Should Christians Get Tattoos?

Should Christians Get Tattoos?
Tattoos are nothing new. In 1991 tourists found a 5,300-year-old iceman mummy in the Italian Alps with 61 tattoos on his body. Recently archaeologists found tattoos on 5,000-year-old mummies in Egypt. Even though tattoos have been around for a long time, they have become very popular in the last few years. According to a Harris poll, currently, 21 percent of U.S. adults have at least one tattoo. The thing many people want to know is should Christians get tattoos?

There are disagreements among Christian teachers about tattoos. You can search the internet and find discussions on the topic, such as here and here. What does the Bible say? The passage that is often quoted is Leviticus 19:28. However, there is disagreement on exactly what it means. We don’t have room here to go into a lengthy theological discussion about whether or not tattoos are sinful. We will leave that to others. But there are some things we can say for certain about tattoos.

You may wonder why tattoos are so permanent when our skin cells, like other cells in our bodies, die and are replaced every few years. According to an article published on March 6 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the reason has to do with our immune system. When the needle punctures the skin, immune-response cells called macrophages rush to the site and gobble up the foreign substance. After capturing the ink, they hold it until they die. When they die a cellular recycling system kicks into action. New macrophages take up the ink and hold it until they die. The process continues keeping the ink as a permanent part of the cellular network. Tattoo removal requires laser pulsing the macrophage cells that hold the ink coaxing them to release it into the lymph system of the body. This removal process can take years.

It is also safe to say that tattoos can cause serious adverse reactions. These can be short-term problems such as infections. They can be long-term problems including redness, swelling, and itching. In a random sampling of tattooed people in New York City, ten percent said they had some complications. Of that ten percent, sixty percent had chronic problems. Sometimes people develop allergies to the inks used, and sometimes that happens only after they get a second tattoo. The treatment for tattoo allergies may involve topical or injected steroids or surgical removal. Tattoo inks are not closely regulated, if at all. Unsanitary tattoo parlors or a tattoo artist who doesn’t use proper precautions can cause infections. Bacterial infections are the most common, but fungal or viral infections are possible. Tattoos can result in blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and C.

Another potential problem of tattoos is that they can hide health problems such as skin cancers of all kinds including melanoma. With skin cancer, as with any cancer, early detection is essential and even a dermatologist may not see early evidence if it is hidden by a tattoo. Tattoos can also increase your risk of the effects of Sun exposure. Yellow ink, which contains cadmium, is known to cause itching and redness when exposed to the Sun. Black or dark ink colors can absorb the Sun’s rays and cause overheating. Because black ink contains iron, it can also create problems if you have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Black ink contains iron, and the magnetic field can generate electric currents in the iron. That can cause burning, and the more black ink, the more danger in an MRI.

But should Christians get tattoos? For a Christian, there are more things to consider before getting a tattoo. Why do you want one? Is it to glorify God, or is it to draw attention to yourself? Is it an act of rebellion? How will friends and family react? Will it be a stumbling block for other Christians? Will this tattoo be appropriate for me 30, 40, or 50 years from now? Will it make it hard for me to get a job? (Many employers do not want their employees to have visible tattoos.) Is this the best stewardship of money which could be used to spread the gospel or help others in need? (Tattoos are expensive, but removal is much more expensive and painful.) What does the tattoo say about me? Does it convey the kind of message I want to present as a Christian?

Let’s go back to the original question. Should Christians get tattoos? If you are a Christian, a better question to ask is, “Should I get a tattoo?” As you ask that question remember “you are not your own” and “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Finally read Romans 14:22-23 and consider, “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Tree Rights: Do Trees Have Feelings?

Tree Rights
A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?

According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.

The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.

Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.

We believe that God has given us the duty to protect the environment. That includes trees. (Genesis 2:9, 15) However, we see great danger in talking about tree rights. Plants and animals are here to serve humans, and we are here to serve God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

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

Chemical Elements and the Laws of Nature

Chemical Elements and the Natural Laws
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.

Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.

The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.

Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.

If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.

Physics and chemistry are subject to laws which control all of the universe. Without those laws, the universe could not exist, and neither could science. Scientific experimentation is based on the consistency of the natural laws which came into existence when the universe was created. Science is unable by experiment to study what happened before the creation of those laws. Why do those laws exist? Why does anything exist? We believe the answer can be found in Genesis 1:1.
–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.”

Expanding Universe and What It Means

Expanding Universe
We live in an expanding universe. For thousands of years, from Aristotle to Einstein, scientists thought that the universe was eternal. Einstein’s equations proposed in his general theory of relativity in 1915 seemed to indicate that the universe was not stable. Einstein thought it was a mistake and tried to correct for the “error” by creating a variable called the “cosmological constant.” The only error was the cosmological constant, and Einstein later called it “the biggest blunder of my life.”

Later in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble found strong evidence that the universe was expanding. That evidence was further confirmed in 1964 when radio astronomers accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background. It was finally confirmed by space-based experiments in the twenty-first century.

The rate of expansion of the universe based on experiments was established and is known as the Hubble constant. On February 22, 2018, a new survey of the expansion rate was released. This scientific paper was based on the most precise measurements of the universe’s expansion rate using the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists are surprised to discover that the expansion rate is faster than they thought. This new information may require some re-evaluation of the scientific understanding of the universe.

This is not the first time a re-evaluation was needed. Evidence of an expanding universe indicates that it had a beginning. If you trace the expansion backward through time, you can see that at one point the entire universe would have been compacted into a single point. The evidence of the expansion shows that the universe had a beginning when that expansion began. Since the expansion is accelerating, that means that the universe will never contract back and start over. Therefore, the universe is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end.

The bottom line is this: What did Moses know that Einstein and scientists before him did not know? That the universe had a beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood: Our Recommendation

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood
Yesterday we looked at the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood. We dealt with several causes of the problem. We looked at the possible solutions of adoption, test-tube babies, and surrogate motherhood. We have more thoughts to add, and we want to share our recommendation.

Before going any further let me say that no matter what you do, no situation is fool-proof. My wife and I adopted a baby boy who was examined at birth by three doctors, one of whom was our family doctor. My son Timothy was deemed a ”normal newborn.” The biological mother had no special medical problems, and the father was unknown. When the baby was six months old, some medical problems became obvious. To make a long story short, my son Timothy was found to be mentally challenged, had a form of muscular dystrophy which made leg braces and wheelchairs necessary. He also had a form of cerebral palsy which led to tremors and visual problems which eventually left him blind at age 16.

The Roman Catholic Church has taken a strong position opposing surrogacy. The Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared, “Because of the dignity of the child and of marriage and because of the uniqueness of the mother-child relationship, participation in contracts or arrangements for surrogate motherhood is not permitted. Moreover, the commercialization of such surrogacy denigrates the dignity of women, especially the poor.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center said, “…children are not engendered by technology or produced by an industry. Children should arise from an act of love between a husband and wife in cooperation with God. No human being can ‘create’ the image of God.” We suggest that this statement is not true. No matter how a baby is conceived, he or she is in the image of God. God places the soul in the child whether it is in a test tube or in a woman’s body. No human is an android no matter how conception takes place.

There is no question that the ideal way for a child to be born is the old-fashioned way. The problem is that for many young couples that just isn’t possible. Should the fact that a woman had cancer stop her from ever becoming a mother? Many women face the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood. My wife was a full-time mother. Her three children were all chosen children.

The dangers of surrogacy are huge. Abraham, Sara, and Hagar are the biblical example of those dangers. We will let the theologians argue about the ethics issues. For us common people, I suggest that adoption is the best solution for both the abortion issue and the needs of women facing infertility and desire for motherhood.

Many women have had babies but are not really mothers. The mother is the one who changed the diaper, read Bible stories to the child, took the child to the doctor, bandaged the cuts, and kissed the bruises. No matter how the child came into this world, it is a child with a soul created in the image of God. Every child needs the love only a mother can give.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Christianity Today, March 2018, Pages 28-35.

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood: The Problem

Infertility and Desire for Motherhood
What does a married couple do when they want to have a child but are unable to do so? There are many reasons for the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood. A woman who has had cancer and yet desperately wants a child even though the chemo has made her unable to conceive is very common. Male infertility is a major cause of couples not being able to conceive a child. Diseases like diabetes may make it impossible for a woman to conceive or to carry a pregnancy to birth. My wife was an insulin-dependent diabetic from age ten, and the disease made it impossible for her to conceive a child even though she desperately wanted to be a mother. There are several movie stars who don’t want to have their physical appearance disturbed by pregnancy, or maybe they don’t want to spend nine months carrying a child. The list goes on.

For my wife and I, the answer to this problem was adoption. We adopted three wonderful children, and that in my mind is the best option. But there are complications and issues in adoption. Some couples desperately want the child to be from the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg. “Test tube babies” where fertilization occurs in a petri dish and the egg is implanted in the woman are very common. However, the failure rate is high, and some women simply cannot carry a child.

In this latter case, what a couple sometimes does is hire a surrogate. A surrogate mother is a woman who will allow the baby to be implanted in her womb and carry the child to birth, but the child will legally belong to the couple. The surrogate mother is, in essence, an incubator and has no claim to the child, but is paid for her services. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that 2807 babies were born that way in 2015. That is four times more than in 2014, and when data becomes available for 2017, it will probably be well over 8000.

The issue becomes very complicated when the woman is not producing any viable eggs or if the man is sterile. You then are dealing with donated eggs and sperm which means the genetic background of the baby may be unknown creating all kinds of implications. When a genetically carried disease shows up in the child, there have been lawsuits.

There is no simple solution to the problem of infertility and desire for motherhood, but we will continue our discussion tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Christianity Today, March 2018, Pages 28-35.

Human Vanity Causing Human Suffering

Human Vanity Causing Human Suffering
We probably get more email about the issue of human suffering, than any other single faith issue. Why does God allow the pain and the tragedies that all of us seem to encounter in life? We don’t pretend to have an answer to every case, but atheism offers no answer either. We have to consider how much of human suffering is caused by human vanity.

Perhaps the most difficult question is why an innocent baby should be born with a plethora of problems. As the parent of a child born with multiple birth defects, I have a personal struggle with this issue. Even though I have written a book about my son Timothy detailing our personal struggle, there are people who have far worse issues.

The big question for all of this discussion is, “What we can reasonably expect God to do?” The Bible tells us that God created humans in perfection. It was the deliberate rejection of God’s commands (sin) and selfish exploitation of the resources God gave us that have caused the problems. One area of our failure in today’s world is the chemicals we use to promote our physical appearance.

In 2017 a dozen health advocacy groups and individuals petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban lead acetate from hair dyes. Lead acetate is readily absorbed through the skin and is a neurotoxin. In 2011 the National Toxicology Program declared formaldehyde a human carcinogen. This and triclosan, phthalates, and parabens are still allowed in U.S. cosmetics even though they have all been linked to cancer, impaired reproductive ability, and compromised neurodevelopment in children. Cosmetics contain these chemicals in moisturizers, makeup, hair products, skin lighteners, and hand soaps.

The European Union has banned more than 1300 chemicals from personal health or cosmetic products, but little has been done elsewhere. Our vanity and emphasis on physical appearance contribute to the pain and suffering we experience. Add to that the war and violence that appalls most of us, and you have a huge percentage of the pain and suffering we see all around us.

Proverbs tells us “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30). In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul says that women should “dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with prepared hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds…” The cost of human vanity is not just in dollars, but also in human suffering caused by the chemicals used to preserve and advance our physical appearance.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Scientific American, November 2017, page 10.

God’s Natural Cloning

Natural Cloning of Crayfish
When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.

Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.

Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.

We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.