance to Christianity has made Freud’s ideas go on far longer than they should given Freud’s history and the lack of success of those who tried to use his methods.
Frederick Crews has written a new book titled Freud, the Making of an Illusion (Holt Metropolitan Books, New York © 2017). Crews documents falsified clinical observations by Freud and negative outcomes that were never revealed. Meanwhile, there has been a growth of Christian psychological services and programs that are benefiting many people, but Freudian ideas die hard.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
A new study reported in Nature: Human Behaviour shows that even atheists have a bias against atheists in judging how a person will act. The study examined how people around the world, even in atheistic cultures, judge the actions of atheists as opposed to religious people.
The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. The study using people in 13 countries gave a hypothetical situation and asked people what they would conclude about the person in the story.
Participants in the study filled out a questionnaire to identify if they had any religious affiliation as well as asking their age and ethnicity. The questionnaire had a description of a sociopath who tortured animals as a child, and later killed five homeless people he abducted from poor neighborhoods in his home city and buried their remains in his basement. The participants were divided into two groups that were each given two choices of what they concluded about the man in the story. For the first group, the choice was either: 1) the man is a teacher or 2) the man is a teacher and does not believe in any gods. The two choices for the second group were: 1) the man is a teacher or 2) the man is a teacher and a religious believer. There were other questions and brain teasers to distract from the purpose of the study.
The result was that sixty percent of all responders said the man was a teacher and does not believe in any gods. Only thirty percent said that he was a teacher and a religious believer. It is interesting that a large percentage of the participants were atheists themselves. The study concluded that even atheists show bias against atheists in that they expect better behavior from a religious believer than from an atheist. You can argue about why this bias exists, but it seems that most people of all persuasions around the globe seem to think that belief in God has a positive effect on behavior.
–John N. Clayton © 2017