## Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:

Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.

The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.

The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.

The cosmos is much larger than most of us can imagine. The light we see from some of those stars left the stars hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measuring the distance to stars gives new meaning to passages like Isaiah 40:22: “He stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in.”

If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Medical Assistance in Dying

In June of 2016, Canada approved a law called MAID, which stands for “Medical Assistance In Dying.” It became the sixth country in the world to allow the practice, and there are nine states in the United States plus Washington D.C that have followed the Canadian model. Those who work in the field of medical assistance in dying tell us that there are three words they use in dealing with MAID. They are ACCEPT, ADAPT, and be at PEACE.

ACCEPTING the fact that you are going to die very soon is something that most people manage, but for some, it is accomplished more quickly than for others. One’s religious convictions or the lack of them can have a significant impact on when and how we accept death.

ADAPTING takes many forms and is frequently a function of how much pain we are in and how much our impending death affects those we love financially. Using MAID to avoid pain or to stop the loss of family finances is a growing adaption many people are choosing to make. A person’s medical and mental condition can affect how they adapt.

For a significant number of people, being able to donate organs to others is part of being at PEACE with one’s approaching death. An ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) victim named Fred Gillis said it this way: “ALS, you can’t take this away. We’re going to give life to other people.”

There are a wide variety of problems associated with MAID. The laws in Canada and the U.S. make it very difficult to give organs away if you are terminal yourself. If you have active cancer, you are ineligible to donate organs. If you die too slowly, you are not eligible. Even if you are on life support and you decide to pull the plug, about 30% of the time, the organs become nonviable. If donating an organ hastens your death, there is a “The Dead Donor Rule” that makes it impossible for you to donate organs. Fred Gillis was able to donate two kidneys, his lungs, and his liver when he died in April of 2018. The first 30 MAID donors in Canada gave 74 organs, which meant many lives were spared.

Medical assistance in dying is a tough issue for Christians. God gives life, and God makes it clear that the Holy Spirit lives in us. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16.) The need for organ donors is enormous, and allowing people to find peace as death approaches is also huge. It is hard to be rational when we or someone we love is facing death. It is essential to understand that a person’s death is when their soul departs, not necessarily when the physical organs stop working. As Christians, we must study and intelligently discuss this subject.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Biodiversity Prospecting in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to 500,000 species of plants and animals that are unique to that country. Many times human actions such as rainforest destruction result in the loss of many unique species. For almost thirty years, the government of Costa Rica has worked with medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnology, and food industries in what has been called biodiversity prospecting.

The National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica (INBio) was established in 1989. In 1991 they reached an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant Merck to explore the forests of Costa Rica to find marketable drugs from the resources there. Merck paid money up-front and agreed to pay royalties on any drugs they discovered. Instead of destroying the diversity of wildlife, bio-prospecting encourages sustainable use. Similar efforts could be made in other nations that still have unexplored regions both in forests and in ocean ecological systems.

We would suggest that one of the things God has done is to build into the world’s ecology materials that humans can use to promote their well being. These natural materials are much more likely to produce solutions without ecological drawbacks than human-made synthetics. The Bible refers to materials that ancient people used to serve various purposes. Genesis 30:14-16 is an example where the Hebrew word dudai is translated “mandrakes” and is also found in Song of Solomon 7:13. Another example is what the Hebrew rimmon translated “pomegranate” in Deuteronomy 8:8. In ancient times, people used it to make astringent medicines.

Biologists are still learning what ancient people knew, and what some primitive tribes in today’s world know about natural medicines. God has already created many solutions to what ails us, but they await our discovery. If biodiversity prospecting can bring financial resources to developing countries while sustaining their natural habitats and creatures, we believe that is good stewardship of God’s gifts.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Original article in Wildlife Digest, December 1991, page 29. For further information click HERE and HERE.

## What Makes Us Human?

One of the significant points of contention between those who believe in God and those who don’t is the concept of what makes us human. The biblical position is that humans are that form of life created in the image of God. Our spiritual makeup allows us to create art and music, worship a supreme being, feel guilt, be sympathetic, and have a form of love that is self-sacrificing and has nothing to do with survival. The atheist response to this is that our intelligence and brain structure accounts for these characteristics. The atheist insists that they are totally a product of our evolution.

What does the evidence show? That is a complicated question, and one we frequently address as science makes new discoveries. National Wildlife magazine (June/July 2020) published an interesting article about crows and research by John Marzluff at the University of Washington. For the past ten years, researchers at the university have been putting on caveman masks and catching and tagging crows. The crows have learned that the caveman face means trouble, and they mob and dive-bomb the researchers. When baby crows learn to fly, they immediately do the same, even though they do not have personal experience with being caught and tagged.

Crows are incredible creatures. Crows will fashion twigs into hooks to reach food in a hollow tree or limb. Other crows will drop nuts on a hard pavement to crack them open. Crows have learned to pay attention to what a farmer has in his hands. They will fly away from a farmer with a gun, but not when the same farmer holds a rake. Crows will help raise younger siblings, and that cooperation causes them to flock together and seemingly communicate with each other.

The point is that intelligence is not a measure of human-ness. The things that make humans different than crows is not our brain. Mentally challenged humans do the things that make us human. Many animals with high intelligence do not engage in those things. What makes us human is being created in the image of God. Having that image makes humans unique and special, and gives us value and purpose in our existence. Human life is sacred, and that hasn’t changed despite our abuse of one another.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Your Skin Holds Everything Together

You can go online and get all the factual information you want on every part of the human body. Put in the word “skin,” and you will be amazed at how much information there is about human skin. One comic said, “Your skin holds everything together.” In truth, it does much more than that.

We tend to classify humans based on their skin color, but our skin color is related to the needs of the body. Black objects radiate heat more efficiently than white objects. Take two identical cans and paint one black and the other white. Heat them to the same temperature and then let them sit in an insulated environment. The black can will cool off faster than the white can. Dark skin color is due to a biological pigment called melanin. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light and thus protects the body. People living in tropical areas where they are exposed to more heat and ultraviolet light have more melanin than people living in cooler regions. There is, therefore, a latitude effect on skin color.

The more you study the design of your skin, the more amazing it is. One square inch of human skin contains nearly 20 million cells and 625 sweat glands. That square inch of skin can also have as many as 65 hairs, 19 feet (5.8 meters) of blood vessels, and 19,000 sensory cells. To limit bleeding, blood vessels in your skin temporarily shrink instantly if the skin is cut or if pressure is applied. Your body sheds skin cells when they die and replaces them with new ones. Three-quarters of the dust floating around your house is made up of dead skin cells.

So, if you think your skin holds everything together, and that’s all, you would be wrong. Your skin, the largest organ in your body, does a wide range of things that help you to stay alive and comfortable. When David wrote, “I will praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14), he was not aware of many things about our bodies that we know today. As we look at ourselves with tools such as microscopes, we see design in the construction of our bodies that David could not have imagined.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

There is a wonderful book published in 1989 and now out of print that gives many other examples of the incredible designs we see in our bodies. The title is The Compass in Your Nose and Other Astonishing Facts About Humans by Marc McCutcheon and published by Jeremy Tarcher, Inc.

## Why Do We Need Insects?

Many years ago, while working in a teen camp in Alaska, I heard a skeptical teenager disparage God’s existence by saying that if God existed, He certainly wouldn’t have made mosquitoes. I have heard similar comments about ticks, hornets, lice, locusts, spiders, and stink bugs. I suspect we have all had times when we were unhappy with annoying bugs, yet when you examine the role of insects, you realize they are critical to our own existence. The well-known entomologist E. O. Wilson said, “If human beings disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on with little change, but if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt the human species could last more than a few months.” Why do we need insects?

Insects pollinate plants, aerate and fertilize the soil, decompose dung, and the bodies of things that have died. They control pests contributing 70 billion dollars every year to our national economy. Ninety-six percent of land-dwelling birds feed their young on insects, consuming approximately 400 to 500 million tons of insects. Most creatures in and around lakes and streams feed on insects, including fish and bears.

Why do we need insects? Humans are already seeing the cost of eradicating them. There are 68 species of bumblebees and roughly a fourth of those are in danger of becoming extinct. In Europe, the data shows a 76% drop in insects, including bees, beetles, lacewings, and katydids. The loss of pollinating insects has sharply affected the growing of many cash crops, and scientists are studying the effects of insecticide use.

Before we castigate God for what He has created, we need to be sure we have all the facts. We should learn what each creature does and how it contributes to our own well being. I dislike mosquitoes as much as the next person, but a majority of mosquitoes are pollinating insects. I am reactive to a bee sting, but bees contribute to much of what I eat. From our earliest existence, God has challenged us to take care of what He created. (See Genesis 2:15.) That includes caring for and protecting the agents that allow Earth to be hospitable to our existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data and quote from National Wildlife magazine, June-July 2020, pages 26-31.

## Memorial to Help Us Remember

By definition, we establish a memorial to help us remember certain essential things. Memorials are very much a part of Christianity and of the history of Israel. Members of different denominations have instituted all kinds of special days and given them spiritual significance. In reality, those days are not found in the Bible, and there is no biblical command to observe them. Perhaps God knew that humans would corrupt special days and forget their significance and message. Christmas is an example of that.

In Exodus 3:15, God told Moses that the exodus from Egypt would be a “memorial to all generations.” Jesus spoke in Mathew 26:13 of a memorial for the woman who anointed him for burial. In Luke 22:19-20, Jesus gave His followers the one special memorial to observe. Early Christians met on the first day of every week to remember Christ’s body “which is given for you” as they ate the bread and drank the fruit of the vine–“the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.” Even though Jesus gave us this memorial to help us remember, it was very quickly corrupted. In 1 Corinthians 11:20-34, we read that it had become a drunken feast in the Corinthian church. The memorial’s purpose was lost because they were “not discerning the Lord’s body” (verse 29). Paul goes on in this description to say, “this is why many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verse 30).

Today in the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day. The last Monday in May was made a national holiday in 1971 to honor the memory of those who died to defend America from those who would try to destroy us. It seems that each year there is more emphasis on this day being the “unofficial first day of summer” with little emphasis on its intended meaning. Like the words of 1 Corinthians 11, this day has become a drunken feast for many, and our population is weak and sickly as a result. Many of us are more concerned with Memorial Day sales and, in 2020, how to celebrate without getting the virus than with pausing to give thanks for America and for those who died to preserve it.

As Christians, we have one special memorial to help us remember the sacrifice Jesus made. Even as we stop every week to remember what Jesus did for us, we must develop an attitude of gratitude. As we thank God who sent His Son to die for our salvation, we should also remember those who died to keep us free to worship in this country.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Existence of Evil Challenges Atheism

One of the challenges atheists frequently raise to belief in God is the question of evil. The argument is that if God exists and if God is good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? If there is evil, according to the atheist view, then that God does not exist. The truth is that the existence of evil challenges atheism.

The presence of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than it is for Christians. From a Christian perspective, evil is a product of the rejection of God. The Bible portrays human existence is as a battleground between good and evil, between God and the forces of Satan. The book of Job is the clearest example, but the Bible covers this theme again and again.

The existence of evil challenges atheism as the famous philosopher Alan Plantinga describes:

“Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness if there were no God and we just evolved? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live… A secular way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort … and thus no way there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness and not just an illusion of some sort, then you have a powerful argument for the reality of God.” (From Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God pages 26-27)

Atheism has no way of giving a purpose for human existence. That leads atheists like Richard Dawkins to maintain that there is no such thing as good or evil (see Dawkin’s book River Out of Eden, page 133). If an atheist rationally believes that evil does not exist, they negate their challenge to belief in God. Therefore, the existence of evil challenges atheism.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Bird Droppings and Waste Disposal

If you ever found your car looking like the one in the picture, you know how frustrating it can be. Maybe you should have parked in a different spot. Seriously, bird droppings and waste disposal by all animals present many design challenges.

One of the major issues for all living things is how to dispose of waste. Left inside the body, waste products can be toxic. Surviving the toxic effect can be a significant challenge for a hibernating bear. For birds, it becomes complicated because they must remain lightweight to fly. They cannot have a waste removal system that is heavy or dense. That means there is no bladder and no elaborate intestinal tract in birds.

God has designed a system of waste removal in birds that we are all aware of, but may have never considered carefully. The next time you see bird droppings on your car or the sidewalk, take a close look. You will see that there is a dark spot surrounded by white material. The dark spot is fecal matter, and the white stuff is urine. The urine washes away quickly in the first rain, and the fecal matter remains. Waste removal systems frequently benefit other forms of life, and that dark spot may contain seeds that contribute to the spreading of plant life.

Some birds have unique disposal systems such as owls, which make pellets out of solid material they eat, including bones. The birds that decorate your car are specially adapted to flight. The design of their disposal system allows them to be rulers of the sky. Birders are probably familiar with a periodical put out by a humorous writer who called himself Dick E. Bird. Years ago, he wrote this poem to explain how birds defecate:

“Birds, ya know, don’t got no bladder,
So wherever they is, it just don’t matter.
On the deck or on the sills,
The spirit moves, you hear a trill.
Then they fly, just like a thief,
That is how they spell relief.”

God intelligently designs every living system, and waste disposal systems are no exception. Bird droppings and waste disposal from animals also require clean-up after the fact, and God has that covered too, as we have discussed before.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

## Hitler and Richard Dawkins

We see a similarity between the writings of Hitler and Richard Dawkins. In 1941 Adolph Hitler, in his book Table Talk wrote:

“Today war is nothing but a struggle for the riches of nature. By virtue of an inherent law, these riches belong to him who conquers them. That’s in accordance with the laws of nature. By means of the struggle, the elites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies this incessant struggle, by allowing the survival of the fittest. Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of human failure.”

Richard Dawkins has written:

“This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”

Both Hitler and Dawkins have attacked Christianity based on morality. If there is no such thing as good or evil, as Dawkins has written elsewhere, and if natural selection is the law we all live by, then survival depends on who is fit and who is not. In that case, there is no way to justify Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount or the content of Matthew 25. It means that we are all doomed to violence, suffering, and war. Dawkins would suggest that we should be indifferent to the atrocities of humans destroying other humans. It isn’t easy to see how Hitler and Richard Dawkins would disagree philosophically.

Atheism is both a philosophy and a religion. It is hard to believe that after a person looks at the history of atheism, they would deny God’s existence. The atheist, however, would point to religious wars as a demonstration that religion doesn’t do any better than Hitler’s beliefs. That is why this ministry does not defend any religion that can be defined as “human attempts to reach God.” This ministry only claims that there is evidence for God’s existence and that applying the teachings of Jesus Christ would bring peace and well-being to all of humanity.

Adolph Hitler and Richard Dawkins share the same perspective. Hitler claimed that Christianity cultivated human failure. Atheism claims life is purposeless, and by Dawkins’ admission, life cultivates violence and war. That is the fulfillment of what Hitler called “the law of selection.” The contrast between Christianity and atheism is crystal clear when we read the writings of Hitler and examine the history of his application of atheistic beliefs.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The quotations above are in Reflections on the Existence of God by Richard Simmons, Union Hill Publishing © 2019, pages 24-25, ISBN 975-1-939358-22-6.