Persecution of Christians Increases

Persecution of Christians
Persecution of Christians in the United States has thus far been pretty much confined to legal attacks on the religious freedom of Christians. We have reported on some cases in recent months.

Unbelievers also are making legal attempts to silence the followers of Jesus Christ to prevent people from hearing our message. We are finding that even our lectureships on evidence for the existence of God and the validity of the Bible are now being banned in many public places. That is especially true on university and college campuses. Places where we have regularly spoken for 50 years are now off limits to us. That is in the name of supporting the national mandate for religious pluralism.

Conditions in other parts of the world are much worse. The October 31, 2017, report from The Institute on Religion and Democracy tells that in India attacks on Christians numbered 410 during the first six months of 2017. In 2016 there were 441 attacks during the entire year. The Institute reports that during the years of 2015-2017 persecution of Christians has accelerated. That period now ranks as the greatest persecutions of Christians in history.

It is hard to grasp the fact that we live in a time that has greater persecution of Christians than the time of the Roman Empire. But that is apparently the case.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

American Priorities: What Really Matters?

American Priorities
What really matters to the American public? What do Americans choose to support with the money they have left after taxes and basic expenses like food and shelter? Is it the homeless, the orphans throughout the world, the starving children in third world countries, the refugees from war, or the health issues in places where living conditions are producing blights? What are the American priorities?

Today 40% of our population says “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. As America has moved from a Christian country to a secular society, a large percentage of our disposable money goes to support professional sports, including player’s salaries. What many don’t realize is that there is a vast amount of spending involved in support of the games. The NBA, for example, maintains a “Replay Center” in Secaucus, New Jersey, with a president, vice president, and staff of officials. Last season this group examined 2,265 replays. The cost factor in just reviewing basketball plays is vastly higher than what I made in a lifetime of teaching in the public schools.

If we wanted to eliminate the national debt and balance the budget or put an end to hunger in the world, we might consider dropping professional sports for one season in America. Don’t worry; it will never happen because the problems of the world are not a priority in twenty-first century America.

There are some hopeful signs of caring in professional sports. I recently saw a television show where a professional athlete was encouraging young people to wear a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet. I am sure Jesus would be very pleased with the care center for teens that this athlete was using his wealth to support. The interviewer expressed amazement that anyone would use their multi-million dollar salary for such a project. “That is not a high priority for most of us,” the interviewer said. Looking at American priorities today, I have no doubt that is certainly true.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: A.P. release in South Bend Tribune, 11/17/17, page C4.

Continental Drift and Recycling

Continental Drift
In 1910 an Arctic explorer by the name of Alfred Wegener coined the term continental drift. Wegener saw the same fossils in South America that he had seen in western Africa, and he proposed that the two continents had been connected at one time. Wegener’s proposal was ridiculed by the scientists of that day who saw the Earth’s crust as too solid to allow any model of that kind to work.

Over the years studies of earthquake epicenters have shown that there is movement of huge slabs of rock called tectonic plates. The rock material bends more and more steeply until the slabs eventually melt into the mantle–the molten interior of the earth. These slabs and everything on them do in fact move.

In 1952 an ocean cartographer by the name of Marie Tharp began making profiles of the Atlantic Ocean floor going from west to east. Her profiles showed a ridge down the center of the Atlantic with younger material in the center and older material on both sides. She proposed that molten material was coming up from the mantle and pushing the two slabs of ocean floor material away from each other. Where the slabs hit the edges of the continent, the material is deflected downward making trenches in the floor of the ocean.

All of these discoveries flew in the face of the accepted geological theory at the time, and Tharp was ridiculed. In time scientists came to understand that the Earth is made up of plates sliding along the surface and sliding down into the mantle when a continent is reached.

There is a message in all of this that what is considered to be scientifically impossible, sometimes turns out to be true. At the same time, a pet theory can ultimately be proven incorrect. One of the beauties of science is that eventually it cleans up its own mistakes.

Another message is that sometimes God addresses a problem long before humans know there is a problem. This whole process is one of the greatest recycling systems of all time. As nutrients and minerals get eroded off the continents, they are deposited on the ocean floor. The movement of the ocean floor ultimately returns this material to the mantle to be recycled back to the Earth’s surface.

No elements are lost from the Earth’s reservoir by this system, and it assures us that there is no waste in the resources of the planet as a whole. Jeremiah 10:12 speaks of God preserving the Earth by His wisdom, and continental drift is one of tools by which He does that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Animals Farming and How to Define Humans

Animals Farming
When I was in high school in the 1950s, a human was defined in terms of making tools and cultivating food. The idea that tool use is unique to humans has been disproven many times. Birds, apes, and some fish have all been shown to use tools. We even have examples of animals farming.

In 1967 studies were released showing that Attine ants were gathering fungi into groupings, and then using the fungi as their sole food source. Recent studies have verified that Attine ants get the amino acid arginine from the fungus that they grow in plots. The ants provide the moisture the fungus must have, and the fungus provides the arginine the ants need. This symbiotic relationship is one of many in the natural world that show a critical balance in the processes and workers that allows complex life to exist on Earth.

The definition of what is “human” from a scientific standpoint is very difficult, because complex chemical relationships exist in both the plant and animal kingdoms. These processes can duplicate what is considered to be unique to humans. Things like brain size also cannot be used because of the huge variations that exist among all living things.

Since we have observed animals farming, we know that even that is not a human peculiarity. In recent months scientists have found human remains with brain sizes smaller than what is usually ascribed to humans. So how do we define humans? Humans were created in the image of God, and that definition is the only one that really works. You can see it by observing a human’s ability to create art and music, to worship God, to feel guilt and sympathy, and to be able to learn to think and reason.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, November 11, 2017 page 4.

Benjamin Franklin’s Wisdom

Benjamin Franklin's Wisdom
Skeptics frequently take statements of the founding fathers of America and lift them out of context to make them appear to be rejecting Christianity. A careful study makes it obvious that they were certainly not opposed to Christianity and in fact embraced it. We even see it in Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom.

Franklin made comments in Europe that appear to be antagonistic to Christianity, and he is often cited by skeptics as an unbeliever. However, on July 28, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked and could not agree how to draft the United States Constitution. After five weeks of proposals and counter-proposals, Benjamin Franklin (who was 81 years old) stood up and addressed the convention. This is part of what he said as recorded by James Madison:

“…have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel…”
“I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.”

It is obvious that Franklin was not hostile to faith in God. Today as the United States Congress seems to be deadlocked on so many issues, perhaps they should take a look at history and accept Benjamin Franklin’s Wisdom.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Recreational Drugs and God’s Plan

Recreational Drugs
The Bible tells Christians that the body is the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and warns us not to destroy it but to take care of it. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20.) It also tells us to live in such a way that those who know us and watch us are encouraged by our lifestyle and not offended by what we do. (See Romans 14:21.) Recreational drugs should not be part of a Christian’s lifestyle.

In spite of all the teachings and warnings, the Church has been very silent on the evils of recreational drugs while those drugs are doing massive damage. The numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics for 2015 show that 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in the United States. Recent numbers from the Highway Loss Data Institute show that since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state auto insurance claims have increased 6% more than in neighboring states.

Can you imagine the response of the American public if an enemy managed to kill over 10,000 of our people every year? In spite of that, we see repeated attempts to justify the use of alcohol and recreational marijuana even in many discussions in the Church. This is the most destructive thing that has ever happened to Americans, and yet we are silent about its use.

God calls His people to avoid those things that would impair both our function and our example. We must not let our culture numb us into complacency about the destructive issue of recreational drugs.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Doomsday Predictions Misguided

Doomsday Predictions
Just about every day you will see a headline in some periodical saying that the world will soon end in catastrophe. These doomsday predictions come from tabloids and church bulletins and always bring some kind of data to support them. Religious periodicals usually quote from Revelation and tabloids will take something out of context from a scientist or political figure.

The fact is that the major possible causes of global catastrophe do not come from periods of unusual natural activity. Earthquake numbers for the past ten years have been much smaller than 50 years ago. Hurricane frequency and intensity are not higher than in the past, although human mismanagement of shorelines has increased the damage even a small hurricane can produce.

The Sun is not becoming more active. The current cycle of solar activity is the lowest it has been in 100 years. In 1990 solar activity peaked at almost 300 sunspots. In the next maximum which happened in 2000, there were just over 200 sunspots. The last cycle which was in 2014, had 100 sunspots. In the December 2017 issue of Astronomy magazine, the lead article by Bruce Dorminey (page 20) is titled “Why Has the Sun Gone Quiet.” He suggests that the Sun will be relatively quiet for a long time.

In spite of the doomsday predictions, the biggest threat to our survival does not come from the natural world. God has designed a world that is remarkably stable. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and solar activity may cause problems, especially where humans have built vulnerable structures and removed natural safeguards, but our greatest danger is from each other. Our biggest problems come from humans refusing to do what Jesus told us would lead to our safety and security now and in eternally. You can read about it in the “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Our Ancestor Was a Rat

Our Ancestor Was a Rat
The headline of a lead article in USA Today for November 8, 2017, said: “Our Ancestors Were Rats.” Written by Doyle Rice, the article claims that fossils prove our distant ancestor was a rat.

According to the article, Steve Sweetman of the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. says we know about this ancestor of ours. He said it is “undoubtedly the earliest yet known from a line of mammals that led to our own species.” The article further said that line of mammals included blue whales and pygmy shrews. Sweetman says the mammals they have discovered “were small furry creatures.” He speculates that they were nocturnal, possibly burrowers, and ate insects and possibly plants.

Would we not assume that this newly discovered fossil had a skeleton and traces or impressions of fur? Wouldn’t we have found coprolite (petrified poop) to make claims about what the animal’s diet was or perhaps plant or insect material in the animal’s stomach? Would we not also assume that the biosphere in which the animal lived was well documented by fossils of what the animal ate? Are we not assuming that the “line of mammals that led to our own species” has been so well documented that no reputable scientist would deny it?

The fact is that an undergraduate student was sifting through rocks and fossils in a box in his geology lab when he found two teeth which he showed to Sweetman who is a mammal expert. That is all the evidence we have for this rat which was supposedly our ancestor. How do you determine the animal had fur from two teeth?

There is great controversy about the phylogenetic trees that various scientists have constructed to develop theories about the history of life on planet Earth and human life. Many scientists believe that multiple trees and cladistic techniques better explain the history of life than the our ancestor was a rat version that Sweetman promotes.

We have said that when there is a conflict between faith in God and science, it is because of bad theology and/or bad science. Maybe bad journalism is another source of problems. This story is grossly misleading and represents the source of many of the conflicts that young people have between what they hear at Church and what they hear from the media.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Avoiding God of the Gaps Explanations

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

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

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

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

Eating Blood: Is It Moral and Wise?

Eating Blood
We have received several questions about whether Christians should practice drinking or eating blood, eating afterbirth, or injecting or eating animal hormones. This goes back to Genesis 9:3-4 where God told Noah not to eat blood, and the prohibition about eating blood continues throughout the Old Testament (See Leviticus 17:10-11). In the New Testament, we see a prohibition about eating blood in Acts 15:20-29.

There are two different things involved here. One is the question of religious significance, and the other is what is hygienically wise. In the Old Testament blood was a major part of the daily religious life of the Israelites. To offer blood as a sacrifice for sin was to “give up life” for sin, and thus eating blood was a form of idolatry. It was like saying that God was not needed as the life giver and that the eater had power over life. In Acts 15:20 the restriction of not eating blood was included with “abstaining from the pollution of idols” for the reason of the connection to idolatry.

The hygienic issue of eating blood should be obvious. Any disease an animal had could be passed on through the animal’s blood. The warning against eating a thing strangled (Leviticus 17:13-16 and Acts 15:20) was because the blood remains in the flesh instead of being drained out as in the practice of butchering. When Paul wrote to the Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, he advised them when having a meal with an unbeliever, “…whatever is set before you, eat, asking no question.” But then he goes on to point out that Christians must be concerned about how their choices affect others.

In today’s world, we may have hygienic reasons for not eating something, but food prohibitions are not a part of the teachings of Jesus or His apostles.
–John N. Clayton © 2017