Literalism and a Literal Understanding of the Bible

Literalism and a Literal Understanding of the Bible

There is a common mistake made by atheists and by many preachers who say they take the Bible literally. The problem involves knowing the difference between literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. Literalism is interpreting a passage while ignoring who wrote it, why they wrote it, what kind of literature or teaching technique it is, and to whom it was written.

When atheists try to say that a biblical passage cannot be true, they are almost always using literalism. An example is skeptics who claim that the Bible says the Earth is flat and has corners like a sheet of paper. They use Revelation 7:1 to support this, “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth…” If you don’t read the passage’s context, you might conclude that it says the Earth is flat and has corners. There is a “Flat Earth Society” that believes that today, but that is not what the Bible is saying. In the past, literalist church leaders insisted that the Bible says the Sun orbits the Earth instead of the other way around. They based that on passages that talk about the motion of the Sun (such as Joshua 19) or a passage they believed said that the Earth cannot be moved (Psalms 93:1 KJV).

A more complex example is seen in Luke 16:19-31. It’s the familiar story of Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham. Atheists have used this account to ridicule the concept of heaven and hell and preachers have used it to justify fire and damnation sermons. Is this passage a literal description of the judgment scene? This is an excellent example of the principles of literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible.

This passage is one of a series of parables. It begins as the other parables with, “There was a …” Abraham is the only proper name used in the passage. “A certain rich man…” is never identified. The word translated “Lazarus” means “without help” in the original language. It is a description of the beggar, not his formal name. Abraham is never given the role of a judge in the scripture. He is the father of Israel, but he certainly is not God. Jesus told the story to “the Pharisees who were covetous” (verse 14) and considered themselves sons of Abraham. Jesus did not address the parable to theologians wanting to know the nature of hell. The picture of people in hell seeing people in heaven may be useful for artists, but it violates all descriptions of heaven and hell. The parable’s message is condemning the hypocrisy of people who claimed a relationship with God but did nothing to help others.

We must apply these principles to any passage we read. Were the nephilim of Genesis 6 literal giants? No, we have discussed that before. Did the animal in Job 41:14 have doors on its face? Does light shine when it sneezes (verse 18)? Do sparks, smoke, and flame come out of its mouth (verse 19, 20)? Is its heart as hard as a millstone (verse 24)?

There are many other passages where people confuse literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. The entire book of Revelation is misrepresented by folks who use literalism instead of taking it literally. As we have said before, taking a Bible passage literally means looking at who wrote it, to whom and why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. The Bible is easy to understand, and its message is 100% true, but, like any written message, it can be distorted and misrepresented. Sometimes skeptics do that purposely. Many times believers do it innocently because they don’t read it carefully and apply common sense to understand it literally.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

We see misunderstandings of the question of falsification by both atheists and religionists. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?

Let us begin this discussion by giving a simple definition of falsification. The Falsification Principle, initially proposed by Karl Popper, is a way of demarcating science from non-science. It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be testable and falsifiable. For example, the hypothesis that “all swans are white,” can be falsified by observing a black swan.

It always disturbs me to read a religious writing that claims scientific proof that a faith healer accomplished a miracle cure. An excellent example of this was William Nolen’s studies reported in a book titled In Search of A Miracle released in 1975. Nolen investigated the claims of faith healers Kathryn Kulman and Norbu Chen. He showed that there were observable, natural explanations for what had been called “miracles.” Nolen believed he could test Kulman and Chen’s claims by investigating whether there were other explanations for their claimed miracles. There were, so they could not be scientifically proven to be true. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God? You can have faith in someone, but you cannot call it science.

The scientific community is guilty of the same kind of error when it promotes an idea that cannot be tested and calls it science. It is fashionable in today’s world for scientists to propose the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes. They use this idea to explain how our universe could be fine-tuned for life. With a nearly infinite number of universes, we just happen to be in the one with all of the right stuff for life. Multiverse proposals say that quantum pops create universes and that an infinite number of pops would eventually produce every possible set of properties, including ours.

That is an interesting fantasy, but it is just that. There is no way to falsify that proposal, and so it is not scientific. Skeptics will be quick to point out that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is also not falsifiable, and that is true. But look at the logical outcome of these two choices. If God created the universe and placed humans in it, then there is a reason there is something instead of nothing, and there is a purpose for our existence. If the faith statement of the multiverse is true, the question of why we exist remains unanswered, and any purpose for the “pops” is pure fantasy.

Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible, as a whole, brings us understanding that we are part of a struggle between good and evil and that God is love and wants to have a relationship with us. We can’t offer scientific proof of that, so it is a statement of faith. But it is far more full of meaning and purpose than to speak of what we see in the cosmos as “quantum pops” of something without a cause or purpose. So the question we all have to entertain is, “What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?” The proposed multiverse alternative to God is not falsifiable, and therefore it is faith and not science. In what do you place your faith?

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Abortion in the United States

Abortion in the United States

On Monday, June 29, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges in a hospital nearby in case of complications. The Court struck down a similar Texas law in 2016. Abortion in the United States continues to be a hot topic. In 2019, legislatures in 12 states passed 25 laws restricting abortions. It seems inevitable that people who profit from abortions will challenge all of those laws, and more cases will make it to the Supreme Court.

The 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States is known as Roe v. Wade. The plaintiff in the case was given the pseudonym Jane Roe to protect her identity. Her real name was Norma McCorvey. She was a poor young woman with a very troubled life who was trying to obtain a legal abortion by falsely claiming that a group of black men raped her. When that failed, she tried to get an illegal abortion. Some abortion activist attorneys who were not interested in helping her used her as a case to challenge laws against abortion. It took three years for the case to reach the Supreme Court. In the meantime, McCorvey had her baby and put it up for adoption.

In 1994, McCorvey put her name on an autobiography titled I Am Roe. Under the influence of an evangelical minister who founded Operation Rescue, she became a Christian and was baptized. She quit her job at an abortion clinic and went to work for Operation Rescue to campaign against abortion. She said she was sorry for her part in making abortion legal. She published a second book in 1998 titled Won By Love telling about her conversion. In 2004 she petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, but the Court dismissed the case in 2005.

McCorvey died from heart failure in 2017, but shortly before her death, she recorded a “deathbed confession.” In it, she said that her activism against abortion was “all an act” and that she was paid to do it. She said she didn’t care whether women got abortions. On May 22, 2020, a television documentary called AKA Jane Roe was released on FX. It included her “confession,” in which she said, “I took their money, and they put me in front of the cameras.” However, a friend who knew her well said that McCorvey felt guilty for the abortions and was trying to justify herself in her own mind by saying that abortions are okay. Only God knows the true feelings and motivations of Norma McCorvey. All we know is that she lived a very troubled life for 69 years.

The latest five-to-four decision by the Supreme Court was based on “legal precedent.” It indicates that any hope of reversing Roe v. Wade or finding any real solution to the abortion dilemma will be difficult with the present Supreme Court. We have pointed out before that you cannot explain a baby as “an extension of the mother’s body.” Apparently, abortion in the United States will continue as our culture is accepting infanticide as a method of birth control. State-by-state the rights of babies before birth are being eliminated.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Is God’s Design of Our Bodies Faulty?

Is God's Design of Our Bodies Faulty?

One question repeatedly arises from skeptics, atheists, and people struggling with health issues. They want to know why we have all of the diseases, syndromes, and disabilities that afflict people. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? Is the bad stuff that comes into our lives punishment for some transgression of God’s laws?

It seems that we have more things that can go wrong with us today than ever before, and a large percentage of our modern afflictions are genetic or congenital. It isn’t just that we have more names for current problems, but the problems themselves seem to be more abundant.

The Bible tells us that God is never the author of our problems. James 1:13 makes it clear that God never brings bad things upon us. The passage goes on to say, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning.”

A part of the answer to the source of these afflictions is our development of plastics. In 1922, the first synthetic plastic was sold by the Bakelite Corporation. In 2018, 400 million tons of new plastics were created. We all cringe when we see pictures of whales or sea turtles or albatrosses dying because of ingesting plastic, but we don’t realize that we too are consuming plastic. The average American consumes more than 74,000 microplastic particles every year. These particles contain bisphenol A and phthalates, which in turn attract polychlorinated biphenyls. These chemicals have been shown to affect brain and organ development in children, and they are linked to infertility, hormonal problems, and cardiovascular problems in adults.

There are efforts to control plastics production, and science is researching ways to remove dangerous chemicals from the plastics we use. Our point is that this is another case where blaming God for a problem that humans have created is not logical or reasonable. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? As David wrote, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). Much of what goes wrong with our bodies is due to our ignorant use of things that damage them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Consumer Reports, June 2020.

Why Call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

Nazareth, Israel. Why Call Him Jesus the Nazarene?
Modern city of Nazareth, Israel

One of the interesting facts about Jesus Christ is that the name of the town where He grew up is frequently used with his name. When Pilate ordered a sign to be placed on the cross, it said, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19). When Christ appeared to Saul (Acts 22:8), he said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Peter and Paul referred to Jesus as “the Nazarene” in Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 10:38, and 26:9. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

There is a reason why the village of Nazareth was always kept in the dossier of Jesus Christ. The reason is still valid today. Christ never attempted to use worldly standards to emphasize His message. When He had the opportunity to gather a following, He sent the crowds away. When people wanted to elevate Him to a ruling position, He rejected those attempts. Remember that when Peter drew his sword to stop the arrest of Christ, Jesus told him to put it away and healed the man Peter had injured. (See Matthew 26:47-52.) Unlike all other religious figures and organizations, Jesus emitted a gentle image and focused people on His message, not His appearance or power.

Nazareth was an obscure little village in Galilee, and not highly regarded. In John 1:46, when Nathanael was introduced to Christ (John 1:46), he said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Even the relationship between Christ and the village of Nazareth was not that good. In Luke 4:16-30, when Jesus returned to his home town, the citizens rejected him and tried to throw him off a cliff.

Matthew wrote about Jesus, “Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). Although no Old Testament prophecy uses the title “Nazarene,” many passages predict that Jesus would be “despised and rejected.” (See Isaiah 53:3; Psalms 22:6; Daniel 9:26; and Zechariah 12:10.) Nazareth was a despised place (as we see from Nathanael’s comment), and even the citizens that despised place rejected Jesus.

Our world of religious violence, hatred, and power is the complete opposite of that for which Jesus Christ stood. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?” Using that title reminds us of what Christianity is not, and what it is. Christianity, like Christ, is not about worldly power or prestige. It is about love and compassion.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Compassion and Choices in Death

Compassion and Choices in Death

An organization that has been gaining a great deal of support by promoting medical aid in death is called Compassion and Choices. It has been instrumental in getting state legislators to consider end-of-life options, including hospice and medical assistance in dying. This is an emotional issue that virtually all of us have faced, are facing, or will face in the future. If someone is in the final stages of dying from an incurable illness, what would God have us do?

Compassion and Choices’ promoters make a strong case that it is cruel to make a loved one face their last hours alone. They say nobody should be allowed to remain in great pain while their loved ones are also in agony listening to them scream in a nearby room.

The Bible is not silent on this subject. Proverbs 31:6-7 says, “Give strong drink to the dying and wine to those who are in misery. Let him drink and forget his misfortune.” It has always interested me that when Jesus was crucified, his executioners offered him “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was a pain-killing drug, and He refused it. It is clear from the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 9:12 that He didn’t oppose physicians or the medical practices of the day. However, the pain of Jesus dying for our sins could not be diluted by using human pain-killers to reduce His sacrifice.

There is a difference between offering pain killers, counseling, support, and loving care to the dying and outright killing them prematurely. We have the capacity to make natural death quiet, dignified, compassionate, and of value without forcing our will upon God’s will. I have seen too many cases where a dying person used that moment to cement their relationship with others and with God. I have also seen a dying person bring comfort, support, and blessing to others. So-called mercy killing would not have allowed those things.

Jesus had a purpose in rejecting the myrrh. But for the rest of us, the medical establishment must provide palliative care. Compassion and choices should not mean that we deal with the crisis of the moment by using our technological ability to end life.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Wife Sharing Proposed in China

Wife Sharing Proposed in China

From 1980 until 2016, the Communist Chinese government mandated a one-child policy, which led many couples to abort female fetuses because having a male child offered many advantages. As a result, China now has 34 million more males than females. Fudan University professor Yew-Kwang Ng has proposed wife sharing as an academic solution to “men’s physical and psychological needs not being met.”

Ng argues that Chinese prostitutes already serve more than ten clients in a day. He added that making meals for three husbands won’t take much more time than making a meal for one husband. Ng says these facts prove that allowing women to have many husbands is a solution to the imbalance created by the one-child policy. You can imagine the response the wife sharing proposal received on social media. The backlash may prevent the Chinese government from implementing this proposal.

The point here is that when humans throw out one of God’s laws, there are always problems with collateral damage. As America throws out one standard of behavior after another, we wonder what the consequences will be. God’s plan for men and women works. The problem is that humans always want to find an alternative to God’s plan, and the result is catastrophic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: The Week, June 26, 2020, page 14.

Make Sure Your Data Supports Your Conclusions

Make Sure Your Data Supports Your Conclusions

“THE UNIVERSAL RULE OF GRADUATE WORK–MAKE SURE YOUR DATA SUPPORTS YOUR CONCLUSIONS!”

When I was doing research for my master’s degree, that statement was posted on the graduate studies bulletin board at Indiana University. I have no idea who put it there, but I can tell you it got a pretty strong response from the school’s dean. Unfortunately, there is more truth to it than most of us would like to admit, and it is not just graduate students to whom it applies.

One of the problems any scientific researcher has is getting funding for the work, and you don’t get funding unless you produce results. There have been several cases in National Geographic where the magazine reported some incredible find by a researcher they were funding and later discovered that the claimed discovery was a hoax. We have reported on these in the past. (For example HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

One of the disciplines where this problem has been very apparent is in the finds of fossil humans. In 1974 Donald Johanson found pieces of a skeleton in Ethiopia. While they were excavating the fossil, the radio was playing the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Johanson decided to name the specimen “Lucy.” The find was announced at the Nobel Symposium in 1978 and was hailed as the first ape to walk upright, and thus it was a proven link between apes and humans.

The primary evidence that Lucy walked upright was a knee joint, which was clearly from an individual that walked in an upright position. Evidence that the rest of the skeleton was clearly from an ape included a V-shaped mandible, a very small brain, and a humerus and femur that were the same size. Lucy has made the covers of numerous magazines and even toured the United States.

It has now been announced that the researchers found the knee joint, which they used to prove Lucy was walking in an erect position, more than two miles from the rest of the skeleton. It also came from a stratum 200 feet lower than the one where the rest of the skeleton was found. Richard Leakey, the Director of Kenya’s National Museum, said that “the evidence for the alleged transformation from ape to man is extremely unconvincing. It is overwhelmingly likely that Lucy was no more than a variety of pygmy chimpanzee.” Johanson has agreed that Lucy was not related to humans at all.

Why does this kind of thing happen? Researchers tend to accept a theory and then look for evidence to support that theory. They adopt the philosophy “make sure your data supports your conclusions.” The media wants instant gratification, and the result is that front-page stories are frequently not factual. Several books have addressed this problem. The Fossil Chronicles by Dean Falk is a useful resource. See The Wall Street Journal for October 8, 2011, section C6 for a review by Brian Switek.

The researchers are victims of the system, but atheistic attacks on the Bible that depend on the media stories are obviously vulnerable to this issue. We need to have our brains engaged when we read anything, and that is true of the Bible as well as scientific reports in the media.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fossil Nicknamed Little Foot

Foot Bones of the Fossil Nicknamed Little Foot
Fossil Little Foot’s little foot

The subject of human evolution is an area that continues to change with new techniques and new data, such as the study of a fossil nicknamed Little Foot. This area is of interest to those of us involved in apologetics – the study of evidence for the existence of God. The biblical concept of human creation is that we are created in the “image of God.” That message is clearly not referring to our physical makeup or how we look. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and it is our spiritual makeup, which is in God’s image.

The origin of the races of humans is interesting historically, but especially now with the “black lives matter” movement. Evolutionists at the time of Darwin claimed that black people were early prototypes of humans, but were not fully human and therefore could be treated like animals. For many people, that belief, as absurd as it is, was the justification for slavery. As far as apologetics is concerned, the uniqueness of all humans is rooted in human spiritual abilities. Those include the capacity to worship, the ability to create music and art, the ability to feel spiritual emotions, and our concept of self-awareness.

The assumption that humans evolved from some ancient ape-like animal has been fraught with difficulties and controversy. A skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus found at Sterkfontein in South Africa has added to the discussion. The fossil nicknamed Little Foot has a well-preserved atlas vertebra that sits just beneath the cranium at the top of the spinal column. By studying this vertebra, scientists can determine the flow of blood to the brain.

Little Foot’s blood flow was significantly lower than the flow into human brains, which means that Little Foot’s brain was severely restricted. Scientists classify it as Australopithecus, which refers to a group of apes and monkeys. New data adds to the evidence that science needs to clarify the physical models of change in monkeys, apes, and, most importantly, in humans.

Any attempt to use science to denigrate a race of humans as inferior is unsupported by the evidence. We see human uniqueness in the truth of the simple biblical statement, “God that made the world and all things within it … has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the earth…” (Acts 17:24 and 26).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Archaeology magazine

Religious Hucksters and COVID-19

Religious Hucksters and COVID-19

One of the funniest stories in the Bible is about religious hucksters (Acts 19:13-16). A group of “vagabond Jews” tried to conduct a religious healing of a man. These seven religious “healers” were the sons of a priest named Sceva. They performed their chanting, which included mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. Then the evil spirit in the man they were trying to heal spoke up and said, “Jesus I know and Paul I know; but who are you?” The patient jumped on the seven “healers,” ripped their clothes off, and ran them out of the house “naked and wounded.”

Today we see religious hucksters promoting all kinds of things that are supposed to heal people of the coronavirus or prevent its infection. Atheists use these charlatans to attack belief in God. In the June 2020 issue of the Center For Inquiry, there is a full-page article on Jim Bakker, the former TV evangelist. Bakker has a “silver solution” containing colloidal silver which he claims can cure COVID-19.

Silver is dangerous when it is in solution with other chemicals. Silver nitrate is an important tool in chemistry for use in qualitative analysis. One thing students learn early in chemistry is that silver nitrate will turn their skin to a blue/black color. The National Institutes of Health has issued a warning saying, “Colloidal silver can be dangerous to your health.” The Center for Inquiry article says “..Bakker and those like him don’t care whether their drugs work – as long as they sell.”

The story in Acts 19 is a warning to us that religious deception is as old as humanity, and we need to trust God and not modern “snake oil” hucksters like Bakker. Atheists will continue to use religious hucksters to destroy people’s faith in God. Educating ourselves and others about the false claims of people who pretend to speak for God is one way we can defend our faith and avoid adding tragedy to people already in pain.

— John N. Clayton © 2020