Atheist Foundations Merge

Skeptical Inquirer Magazine
Skeptical Inquirer Magazine
This journal has generally taken a skeptical point of view. What we mean is that we do not accept something unless there is evidence to support it. All of our presentations deal with evidence, and we have had numerous articles dealing with and debunking all kinds of claims in various areas of life that do not have evidential support. That has included scientific claims, claims in the paranormal, and claims of a religious nature.

In the early 90’s an organization was founded called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Its stated objective was “to promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” In 1995 they began a bimonthly with articles from skeptics about all kinds of issues. In the beginning, their articles were fairly even-handed, and they did a great job of looking into all kinds of bogus claims including some religious claims. In recent years their treatment of religious issues has drifted into constant attacks on any claim for evidence of the existence of God with a heavy bias against Christianity.

Many people regard Richard Dawkins as the leading atheist in the world. His books such as The God Delusion have been touted as the best atheism has to offer. We have reviewed many of Dawkins’ arguments in this journal as have writers like Alister McGrath (The Dawkins Delusion) and others. Several years ago Dawkins began his own organization called The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote his radical atheism.

As of January 1, 2017, these two organizations have merged with Dawkins being on the Board of CFI and RDFRS becoming a division of CFI. One stated objective is to “continue the struggle for the full equality of atheists and other religious dissenters.” Secularism is the religious viewpoint of this merger, and the number of attacks on churches and individuals who argue for God’s existence will certainly escalate. There is a need for an unbiased investigation of all claims, secular and religious. However, personal comments against belief in God and ridicule of religion which has been typical of both organizations makes this merger an affront to those who want even-handed and fair investigations of all claims. Data from Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2017, pages 4 and 5.

Animal/Human Chimeras Created

Chimera
Chimera
Human stem cells have been injected into pig and cattle embryos resulting in a human-pig or human-cow hybrid called a chimera. The name “chimera” comes from a fire-breathing monster in Greek mythology that had the head of a lion with a goat’s head coming out of its body and a tail with a snake’s head. The claimed purpose of producing a chimera of a human with some other animal is to find a way to grow organs for transplants. This kind of research is banned in some countries, and federal money is not allowed for this research in the United States. Animal rights people are already complaining about this research. Bioethicist Francoise Baylis says that chimera work is unethical “because it is based on the faulty assumption that human life is more valuable than that of nonhuman beings.” One researcher raised the possibility of pigs being given human brains. For Christians the question would be the definition of what it means to be human. The biblical definition of a human is a being created in the image of God. That definition avoids the kind of questions that animal rights ethicists are asking. The bigger question involves what happens when the research goes astray or creates environmental chaos. Data from Science News, February 18, 2017, pages 6-7.

Atheist Book: A Bogus Claim of Scholarship

The Bible
The Bible
I try to read a book every week, and people help me in that attempt by sending me books on about every topic that you can imagine. Atheists and religious fanatics send me their books to attempt to convert me to their view or at least to get into the “Book of the Month” review in our quarterly publication. Recently a Christian and an atheist both sent me a copy of the same book titled Fountain of Fairytales and subtitled A Scholarly Romp Through the Old Testament. This book is an attempt to discredit the Bible and is a product of The Barnes Review. Begun by Harry Elmer Barnes, the Barnes Review claims that their mission is: “To separate historical truth from propaganda and to bring history into accord with the facts.” The problem with this group is not their mission, but the fact that their view of the facts means to make sure the views stated support secular humanism and atheism. Fairness, accuracy, and credibility of sources is not a part of their mission, and this book shows that rather clearly.

One giveaway as to the intent of this book is shown in the bibliography, author, pictures, and structure of the book. Major misunderstandings of the Bible are clear before one even starts to read the book itself. The story of Jonah is titled “Jonah’s Whale” when even atheists should know the Hebrew word doesn’t say whale. It says “fish” and whales are not fish. Pictures are lifted from twentieth-century Hollywood productions and denominational publications. The bibliography is very short and almost totally dominated by atheist and secular humanist writers. The author John Tiffany is not a scholar and has no advanced degrees or recognition from the academic community. His credit line says he did graduate work in biology and studied law but apparently didn’t graduate in these areas and has done no peer review work.

The tone of the book is one of ridicule, denigration, and sarcasm. There are no footnotes and documentation is marginal at best. In some cases deliberate misrepresentation is clear. One example is the “contradiction” between, Numbers 20:22-29 and Deuteronomy 10:6. Numbers says Aaron died and was buried at Mount Hor and Deuteronomy says Aaron died and was buried at Moserah. This is cited as a discrepancy in the Bible. Moserah is the area where Mount Hor is located. There are a large number of similar misrepresentations in the book. We wrote an article in our printed journal about misrepresenting the facts of the Old Testament titled “Maligning God in Ignorance” dealing with some of these issues. It was published in the January/February 2009 issue page 7 and you can read it online at http://www.doesgodexist.org/JanFeb09/MaligningGodinIgnorance.html

This is not a book review because the scholarship is so shabby and the bias and tone are so negative and abusive that we won’t waste space reviewing it. We do, however, want readers to be aware that this kind of literature is out there. We must be prepared to “give an answer of the reason of the hope that is within us to everyone who asks” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Beauty Among the Thorns

Cactus Flowers
Cactus Flowers
When my oldest daughter married and moved to West Texas, I worried about how a young lady born and raised in Indiana would fare in an area that was essentially a desert. Leaving a state full of lakes, streams, trees, and fruit and vegetable crops for a world of cactus and yucca seemed to be quite an adjustment. When my daughter and her husband showed us a lot they were buying high on a butte, I worried even more. They were miles from town and surrounded by nothing but thorn-covered plants, mesquite trees, and bare rock and dirt.

Our first visit after they built their new house was during a time when they had been blessed with a great deal of rain. I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in the landscape. Everything was green, and most things were blooming. Even the obnoxious cactus I always managed to get scratched by was covered with beautiful flowers.

When you study the design of desert plants and animals, you find they have a beauty all their own, and their design radiates the wisdom of the Creator. Sometimes you have to look among the thorns to see it, but there is always a testimony to God’s wisdom and design in the world around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Stem Cell Scams and Moral Issues

Stem Cells
Stem Cells
For several years now we have talked about the morality of fetal stem cells and what they can be used for and where they come from. The original fetal stem cells came in many cases from aborted babies. The concern of many people was that if the medical establishment paid for fetal stem cells that women might find it financially lucrative to get pregnant, have an abortion, and sell the fetal stem cells. As research continued, it was discovered that a large percentage of stem cell treatments could be done successfully with adult stem cells. All of this was carefully controlled by the Food and Drug Administration and was based on good science.

A study released on June 30, 2016, by University of California stem cell scientists reports that 570 clinics are now offering stem cell treatments for things that in many cases have poor scientific support. An extreme example is the offering of cosmetics that will make your face look like a baby’s “because the stem cells came from the umbilical cord of a baby.” Not only are some of these claims probably not true, but they can be dangerous. Stem cells are cells that can grow into almost any kind of cell, and that makes them useful for medical purposes. The problem is that they can also grow into tumors and the tumors can migrate to other parts of the body.

God’s design of the human body is incredible, and over the years we have had numerous articles about that in the “Dandy Designs” section of our printed periodical. However, changing the use of what God has designed and created may sometimes be beyond human reach. At the very least, we need to move slowly and carefully as we try to change the use of or improve the function of God’s design. Data from Austin American-Statesman, July 3, 2016, page A8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Illegal Prayers

Hands Of Praying
Hands Of Praying
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. In Irving, Texas my daughter lived near a housing development that was bought, built, and developed by a Muslim businessman. He did not allow any non-Muslim to purchase property or build a house within the development. This man even built a mosque on the property for the use of the residents. The development is run by a group of Muslim commissioners who manage the finances and make decisions about maintenance and new construction. This group meets once a month and opens each meeting with a prayer which is led by one of the commissioners.

So far this discussion is factual, but now let us suggest the hypothetical part. Let’s suppose that one of the owners within the development converted to Christianity. He goes to a development board meeting which is opened by a Muslim who leads a Muslim prayer. The Christian is offended because it was not a Christian prayer, and so he sues claiming that allowing the Muslim prayer is preferring one religion over another.

Now back to the factual. In an Associated Press headline dated February 16, 2017, we read “Court Says County Prayers are Illegal.” The board of commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan, begins each meeting with prayer led by one of the commissioners. All of the commissioners are Christians. One man who has been attending the meetings was offended by the prayers and filed a lawsuit. The man lost in U.S. District Court, so the case was appealed. What the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled is that “prayer invocations can be legal” but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners couldn’t just have Christian prayers. Suggesting that board members who are of one faith should lead a prayer of a different faith not only is somewhat ludicrous but would be offensive to most religions. If a Muslim ran for the board of commissioners and was elected, that person could lead a Muslim prayer. The offended man was described in one news story as a “pagan.” How would he not be offended by any prayer? Requiring that no invocation could be given would be tantamount to the government endorsing atheism. The founding fathers gave us the blessing of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but they never intended to turn America into an atheist state.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Did These Things Happen?

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
One of the more beautiful areas of the United States is Bryce Canyon. There is no other place quite like it, so the processes and conditions there must be unique. Anyone who visits the area with its rugged landscape would be motivated to ask how it got to be the way it is.

It is interesting that we frequently see atheist authors and creationist authors giving the same answer to this question. Both say that you either believe that all of these geological phenomena–as well as everything else in the creation–was either created that way by God or it has come about as a product of blind chance. In both camps, there is a prevalent view that all things are either God-designed or chance-designed and that there is no other alternative. It is understandable why atheists would want to make such a narrow choice available. Not only does it push forward their religious view that there is no God, but it also makes belief in God seem to be a shallow and inconsistent view of reality. The problem of human suffering and disaster is a much more difficult area for believers to deal with if God is pulling all the strings and making it all happen. This viewpoint places belief in God in an illogical box.

It would seem that Bryce Canyon is the ideal place to show the foolishness of forcing only these two choices. Did God sit down and carve each pillar as an artist would carve a statue? If not, does this mean that chance formation of the environment that produced the columns is the only other option? How about the option that God designed the system and let it run its course?

Geologists believe there are a wide variety of factors that contributed to the production of Bryce Canyon. When the rocks that make up the Canyon were laid down, they were deposited in a flat area near sea level. The sand and the iron oxide that colors it were deposited in beds that were flat. After many beds had been laid down, a new material was deposited with complex minerals making it very hard. After the area had been covered with several more layers of material, the whole region was lifted up to 8000 feet by forces deep within the earth. Water eroding this uplifted area found it difficult to cut through the hard material on top. Once that hard layer was cut through, the water cut deeper and deeper instead of flattening the area. The hard cap rock remained as the softer rock layers were eroded. Does this process preclude God having any role in the carving of Bryce?

Many times we have emphasized that the Bible tells us that God brings about His will in two ways. One way is the performance of a miracle that only God can do. The Hebrew word bara (create) denotes this kind of process and is only used when refering to God’s activity–never human activity. The second way is that God makes things happen in a natural way with no miraculous action. The Hebrew word asah (make) indicates this and is often applied to things that even humans can do. At the end of the Genesis account, the author tells us that God used both processes in bringing about the Creation. Genesis 2:3 says that God rested from all the work he had “created” (bara) and “made” (asah).

A failure to understand both processes that God uses in bringing things into existence leaves us with many problems in a variety of areas. God’s capacity to heal is not only seen in miracles that defy acts of doctors, but also in the design of the human body, in our mental outlook, in plants and animals that provide us with drugs, and in environmental factors. The bad things that happen to us do not happen because “God does it to us.” They come as a logical result of the struggle between good and evil and as a consequence of what we have individually and collectively done to the environment. War, starvation, poverty, and the spread of disease are not God-caused, but the result of our refusal to live as God commanded.

When we look at life itself, at the cosmos as a whole, and at beautiful places like Bryce Canyon, we are seeing the handiwork of God. The design built into everything from quarks to intergalactic space allows processes to function and bring about the beauty we see. Humans or God can direct how the processes will progress, but the initial design demands intelligence that makes mere chance a belief system without credibility.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cleaning Up the Mess

Dung Beetle at Work
Dung Beetle at Work
There is a great story circulating about a man named Jesse Newton who lives in Arkansas and has a dog. He also has a robotic floor-cleaner called a Roomba. The Roomba is a device you program to run while you are in bed, and it goes all around the rooms you designate sweeping up any dirt and debris on the floor. Last fall Mr. Newton had his robot programmed to clean his house starting at 1:30 AM. The Roomba was doing fine until it hit a pile of dog poop that was picked up by the brushes and wheels of the device. The robot then spread the feces all through the house, on the carpets, the floors, the chair legs, the baseboards, and the kids’ toy box. Mr. Newton tells the whole hilarious story of how he discovered the mess at 3:00 AM and how he spent the next three hours trying to clean it up. He said the Roomba left the house “looking like a Jackson Pollock poop painting.” The story went viral on Facebook and was picked up by many news agencies, newspapers, and their websites, including USA Today and The Guardian. You can Google it to get the whole story.

That story reminded me of articles we have published in the past dealing with the process of cleaning up the waste that accumulates in nature. There are many living things that exist solely on the wastes of animals and plants. A classic example is the dung beetle, which cuts up chunks of “cow pies” or “elephant pies” into small balls and rolls them to their homes underground. Termites process dead trees into fine confetti which helps aerate the soil. Flies produce maggots which process large carrion in such a way that it is returned to the ecosystem in the form of chemicals. Certain kinds of fish clean up the bottom of rivers and lakes. While zebra mussels are a hazard to water-handling equipment, they filter and clean the water of their environment.

The universe is designed in such a way that things are constantly being recycled, cleaned, and worked back into the soil for future generations. This cleaning operation is highly complex and vital to all forms of life. It was not just a series of fortunate accidents that designed and maintains the system. By the way, iRobot, the company that manufactures the Roomba, says that this problem is not uncommon for people who have dogs or cats. Their engineers have been working on “poop detection technology,” but for now, they recommend not using the device when animals that might make a mess are present. We are glad that God figured out the process a long time ago. Reference: The Week, December 23/30, 2016, page 24, also Facebook and various websites.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Expressions of Love

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
It is incredible what men and women have done over the centuries to show their love. People have fought wars, done incredible feats of strength and endurance, and written beautiful poetry and music as an expression or demonstration of their love. The story of one well-known expression of love goes like this:

In the early 1600s, the ruler of India was a man named Shah Jahan. The love of his life was named Mumtaz Mahal. The love, support, and advice that Mumtaz Mahal gave the ruler were so great that he discussed all state affairs with her and had her affix the royal seal to all state documents before they were released. She even accompanied him to military battles. In 1629, Shah Jahan set out for battle with Mumtaz Mahal, but on June 7, 1631, Mumtaz Mahal suddenly died while giving birth to her fourteenth child. The emperor devoted himself to building a monument to his wife. It was given the name which is a colloquial abbreviation of her name–Taj Mahal. The structure was finished in 1648 and Mumtaz was buried under it. On January 22, 1666, Shah Jahan died and was buried beside his wife.

People have marveled at the beauty of the construction of the Taj Mahal, and the love story it expressed has superseded language and political boundaries. There is a still greater love story that needs to occupy our attention. It is not the love of a man and a woman that dominates this love story, but rather it is the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith. Unlike all other religious systems, pure Christianity made love the number one priority. Consider the strength of the following biblical teachings:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love you neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11).

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The thing that sets Christianity apart and causes it to radiate a new way of living for all people is its emphasis on love. Only Christianity has the potential to eradicate national, political, and ethnic barriers to love and peace. Only Christianity can lift women to the level of dignity and importance that they deserve and eradicate racial prejudice. These things can never be accomplished by force or violence. No amount of political rhetoric or physical effort can change greed, selfishness, or inflated egos because they lie protected in the recesses of attitudes. When men and women allow their attitudes and values to be shaped by love, meaningful, positive change can occur.

We marvel at wonders of the world constructed as expressions of love, but even more incredible are the changes that happen in human lives through the power of Christ. There are many people whose lives have changed in dramatic ways and who know that the power to make that change did not come from themselves but from the God who “so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“How Many Gallons of Gas Does One Dinosaur Make?”

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex
Marilyn vos Savant has a column in Parade magazine. In the February 5, 2017, issue (page 8) the above was the title of her column, taken from a reader. We get this same question in one form or another on a fairly regular basis, and it is usually from an adult, not a child. The view of many people seems to be that the gasoline that drives our cars and all of our fossil fuels came from the bodies of dinosaurs that were smushed into crude oil. The fact that the Sinclair Oil Company had a green brontosaurus as their mascot for a long time probably contributed to this misunderstanding. The real answer has a lot to do with our view of how God has provided for advanced human civilization. Reflect on this issue for a moment, and ask yourself what you would answer when a young person asks you where did crude oil come from? In a Bible class context the question might be, “How did God make crude oil?”

The answer to this question comes from our view of how God does things. Do we view God as a magician who zaps things into existence? Did God just zap petroleum products deep underground so that we could find them and use them to drive the industrial age and our infatuation with gasoline-powered cars? We have tried to suggest over the years that God has used natural processes for most of what He has done. In Genesis 1, the word for “create” indicating a process that only God can do is only used three times–verses 1, 21, and 27. These are all major items–space/time in verse 1, life in verse 21, and the human soul in verse 27. All of the other verses in Genesis 1 use a word for “make” or “formed” which implies a natural process. The bottom line is that most of what Genesis 1 describes were things formed by natural processes, not miraculous acts of God. In Genesis 2:3 both words are referred to as methods that God had used: “…he had rested from all his work which God (elohim) created (bara) and made (asah).” (Hebrew words in parentheses.)

So where did the gasoline for your car come from? The answer is that it came from an ecology that God created and shaped to produce it. That ecology was warm, had a special chemical balance, and was full of an animal called foraminifera–a single-celled organism that formed a drop of crude oil in its body during its life processes. When the organism died, the skeletal remains formed diatomaceous earth and the drop of oil from its body united with hundreds of other drops to make a pool of crude oil. The agents that served as the gardeners to provide nutrients, prune, spread seeds, and generally control the ecology were the dinosaurs. Because God used this method, scientists can locate oil deposits literally miles below the earth’s surface. If God had formed the petroleum with a magic trick, humans would not be able to locate these resources. Because we know how the oil was formed, we know where to find it.

God used an incredible group of animals to prepare the things that humans would need. Not only was oil produced in this way, but coal, and iron and a plethora of other resources. God employed engineering skill and ecological genius to give us the standard of living we enjoy today. This is much more exciting than smushed dinosaurs.
–John N. Clayton © 2017