Skeptic Challenges Answered

Skeptic Challenges

DOES GOD EXIST? maintains a Facebook page with daily postings. We often get challenges and questions from atheists and skeptics or those who are seeking for answers. We want to share the following conversation from Facebook. The article we posted was about the way the tendons in the legs of various animals and birds are designed in a way that allows them to sleep while standing, hanging upside down, or perched on a branch. The article ended like this:

DGE?-…If a human falls asleep while standing up, it can be dangerous. It’s also very uncomfortable when we have to stand while we are sleepy. For some animals sleeping while standing comes naturally. It’s all a matter of design. Such a simple thing as the position in which we sleep is a reflection of the incredible design that is built into all living creatures.

SKEPTIC- Are you so willfully ignorant that you refuse to do any research?

DGE?- Please explain what you mean.

SKEPTIC- You talk about stuff like this like it’s some kind of universal mystery, but there’s already a scientific explanation

DGE?- If you read this again, you will not find any place where we said it’s a mystery. There are explanations for this and most of the other things that we have presented on this page. The few times when we present things which cannot be explained, it’s usually because science has not yet discovered the answer. What science does is to try to discover how God did it. I think that’s why God gave humans curiosity. Solving the “mysteries” makes life fun and challenging. The point we are making on this page is not that these things are mysterious. The point is that they show design and engineering–not merely random chance.

SKEPTIC- Science is not just a way to discover how your god did it. It’s a way to find out how, if, and why things work. Before you look for how Yahweh did it, the intellectually honest thing to do is to find out IF he did it.

DGE?- That’s a good point. Science does look for how things work–and why. The “why” leads us to the question, “Do the facts of how this works indicate that it could have happened by chance?” That leads to the question of, “Is it rational to think that this could have happened as a result of random accidents without any intelligent design or planning?” The more we see apparent design in the world around us, the more we realize that it takes more faith to believe all those “designs” happened by accident than to believe they had a Designer.

SKEPTIC- Prove it was designed. Provide evidence to back up your assertions

DGE?- You say I should prove my assertions. You might want to look back to see what my “assertion” was. It was that there is apparent design in the world around us. Someone you may have heard of wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.” Even biologist Richard Dawkins sees apparent design in living things. So you can say, like Dawkins, that the apparent design is only in your imagination and is totally the work of natural selection acting on random mutations. Or you can say there really is a Designer. I would suggest that design shows intelligence. I can’t prove that God exists, and you can’t prove that He doesn’t exist. All that we can do is look at the evidence and reach our own conclusions.

SKEPTIC- When someone like Dawkins says there’s a “design” they don’t mean some guy sitting in the clouds with blueprints of every species, they mean that different animals have special means of doing things to survive (stuff like horses having hooves and fish having gills). This is not proof of Yahweh or any deity.

DGE?- If your concept of the God you don’t believe in is “some guy sitting in the clouds”, then you have a very juvenile concept of God. I don’t believe in that kind of god either.

(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

Neanderthals in America?

What Neanderthals might have looked like.
What Neanderthals might have looked like.

There is a tendency for the media to be “splitters” instead of “lumpers” when it comes to human history. Splitters are people, in and out of the academic community, who want to put a new label on everything they find in the fossil record. Every new find is given a new name and assumed to be a new species. The result is that people believe there have been many species of humans. In the past, splitters justified slavery by maintaining that some races were actually inferior species and could be used by more fit (more advanced) species of humans. Lumpers are those who maintain that all of the variations are simply racial variations and that there is only one human species.

The Bible is clear that God looks at all humans as having equal value (Galatians 3:28). The advent of Christianity ended the barriers between humans even though greed and selfishness continue to plague the planet. The splitter mentality attempts to classify the Neanderthals as a different species of humans, even though evidence suggests this is not scientifically correct. Scientists studying the human genome have found genes in all of us that seem to be related to the Neanderthals. On April 27, 2017, the journal Nature published a report of a study of some mastodon bones found in the San Diego are two decades ago. The conclusion of a team of scientists was that marks on the bones indicate they were split open to get at the marrow. They suggest that the bone fractures and potential hammer stones found with them were the work of possible Neanderthals. Previous archaeological studies suggest that humans arrived in the Americas some 15,000 years ago. Dating of the mastodon bones is close to 130,000 years ago. Many other scientists question this new report.

Regardless of who is right, evidence shows that as humans spread throughout the world, racial variations developed. How different we can be genetically and still be one species seems to be changing with the lumpers carrying the day. The future will tell us more about some of our ancestors between us and Adam. The fact that we are all one seems to be unquestionable. For more on this see USA Today, April 27, 2017, page B1.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Many Extinct Species?

Fossils
Fossils
Atheists often challenge us with the widely quoted statistic that “95 to 99 percent of all creatures that have ever lived are now extinct.” Their argument is that if there were a wise God who created life, he would have done a better job. The skeptics are assuming that they know the purpose for which a wise God would have created those life-forms. Perhaps the extinct species had a purpose of preparing the Earth for humans, and they went extinct because they had served their purpose. But I am assuming that humans are the pinnacle and ultimate purpose of God’s creation. Atheists reject that idea. One of our skeptical followers recently posted a comment referring to “the virus called man,” as if humans are a blight on an otherwise good world.

Another possibility is that perhaps the statistic of extinct species is highly exaggerated. Since the life-forms that have gone extinct are no longer around, how do scientists determine how many species have gone extinct since life began? The number of fossils of extinct species we have actually found is estimated to be about 250,000. So we have direct evidence of a quarter of a million extinct species. According to National Geographic (May 2014), there are at least 1.9 million animal species today and at least 450,000 plant species. If it’s true that 95 percent of the animal species have gone extinct and there are 1.9 million living today, that means that over 36 million have gone extinct. If we have fossils of only 250,000 extinct species (plants and animals) how do we know that there were 36 million others for which we have no evidence? According to National Geographic (May 2014), Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University, and his colleagues “reviewed data from fossil records and noted when species disappeared, then used statistical modeling to fill in holes in the record.” In other words, they are filling in the “holes” or “missing links” in the evolutionary record to determine how many other species must have existed that disappeared without a trace.

The questions we might want to ask are, “Why do we have fossils of only 250,000 species out of 36,000,000? Why are we assuming that 36,000,000 species have gone extinct based on the evidence of fossils totaling less than seven-tenths of one percent of that number?” The answer to those questions is apparently the fact that naturalistic evolution from single-celled life to humans requires us to make that assumption. Perhaps this gives us something to ponder.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Symbols

Emojis
Emojis
Humans seem to enjoy using symbols for everything in life. Notice the emoticons and emojis used in electronic communication. It is interesting that the use of symbols to convey meaning is an attribute of humans that is not seen in any other form of life. Animals may use sounds or chemicals to alert others of their kind to danger, territory, or sexual availability, but these are not symbols. Sometimes symbols have different meanings to different cultures or even different generations. In my hippie days, holding up two fingers in a “V” meant “peace.” When I was first inducted into military service, the same symbol meant “victory” and indicated an intention to conquer. Symbols convey information, and as the deaf can demonstrate to us, they can even form the basis of complex communication.

Our use of symbols is a reflection of our spiritual makeup. We can create art, express ourselves in music, and worship God because we possess a soul which allows these unique forms of expression. The most mentally challenged among us can use symbols and rejoice in being able to do so.

Sometimes symbols and their use are unique to a particular time in human history. A classic example of this is the use of the cross. In today’s world, the cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity. People wear crosses to express their personal faith. The cross is put on many buildings, Bibles, and along our roadsides. Steven Lemley in an article in Power for Today (January 2, 2017) points out that in the first century the cross was only a sign of the execution of guilty criminals. He reminds us that wearing a cross or having it adorn a place of worship in the first century, would be like us today wearing the image of a hypodermic needle used in executions. Many saw the cross as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23) or a sign of God’s weakness. Paul used the cross as a symbol of separating ourselves from the world (Galatians 6:14) as well as crucifying our sinful nature (Romans 6:6).

For the first century Christians, the outline of a fish was used as a symbol. The Greek word “fish” spelled out an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Archaeological discoveries of ancient Christian symbols display the fish and sometimes a young man holding a lamb. Today we see people with fish symbols on their cars. We also see the cross used as a symbol to remind us of the terrible suffering that Jesus endured, and the ultimate victory of Christ over sin. All symbols, even emojis, can remind us that we have an eternal spiritual nature that we can express in many ways. The use of symbols, worship, and prayer are uniquely human features reminding us that we were created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Human Evolution

Variety and Unity in Humans
Variety and Unity in Humans
I have subscribed to National Geographic for well over 50 years. The magazine has evolved from a reporting magazine to a promoting magazine. What I mean is that in the 1950s and 60s the magazine reported on scientific discoveries and explanations of the science of the day. In recent years has adopted an agenda that does a great deal of speculative editorializing. Things that scientists like to speculate about are frequently presented as facts, and this happens in a wide range of subject matter. Speculations concerning quantum mechanics and cosmology are presented in such a way that lay readers assume that they are scientific facts. Sometimes the magazine is in an awkward position because of presenting speculations as facts. A few years ago, in their rush to push the idea that birds are actually dinosaurs, National Geographic ran a cover picture and article on a fossil find in China that seemed to prove that theory. Later it was discovered that the fossil they placed on the cover was a fake, constructed by a field worker and sold to make money.

In the April 2017, issue of the magazine there is an article titled “Beyond Human” and subtitled “Like any other species we are the product of millions of years of evolution. Now we’re taking the matter into our own hands.” The article by D. T. Maxis is well written and presents many facts about how humans can adapt to varied climatic conditions. People living at high elevations adapt in such a way that their hemoglobin binds larger amounts of oxygen. The article also presents various ideas proposed by scientists to fit their particular model of human evolution. Some examples are bipedalism to speed up locomotion, making tools leading to bigger brains, reduced fur to keep cool and make finding parasites easier, blushing to signal remorse and elicit forgiveness, and tears to show vulnerability and get help. Those are interesting speculations, but tears also flush the cornea, have an antiseptic quality, and carry certain chemicals from the body. Most of the characteristics justified as evolutionary products have a purpose different from or in addition to what is suggested.

Magazines like National Geographic promote naturalism–the notion that everything can be explained by science and with natural causes. In this article, the use of art and symbols is viewed as an evolved characteristic for establishing civilizations. This ignores the fact that artwork has been found in the remains of the very earliest specimens of humans long before any civilization. Religion is presented as an evolved case of self-awareness leading to thoughts about a possible afterlife. How natural selection would do such a thing is hard to visualize. The article points out that humans now have the capacity to alter their genetic make-up and introduce new traits that will make us free of genetic diseases and give us improved physical characteristics. Naturalism cannot answer the moral and ethical questions of how we should use our ability to change the human genome.

God created us in His image–meaning that we have a soul, a spiritual aspect that is not a part of the physical body and is not in the genome. All humans have the same spiritual makeup, and thus all humans have equal value. We look different because the genome was designed to allow change and adaptation to the varied climates and conditions in which humans live. Genetic diseases result from a wide variety of things, and our pollution and misuse of the environment are major causes. Naturalism would suggest that we are only animals and that culling the unfit is good genetic management no matter if the genes are part of a mosquito or a human. What Naturalism fails to recognize is that all humans have incredible value because we were created in the image of God. The struggle for physical survival will only intensify if humans reduce their existence to merely flesh and blood.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“Whose Tools Are These?”

Capuchin Monkey
That is the title of an article in the January 2017 issue of Scientific American (pages 11-12) by Kate Wong. The article deals with the discovery that wild capuchin monkeys in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been observed banging rocks together to break them and thus isolating conchoidal fractured chips and flakes which could then be used as cutting tools. When researchers study the flakes and chips, they find that they look very much like the flakes and chips found in caves and shelters where early humans are thought to have lived. However, part of the reason that humans were assumed to have been in those locations was the finding of tools similar to the capuchin monkey flakes.

There are some interesting points connected with all of this. One obvious point is that you cannot define what is human and what is not human by whether they fashioned tools or not, and that has been a method used by scientists studying this question. We have known that some birds and chimps use objects found in the wild to secure food. Chimps use sticks to get ants by pushing the sticks into an ant hill and eating the ants that cling to the sticks. Birds have been observed dropping objects on eggs to crack them open to eat the contents. Making a tool is another issue, but once again this does not seem to be a good indicator of whether or not a specimen was human.

The Bible describes humans as being created in God’s image. This doesn’t involve tool use at all but has to do with human capacity for creative activity, worship, and feeling guilt, sympathy, or self-sacrificing love. That definition is superior to any physical criteria, but it is hard to use in studying a fossil in most cases. –John N. Clayton © 2017