Yeti or Yogi Bear?

Yeti or Yogi Bear
The Yeti is a legendary creature of the snow-covered Himalayas. He has been described as an ape-like creature taller than a man and covered with white fur. In the 1920s a reporter for a newspaper in India gave the creature the nickname of “the abominable snowman.”

The general public continues to be fascinated with stories about Yeti or his temperate-weather cousin Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Some of the fascination is that there are folks who suggest that this creature offers a proof or disproof about the evolution of humans. The fact that Bigfoot continues to be a show on the Animal Planet network indicates that the value of these mythical creatures is more for entertainment than education.

The first point that we would like to make is that if a human-like creature existed, that science had not discovered yet, it would not have evolutionary implications. Neo-Darwinists would say it was just another dead-end in hominid evolution. Creationists would say that God had created another creature that was previously unknown. Quite often previously unknown species of various creatures are discovered somewhere in the world.

On November 28, 2017, the Proceedings of The Royal Society B, released a report of genetic studies of the remains of bones, teeth, skin, and hair that people claimed were from Yetis. All of them turned out to be from bears. The genome of a bear is distinctive enough that scientists can know with great certainty what creature left the sample. While the report probably won’t cancel any TV series on Bigfoot or interest in Yeti, it does give a rational answer to some of the claims.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Science Standards Battle

Science Standards
During September and October of 2017, the New Mexico Public Education Department was embroiled in a battle over what was called The Next Generation Science Standards. Those standards were edited by the department to weaken the treatment of evolution, climate change, and the age of the Earth. There was a major outcry led by the National Center for Science Education against the attempts to weaken the standards.

This battle over science standards continues in state after state, with religious groups and creationist organizations trying to stop the teaching of these concepts. The battle is unnecessary, and the attempts to stop the teaching of these subjects is misguided. The opposition is often based on denominational beliefs that are not biblical, and a poor understanding of science. Taking the three subjects that were the focus in New Mexico:

Evolution: The subjects being taught are factual change in living things which is the basis of agriculture and animal husbandry. The Bible speaks about these things in the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 30. There is little if any emphasis on theories about human history in the standards, and atheistic concepts are not in the textbooks.
Climate Change: The climate of planet Earth is changing, and it has changed in the past. Much of the area where Jesus walked and taught is different climatically today than it was in His day. Global warming has happened in the past, and all evidence shows us it continues to happen. The Bible makes no statements about climate change. The fact that humans have caused much suffering by our mismanagement of what God has given us is not contestable. This certainly includes the wastes that we put in our waters and our atmosphere.
Age of the Earth: There are major Protestant denominations that have a doctrinal position called dispensationalism. This doctrine teaches that the planet has seven dispensations that are each roughly 1000 years. The doctrine is that Jesus will come to Earth to war with Satan, and establish a political kingdom in Jerusalem on David’s throne for 1000 years. This denominational teaching does not take the Bible literally and contradicts what Jesus said His kingdom was about. (See John 18:36.) For a review of this teaching see “Destructive Dispensationalism” in our journal for November/December 2008, page 11.

We bring reproach to Jesus and the Bible when we oppose things that are clearly factual in educational science standards. There is no battle between science and the Bible. Human creeds and misunderstandings contradict facts and are eroding the faith of many of our young people. We need to follow 1 Peter 3:15 by understanding what the Bible teaches. We also must avoid false science and atheistic traditions.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

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

Avoiding God of the Gaps Explanations

God of the Gaps
One of the better arguments that atheists make is the claim that “god” is something that humans have invented to explain what they didn’t understand. This is known as the God of the gaps approach to explaining things. When people didn’t understand what makes a volcano work, they invented a god or goddess to explain volcanoes. When people didn’t understand what produces weather, gods or goddesses were invented to explain everything from lightning to wind. The names of these gods and goddesses have endured, and they show up in the video games our kids play such as Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Minerva, etc. The atheist argument is that in time they will find scientific answers that disprove any notion that a divine being was responsible.

There are two major weaknesses in the God of the gaps charge that atheists are making. The first is that just because we can propose a possible natural way to explain things that does not mean the explanation is true. Years ago there was a discovery that a female praying mantis after being fertilized by the male turns around and eats him. Promoters of neo-Darwinism developed elaborate theories about how this behavior was a product of evolutionary processes. Some of the explanations sounded fairly plausible. Later it was discovered that this behavior happens in captivity, but not in the natural world. What is proposed is frequently not what happened.

The second weakness of the God of the gaps accusation is that it ignores the probabilities against the natural explanation. For example, there are 10^500 different possible solutions to the string theory equations. (That’s one followed by 500 zeros.) By carefully choosing which equation you use, a scientist can propose one step in the formation of tangible matter. Many more steps are required to get matter that is stable, and multiple steps have to be accomplished before you can get a single atom of hydrogen. When statistics are applied to this model, the probabilities are prohibitive.

When you put all the probabilities together, the final answer makes it clear that chance is a very weak explanation for what we see in the world around us. Romans 1:18-22 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. We don’t invent God to explain anything. We ask for a reasonable acceptance of evidence that stands not only on an intuitive level but also on a mathematical level.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Scopes Monkey Trial Nonsense Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin of Life Complexity

Origin of Life Complexity
The origin of life complexity continues to baffle science. There are two competing scientific theories on the origin of life. One is called the “Darwin school of thought” which posits that meteorites brought elements to Earth that led to the formation of compounds which led to RNA and then to DNA. The second theory says that life originated in mineral-rich hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

The problem with both of these theories is that they are not explaining the origin of life complexity. They are only explaining some of the compounds that would be necessary to form life. Many scientists question the possibility of either of these theories and whether organic compounds could survive in the conditions of the early Earth. The bigger issue is how you could move from those compounds–no matter how they were formed–to a living cell.

You not only must have the ingredients to make life, but you also need a protected environment in which those compounds can be combined. Life could not begin in a toxic atmosphere or if there were agents on Earth’s surface that would destroy the ingredients. RNA and DNA involve long strands of nucleotides. Scientists in the laboratory can only produce such chains in a carefully controlled environment. The time element involved in producing increasingly complex molecules is also an issue.

When we enter probabilities into this process, the odds of each step happening by chance are very unlikely. Then to put all the steps together in the right order makes the probability of it happening by chance outside the scientific limits of what is possible.

Research into the origin of life complexity strongly points to an intelligent Creator. The more we learn, the more complexity we see. The famous atheist Antony Flew saw the complexity of a living cell, and that was a major factor in his coming to believe in God. His statement of faith was, “You have to go where the evidence leads.” Certainly, this area of study gives evidence of God’s wisdom and creative design. References: The Week, October 20, 2017, page 19, and Newsweek.com.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Skeptic Challenges

Skeptic ChallengesDOES GOD EXIST? maintains a Facebook page with daily postings. We often get skeptic challenges and questions from those who are seeking for answers. We want to share the following conversation from Facebook:

SKEPTIC: Maybe instead of “Does God Exist?” you should call your page “straw man arguments that I just made up and took no time to research.” Proteins collected, microorganisms slowly developed, they grew, became more developed, and developed very slowly into animals we recognize today. It really isn’t something you can’t Google whenever. But if you think everything is designed by your interpretation of the Jewish/Christian god, what designed him? Does the designer of the designer have a designer? Does it just go on forever in a ridiculous infinite cycle?

DGE?: You are on very shaky ground with that narrative of life coming together from non-life. But the real mistake you are making is thinking that God had a beginning. God created time and space, matter and energy at the moment often referred to as the “big bang.” Since God created time, he is not confined to the dimension of time. Since God is outside of time, he has no beginning. We are so confined to understanding things in the time dimension that it is difficult for us to grasp that concept. We think that everything has a beginning because that is true of the world we live in.

SKEPTIC: Isn’t it really easy to just say something exists outside of space and time and therefore doesn’t need to follow the laws of physics? What if I said that the creator of the universe is a giant, two-headed penguin? What if I were to say that the giant penguin exists outside of time and space (and that he wants you to give me money)? Would that be any less valid than what you’re asserting?

DGE?: Scientists say that space/time, as well as matter/energy, had their beginning at the singularity known as the big bang. Whatever created time (as well as space, matter, and energy) must exist outside of those dimensions. Some have tried to argue that the universe just happened without a cause. However, that is not a scientific statement because it cannot be tested. Sorry, it could not be a penguin because penguins (especially giant ones) have mass and therefore they are matter. As the Bible says, with scientific accuracy, “God is a spirit.”

SKEPTIC: To say that the universe having no cause is unscientific, while claiming the existence of some god living outside of physics, is hypocritical to say the least. If it’s necessary for everything to have a cause, what caused your god? If the universe HAS to have a cause, why not carry that same logic to the god you’re claiming?

DGE?: You are right that claiming the existence of God as the creator of space/time and matter/energy is not a scientific statement. The reason being that it cannot be scientifically tested. All we can know scientifically is that at the moment of creation space/time and matter/energy came into existence. That means that whatever caused those things to come into existence has to be outside of the space/time dimension and cannot be made of matter/energy.

We also know that since the cause is outside of space/time, it cannot be limited by space/time. That means it had no beginning in time, so it had no cause. It always existed. Those things can be proven logically and scientifically. From there we have to rely on faith since this is outside of the realm of science. I choose to believe that the creation was by an intelligent God. You may choose to believe that the creation was by and out of NOTHING. (Which is what some otherwise intelligent scientists have suggested.) Whether you choose the intelligent God hypothesis or the Nothing hypothesis you are acting on faith. I think that God is a more rational explanation.

SKEPTIC: It isn’t rational to believe things on faith. I’m not claiming “nothing” created the universe. I’m saying we don’t know, so we shouldn’t fool ourselves. You can’t claim to be reasonable if you 1) claim it is reasonable to say “we both don’t know, so I guess I’m right” 2) think something existing outside of time and space is plausible, but bacteria slowly forming from proteins in water is crazy talk.

DGE?: Okay, you are not saying that Nothing created the universe. However, I am sure you understand that the universe was created FROM nothing. I am sure that you understand that whatever did create the universe created time/space and matter/energy and therefore cannot be limited by or be made of those things. So the question is whether the thing which created time/space and matter/energy was Something or Nothing. Something seems more reasonable to me.

SKEPTIC: There’s no proof that “something” exists outside of the universe. It is, by definition, impossible for something to exist outside of reality. If it exists outside of reality, it doesn’t exist. It isn’t real. It’s imaginary. You’re providing logical proofs that not even a 4-year-old would buy. You first say that you have a specific something. You then say that this something must exist, solely on the grounds that we have stuff and not no stuff. When challenged on it, you say that it must exist, because what else would create the universe? Okay. What created your something? Another something? What created that something? Oh, it exists outside of time and space? And you have no evidence? Great. Just wonderful. You’ve won me over.

DGE?: How do you define this “reality” that you refer to? You have brought that word into our conversation, and you seem to be defining it as that which we can detect with our senses. Do you believe that nothing is “real” unless we can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell it?

SKEPTIC: If you cannot detect something in any way, it isn’t real. This isn’t exactly hard to understand. But you’re dodging around the fact that something cannot exist outside of reality, let alone create it. When you provide evidence that your particular interpretation of a particular deity is real, you may have some ground to stand on.

DGE?: You seem to have difficulty understanding that many (or should I say most) scientists believe that time began at the big bang. If that is the case, then whatever caused the bang has to exist outside of time. (Also it has to exist outside of space, since time and space are inter-related, and space began at the big bang also.) Either you have to say that Nothing created everything we see, or you have to say that Something outside of time created everything.

The only other idea posited is that the universe is cyclical and the big bang came from a previous universe that had compressed itself into a tiny point that exploded into a new universe. This theory has been rejected by scientists because nobody today believes that the universe will start to compress into a point and explode again. The expansion rate of the universe is increasing, not slowing down, and the energy will eventually dissipate. Also, the cyclical idea still doesn’t explain where it all began.

All we have left then are two possibilities. Either Nothing created the universe or Something outside of time and space created time and space and matter and energy and everything we see. Some scientists (Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss) have suggested that the universe came from Nothing because Nothing is unstable and therefore it morphs into a more stable state. I don’t see how that can be called a scientific theory unless it can be tested. I also think it takes more faith to believe that life (including human intelligence and creativity) came from Nothing than to believe that these things came from an intelligent Designer.

SKEPTIC: Again, I’m NOT SAYING “NOTHING” CREATED THE UNIVERSE! We don’t know what created the universe, or if the universe always existed somehow, but to say that you’re right because you can’t imagine “nothing” creating the universe is fundamentally flawed. If you think something created the universe, demonstrate what it is, then demonstrate that it exists, then demonstrate that it is your god (I’m guessing you’re a Christian, I apologize if I’m wrong). But if you cannot demonstrate that your god made the universe, or even that he exists, you should not expect anyone to believe you. But again, just because you think “something” made the universe, that doesn’t mean that it should be exempt from the laws of physics. Show your proof.

DGE?:
You say we don’t know “if the universe always existed somehow.” You would have a hard time finding any reputable scientist today who would say that the universe always existed. Discovery of the microwave background radiation from the cosmic creation event put the final nail in the coffin of that idea. So, since the universe had a beginning, the only choices seem to be that it had a cause, or it did not have a cause. It either created itself out of Nothing, or it was created by Something. That Something has to be outside of time and space, or it could not have created time and space. You can call it God or you can just call it Something. Science cannot go back beyond the big bang, so there is no scientific way to prove what that Something is.

SKEPTIC:
There’s no way to prove there is anything outside of reality, but again, by definition, NOTHING CAN EXIST OUTSIDE OF REALITY. It isn’t plausible. You’re using circular logic.

DGE?: You are saying that reality is only the 4-dimensional world that you know and that nothing can exist outside of those four dimensions because that is all you know. And you are accusing me of using circular logic.

SKEPTIC: Who brought up four dimensions? Are you trying to use pseudoscientific terms to try to sound smart?

DGE?: In case you didn’t realize it, the four dimensions we live in are width, height, depth, and time. (Or X, Y, Z, and T, if you prefer.)

SKEPTIC: Riiiiight… Well, you literally can’t have something existing outside of reality. You think I’m wrong? Show me your god.

DGE?: You are avoiding the issue. You continue to use “reality” as things you think are real and anything you don’t think is real is outside of “reality.” Your reality is too small. As you know, it is not possible to prove scientifically that God exists, and it is not possible to prove scientifically that God does not exist. Nobody has ever seen the so-called “dark matter,” but scientists believe it exists because they see its effect on the galaxies. Nobody has ever seen an electron, but we believe electrons exist because without them our computers would not work, and we would not be carrying on this conversation.

Likewise, even though we cannot see God, we see the universe around us. We know that the universe had a beginning and there had to be a cause of the beginning. You can choose to believe that there was an intelligent Creator or you can believe that it just happened out of nothing and by Nothing. You can also believe that electrons and dark matter don’t exist. Your computer works by magic, and the galaxies are held together by imagination. Each person decides what to believe, and I suggest that you keep an open mind.

SKEPTIC: As common sense and centuries of logical thought have proven, you should not believe in things that cannot be detected. I cannot detect magical leprechauns in my garden, but what else would cause my plants to exist? Well, I must be right, right? That’s proof enough for you, right? Look, I know you know I’m winning. That’s why you’re making it personal by accusing me of being closed-minded, which is highly inappropriate. Shame on you. You’ve lost. No one who is winning an argument will attack the other person. If you want an intelligent discussion, then that’s wonderful. I encourage it. But if you think it’s okay to say someone’s closed minded when they disagree with the same tired argument, then shame on you. I have no time for people who can’t maintain their arguments on their points’ own merits and resort to accusations of closed-mindedness.

DGE?: You say you won and I lost. I didn’t know this was a contest with a winner or looser. I thought it was an intelligent discussion about important things. In fact, I would say eternally important. You say that one should not believe in things that can’t be detected. Then I would expect that you would take issue with the many scientists who believe in dark matter which they have not been able to detect. Look it up on Wikipedia. They believe it exists because it explains things that they cannot explain otherwise.

I also suggest that you look up a book written by Edwin Abbot in 1884 titled “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.” It’s available on Amazon for only a few dollars, and the Kindle edition is free. It is pretty much required reading for students of math, physics, or engineering. It’s a satirical novel about a man who lives in a two-dimensional world called Flatland. He is unable to believe that there could be a third dimension when a sphere shows up in Flatland and challenges his thinking. You don’t seem to be open to anything that challenges your way of thinking.

It has been interesting discussing these matters with you. I wish you well. I would say, “God bless you,” but that would probably offend you. So I will just say, “May the Force be with you.”

(This conversation was edited to correct grammatical and spelling errors, to clarify, and for brevity. You will find our daily Facebook postings at www.facebook.com/evidence4god.)
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Artificial Life Synthetic Biology

Artificial Life
I just ran across an Associated Press news article in my files. The headline reads, “Scientists Believe Artificial Life Will Be Possible in 3 to 10 Years.” The article is dated August 20, 2007.

The article deals with a new scientific discipline known as synthetic biology. The goal is to create life in the laboratory. Two of the pioneers in this field are Jack Szostak and Craig Venter. Szostak’s team has taken the bottom-up approach to building artificial life-forms. They seek to assemble the biomolecular building blocks step-by-step until they have a living cell. Venter’s team takes the top-down approach. They try to re-engineer existing life-forms by changing the DNA to create novel forms of life. Both teams have made progress over the last ten years, but neither has achieved the ultimate goal.

The AP article says there are three major hurdles to creating artificial life. First, you need a container or cell membrane. It serves as a protective wall to keep the materials required for life inside while keeping the bad molecules out. Living cells must have that. Secondly, you need a genetic system that controls all of the cell functions. This system has to allow the cell to mutate in response to the environment and, very importantly, to reproduce. The third essential is a system of metabolism. The cell must be able to take raw materials from the environment and convert them into energy to power the cell.

Those three hurdles are still challenging the scientists. In time, scientists may jump the hurdles and create fully synthetic artificial life. In doing so, what will they have proven? Will they have proven that life arises spontaneously from non-life? No. They will have proven that great intelligence under carefully controlled conditions can turn non-living matter into life-forms. They will have shown that life is not an accident, but the creation of an intelligent being. That is what the Bible has said for thousands of years.

Even when those scientists manage to create a living cell, they will not have created it from nothing. They will be using the materials (and intelligence) that God has given us. It reminds me of the old story about a scientist who challenged God saying that is was no big deal to create a man from the dust of the ground. God said, “Go ahead and do it.” The scientist grabbed up a handful of dust and God interrupted him saying, “Wait a minute! Make your own dust.”
–Roland Earnst © 2017