In Reason We Trust?

In Reason We Trust?
In the March issue of Scientific American, there was an advertisement for the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They claim to be “the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, working to keep religion out of government.” Actually, they go farther than that. They strive to keep “religion,” especially Christianity, out of the public square. The headline banner of the ad is In Reason We Trust.

This particular ad features a picture of Lawrence Kraus and a quote from him. Lawrence M. Kraus is an American-Canadian theoretical physicist and cosmologist who teaches at Arizona State University. He is a leading atheist who works to reduce the influence of “superstition and religious dogma in popular culture.” You can find videos of him on YouTube debating Christians. He is the founder and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. Their website states that the Origins Project was “created to explore humankind’s most fundamental questions about our origins … ranging from the origin of the universe to the origins of life, modern humans, consciousness, culture, complex systems, and technology.” Dr. Kraus’s Origins Project will not consider the possibility of God in the origins discussion.

The In Reason We Trust ad quotes Kraus saying, “Lack of understanding is not evidence for God. It is evidence of lack of understanding, and a call to use reason to try and change that.” I agree that a lack of understanding is not evidence for God. In the past, humans could not understand things such as lightning or seasons or trees or insects, so they invented gods to explain those things. They saw the world as chaotic, and even their gods were chaotic and capricious. As long as their worldview was chaotic, they could not pursue science. That is why the extremely intelligent ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans did not achieve scientific understanding even though they created great works of engineering and architecture.

Science requires a worldview that sees order and laws. It was the Judeo-Christian worldview that led to modern science. The Judeo-Christian worldview sees logic and wisdom and order in nature because it was created by a wise and loving God. It is only with that understanding that you can begin to look for that order and study those laws to see how God works. Scientists like Lawrence Kraus and the writers and publishers of Scientific American are standing on the shoulders of Christians like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and many others. Those men understood that the world was designed with order and wisdom. They looked for that wisdom, and they used not only reason, but experimentation to see how things work—to see how God did it.

Many scientists today have forgotten the very basis for the science that they practice. Yes, Kraus is right that the lack of understanding is not evidence for God. At the same, our ability to understand how God works does not show that there is no God. It shows that God has created us in His image with the ability to understand and create with reason and wisdom. Instead of In Reason We Trust, we should be thinking, “I trust my reason because it is a gift from a rational God.”
–Roland Earnst © 2018

No-Boundary Proposal and the Big Bang

No-Boundary Proposal and Big Bang
The universe had a beginning. For over two-thousand years from the time of Aristotle until the twentieth century, the accepted view was that the universe was eternal. It took much of the twentieth century for the evidence to compel scientists to concede that there was a beginning to the cosmos. Finally, in the twenty-first century, it was fully confirmed by observations in space. A thousand years before Aristotle, Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Some scientists are still trying to get around the problem of a beginning with the No-Boundary Proposal.

Why is science reluctant to accept the fact that the universe is not eternal? The simple reason is what that implies and the questions that it creates. If the universe had a beginning, that implies that there is something beyond the material world that we observe. The big question then becomes, “What (or Who) brought everything into being?” This leads to the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What is our purpose?” Those are questions that science is afraid to handle. Indeed, those are questions that science cannot handle.

If there was a beginning, there must have been a beginner…a Creator. That Creator, whether personal or impersonal, would have existed “before the beginning.” Science now suggests that the beginning, or the “Big Bang” as it was derisively dubbed by atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle, was not only the starting point for matter and energy, but also for space and time. It was even the starting point for the laws of physics. So how can science explain the beginning? Brilliant scientists have been working on that problem and some have settled on the No-Boundary Proposal.

Last Sunday on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s National Geographic Channel TV show StarTalk, Stephen Hawking said that he knows the answer. Hawking is probably the world’s best-known living physicist and cosmologist. The heart of Hawking’s proposal of what came before the beginning is the No-boundary Proposal. This proposal, according to Hawking, is that before the Big Bang, time was “bent.” According to Hawking’s earlier statements, if we could go back before the Big Bang, we would find that time (and I presume space and matter/energy), “was always reaching closer to nothing but didn’t become nothing.” In other words, there never was a point where something was produced from nothing. There was never nothing. It just seems that way from our perspective. (*You can see the further explanation by Stephen Hawking on the StarTalk show below.)

In a previous lecture, Hawking stated: “Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the big bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the big bang.” This seems to me like a clever way of getting out of speculating on what caused the beginning. It is like saying that the beginning was going on forever and so the beginning never really had a beginning.

Maybe we should call the No-Boundary Proposal the No-Beginning Proposal. It seems to me that this takes us back to Aristotle’s concept of an eternal universe. The difference is that this new proposal says the universe was much more compact before the “beginning.” Is this just a way of getting around the simple statement of Moses in Genesis 1:1?
–Roland Earnst © 2018

*These are Hawking’s words in his interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, “According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, space and time together form a space-time continuum or manifold which is not flat but curved by the matter and energy in it. I adopt a Euclidean approach to quantum gravity to describe the beginning of the universe. In this, ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time which behaves like a fourth direction of space. In the Euclidean approach, the history of the universe in imaginary time is a four-dimensional, curved surface like the surface of the Earth but with two more dimensions. Jim Hartle and I proposed a “no-boundary” condition. The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. In order terms, the Euclidean space-time is a closed surface without end, like the surface of the Earth. One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole, so there was nothing around before the big bang.”

Circumcision Health Benefits

Circumcision Health Benefits
There have been continuing discussions concerning circumcision health benefits. Iceland’s Parliament is considering a bill that would impose a six-year jail term on anyone who “removes part or all of a child’s sexual organs for non-medical reasons.” Silja Dogg Gunnarsdottir who presented the measure said that a 2005 bill banned female genital mutilation. She felt that there was no male equivalent, so she introduced this bill.

Atheists and skeptics have attacked the Bible because they say that circumcision is an unnecessary and barbaric religious tradition, so there is atheist support for Gunnarsdottir’s proposal.

The problem in the whole discussion of circumcision is that legislators are ignoring the scientific evidence and making a judgment based on emotions rather than facts. Here are some statements of evidence:

1-According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, uncircumcised boys are more likely to get urinary tract infections than circumcised boys, and penile cancer is more prevalent in uncircumcised males.

2-Studies in multiple African countries showed that male circumcision reduced the chances of getting HIV by over 50% and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that “the protective efficacy of male circumcision increases with time from surgery.”

3-The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported that circumcision reduces the rate of HIV, HPV, and genital herpes.

Jewish and Islamic leaders are claiming that outlawing circumcision is an attack on their faith. We would suggest there is a medical, hygienic reason related to infection, cancer in their wives later in life, and prevention of disease that must be considered in approaching this subject. Female genital mutilation is a completely different issue, with no beneficial side effects at all.

The bottom line is that scientific studies indicate that there are circumcision health benefits in today’s world.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Hygiene Hypothesis and Disease

Hygiene Hypothesis
A new medical study is looking into something called the hygiene hypothesis.

Atheists often challenge the existence of God based upon their belief that the presence of diseases shows that there is no God. They conclude that an all-powerful God would not disease to exist. We have pointed out that a huge percentage of the maladies that afflict humans are the result of human abuse–pollution, drug use, foolish use of chemicals. etc. (See the doesgodexist.today articles for January 23, 2018; November 25, 2017; November 15, 2017; November 7, 2017; October 18, 2017).

Another dimension to the question of diseases is whether we have catalyzed the rates of contracting diseases by defeating the design of our immune system—the hygiene hypothesis. Major outbreaks of polio first began in the late 1800s. Multiple sclerosis doubled worldwide in the second half of the twentieth century. Type 1 diabetes rose dramatically in the 1950s. All of these diseases involve immune system problems.

In MS the immune system attacks the protective covering around certain nerve cells. In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to various viruses or bacteria allows the immune system to protect the individual against what seem to be unrelated illnesses. It is not completely understood yet, but somehow the infections allow the developing body to learn how to deal with pathogens. The absence of exposure can prompt the immune system to attack the body itself.

In the early 1900s, one or two children under the age of 15 developed type 1 diabetes. In Finland, that number is now 60 children per 100,000. Between 1998 and 2010 the incidence of type 1 diabetes jumped by 40%. We need to point out that this is not caused by obesity. Type 1 diabetes happens in children who are not obese at the same rate as in those who are.

The evidence seems to indicate that there is a viral trigger and the type of viruses causing the diabetes are enteroviruses which are normally found in the intestines. A child exposed to those viruses at an early age develops a resistance to the enteroviruses and is not likely to contract the disease. If the viruses are not present in the environment, then later in life the immune system is defenseless against the enterovirus, and the immune system attacks the pancreas. At least, that is part of the hygiene hypothesis.

There is a great deal that science does not understand about how the immune system works. It is very complex, but it has worked remarkably well in humans throughout our history. Some of the diseases we are facing today seem to be occurring because the immune system of children has not been “tuned” by the viruses in the environment. Perhaps God’s design which served humans well in the past has been shut down by our rules for hygiene and the overuse of chemical agents. On the positive side, this study may eventually provide us with a vaccine which will eradicate the germ-caused diseases.

To read more about this see Scientific American for February 2018, page 56-59, or click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life-Michael Shermer
Perhaps the most influential atheist in America today is Michael Shermer, who expresses his views on the meaning of life. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Shermer has had some theological training. As an atheist, he publishes Skeptic magazine. He also has a regular column in Scientific American magazine through which he promotes his atheistic views and the various books he has written attacking believers in God. His most recent book is Heavens on Earth which he promotes heavily in his column in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American.

Atheists like Shermer view something that they don’t understand as impossible to understand. Shermer spells out a view of the future of the cosmos and the meaning of life–or lack thereof. Suggesting that the cosmos will end in total heat death with nothing but endless darkness, he then says: “In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our more moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.”

Shermer’s views are typical of atheist arguments on the meaning of life. Notice:

1) Heat death is not the only possible conclusion that one can come to as far as the demise of the physical cosmos is concerned.
2) The fact that it is hard for Shermer to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. It is somewhat arrogant to argue that what I can understand is all that is possible.
3) Later Shermer states his belief that, “We live in the here and now, not in the hereafter.” That is a faith statement which is not backed up by empirical scientific data.
4) Shermer denigrates the attempts of Christians to help and serve others by saying that life choice has no cosmic significance. It may not benefit molecules and atoms, but it has huge significance on the future of humanity. The negative effects of humans upon planet Earth fill the pages of Scientific American, and that is not addressed by what Shermer claims is the purpose of our existence.
5) Shermer says, “our most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by doing something “extropic,” in other words, expending energy to survive and flourish. Every demagogue who ever lived would agree with that statement–if they understood it.

The reality is that “It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That is also a faith statement, but it makes more sense to most of us than believing Shermer’s faith which says, “we are sentient beings designed by evolution to survive and flourish in the teeth of entropy and death.”

I am sure that the atheist community will rise in praise of Shermer’s new book. However, his subtitle of the Scientific American article “Science reveals our deepest purpose” is grossly inaccurate. In fact, we suggest that science doesn’t support his faith well at all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Skeptical or Religious Bigotry?

Skeptical or Religious?
Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.

In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.

Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”

It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.

Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.

Maybe the starting place for discussions with a relative or friend who has rejected the existence of God is to ask whether there is anything that would change their mind. The question is whether they are being merely skeptical or religious. Has their unbelief become a religion? At the same time, we should be open to their skeptical questions, but we need to be sure that we are “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the reason for the hope that is within us, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

UFO Claims and 22 Million Dollars

UFO Claims
The New York Times recently reported that the United States government between 2008 and 2011 spent 22 million dollars on a secretive program to investigate UFO claims. A collection of stories has now emerged concerning the results of the study. It includes:

Reports of pilots seeing strange aircraft that moved at great speeds and made 90 degree turns at full throttle.

Claims of government contractors constructing specially-modified storage buildings to house mysterious “metal alloys” recovered from UFOs.

A quote from the former director of the program saying “What was considered science fiction is now science fact.”

We have pointed out repeatedly that whether there is life in outer space is not an apologetic issue. God may have seen fit to create life elsewhere. Historically the UFO claims have been used by skeptics and opponents of Christianity in all kinds of ways to suggest that aliens are responsible for our existence and that we are just pawns in some alien chess match. The fact that this story is raised repeatedly in the media is a reflection of that way of thinking.

The fact is that the story of pilots seeing strange space vehicles originally occurred in the 1940s and has been shown to be reflections off the cockpit windows. I have a friend who works with government contracts to test new alloys and materials. All of their samples come from the Earth, and there are dozens of buildings built with government contracts to store all of the materials being tested. His favorite line is, “We have a solution, now we are looking for the problem for the solution to solve.”

We can’t blame aliens for the chaos that is in our world today, and we can’t look for aliens for solutions to our problems. Christ has the answers everyone is looking for, but He will not force solutions on us against our will. What Jesus calls us to do goes against our selfish desires. Wasting 22 million dollars on UFO claims is a reflection of the ignorance that permeates the governing agencies of our culture.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Essenes and Qumran Discoveries

Essenes and Qumran Discoveries
In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to a community of ascetics known as the Essenes. This group lived in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea and were probably the producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, skeptics of Christianity have suggested that they were the originators of Christian teachings and of Jesus himself. The Essenes expected a “Teacher of Righteousness” who would rise from the dead.

As scholars probed more deeply, it became obvious that there were huge differences that invalidated attempts to discredit Christianity by ascribing its teachings to the Essenes. The Essenes were ultraconservative Jews, many of whom rejected marriage and attempted to hide from the Romans.

On November 16, 2017, anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem presented a study of 33 newly discovered skeletons found at Qumran. Carbon-14 dating puts the bones at 2200 years ago, close to the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bones are mostly, if not all, from adult males and have no signs of having been in combat, so they were not soldiers.

In February of 2017, researchers found another cave that seems to have held more scrolls or pieces of leather or papyrus that were ready to be used for writing. The significance of the finds is that they may lead to more scrolls in the area. Questions about who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls do need to be answered to establish the validity of the documents.

The content of the writings of the Essenes validates the accuracy of the Bible. So far the Dead Sea Scrolls contain all the books of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The scrolls predate the birth of Christ, and they show that the text of the Old Testament has been faithfully preserved. Research continues and will have great value in answering biblical questions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News December 23,2017.