Returning from the Dead

Returning from the Dead
Throughout human history there have been bizarre stories of people returning from the dead. Whether it is zombies or ghosts or a person who miraculously returns from the dead, the stories fascinate people, and frequently they become enlarged and expanded with each telling.

In our day people have written books claiming that a person returned from the dead. Kevin Malarkey wrote a best seller about his son Alex who was involved in a car crash in 2004. He claimed that Alex died and went to heaven and met Jesus Christ. Alex, who was left paralyzed by the accident, is now suing the publisher for damages over the book. Alex says his story was totally fabricated by his father and that money made by the selling the book was not shared with Alex. The lawsuit demands that Alex’s name be “completely disassociated from the book.” You can read more about it HERE.

We suggest that all claims made in recent times about someone returning from the dead should be treated with extreme skepticism. What about the biblical claims? In 1 Samuel 28:7-25 we read of Saul going to the witch of Endor who “had a familiar spirit” to ask her to bring Samuel back from the dead. The woman who appears to be running a séance scam. When she performs her ritual she is shocked that Samuel actually shows up. Verse 12 tells us that “When the woman saw Samuel she screamed in a loud voice.” It appears she didn’t expect her seance to actually work, and she is terrified when it does. This seems to be a unique act of a miraculous nature.

There are also biblical cases where someone was brought back to life such as Lazarus in John 11:30-45. The resurrection of Lazarus was so that the followers of Jesus would “see the glory of God” (John 11:40) and believe that Jesus was sent by God. The miracle of the resurrection of Christ is presented as a fact of history. It was a miracle in the most graphic way that Jesus was who He claimed to be. We don’t explain miracles. You either accept the fact that they happened, or you reject them.

In today’s world any claim of returning from the dead would not serve the purpose of the biblical miracles. Hebrews 9:27 tells us “.. it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” All of us will die physically, and returning from the dead is not an option. We should be concerned that we not die spiritually.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Christian Vision of Sexuality

Christian Vision of Sexuality
Now and then we find a statement by an author that we think is so good that we need to promote it. Todd Wilson in a new hook titled Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality has such a statement:

“We’ve turned sex into something far less powerful and profound than what it really is. As a culture, we’re quickly growing bored with sex, even as we’re gorging ourselves on it. Something has gone ludicrously wrong. We believe sex is only for marriage, not because Christians are killjoys, but because we have a realistic and exalted view of the power of sex. Sex isn’t a toy or a plaything; it’s a sacred and sovereign power. When something is powerful–think of a downed power line or a loaded gun–you aren’t careless when you handle it. You understand that it can kill or harm you if you aren’t careful. Sex is a powerful creative gift, something God gives us for good purposes. But if we misuse it and are careless, it can profoundly harm us.”

One of the problems is that our culture has zoomed in on the physical, mechanical aspects of sex, and not the love and oneness that God created sexual expression to be. The lessons of how humans have contaminated one of God’s most beautiful creations fill the pages of the Bible. In the Christian vision of sexuality, we have no excuse for pornography or sex outside of a committed marriage relationship. We have no tolerance for unwanted sexual advances and actions by anyone, including political figures. The fact that there is no excuse doesn’t change the fact that there will always be those who will place their lust above God’s plans for us.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bad Design or Abuse of the Body?

Bad Design or Abuse?
We recently received a letter from a lady whose husband had just died from Parkinson’s disease. The letter berated God for bad design in humans that allows diseases like Parkinson’s to exist. Is the cause really bad design or abuse of the body?

I have followed the research on Parkinson’s for quite a few years because my closest friend in the high school where I taught for 41 years died of Parkinson’s, and so did my brother just a few months ago. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a suggestion if you have lost a loved-one to Parkinson’s or similar diseases. I suggest that most of those diseases are caused in one way or another by human error, greed, or abuse, and not because of God’s bad design.

A new study suggests that Parkinson’s has a direct relationship to TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Researchers studied the health records of 325,870 veterans age of 31 to 65. After 12 years, 1,462 had been diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder, and 65% of these had been treated for a TBI. Researchers concluded that 71% had an increased risk of Parkinson’s and those who had received severe head injuries had an 83% higher risk. The study says that injured brain cells trigger a build-up of fibrils of a protein called alpha-synuclein which is a hallmark of Parkinson’s.

We know that cigarettes have a strong causal relationship to cancer. Now it appears that some other major health maladies are not due to bad design in our bodies, but rather what has happened to us. It might be accidental head injuries in sports or due to our carelessness in what we do with our bodies. Psalms 139:14 states a truism, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” So is Parkinson’s a function of bad design or abuse of the body? It is obvious that failing to take adequate care of our bodies can lead to all kinds of problems.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: The Week, May 11, 2018, page 19.

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

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

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.

Earth’s Magnetic Field

Earth's Magnetic Field
You might say that planet Earth is a very large magnet. We have mentioned before Earth’s magnetic field that is generated by the iron core. The movement of that molten iron generates a magnetic field surrounding our planet. We can see the effect of that field every time we use a compass to find directions.

What you may not realize is that there is also a magnetic field generated by the ocean. Salt water is a good conductor of electricity. Moving electric currents generate magnetic fields. Hans Christian Ørsted discovered that by accident in 1820 when he noticed that placing a compass near a wire carrying an electric current caused deflection of the compass needle.

Salt dissolved in the oceans’ water creates ions, which are electrically charged particles. The movement of ocean tides causes those charged particles to move. Electric current is electrically charged particles in motion. Since electric current generates a magnetic field, the ocean tides generate magnetic fields. Because the movement of ocean currents and tides is complex, the magnetic fields generated by the oceans are more complex than the big magnetic field of the Earth. They are also 20,000 times weaker than Earth’s main magnetic field making them harder to measure.

Today’s satellite technology allows us to map the oceans’ magnetic field. The European Space Agency used three satellites to create a network called “Swarm.” They used the data from those satellites to create a 3-D digital map of this little-known magnetic field. The research shows how the field changes over time. Although the oceans create a relatively small part of Earth’s magnetic field, they play an important role. Mapping this field also give scientists a better picture of how the oceans flow all the way down to the seabeds. That information gives us a better understanding of Earth’s climate.

Combined with the magnetic field produced by the molten core and rocks in Earth’s crust, we are protected by a “cocoon” surrounding our planet. You might say, “Protected from what?” Our Sun frequently erupts in solar storms releasing charged particles that escape into space. Many of those particles travel to the Earth. We call it “solar wind.” Without a protective magnetic shield, those particles would reach Earth’s surface disrupting power grids and aircraft navigation. More basic than that, they would damage human cells causing cancers and other health problems.

We don’t think it’s by chance that we have the protection of Earth’s magnetic field. We see this as one more evidence of the provision of God to make possible life on this planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

New Human Organ Discovery

There Is a New Human Organ Discovery
With all that science knows about the human body, it is truly amazing that they have just made a new human organ discovery. Scientists at the New York University Langone School of Medicine have announced the discovery of a previously unknown organ in the human body. They gave it the name “interstitium.”

The human body is about 60% water, most of which is in the cells. The interstitium is a network of fluid-filled spaces, and it holds about 20% of all the fluid in the human body. The reason this organ wasn’t detected earlier is that researchers treat and dehydrate the tissue samples before they put them under a microscope. That causes the interstitium to collapse. Until now researchers saw the interstitium as a dense wall of the protein collagen. They now realize that it is not a wall but an “open, fluid-filled highway” supported by a lattice of collagen.

The interstitium organ plays a major role in the immune system. Interstitial fluid is the source of lymph, which sends out white blood cells to fight infection. The interstitium’s role in the body’s battle against infection is significant, and this discovery may change how some difficult infections are treated.

Medical researchers discovered the interstitium by using a new imaging technique called probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (pCLE) to examine living tissue. They found interstitium tissue under the surface of the skin, in the lining of the digestive tract and lungs, and surrounding the muscles. This new human organ discovery helps explain how cancer cells spread throughout the body.

We still have much to learn about the design and function of our bodies, but we see God’s wisdom and the complexity of His creation as we grow in our understanding of how our bodies work. David said it best in Psalms 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works God, and my soul knows that very well.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

CRISPR and God’s Design

CRISPR and God's Design
The general media and scientific journals have given great attention to something called CRISPR (pronounced like the name of the refrigerator drawer where you stash fresh veggies). CRISPR was first reported in scientific journals and papers in 2012. Now it is being used by scientists all over the world as a method to modify human embryonic stem cells and answer questions about basic biology and development. Here is a sample of what Wikipedia says about it:

“CRISPR is an abbreviation of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats… A simple version of the CRISPR/Cas system, CRISPR/Cas9, has been modified to edit genomes… CRISPR/Cas genome-editing techniques have many potential applications, including medicine and crop seed enhancement. The use of CRISPR/Cas9-gRNA complex for genome editing was the AAAS’s choice for the breakthrough of the year in 2015. Bioethical concerns have been raised about the prospect of using CRISPR for germline editing.”

That last statement about this technique concerns many people. Are we “playing God” feeling that we can improve on what God has created? Is human genetic engineering going to threaten a catastrophic mistake in the future? Hollywood is already on this with dramas like Netflix’s Luke Cage.

CRISPR exploits something that microbes commonly do in the natural world. Bacteria defend themselves against viruses and other DNA in the environment by having snippets of foreign genetic material as molecular spacers which serve as borders. What scientists are doing is to pick those characteristics that CRISPR can use to eliminate a bad gene and insert a good one in place of it. We are taking something that God has designed into nature and using it to eliminate genetic disorders that may have been caused by human abuse of the environment.

This could be the tool to eliminate nerve damage and give quadriplegics and paraplegics full use of their arms and legs. Trials are already going on to eliminate cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, many forms of cancer, sickle cell anemia, beta thalassemia, and leukemia. This is not replacing God’s original design but rather using some of the tools God created to repair things damaged by time and human abuse. Scientists are harnessing an ancient biological process to edit the code of life. God’s design is what makes this possible and offers great hope for the future of people afflicted with disorders which have not been within our medical reach in the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Notre Dame Magazine, Spring 2018, pages 22-27.