Collateral Benefits of Worship

Collateral Benefits of Worship

When dealing with people who have no church affiliation, we often hear the line, “I don’t need to go to church to be good.” This frequently comes from someone who has had a bad experience with the hypocrisy of a church-goer. However, new research data shows collateral benefits of worship and involvement in a church. The study by Johns Hopkins researchers shows a connection between being socially isolated and dementia.

The study involved 5,022 dementia-free U.S. adults aged 65 or older with an average age of 76 and not living in a residential care facility. The data showed that socially isolated adults have a 27% higher chance of developing dementia than those who are not socially isolated. The study defined social isolation as “having few relationships and few people to interact with regularly.” That included whether the person attended religious services or participated in social events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that social isolation is responsible for other serious health conditions, including heart disease and depression.

These studies are not designed to validate attendance at worship or involvement in church activities. However, they show the collateral benefits of worship in a corporate setting. Meeting together in a church setting meets the criteria for preventing social isolation. Worship and Bible study are always on a regular schedule, so participation is not sporadic and allows a person to associate with the same group of people regularly. If the group is following the instructions of Jesus and the example of the first-century Church, participation provides the ideal environment to avoid social isolation.

Galatians 6:2 tells Christians to “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” In Acts 2:42-47, we read that the early Christians were together daily (verse 46) and shared food and fellowship. The acts of worship encourage people not to be socially isolated. Singing together (not listening to someone else) is a recognized tool for avoiding social isolation. Who hasn’t enjoyed singing with others around a campfire? The communion service is not just vertical with Christ but horizontal as we join in a common act of spiritual oneness.

Tragically, many churches have fallen into the same trap as the Corinthian Church did by letting human power struggles produce social isolation. (See 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.) According to the Bible, true worship provides a way to be at peace with God while living with others and avoiding isolation. God has given us many ways to improve our lives, and we should not overlook the collateral benefits of worship and avoiding social isolation.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: NPR.com and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Mountain Chickadee Brains

Mountain Chickadee Brains

One interesting scientific question is whether brain cells can be increased or replenished. People say the brain is the only body part where the cells are not replaced every seven years. That seems reasonable since replacing brain cells could cause us to lose stored memories. Doctors are limited in what they can do to help people with brain injuries because of the inability to repair or replace brain cells. Scientists have found some interesting facts in a recent study of mountain chickadee brains.

The study at the University of Nevada has shown that brains can change when environmental factors demand it. Researchers comparing the brains of chickadees separated by a few kilometers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains found substantial differences in the brains of the two populations. Chickadees living at an elevation of 7800 feet showed significant brain differences compared to those living at 5900 feet. The hippocampus of the higher-elevation chickadees was larger, and the neuron density was greater. Tests showed enhanced spatial cognition at higher elevations, so caching and recovering food will be better for the higher mountain chickadee brains.

If you assume that both populations of chickadees came from a common ancestor, then brain development genetic change has been catalyzed by environmental factors. For example, a greater need for food caching and recall has led to physical changes in mountain chickadee brains.

The question is, could we apply this to humans with brain injuries? Is the brain designed to allow this kind of change? The brains of chickadees living in the harshest environment must develop better spatial memory to survive. Does this mean human intelligence can be affected by life challenges and environments? We need to point out that intelligence is not necessarily related to brain size because a bigger brain does not mean you are more intelligent.

Studies like this demonstrate the flexibility God designed into the DNA of living things. So maybe being called a “bird brain” is not as derogatory as people previously thought.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: Living Bird magazine from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the winter of 2023, pages 46 – 53, and “Harsh Mountain Winters Have Made Chickadees Smarter” at allaboutbirds.org

Echidnas Are Extremely Sensitive to Heat

Echidnas Are Extremely Sensitive to Heat

One of the most curious animals on our planet is the short-beaked echidna found in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. This animal is a monotreme, a mammal that lays eggs. The echidna and the duckbill platypus are the best-known animals in this grouping. Echidnas eat ants, so they are also known as spiny anteaters. What you probably don’t know is that echidnas are extremely sensitive to heat. 

An echidna’s body temperature is normally 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). If the environmental temperature hits 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), it can be fatal for echidnas. This may sound like an impossible situation since Australia can be very hot, especially in the Dryandra Woodland and Boyagin Nature Reserve. That is where a large echidna population lives about 170 km (105 miles) south of Perth. 

Research published in Biology Letters studied 124 echidnas to see how the animals could handle the heat since they can’t dissipate it by panting, sweating, or licking. The researchers found that echidnas blow bubbles from their noses. The bubbles burst and wet the nose tip. As the moisture evaporates, it cools the animal. The evaporation of water at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit removes 540 calories per gram of water evaporated. Even though echidnas are extremely sensitive to heat, evaporation protects them from injury.

In addition to the bubble-blowing snout, echidnas have quills to protect them from predators. The echidna’s unique design is very difficult to explain by chance evolution. Instead, God has designed creatures to survive as they deal with the varied conditions around the planet. Everywhere we look, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before. 

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: Biology Letters and “This egg-laying mammal blows bubbles to cool off” by Ashley Strickland posted on CNN World January 18, 2023

What is a Fetus According to Science?

What is a Fetus According to Science?

One of the most distressing aspects of the abortion debate is the refusal of the press to address scientific facts. What is a fetus? According to Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, there are three choices scientifically: 

  1. It is a part of the mother’s body.
  2. It is not a part of the mother’s body but an individual of another species. 
  3. It is not any kind of living thing but just a clump of biological molecules undergoing chemical reactions

So, then what is a fetus?

If you accept # 1, then all pregnant women are chromosome mosaics with two sets of genomes. That means that 50% of all pregnant women are hermaphrodites having both male and female tissue. If the new life begins with a piece of the mother’s body becoming a new organism, that would be called “budding.” Budding is a form of asexual reproduction used by some species of worms, sponges, corals, and microorganisms. That is not a means of human reproduction. The fetus is not a part of the mother’s body, which is why women experience morning sickness. Her immune system is trying to reject something that is not a part of her body. 

If you accept # 2, then the fetus is a parasitic disease. The transition of this non-human parasite into a human being would be an example of speciation. You would have to call the fetus “Homo-fetus” as it evolves into homo sapiens.

If you accept #3 and say that a fetus is just a clump of biological molecules undergoing chemical reactions, then each pregnancy is an “origin of life” event. It is non-living matter transforming into life. 

Dr. Egnor says that all three of those options are “scientific nonsense.” What is a fetus according to science? He says that the scientific fact is that human life begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg. He concludes his article by saying, “The term’ person’ is a moral and legal category, not a scientific category, and it is a category open to moral discussion and debate. But “human being” is a scientific term, and it is not open to debate. The science is settled. Human life begins at fertilization, and cogent moral reasoning about abortion must begin with that scientific fact.” 

The bottom line is that humanity must decide whether or not it is acceptable to kill a human being who is a burden. We are going down a dangerous and destructive road when we avoid the scientific evidence and the biblical view of the value of human life. Whatever argument someone can make for abortion can also be used to justify the termination of those who are disabled, mentally ill, or too old to function without assistance.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “If a Fetus Isn’t a Human Being, What Is It?” by Dr. Michael Egnor on evolutionnews.org

Conflict Between Faith and Science – Or Not?

Conflict Between Faith and Science – Or Not? - Museum of the Bible

A new “Scripture and Science” exhibition has opened at The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. The exhibit shows that the Bible has encouraged and nourished science. Curator of the exhibition Dr. Anthony Schmidt, explained, “While there is this persistent myth that there is this ongoing conflict between faith and science, we highlight the ways that the Bible has left an impact on some of history’s greatest thinkers – scientists [and] natural philosophers.” The exhibition points out that the Bible has not been an impediment to science but has encouraged and nourished science.

The exhibit is organized around six key questions: (1) How did it all begin? (2) What keeps the universe running? (3) How did life begin? (4) What makes me human? (5) What can we accomplish? (6) How will it all end? These are all questions that swarm around the supposed conflict between faith and science.

The exhibit quotes prominent scientists, including Robert Jastrow, Arno Penzias, Arthur Holly Compton, Fred Hoyle, Charles Townes, Guillermo Gonzalez, Leslie Wickman, Deborah Haarsma, and the Discovery Institute staff. Many of these are Nobel Prize winners.

In the section on “What makes me human?” Nancy Pearcey, the author of the book Total Truth, explains how our concept of human dignity stems from the biblical concept that we are created in the image of God. Also in that section, a display shows how that biblical understanding challenged scientific racism. It tells the story of a young African man, Ota Benga, who was put on display at the Bronx Zoo as an evolutionary link. That ended when Christian leaders objected, led by African-American minister James Gordon who said, “We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”

Faith did conflict with scientific racism. However, this exhibition debunks the myth of the conflict between faith and science. It will continue at the Museum of the Bible until January 15, 2024.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: Museum of the Bible’s website and evolutionnews.org

Asking a Computer if God Exists

Asking a Computer if God Exists

Years ago, I heard a joke that went something like this. Scientists developed a massively powerful computer that could answer any question. The researchers asked the computer, “How did the universe begin?” The computer whirred, lights flashed, and out popped this answer: “See Genesis 1:1.” That joke originated when computers filled a large room, had spinning reels of tape and flashing lights, and used punch cards. Now, computers are small, use keyboards and monitors, have voice recognition, and speak in many languages. Soon we may have quantum computers with capabilities only dreamed of today. Have you ever tried asking a computer if God exists?

A topic that has received much publicity in recent months is artificial intelligence (AI). As computers become more humanlike with their ability to speak and answer questions, we are coming to depend on them more and more. Knowledgeable people suggest that the growth of AI will dramatically affect business, medicine, and entertainment. Other areas expected to face major changes because of AI are work, war, and education.

Recently, I have seen articles concerning a new AI development that worries educators. It’s called ChatGPT. This app can do more than answer questions. It can write essays. A student with an assignment to write a 500-word essay on a subject can input the topic and let ChatGPT write the paper. I decided this would be a good opportunity for asking a computer if God exists.

Going back to that old story, I asked the computer, “How did the universe begin?” ChatGPT responded with a 237-word essay on the Big Bang that agreed with current scientific theories. It was nicely worded, grammatically correct, and would probably satisfy a school teacher. However, it didn’t fully answer the question, just as the Big Bang theory does not.

Then I asked ChatGPT to write an essay about proving the existence of God. The result was 430 words that read in part:

“One of the most commonly cited arguments for the existence of God is the cosmological argument. This argument states that the universe had a beginning, and that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Therefore, it is reasoned that the universe must have been caused by something that exists outside of the universe, and that this cause is God. This argument is based on the principle of causality, which states that for every effect, there must be a cause.
Another argument for the existence of God is the teleological argument. This argument states that the universe is complex and ordered, with many intricate systems and processes that work together in harmony. This complexity and order is argued to be the result of an intelligent designer, which is God. The design argument is based on the idea that the universe is too complex and ordered to be the result of chance, and that it must have been created by an intelligent being.
A third argument that is often used to prove the existence of God is the moral argument. This argument states that humans have a moral sense, and that this moral sense must come from a higher being, which is God. The moral argument is based on the idea that moral laws and values cannot be explained by natural causes, but must be the result of an intelligent and moral being.
Some people argue that the existence of God can be known through personal experience, through faith. They believe that God can reveal himself in personal experiences, such as through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices. They argue that the existence of God is something that can be known through a personal relationship with God, and not something that can be proven through reason or science.”


That summarized the arguments for God’s existence. Then, however, I decided to make the question more direct by asking a computer if God exists. So I asked ChatGPT, “Does God exist?” The answer came back in 195 words that concluded with:

“Ultimately, the question of whether or not God exists is a matter of personal belief and faith. It is important for individuals to form their own opinions on the matter based on their own experiences, beliefs and personal understanding of the world.”

Since ChatGPT never referred me to Genesis 1:1, I decided to ask, “What do we learn from Genesis 1:1?” I received this response:

“It teaches that God is the creator of all things, including the heavens and the earth. Additionally, it implies that God’s creation of the universe was a purposeful and deliberate act, rather than the result of chance or natural processes.”

I certainly can’t argue with that. I conclude that asking a computer if God exists will never result in a definitive answer to the question. Each of us must reach our own conclusion based on examining the evidence with an open mind.

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Reference: ChatGPT from OpenAI

A Grass Called Wheat and the Bread of Life

A Grass Called Wheat and the Bread of Life

The cultivation of a grass called wheat (Triticum aestivum) reaches far back into history. That grass became one of the first domesticated food crops and has been a primary staple food for people ever since. Today, wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and continues to be an essential food grain source for people. As a result, world trade in wheat is higher than for all other crops combined.

Although small, a wheat kernel has three main parts that enable it to feed the world. The source of white flour comes from the endosperm, which makes up about 83% of the kernel. Bran is the outer coat of the kernel, making up about 14%, and provides an excellent source of fiber. The smallest part of the kernel is the germ. It makes up only about 2.5% of the kernel and stores the embryo. People who mill flour separate the germ from other parts of the wheat kernel because it contains fat that limits flour’s shelf-life.

The endosperm of the wheat kernel contains a protein called gluten. It allows bread dough to rise by trapping minute bubbles of carbon dioxide when fermentation occurs in the leavened dough. Unfortunately, a small segment of the world’s population has to avoid eating gluten because of gluten sensitivity or a more serious autoimmune disorder known as coeliac disease. However, wheat is the most nourishing of the cereal grains, containing vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats to make a highly nutritious combination.

The grass called wheat is mentioned many times in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus referred to wheat in His parables and used it to illustrate principles in other ways. For example, people use wheat to make bread, and Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life. For thousands of years, wheat has been a vital part of the human diet, and the need for it only becomes greater as the population grows. Likewise, people worldwide need Jesus, the Bread of Life, who can teach us how to live in peace, give us meaning and purpose in life, and bring us into a relationship with God.

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Why Would a Good God Create Viruses?

Why Would a Good God Create Viruses?

Think of the many illnesses that viruses cause, such as rabies, polio, Ebola, measles, mumps, yellow fever, influenza, HIV, chicken pox, hepatitis, shingles, rabies, and, of course, COVID. That is only a partial list. Some skeptics use this as an argument against the existence of God. Why would a good God create viruses?

Viruses are diverse and abundant beyond what we can imagine. The truth is that life on Earth could not exist without them. Even though many of them cause harm, they are essential tools in God’s construction of life.

By the usual definition of life, viruses are not alive since they cannot reproduce on their own. Instead, they must enter a living cell and coopt its replication functions to produce more of themselves. First, they hijack the 3D-printing machinery of the cell that turns genetic information into proteins. Then they damage the cell as they break out and spread to other cells. At least, that’s what happens in the case of the diseases mentioned. In COVID, the damage is to the victim’s respiratory tissue cells. So, why would a good God create viruses?

Viruses are present in every species of living creatures. They can be considered parasites, but sometimes they are in a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with their host. They may remain dormant or even contribute to adaptive benefits. Problems often arise when a virus from one species enters another species. That is what happened with COVID and many other viral diseases. Most of them are known to have come into the human population from animals.

Scientists have only recently discovered that some viruses serve as food for certain microbes. They found that a single-celled microbe in the genus Hateria can live and grow on a virus diet, eating up to a million viruses per day. In turn, microbes are eaten by larger plankton which are consumed by larger predators which find their way into the stomachs of ever larger creatures going up the food chain to sustain life.

In addition to viruses contributing adaptive benefits to their hosts and providing food for microbes, they also serve other ecological roles. For example, some viruses infect algae. Algae blooms harm marine life, but the invading viruses help to control these aquatic algae blooms. Scientists have also found that viruses have contributed genes to human DNA that assist in embryonic development and help us resist infections and even fight off cancer.

So there are answers to the skeptic’s challenge, “Why would a good God create viruses?” Viruses are not evil, but they are a reflection of the design of the world in which we live. Their complexity allows them to shape and mold every aspect of the design of life.

— Roland Earnst © 2023

References: “Viruses as prey? It’s just one of the surprising roles they play” and “How viruses shape our world” on NationalGeographic.com

Flamingos Sleep Standing on One Leg

Flamingos Sleep Standing on One Leg

Most of us have seen flamingos or at least pictures of them. Their bright pink plumage is hard to miss, and it is quite a sight when they travel in groups. We also may have marveled at a bird that eats with its head upside down. Even more remarkable is the fact that flamingos sleep standing on one leg. Because they retract the other leg into their body, people assumed that the one-legged stance was to conserve body heat. However, researchers investigating this odd behavior have found that it is both an energy-saving and safety design.

A flamingo’s knee is located close to its body. The joint you may have thought was the knees is actually the ankle. Researchers found that flamingos can lock their knee and stabilize their center of gravity over one leg. When flamingos sleep standing on one leg, they are very stable. When asleep, their swaying decreases sevenfold compared to when they are awake. They have virtually no muscle movements in their legs and feet while they sleep. In fact, dead flamingos are capable of standing on one leg when placed in a vertical position.

Roosting is one of the most dangerous times for any bird because predators can sneak up on them. However, Flamingos can roost while standing in water away from the shore, significantly reducing their risk of being eaten. The design of their legs and knees allows this unusual method of survival.

God has provided special equipment for survival to all living things. We cannot see the unique characteristics of flamingos as accidental mutations. God’s design is incredible and allows the great diversity we see in life on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

Perhaps the most sought-after quest in physics today is what scientists call the unified theory of everything. Physics researchers are pushing to discover a uniting concept that would combine all the forces in the universe into one equation and one understanding.

For most of us, this goal seems useless, but every new understanding of the forces in the natural world has led to good things for humanity. For example, Newton’s laws of gravity and mechanics led to the industrial revolution, which raised the standard of living for everyone on the planet. Maxwell and Faraday discovered the laws of electricity and magnetism, which gave us all the conveniences electricity provides. Heisenberg and Schrodinger discovered the quantum laws which led to lasers, transistors, computers, and the internet.

As modern researchers explore the details of all these theories looking for the theory of everything, it becomes increasingly apparent that they all come from the same source. There is a single relationship that connects all of the forces in the creation. Understanding the design of each of those forces brings us new applications to improve our lives in the future.

Dr. Michio Kaku has been a leader in this quest to find the theory of everything, and his latest book is titled, The God Equation. It is striking that these new understandings are very compatible with the biblical concept of God. The Bible portrays God as outside of time and space. His properties include being in a different dimension from the creation and the single source of all things. While the media popularizes string theory and time travel, they are the products of a vivid imagination. The real application of the unified theory of everything is the fact that there is a single source to all we see and experience, and that single source is God.

Science and faith always agree and support each other. It is human limitations that stop us from advancing scientifically and spiritually. How one comes to faith in God varies from person to person, but the teachings of Jesus Christ are easily understood and lead us to faith in the one Source of everything now and for eternity – God.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: Discover magazine for Jan/Feb 2023, pages 9-11.