What Makes Us Human?

What Makes Us Human? Are crows 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

Viral Diseases and Christians

Coronavirus- Viral Diseases and Christians

Listening to the media, you might conclude that we have a new threat to our survival in the COVID-19 virus, but that is not the case. Viral diseases have been around from the earliest days of human existence. Recorded history tells us that in 430 BC, a virus took root in Athens and killed two-thirds of the city’s population. Seventy-five million people died from the Black Death in the 14th century. One hundred million people died from the Spanish flu of 1918, and 500 million people were infected. In modern times entire native populations have been wiped out by virus infections. We have all heard of HIV, MERS, SARS, Ebola, H5N1, Nipah, and Zika virus epidemics and their massive numbers of victims.

Scientists studying each of these diseases have determined that they came to humans from animals. HIV originated in chimpanzees. MERS came from camels. SARS originated from bats and civet cats. We can trace COVID-19 to bats and soldierfish. The massive concern about the current coronavirus is that there are far more humans to contract and spread the virus than at any time in the past. Also, we are more concentrated in cities, are more mobile, and have close interaction regularly with animals. In the past 50 years, more than 300 pathogens have emerged. With the use of more animals as pets and as food, there is an increase in the diseases they bring to humans.

From a historical standpoint, the biblical injunctions about hygiene and animal husbandry avoided much of the viral disease problem. The identification of clean and unclean animals reduced human interaction with animals that carry disease. The elaborate rituals of washing and handling animals used as food not only had an aesthetic appeal but reduced the opportunities for disease transmission. The acts of quarantine for anyone showing symptoms eliminated the spreading of disease from one person to another. Pandemics in an isolated farming population was not likely.

As the human population increased, and cities became population centers, the incidence rate of viral diseases increased. Advancing science and technology gave brought the ability to control some diseases. Selfishness, greed, carelessness, and poor hygiene provide easy ways for viruses to spread. Instead of following God’s rules for cleanliness and the preparation of food, humans have employed destructive methods. This is especially true in cultures that have no connection to God’s instructions. It is no accident that the coronavirus for COVID-19 originated in China and in a food market there where food handling and animal managing is limited. It is also no accident that many of the viruses that have decimated human populations were spread because of sexual practices that ignore God’s instructions for sexual relationships.

This virus is not a tool of punishment forged by God. There are good viruses and harmful viruses. Using the intelligence God gave us and following His commands, we can eventually eliminate the effects of the bad ones. Meanwhile, Christians can help those who are infected. We can also work to improve the lifestyles of our friends and neighbors to reduce the spread of viral diseases.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from The Week, March 6, 2020, page 11.

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

God’s Image in Human Creativity and Spirituality

Many people misunderstand what it means to be created in the image of God. If you think that God is an “old man in the sky,” then you probably believe that God looks like you. I have a whole shelf of children’s books that portray God as a caucasian, male, old white-bearded man in the sky. I have a few that show God as a man of color. I have one that shows Him as an oriental. All of these are dead wrong and can lead a child to misunderstand an essential concept that we are created in the spiritual image of God. God is not any racial, ethnic, sexual, or aged physical being (John 4:24). We know this is true because we see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 70-73) carried an interesting article by Kateb Wong titled “The First Story.” She begins a report on new archeological discoveries by saying, “Homo sapiens is the only species known to make figurative art, engage in spiritual thinking, and convey fictional tales through imagery.” We suggest that this is true because humans are the only life-form created in the image of God. We see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality. We don’t see this ability developing gradually over a long period of evolutionary change. The article reports on cave paintings discovered by archaeologists on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

What the paintings describe is a hunt. Six hunters using ropes or spears confront a large buffalo. Nearby more hunters are attacking other buffalos and pigs. One of the hunters is a therianthrope, meaning a spiritual leader and similar to the minotaur of Greek mythology. The researchers suggest that the scene shows a communal hunting strategy or game drive in which prey are flushed from cover and driven toward other hunters. These paintings are high up in hard to reach caves, and they appear to be made for cultural and symbolic use.

These are the oldest artworks anthropologists have ever found that depict a story. They show the uniqueness of humans from their earliest days on Earth. When God excluded humans from the “Garden,” they left with no experience, tools, or data. They had to start at the very beginning of the learning curve, but their desire for self-expression artistically and spiritually was in full operation. These ancient drawings display God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Battle of the Splitters and Lumpers

Battle of the Splitters and Lumpers

As we have reported before, an interesting debate in the scientific community has been the battle of the splitters and lumpers.

The splitters are scientists who consider every fossil specimen they find to be a different species and give it a unique name. The famous anthropologist Louis Leakey was an example of a splitter attaching numerous new names to specimens he discovered. Later it turned out that several specimens which he had given individual names were actually just variations of the same species. In recent years, anthropologists have given individual names to variations of the Neanderthals. Subsequent DNA evidence showed that many of those forms were just racial variations of the same species.

Lumpers suggest that, in general, we see many variations in a species, but we rarely see a new species. In modern days, we have various races that can look very different but are one species. A pygmy and a seven-foot-tall NBA basketball player have vast physical differences, but they are fertile with each other and therefore are one species.

It is becoming increasingly evident that ancient forms were not as diverse as some have assumed. A dinosaur discovered in the 1940s was given the name Nanotyrannus. The picture is an artist’s conception of what they looked like. It is now becoming clear to many scientists that the Nanotyrannus is a juvenile form of Tyrannosaurus rex. Because of their size, the diet of these two specimens was different. With reptiles who continue to grow, they can have a dramatic change in physical makeup as they age.

When we carry the battle of the splitters and lumpers to the question of human origins, the implications become extremely important. Were there many different species of humans that were infertile with each other? Or were they all one species, and the physical variations were simply adaptions to the environment and diet? The Bible indicates that all humans are one and that we all descended from a common human ancestor. The lumpers tend to agree, and the evidence continues to accumulate, verifying that we are all one.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News, February 1, 2020, page 15.

Sex and Culture in America

Sex and Culture in America

In 1934, British ethnologist and social anthropologist J.D. Unwin wrote a book titled “Sex and Culture.” It was based on a study he made of 86 societies over 5,000 years of history. This is an old study, and some have blown it off because of its age, but when you look at America today, Unwin’s statements are demonstrably true. His conclusion was:

“There is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on both pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.” (In other words, purity before and after marriage.)

He went on to say that as long as the leaders of society “demanded sexual restraint” the society remained energetic and dominant. When the society became sexually permissive, forsaking sexual monogamy and encouraging premarital and extramarital sex and divorce, the society became less productive economically, scientifically, and artistically.

As our society throws off sexual morality, we see it starting to crumble and fulfilling Unwin’s observations. The political mess in America today shows the deteriorating nature of our country. Many of our politicians, and even religious leaders, engage in immorality. Lying is the accepted and even expected practice. Sex and culture are connected.

Consider these facts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Sexual Health Association:

*Nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in America–half among young people aged 15-24.

*One in six Americans aged 14 to 49 is infected with herpes.

*One in four teenage girls in the U.S. has at least one STD. Every eight seconds, a teenage girl contracts an STD.

*Chlamydia is running at roughly 2 million treated cases a year. Since it doesn’t show any symptoms in most people, the figure is actually much higher.

*Undiagnosed STDs cause 20,000 women a year to become infertile.

*Gonorrhea infections are at 800,000 new cases a year.

*From 1900 to 2000 the divorce rate in America increased by 700%. 

*Every year over 400,000 American teenagers become pregnant–most out of wedlock. In 1960 5% of American babies were born out of wedlock. Today that number is over 40%.

*Half of all American children born today will live with a divorced or never married parent by age 18.

Critics of the Bible maintain that the biblical teaching about sexual conduct is out of date and unwise. Promiscuity and casual sex are promoted in movies, television, and music. Our population seems to have been lulled into the notion that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are no longer an issue because medical science can cure anything.

Unwin was surprised by his findings concerning sex and culture. He did not take a religious stance and “offered no opinion about rightness or wrongness” of sexual mores. However, we want to say that following biblical morality is not only the best for individuals, it is also the best for society.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Fruits of Social Darwinism

Fruits of Social Darwinism

Calvin Fields wrote an interesting book titled From Desperation to Peace of Mind, which we will be reviewing soon. The book is a goldmine of quotes that most of us are not familiar with. One of the areas involves the fruits of Social Darwinism, and they relate to the social issues of our day. Here are some examples for your consideration:

Philosopher Herbert Spencer was the founder of Social Darwinism, which said that “poverty and wealth are inevitable as they represent the biological rules which govern society.” He used The Origin of Species as a rationale to justify the excesses of 19th-century capitalism. Andrew Carnegie, who liked the idea that evolution justifies injustice, invited Spencer to come to Pittsburgh to see his theories applied to the steel industry. Spencer’s response to what he saw was that “six months residence here would justify suicide.” Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton “was all in favor of interfering with human evolution and supported the idea of breeding (humans) from the best and sterilizing those whose inheritance did not meet with his approval.” (Those quotes are from The Language of Genes by Steve Jones, Anchor Books.)

Ernst Haeckel used Galton’s ideas as justification for establishing the Monist League in Germany before the First World War. After the war, thousands of Germans joined the league and dedicated themselves to the advancement of doctrines declaring the superiority of a select group of white Europeans. This idea contributed to Hitler’s “Final Solution” to class distinctions in Germany.

Roger Lewin wrote, “Racism as we would characterize it today, was explicit in the writings of virtually all the major anthropologists of the first decades (of the 20th century) simply because it was the generally accepted world view.” (Roger Lewin in Bones of Contention, Simon & Schuster.)

It is essential to look at the logical implications of what we view humans to be. Darwin’s The Origin of Species was applied by others to justify injustice and mistreatment of people. Those are the fruits of Social Darwinism. The biblical view that we are all uniquely created in the image of God has significant implications for how we should treat others.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

From Desperation to Peace of Mind by Calvin Fields book was printed by Xulon Press, ISBN 978-1-5456-7503-8. These references are all from pages 100-101.

Mysterious Denisovans and Anthropology

Mysterious Denisovans - Anthropologist finding Human Skull

Over ten years ago, scientists found some human remains in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. They looked different from any human remains known at the time. Scientists have continued to study the mysterious Denisovans.

The past year of 2019 turned out to be a banner year for more data on these ancient humans. A breakthrough came with more remains that have been found in Tibet. Genetic evidence relates these specimens to humans in East Asia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. New genetic studies show that there are Denisovan genes in Neandertal and Homo sapiens. Paleogeneticist E. Andrew Bennett says that there is no doubt that interbreeding occurred among all of these ancient humans.

The biblical account tells us that all humans on Earth came from a single ancestor. The Hebrew word translated Adam literally means “of the ground,” and the description of that first human is not dated or timed. The biblical point that all humans came from one, simply means that there are no different species of humans. The variations in the human genome are racial. They show the adaption to various climates, altitudes, and diets. Bennett says, “It is better to talk about different populations, not different species.” The mysterious Denisovans are merely another population of humans.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News December 21, 2019.

Humans and Music

I went with my grandson to a musical instrument mega-store, where he was looking for an amplifier for his bass guitar. In addition to being a guitarist, he is also a drummer. While there, my ears were accosted as he tested a drum set and then tried out several bass guitar amps. The bass was so loud it rattled objects in the vicinity, and I could feel it pounding on my body. The experience reminded me of the connections between humans and music of all kinds.

My grandson purchased nothing because he didn’t find anything he liked in his price range. As we left the store, I was a bit relieved since my ears were still ringing. Stepping out into the parking lot, the sound of heavy traffic on the busy New Jersey street was relatively quiet.

Humans and music have been connected from the beginning. The artifacts left behind by the earliest humans include primitive musical instruments. Music styles change, and tastes in music vary from person to person. Just think of all the different musical genres and styles that people create and enjoy from country to classical, from jazz to gospel.

Music can stir our emotions. It can transport us to new places in our minds or stimulate us to action. Music can soothe our troubled souls, or a sad song can make us cry. The words of Christian songs can inspire us, and music can also tempt us into sin. Music goes beyond our minds and reaches into our emotions. What is it about music that so moves us? Perhaps it’s a desire for heaven.

Read the book of Revelation, and you will get an idea of the role of music in heaven. Music and worship go together, both in this life and in the life ahead. One of the things that distinguishes humans is our ability to create, perform, and appreciate music. Since we are created in the image of God, that must mean that God appreciates music also. Revelation indicates that singing for God before His throne will be a joyful experience. Until then, humans and music will go together as we long for the time when we are at home with God. For now, singing as we worship Him in our assemblies brings us joy as we honor our Creator.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Race and Skin Color

Race and Skin ColorWhy do humans have different races and skin colors? If we all came from “Mother Eve,” should we not all be the same color? In the past, some people suggested that people of other races were not really human, and they used that argument to justify everything from slavery to infanticide. What is the truth about race and skin color?

It is interesting scientifically that only humans have mostly naked skin and along with that, different colors of skin. Other animals have hair and mostly light-colored skin. As science has told us more about skin color and confirmed that we all came from common ancestors, we find clues about race and skin color and how we should treat one another.

The most fundamental reason for skin color differences is the fact that humans live at different latitudes. It is quite evident that human populations that have lived near the equator for many generations tend to have darker skin. As one moves from equatorial Africa toward the north, there is a constant change in skin color. By the time you get to northern Scandinavia, you have very light-skinned people with blond hair and blue eyes. People living near the equator have black skin, black eyes, and black hair.

It’s easy to understand why. Take two tin cans and paint one black and the other white. Fill them with boiling water and measure their temperature five minutes later. Dark colors radiate heat faster than light ones, so the darker can will be cooler than the white one. In equatorial Africa, the problems of heat release are very significant, because our brain cannot be allowed to overheat.

Another factor is ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, which can cause many changes in living tissue, including cancer. Human skin produces a substance known as melanin for protection. Melanin, God’s sunscreen, is a large organic molecule which both physically and chemically reduces the effects of UV radiation. Melanin absorbs UV rays causing them to lose energy. It also neutralizes harmful chemicals called free radicals that form in the skin after damage from UV radiation.

Dark skin absorbs a high percentage of UV light. It is essential, however, not to lose all the UV. Another thing that UV light does is to allow the body to produce vitamin D. Farther from the equator, the amount of UV is less, so dark-skinned people may not get enough UV light to make vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets, so lighter skin is better at latitudes away from the equator.

As humans have migrated all over the globe, their ability to produce nutrients like vitamin D has been reduced in some groups. The Inuit people in Alaska don’t get enough vitamin D from the Sun, but they eat fish, which is very high in vitamin D. Their diet compensates for the low UV exposure. The presence of melanin in the skin, the complex biochemical system that produces vitamin D, and the ability of the body to protect itself against overheating and nutritional problems all speak well of the wisdom and design of our bodies.

Psalms 139:14 says, “I will praise you, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Instead of allowing race and skin color to divide and cause hostility between us, we should celebrate God’s wisdom and design. They show that we have a universal Creator who designed and equipped us marvelously to live on a planet that has varied conditions and environments.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Tool Use Is Not What Makes Humans Unique

Tool Use Is Not What Makes Humans UniqueWhen I took my first anthropology course at Indiana University in 1958, the professors said that humans are the only animals that fashion and use tools. Later, scientists discovered that chimpanzees could smash rocks until they get one that has a sharp edge. Then they use that sharp edge as a tool to cut open fruit or dig for ants. Louis Leakey, the anthropology guru of that time, stated, “We are either going to have to change our definition of man, or invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations.” Tool use is not what makes humans unique.

Since that time, other animals have been observed using tools and some even manufacturing tools. Nuthatches can find a stick that they can slide under the bark of a tree to get at a bug. Crows can fashion a stick and use it to get into a milk bottle. The picture shows a macaque using a stone to smash a crab shell for food. Science now says that less than one percent of all animals use tools, but that number keeps growing. Discover Magazine for November 2019 (page 22), contained an article about skunks picking up a rock and pounding on the ice in a pond to make a hole for drinking.

The Bible does not identify humans according to tool use or any technological accomplishment. Mentally challenged humans might not make tools or use them, but they are still humans, no matter what their abilities. What defines humans is our spiritual makeup, which the Bible describes as being in the image of God. This image gives us the capacity to express ourselves in worship, in artistic expression, and in the ability to feel guilt and be sympathetic. Tool use is just one of many designed characteristics built into the DNA of many forms of life. But tool use is not what makes humans unique.
— John N. Clayton © 2019