Defining Death

Defining Death
The challenge of defining death continues to make front page news in the media.

The first weekend in May a story came out of a young man named Trenton McKinley in Mobile, Alabama who was crushed in an accident and showed no brain waves. Doctors told his parents he would not survive and suggested that they allow the doctors to harvest organs from their son to extend the lives of five other children. The day before the surgery to harvest the organs, Trenton regained consciousness and was able to talk with his parents. He is expected to recover.

At the same time in Liverpool, England, a 23-month-old boy named Alfie Evans died from a degenerative brain disease. The British courts would not allow the boy’s parents to take him to Italy for a treatment that the court thought would do no good. Several years ago an infant in London named Charlie Gard had a similar diagnosis, and the courts prevented the parents from taking their baby to the United States for treatment. Even Pope Francis got involved in the case of Alfie Evans, but to no avail. In England at least, defining death revolves around brain waves. The case of Trenton McKinley is going to bring new debate about the two cases in England where the courts overruled the parents.

Defining death has become a complicated issue. From a biblical standpoint, death is when the soul is separated from the body, and it is irreversible. The McKinley family is claiming that Trenton’s recovery is a miracle, but there are possible medical explanations for what happened. It is ironic that abortions are performed with no concern for the rights of the child, the parents, or someone else who might want to raise the child.

The Week published a survey of this question with references in the May 11, 2018, issue, page 14. It will be interesting to see if these cases bring any serious change in how the medical establishment deals with death, especially the death of a child.
–John N. Clayton

War Against Churches and Morals

War Against Churches and Morals
The Bible takes some strong stands on moral issues. That has led to a war against churches by those who reject biblical morals.

No one seems to be too upset with the Bible’s statements that murder is wrong until a church suggests that putting a baby to death simply because it has not been born yet is a form of murder. The Bible warns us about unhealthy lifestyle choices and tells us that our bodies are “the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:15-20). There are things God warns us not to do with our bodies including sexual activity outside of God’s plan for marriage. These things are the teachings of the New Testament. They are not forced on anyone, but they are taught as a moral framework that has generally worked in America since the founding of this country. Now churches are threatened with the governmental abolition of these practices and teachings. The government is banning speech which supports biblical morals with threats against the churches.

The website ChurchClarity.org publishes a database of churches which it believes have policies which “place restrictions on individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Queer.” The Fort Des Moines Church of Christ was censored by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission because the church did not allow members of the opposite sex to use their restrooms and showers. The Community Church in Laurel, Maryland purchased a property for $470,000. Because the city planner did not want a church there, the city changed the zoning code and told the church that they would be fined $250 a day if they used their building. This reminds us of an ongoing problem in Chicago where the city didn’t want any churches to build within the city limits. Their excuse was that it would take the property off the tax rolls, even though the buildings were in a slum and were falling apart.

ADF is an organization with a group of lawyers who fight these persecutions. They have managed to have some anti-church laws overturned, but this war against churches is just getting started. Congregations need to be aware of how to defend themselves against attacks from atheists and skeptics. There are resources available to assist those facing government persecution available through The Alliance Defending Freedom, 15100 N 90th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, Phone 800-835-5233, ADFLegal.org
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Job’s Dinosaur

Job's Dinosaur
There is an interesting Bible reference to a fearsome creature in Job 40:15-24. Some creationists consider this to be Job’s dinosaur showing that dinosaurs and humans interacted at the time of Job. This is part of an attempt to suggest that dinosaurs and early humans were contemporaries to disprove the scientific evidence that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans existed on Earth.

The question is, “What kind of creature Job is describing?” Did an animal that existed in the past fit this description? The Hebrew word used for this creature is “behemoth” which literally means a large creature. Many animals that lived in the past and some living today could be called large creatures. We must look at the properties of this animal as described in the passage. We know that it was an herbivore (“feeds on grass like an ox”). Also, we know that “his tail sways like a cedar.” The description also tells us that he was virtually impossible to control.

The AP reported on May 5 about a discovery at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Scientists found human footprints inside the footprints of a giant ground sloth. The giant ground sloth was an herbivore that could stand seven or eight feet tall, had tight muscles and front legs tipped with wolverine-like claws. It had a huge tail used mostly for balance when it stood on its hind legs to get at vegetation. It appears that some humans were hunting the sloth and tracking it closely.

There is no denying that ancient humans interacted with these huge creatures. In the Natural History Museum in Chicago, there are displays of the fossils of these creatures, and the picture shows a recreated giant ground sloth at Kartchner Caverns near Benson, Arizona. The finding of human tracks intersecting the tracks of the sloths leaves no doubt about the fact that they were contemporaries. You can’t prove that Job’s dinosaur was actually a ground sloth, but the description fits very well. It is certainly more likely than the claim that the animal was a T-rex or a brontosaurus.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Expectancy Factors

Life Expectancy Factors
Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived for 969 years. While he is the champion of longevity, Genesis records all of the men of that time living hundreds of “years.” We put “years” in quotes because there has been a lot of speculation as to how a human can live that long–or whether any human would want to. There are many life expectancy factors to consider.

We have suggested that at the very early period in human history the definition of a year may have been very different from what it is today. Interestingly, other cultures such as Chinese, Egyptian, and Aztec recorded humans living hundreds or even thousands of years. We know that in some cases they based their year on the Moon or climatic factors, not the Sun. Those of us who have been blessed with very long lives know that the quality of life decreases logarithmically with age. As an octogenarian, I can tell you that living 969 years is something I would not want to experience.

Another question connected to this issue is whether the damage we do to ourselves with diet and recreational drugs accounts for some of this age issue. In The Week for May 4, 2018 (page 21) there are two interesting news reports. One is a study on Vox.com which reports that being a night owl produces a 10% greater risk of death than early risers The study also shows that chronic health issues such as diabetes, neurological disorders, and respiratory disease are more likely in night owls because they live in a perpetual state of jet lag.

In the same issue of The Week carried a report from Cambridge University showing that even moderate drinking of alcohol cuts years off a person’s life. Two or three drinks a day can cut up to two years off a person’s life. A study of 600,000 people reported on CNN.com lists eight major health hazards that come from moderate drinking.

How much can all of this do to shorten life expectancy? Probably not 900 years, but research is showing the effect of human indulgences in unwise lifestyles are greater life expectancy factors than anyone knew. When you add genetic issues to the equation, the idea of nomadic people who avoided the germ spreading environment of primitive cities is not as far-fetched as it appeared 25 years ago.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

For another possible explanation of Methuselah’s long life check out our previous post.

Becoming New Creatures

Becoming New Creatures
The National Geographic Channel has been airing a very interesting new series of programs titled “One Strange Rock.” The series hosted by actor/comedian Will Smith tells about the many “strange” and “lucky” features of planet Earth that make it possible for us to live here. In the most recent episode, eight astronauts explain why they think that humans should colonize space. They and some other prominent individuals have recently suggested that colonizing other planets or living in space may be the only hope for the human race to survive. In the process we might find ourselves becoming new creatures.

This episode brings out the many ways that space life will affect our bodies. Based on present experience with the International Space Station we know that bones and muscles weaken when they do not have to overcome the effects of gravity. Body fluids shift upwards causing other physical changes. There are changes to a person’s eyesight which can be permanent. Outside of Earth’s atmospheric protection, astronauts face greater amounts of cosmic radiation that can trigger “light flashes” in their eyes. Long exposure to the higher levels of radiation may lead to cancer or brain damage. At the same time, bacteria grow faster and can become more deadly in a zero-gravity environment. The environment of space, even with the best protective gear science can devise, may at best be toxic and at worst fatal to humans.

Even with those considerations, the astronauts are saying that we must colonize space. Part of their reasoning is that humans have evolved to handle the challenges of life on this planet, and we will perhaps evolve becoming new creatures to handle the new hazards of space. They say it will just be a matter of adapting to a new environment. Will Smith said in this episode, “Even if we survive the journey and make the place feel like home, we still might not save our species. Just by being there we might turn into something else.”

I think that the real answer to human survival IS for us to turn into something else. Human survival depends on people turning away from their sinful passions and hatred. It involves becoming what God created us to be and living out the teaching and example of Jesus. Going to another planet and taking along our sinful nature with all of its baggage will not save us. The real hope for the survival of the human race does not involve leaving the planet God created for us. It does not require leaving Earth with all of its “strange” and “lucky” features that make life possible. It is not necessary for us to go to a much more hostile environment and evolve into new creatures. The answer to our survival is becoming new creatures here and now as described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs
An article in the British tabloid Daily Star on April 8, 2018, claimed that new tests on Buzz Aldrin confirm that he contacted an alien on his trip to the Moon in 1969. The story supposedly came from an Ohio scientific group called “The Institute of BioAcoustic Biology and Sound Health.” That group claims to have a “top secret” test to determine what the subject actually experienced or saw. They gave no explanation of the test or why it overrules what the subject says.

The reason we even mention this is because atheist journals and even in major newspapers like USA Today have cited it. NASA has pointed out that four panels separated from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in flight, and they would have followed the same general trajectory as the spacecraft. Buzz Aldrin said in a Reddit chat session, “I feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels.” He has denied having any contact with aliens. The BioAcoustic group claims that audio tests have shown hidden truths in Aldrin’s speech.

We have repeatedly pointed out that the question of whether there is life on other planets, is not a biblical or apologetic issue. The Bible doesn’t say that this is the only place where God has chosen to create life. However, it has become increasingly obvious that if there is alien intelligent life in space, it is too far away to be of any consequence to us. In spite of that, the media continues to push the idea that life in space somehow contradicts the Bible and supports atheism.

There is an adage that when a person doesn’t believe in something they will believe anything. That seems to apply here. Our focus needs to be on solving Earth’s problems, not attempts to divert attention to poorly supported scientific claims of alien intervention.
–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.

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