Is God Masculine or Feminine?

Is God Masculine or Feminine?
In our day of great sensitivity to the abuse that many women have endured in the past, there is a tendency to over-react and add other issues to protect women’s rights. Is God masculine or feminine?

The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Washington D.C. passed a resolution to stop using masculine pronouns for God in future updates to its Book of Common Prayer. The phrase “Heavenly Father” will be changed to “Heavenly Parent.” Gender neutrality also involves mistranslating specific biblical words to fit a female gender image. The Reverend Linda R. Calkins, an Episcopal Church minister, has a different interpretation of Genesis 17:1. God said to Abraham, “I am El Shaddai.” That is normally translated as “God Almighty.” Calkins maintains that this phrase means “God with breasts.” There is no scholarly support for that claim according to Dr. Michael Brown who is a specialist in Hebrew words and meanings. He wrote that “There’s not a stitch of scholarly evidence to support this.”

An Episcopal bishop in New York even defended a crucifix with a female Jesus called Christa. Other groups have replaced “God as Father” with ‘God as Creator” in their hymns and publications. The God of Israel identified Himself with male pronouns and masculine verbs, so we should also. When God took on human flesh, it was as a man, not a woman or transgender person. That is not to deny that both women and men are created in God’s image, but that is not a physical image.

God is not physical. God is a Spirit (John 4:24). He does not have a sexual identity–masculine or feminine. Sometimes the context of the passage makes mention of God in a female gender manner. An example of this is Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you; how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks, and you would not have it.” That is certainly not a male image!

Is God masculine or feminine? The correct answer is that God is complete with the best of masculine characteristics and the best of feminine characteristics. Trying to re-write the Scriptures to fit our biases is to miss much of the message God has for us.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Human Species and Racial Differences

Human Species and Racial Differences
One of the oldest controversies among anthropologists is over whether a “splitter” view or a “lumper” view is the most accurate description of human history. As scientists study ancient fossils, they have to determine whether they should be split into different species of hominids or lumped into races of one human species. One of the famous splitters was Louis Leakey who attached a new name to every find he made. Because of his long and productive life in studying the fossils of Africa his names have stayed around for a long time.

Other anthropologists have suggested that many of the specimens with unique names were actually just racial variations. Races can look very different and yet still be one species. There is just one human species. Looking at the skeletal remains of a Pygmy and a Swede, one might conclude that they are two different species, but they are fertile with one another, and they are one species. Racial characteristics are usually related to climate. Skin color is related to how close to or how far from the equator ones’ ancestors have lived. Lighter skin color can absorb more vitamin D from limited sunlight, and dark skin gives greater protection from the harmful rays of the Sun.

All of this has been getting attention recently as scientists study the DNA of the remains of various humans. The London Natural History Museum has just released a study of the DNA of the so-called “Cheddar Man”–a human skeleton discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, in 1903. The study suggests that this person had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair. The theory is that the British landmass was connected to continental Europe and that humans migrated into the area with some of them coming all the way from Africa.

The Bible makes it clear that there is one human species. The apostle Paul said in Acts 17:26 God “has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the Earth.” What distinguishes humans as a species is that God created us in His image which gives us the ability to worship and have creativity and a concept of self. Our physical characteristics which identify us racially are simply functions of genetic heritage and the environment in which we live. Racial prejudice comes from ignorance, and Christians should be leaders in demanding equality for all people.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?
Reuters.com reports that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has solved the technical problems of cloning higher life forms. Mu-ming Poo announced that two long-tailed macaques named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were produced using somatic cell nuclear transfer in which transferred DNA was taken from fetal monkey cells and put into cells from which they had removed the DNA. By stimulating these eggs, they developed into embryos which were implanted in female surrogates and two live births of cloned monkeys resulted.

The question of cloning has many dimensions to it. Cloning can be used to solve many problems. An article in The Week (February 16, 2018) says that this process could “revolutionize research on diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” The potential to address food shortages could lie within cloning of unusually large plants and animals or food stocks with special characteristics such as protein content, resistance to pests, etc. Cloning could also be used destructively to produce diseases or science fiction products like human androids.

The question remains whether scientists will clone humans. Since scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland cloned “Dolly” the sheep in 1996, others have cloned 22 mammal species including cows, dogs, horses, and rabbits. Now the Chinese researchers have broken the primate barrier with cloned monkeys.

In cloning the macaques, 127 eggs resulted in 79 embryos which led to only six pregnancies and two live births. The ethics of such an inefficient process with humans raises a whole new set of abortion questions and Frankenstein type scientific, moral issues. Scientists will address the physical issues with future improvements in techniques, but someone must address the moral issues before they attempt human cloning.

The Bible defines a human as a being created in the image of God. A cloned human would be as human as one produced by artificial insemination or surrogacy or by the old-fashioned method. What we CAN DO and what we SHOULD DO are not necessarily the same. We need people with Christian moral values making the decisions on what we should do.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.

It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.

It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.

Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Voodoo in Haiti, the Bahamas, and Massachusetts?

Voodoo
In the newspapers on February 4, 2018, there was a story from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, about a five-year-old girl who was permanently disfigured by a voodoo ritual. Two sisters tied her down and engaged in a ritual intended to rid her of a demon. The sisters say that they perform “cleansing baths” for family and friends and the children sometimes get burned as spirits leave their bodies. Voodoo rituals like that are practiced in Haiti, the home country of the sisters.

Missionaries working in Haiti tell about an evil black pit where animals and occasionally humans are thrown into a putrid bubbling mass to appease evil spirits that cause illness. A man from the Bahamas told us that on some of the islands there, this same kind of activity is common.

The Bible makes it clear that God forbids anything associated with witchcraft, voodoo, evil spirits, or sorcery. The Old Testament law said that a person who performed this type of activity should be put to death (Exodus 22:18). Any activity of that type was forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:12). We might think that is extreme, but these things can and do result in human sacrifice. That is serious.

The New Testament included witchcraft with other immoral acts including murder (See Galatians 5:20-21). People have done horrible acts of violence in voodoo activities, and humans are frequently disfigured or violated in some way. The New Testament tells us the human body is the temple of God, and that as Christians the Spirit of God dwells in us. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Ignorance produces the kind of horrible thing that just happened in Massachusetts, and which happens every day in Haiti and the Bahamas. That is why it is so important for us to educate anyone we can on what God wants from us, and what evil can do. We should never underestimate the power of evil, but God has given us tools far superior to anything evil can produce. James tells us, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bird Brainpower

Bird Brainpower
In the February issue of National Geographic, there is a fascinating article about what birds can do. The skills of bird brainpower include puzzle solving, using tools, studying others, vocal learning, socializing, remembering, and social playing.

These abilities are all related to the size of the forebrain compared to the total brain mass. Bird brains vary enormously. Some species such as ravens have very large brains with 80% of the brain involving the forebrain compared to a pigeon having a very small brain with only 48% in the forebrain. In some cases, birds work together pooling their bird brainpower with each having a different role. Some birds prefer certain kinds of music while others seem to show empathy.

It is important to understand that some scientific questions could be raised about the claims that the article makes. In one case, for example, when air was blown on a chick’s fathers, the mother’s heart rate increased. The investigators claimed that shows empathy. A strong wind can be dangerous to any bird. So the question is whether the mother was feeling empathy for the chick or was she concerned over the cause of the wind and what it might do to her.

The article also mentions a cockatoo who rocks in time to the Backstreet Boys tune “Everybody” and a starling who “is happiest when his owner is playing a classical movement on the piano.” The article says the starling likes Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. However, it doesn’t say how you measure starling happiness, or what the owner likes and repeatedly plays in the bird’s presence.

It is a fact that birds show high levels of certain kinds of intelligence, and they can do things that seem almost human-like. However, the things birds can do are not attributes which the Bible ascribes to humans. Many animals are intelligent and can learn from humans, so it is easy to see how the characteristics discussed in the article help the bird survive.

The attributes of being created in the image of God, which is how the Bible defines humans, do not involve any of the characteristics in the article. The creation of art, the creation of music, and the expression of worship are human functions. Also, the expression of the”agape” type of love which does not promote survival or have sexual connotations is a human trait. We don’t see the capacity to be sympathetic and compassionate in these interesting studies of bird brainpower.

The more we learn about the creatures in the world around us, the more we are amazed at the design built into their DNA. This design allows living creatures to navigate, occupy environmental niches, and reproduce in amazing ways. It is all part of knowing that God exists through the things He has made. (Romans 1:18-22)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anthropomorphism Extreme

Anthropomorphism
It is very easy to anthropomorphize the behavior of animals. According to Wikipedia anthropomorphism is, “the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities…It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.” When your dog cowers after you scold it for doing something, is the dog indicating guilt or remorse? It may look that way, but it may be that the dog has learned that by showing that behavior it will receive less scolding.

There has been an upsurge of scientific material suggesting that humans are not unique in their expressions of grief, guilt, patriotism, devotion, love, hate, etc. Several books have been written promoting the view that no human emotion is missing from members of the animal kingdom. How Animals Grieve by Barbara King and Beyond Words–What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina are two examples. There have also been numerous articles in scientific journals promoting anthropomorphism.

The problem is that it is very difficult to avoid anthropomorphism of animals. Frequently we see articles describing how an animal reacts to the death of its offspring. A recent magazine has pictures and discussions of giraffes, whales, dolphins, elephants, gorillas, baboons, chimps, and zebras seeming to grieve at the death of an offspring or a mate for periods of days. (National Wildlife magazine for February-March 2018 page 30-39) The question is whether this is an evolutionary trait of all life and humans are just more highly evolved, or whether we are anthropomorphizing the behavior we see. We have all been influenced by Disney with stories like Bambi, so the question is complicated.

The biblical definition of humans is that we are the life-form created in the image of God. We see that image reflected in the things that humans do that are not physical in nature. We worship. We create art and music and express our emotions in art and music. We feel sympathy and experience guilt. We have an agape type of love that is unrelated to reproduction or survival. We can be taught to think. These properties are made possible by our spiritual nature. We can debate whether all of these characteristics are really unique to humans or whether they have survival value, but our uniqueness as a species is not a function of our intelligence or any physical characteristic.

The difficulty in interpreting animal behavior is that we cannot easily ascertain the role of instinct. Reproduction in animals is instinctively driven. In most mammals the role of the female is determined by her reproductive capacity. It is the lioness that drives the pride, not the male lion. The wonderful work that has been done on gorillas and chimpanzees has shown the role of reproduction in determining the social structure of the entire troop. Study of baboons and chimps shows that stress hormones called glucocorticoids increase when a close relative dies. The release of the hormone oxytocin which inhibits glucocorticoid increases when there is physical contact with other partners after the death of a close relative. What we see in animal behavior is the result of the instinctive drives being disturbed.

There is no question that animals think and that they have emotions, but we should avoid excessive anthropomorphism. Animal emotions are tied into their instinctive drives–not to political or religious values. We suggest that those instincts are part of the design of these animals which provides them with the greatest probability of survival.

The unique nature of all humans should motivate us to value human life. We are not instinctively-driven robots that obey the drives built into our DNA. We can change the world in which we live both physically and spiritually. Valuing all human life and working together to solve the conflicts that divide us is a necessary product of understanding our spiritual uniqueness. When Jesus taught us to love our enemy and to do good to those who do evil to us, He was calling us to express that which makes us human–our spiritual nature created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton

IQ Tests, Intelligence, and Being Human

IQ Tests and Intelligence
An interesting area of discussion in talking about what makes a human is the question of intelligence and IQ tests. For several hundred years there have been debates among intellectuals about whether intelligence is related to race, sex, or genetics. Some interesting experiments have been conducted to measure intelligence in animals, and scientists have found that creatures from bees and ants to dolphins and crows demonstrate intelligence.

My first master’s degree was in the field of psychometry, the study of testing and measurements. One of the things I learned very early was that there are different kinds of IQ tests. Our mentally challenged foster son Tim was tested at an early age and had a Stanford Benet IQ of 42. One-hundred was the average among humans. When Tim entered the public schools, he was tested with the Otis IQ test, and his score was 110. Why were the scores so different? The Otis was verbal so that it could be administered to many people at a time. Tim’s verbal abilities are very high because my wife read to him constantly when he was a child.

Tim knows the words, but his application skills are sometimes lacking. One of our favorite stories about Tim was when he was angry with me one time he yelled at me “… and you’re causing me to commit adultery!!!” He knew that adultery was bad, but he had no idea of why.

When I was a college student, there were psychologists who maintained that Afro-Americans were less intelligent than Caucasians, because they scored lower on IQ tests. The problem was that the tests were loaded with cultural distractors that were not a part of the students’ ethnic background. In my years of teaching science in inner-city schools, I saw no variation in intelligence among kids from different backgrounds. However, to this day I hear people say that Asians are superior in intelligence and Afro-Americans are inferior. For most of my 41 years of teaching physics at the secondary level, I fought with administrators and counselors who maintained that girls were less able in the physical sciences than boys. I know that isn’t true from experience.

The bottom line is that intelligence means different things to different people and IQ tests do not show who is important or valuable. The ability to solve problems is frequently considered to be a measure of intelligence, but problem solving is frequently a function of experience or trial and error–not reasoning. For anyone to attempt to use intelligence to tell who is human and who isn’t, who should have the right to vote and who shouldn’t, or who should be allowed to survive and who shouldn’t, is illogical and in violation of everything God has taught us.

My mentally challenged foster son with a very low IQ score is still created in the image of God. It is his soul that makes him human, not his physical appearance or his IQ. Galatians 3:26-29 says that all the ways of dividing people are done away with in Christianity “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous scientist in the world today. Hawking is a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist. In 1963, when he was 21 years old, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The doctors gave him two years to live. He has far exceeded the life expectancy of an ALS patient, even though the disease has gradually taken away his ability to move.

Today Hawking speaks using a computerized voice that he controls with his cheek muscles using a slow process of selecting words and letters. In spite of his disability which he does not talk about, he has given lectures and written best-selling books. Although he had previously written that God was not needed to explain the creation, in 2014 he openly declared himself to be an atheist.

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965. Over the years his illness and his celebrity put a strain on the marriage. Also, Jane Hawking was a Christian and Stephen was an unbeliever, which added to their differences. In 1990 Stephen left Jane for one of his caregivers. In 1995 he divorced Jane and married the caregiver, Elaine Mason. In 2006 Stephen and Elaine divorced. Hawking then resumed a closer relationship with his first wife and his children and grandchildren. Jane wrote a book about their renewed relationship, and it was made into a movie The Theory of Everything in 2014. Eddie Redmayne played Stephen Hawking in the film, and the role won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Speaking of the Theory of Everything, that is what Stephen Hawking and other scientists have spent years trying to find. On January 8, 2018, a new episode of the series Favorite Places premiered on CuriosityStream.com. In the show, Stephen Hawking is shown traveling through space to visit some of his favorite places including Venus, the Sun, and the star Proxima Centauri. Narrating the adventure with his computer-generated voice, he tells about his search for the Theory of Everything:

“I have been searching for something my whole life. Something to explain the world that is by turns kind and cruel, beautiful and confusing. A single all-encompassing idea that can explain the nature of reality—where it all came from and why we exist at all—the Theory of Everything.”

Perhaps Hawking has been overlooking the answer. Perhaps he has left out the key to that answer—God. Perhaps his ex-wife Jane had the answer all along in her Christian faith. Stephen acknowledges that the universe is amazingly fine-tuned for life. He attempts to explain that by the idea that this is only one of an almost infinite number of universes with different parameters and we just happen to live in the one universe with the right parameters and laws to allow life to exist.

Instead of an accidentally fine-tuned universe, what if God created a perfect universe. What if God is love and He created us so that He could love us and so that we would love and serve Him. What if our failure to do so explains why the world is “by turns kind and cruel.” That would explain “where we came from and why we exist at all.” It would also explain “the nature of reality.” That is what Stephen Hawking has been searching for his “whole life.”

We think that the “Theory of Everything” is written in the Bible ready for each of us to discover for ourselves.
–Roland Earnst – © 2018

Respectable Bird– Confusing Name

Respectable Bird
Benjamin Franklin called this animal a respectable bird. They are large birds native to North America where they’re called “turkeys.” The origin of that name is disputed, but it apparently has a connection with the country of Turkey.

Turkeys were brought to England from America, on merchant ships from the Middle East area of Turkey. After being domesticated in England, turkeys spread throughout the British Empire, including India. From India, they were taken to various other countries where they were known as “a bird from India.” For that reason, the name for turkeys in several languages is connected to India. In the country of Turkey, turkeys are called “Hindi” which means “India” in Turkish. To make things even more confusing, in Portuguese a turkey is called a “peru” which is apparently derived from the name of the country of Peru. To further compound the confusion, there are several other birds in other countries that have “turkey” names but are not related to the American turkey.

Native Americans first used turkeys for their feathers in about 800 BC. It was almost 2,000 years later before they used turkeys for meat. In the United States, turkeys are a popular food on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

The founders of the United States chose the bald eagle as a national symbol. Benjamin Franklin was famously critical of that. He called the eagle “a bird of bad moral character” and wrote that “the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” With respect for Mr. Franklin, the truth is that the only creature God created that has “moral character,” whether good or bad, is the human creature. All other creatures do what God created them to do. Humans often choose to do otherwise.
–Roland Earnst © 2017