Intellectually Honest Skepticism

Intellectually Honest SkepticismAs I speak on college and university campuses, a large number of people (both atheists and religious) find a statement I like to open with to be astounding. The statement is, “You can intelligently and logically and rationally believe in God.” There is an immediate air of doubt in the minds of many who cannot or do not want to believe it. I don’t know how many of them change their minds in the course or our lectures. Skepticism abounds today, but what we need is intellectually honest skepticism willing to seek the truth.

Certainly one major factor has been that various churches, groups, and individuals have dogmatically forced a creed of creationism upon all members. Those creeds frequently fly in the face of both science and common sense. The more capable and clearest thinking young people who refuse to be force-fed this dogma, simply leave the church. Many of the leading atheist speakers in the United States today came from a church background.

The growth of aggressive atheism is another factor leading many to think that intelligent, logical belief in God is impossible. Attractive websites and high budget, colorful printed materials promote naturalism, if not downright atheism. Saturated with scientific materialism and locked into a mindset that anything religious is automatically wrong, they claim to be the only voice of reason, logic, and competent science.

Instead of skepticism referring to a healthy, scientifically rigorous approach to issues and solving problems, the word has become synonymous with an anti-religion mindset. It is evident that, in a great many cases, the atheist community has completely taken over the concept of skepticism.

I want to suggest that intellectually honest skepticism is Christian in nature, and it is the approach Jesus used in His ministry and teachings. In fact, the Bible condemned religionism more strongly than atheism. The Bible makes only fleeting references to atheism. (See Romans 1:19-23.) The strong condemnation statements of Christ, and the Bible writers in general, come down on the religious leaders who force their traditions on the population. The teachings of Christ focused on attitudes and how we treat each other. The religious establishment constantly criticized Christ because He did not adhere to their traditions. His teaching was logical, practical, and pragmatic not built on the traditions of the past. He asked questions and awaited logical responses.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5th Edition) defines a skeptic as “one who carries a critical or incredulous attitude into his inquiries.” Skepticism is defined as “the doctrine that all knowledge is uncertain.” This does not mean that skeptical minds reject anything that is not physical. Limiting our belief system to only what we can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear precludes all kinds of things. A vast percentage of nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, relativistic physics, and even some mathematics depends upon knowledge that does not involve the senses.

Intellectually honest skepticism demands inquiry and also recognizes that knowledge is uncertain because humans are uncertain. This does not mean that there is no such thing as truth. It just means that skeptics should be aware of their own limitations and of the human capacity to misjudge. Intellectually honest skeptics know the danger of preconceived ideas and their approach should be humble, open, and careful. Being skeptical does not mean that a person has no beliefs, morals, or convictions. I can have strong convictions and beliefs and can communicate those to others and still have the ability to change my beliefs and understandings.

Unfortunately, skepticism in today’s American culture is at least as dogmatic as ultraconservative, fundamentalistic religion. Any skeptics who would question Darwin, would likely be castigated by their peers. There is a need for intellectually honest skepticism in the world. I am a skeptic in approach, but there are some basic things that my skeptical approach has led me to believe strongly. If we reason together in an open, skeptical way, we can learn. Blind, closed skepticism and blind, closed dogmatism are impossible to tell apart to those who are seeking the truth.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Why Does God Allow Suffering?Why does God allow suffering? That is one of the most common questions we hear. Many atheists who comment on our posts try to prove that God cannot exist because there is suffering in the world. They are assuming that if God existed, His purpose would be to give us happiness all the time. Since He doesn’t, that means God can’t possibly exist.

That mindset assumes that we are God’s pets, and His responsibility is to see that we don’t get hurt no matter what we do. There is no doubt that we do many foolish and hurtful things. So why do we think that God should be our servant to keep us always happy as if happiness is the primary goal of life?

However, if God does exist (as we believe He does), He should have a more important goal than taking care to always provide us with what we think we need to be happy. What happens if human parents bow to every whim of their children by always giving them what they want and expect? The result is a spoiled child. Sometimes after warnings to a child, the parent has to stand by and watch the child make bad decisions in the hope that they will learn from their mistakes.

What if the primary goal of human life is not happiness? What if the primary goal is to learn to know and trust God? It is that knowledge of and trust in God that will bring–if not continual happiness–true fulfillment and ultimately, everlasting fulfillment. Why does God allow suffering? Although the suffering in this world may be counterproductive to our happiness, it might help us to gain a deeper knowledge of God and dependence on His love.

We can’t explain suffering in all of its forms. Nobody can. We can’t see the ultimate purpose and outcome from where we stand, but God can. We can be reassured by knowing that God Himself is acquainted with suffering (Isaiah 53:3) and that He cares (John 11:35).
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Unique Spiders with Amazing Speed

Unique Spiders with Amazing SpeedOne of the evidences for God is the specialized design features built into living organisms. There are indications of design and intelligence that are difficult, if not impossible, to explain by chance. There are about 35,000 named species of spiders, but scientists are still discovering more unique spiders.

Spiders have many features that allow them to provide balance in the natural world by eating insects which would otherwise pose a threat to all life on Earth. Spiders capture their prey in various ways. We usually think of spiders making webs. Most of them do, but not all. Many unique spiders use other tactics to grab insects, while the ones that make webs use a variety of shapes and patterns in a variety of locations. Even the way they use their webs varies.

One family of spiders called ray spiders (Theridiosomatidae) make cone-shaped webs. But even ray spiders don’t all use their cone-shaped webs in the same way. In the Peruvian Amazon, there is a ray spider that weaves a cone and attaches a single strand of silk to its tip. The spider reels in the strand to put tension on the web. Instead of waiting for an insect to fly into the web, this spider takes a more proactive approach. When an insect flies in front of the cone, the spider releases the single strand. With the tension released, the web shoots out with the spider riding the tip of it like a slingshot. The helpless insect gets nabbed in mid-air. For obvious reasons, this spider is called the slingshot spider.

The tip of the cone with the spider attached reaches the target with amazing speed before the insect can escape. Scientists have measured the acceleration of the spider riding the slingshot at 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. As far as unique spiders, we believe that the slingshot spider holds the title of world’s fastest spider.

This spider creates a very complex and well-designed food-collecting tool. The spider must make the cone in exactly the right shape, and with the right chemical make up of the strands for elasticity. Who taught the slingshot spider this amazing trick and gave it the physiology needed to carry it out? We see God’s design and chemistry in everything from the atom to the universe to every living thing on Earth, including unique spiders.
— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: Science News, April 13, 2019, page 5.

Mount Rushmore and DNA

Mount Rushmore and DNAIf you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit two locations in the United States. One of them is the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the other is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. They are both very impressive; however, they have a big difference. Mount Rushmore and DNA have something in common that the Grand Canyon does not.

The Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are both made of stone, and both are very complex. The Grand Canyon is much larger, but Mount Rushmore demonstrates specified complexity while the Grand Canyon does not. The specified complexity of Mount Rushmore indicates that natural forces did not create it. It is evident that some intelligence has acted on the granite of that mountain to give it specified features. By contrast, the complex features of the Grand Canyon did not require the direct act of intelligent agents, but only natural forces.

How do I know that Mount Rushmore was acted on by intelligence? First, I recognized that the shape of the mountain is very improbable and highly complex. It doesn’t look like any mountain I have ever seen before. But then, the Grand Canyon is also very improbable and highly complex, and it is not exactly like any canyon I have seen before. More than that, I recognize that the patterns on Mount Rushmore match something that I have seen before—pictures of some US presidents. Very few people would argue with my idea that this mountain shows design by intelligent beings while natural forces can explain the Grand Canyon without requiring the direct action of intelligent agents.

So what do Mount Rushmore and DNA have in common? In recent years, scientists have unlocked the secrets of DNA. We know that the base sequences of DNA are very improbable and contain a highly complex set of instructions. The nucleotide base sequences specify the complex synthesis of proteins in three dimensions. Those who are familiar with computer programming recognize that there are “design patterns” in DNA. There is more than just complexity; there is SPECIFIED complexity to accomplish a complex task. Intelligent people write programs for computers to perform tasks, such as to create an animation of the synthesizing of a protein. Would it not require intelligence to arrange the base sequences in DNA to synthesize actual complex proteins in three dimensions?

In Mount Rushmore and DNA, we see something complex and very improbable. Mount Rushmore shows a recognizable pattern designed to accomplish a task—to show us the faces of some American presidents. DNA is millions of times more complex than Mount Rushmore, and unlike the Grand Canyon, it contains specified complexity. It contains the instructions for making a complex living creature such as a human being. Is it reasonable to say that Mount Rushmore was intelligently designed and that DNA just happened with no intelligent guidance? We suggest that to do so is not rational.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Fine-tuning of the Cosmos

Fine-tuning of the Cosmos in Introduction to Intelligent Design
Scientific articles mention the fine-tuning of the cosmos with increasing frequency. The basic concept is that the conditions of the universe are precisely set for human life.

The variables that affect the presence and sustainability of life are so precise that even slight variations would result in an inhospitable world. In his new book, Introduction to Intelligent Design, Dr. Timothy Gordon explains the concept very well by giving three examples of the fine-tuning of the cosmos.

“1. If the force of gravity were slightly larger, stars would be too hot and burn too rapidly making conditions for life inhospitable. If too small, no heavy elements would be produced.
2. The initial expansion of the Big Bang had to be fine-tuned to a precision of 1 in 10^55 to form planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies.
3. There are 19 universal constants that must be perfectly tuned to make the universe habitable.
Assigning a probability to the fine-tuning of these constants would be larger than the number of elementary particles in the universe.” (page 43).

You will see many secular writers talking about the fine-tuning of the cosmos without explaining how this fine-tuning would come about without intelligence to do the tuning. This is another powerful argument for the existence of God as the creator.

We recommend Dr. Gordon’s book Introduction to Intelligent Design (ISBN: 9781095462645). It is formatted for Sunday-school and small group study and is available in paperback and Kindle editions.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Religion Causes Wars – Or Not!

Religion Causes Wars – Or Not!Many years ago I was a college student far from home, and I needed to find a dentist. As I was sitting in the dental chair of this man I had never met before, I was confronted for the first time with the argument that religion causes wars.

Have you ever noticed that dentists always have an advantage over their patients when it comes to conversations? A dentist can say anything or ask any question while your mouth is numb or full of cotton. You try to respond with something that sounds like it’s coming from a toddler or a drunk person. “Mummammberabalub.” Why can’t I be understood?

Anyway, I made the mistake of telling him (while I could still talk) that I was a student in a Christian college. That sent the dentist on a diatribe about how Christianity has been the cause of almost every war in the last 2000 years. I was not in a position to argue coherently, and besides, he had a drill in his hand.

I have heard the argument that religion causes wars many times since – and not just from dentists. This particular dentist seemed to have a personal grievance against Christianity. A recent study took the war/religion connection in a different direction. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Behavior, was titled “War Increases Religiosity.” The researchers analyzed over 1700 individuals in three countries that had experienced major internal conflicts. The countries where the subjects lived were Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Tajikistan. The research team felt that these were good countries to study not only because of their recent wars but also because of their diverse cultures and geographical areas.

The researchers found that people who were more affected by war were more likely to participate in religious activities, both Christian and Muslim. Their conclusion stated: “…our results suggest that the experience of war-related violence increases religious engagement and ritual participation.” Also, very important, they said: “The potential existence of these relationships has important theoretical, political and social implications.”

Just what are those implications? A media report of the research put it this way: “If war makes people more religious, and if religion makes people more war-prone, we have the recipe for a devastating feedback loop – which could help to at least partially explain some of the current situations in modern-day war areas.” In other words, war leads to more religion and religion causes wars.

So this supposedly dangerous feedback loop indicates that the key to stamping out wars is to stamp out religion. Hold on a minute! I want to get back to that dentist. As I said, he seemed to have a particular grudge against Christianity. What are Christians? They are Christ followers. What does that mean? They follow the teaching and example of Christ.

What was the example of Christ? When falsely accused, beaten, and crucified, He did not even open His mouth against His accusers. In fact, He prayed for them as He hung on the cross. When enemies came to arrest Him, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword because “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

What were His teachings? Read Matthew chapters 5-7. He said when someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. Give to those who try to take from you, and go the extra mile for them. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 & 35). Does that sound like a war-monger?

The dentist said that religion causes wars, but is that true of real Christianity? Of course, some people claim to be Christians but don’t follow Christ’s example or His teaching. But Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). Obeying the commands and example of Jesus leads to peace, not war.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Black Hole Picture and The Beginning

Black Hole Picture

On April 11, 2019, scientists released the first actual image ever taken of a black hole. The black hole picture used wavelengths that are outside of what our eyes can detect. Astronomers used eight radio telescopes to see wavelengths that are beyond human vision. They photographed a black hole that is as large as our entire solar system, so it is a supermassive black hole.

This scientific accomplishment is significant because it allows scientists to test some of the predictions of Albert Einstein even down to the shape of the hole. A black hole is so massive that even light itself cannot escape the gravitational pull. The relationship of gravity and the shape of space is a concept proposed by Einstein that has radically improved our understanding of the nature of the universe.

There are important implications for apologetics in this discovery as well. A significant question that has been debated by atheists and believers for hundreds of years is whether the universe had a beginning or whether it has always existed. The biblical concept is that there was a beginning. Well-known atheists have claimed that matter/energy is eternal and just gets changed from one form to another forever. The nature of a black hole is that it sucks in everything that gets near it, including light. There is no escaping a black hole and attempts to propose a way around this fact such as wormholes and white holes have all been disproven.

If the universe has existed forever, and if black holes are continuously sucking in all matter including electromagnetic radiation, what would be the ultimate result? It seems pretty obvious that everything would have been sucked up by black holes and there would be nothing left but one supermassive black hole. That obviously isn’t the case, so there must have been a beginning to the creation.

If there was a beginning, there had to be a cause to that beginning. Ideas such as string theory and brane theory have attempted to get around this logical point without success. If there was a cause, there has to be a causer. The design, intelligence, and purpose that we see in the cosmos identify some of the properties of that causer, and God fits those criteria uniquely.

The black hole picture is another case where the advancement of science provides evidence for the factual nature of, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth. “

— John N. Clayton © 2019

John Lennox on Galileo

 John Lennox on Galileo

On March 27 we posted an article about Dr. John Lennox, and yesterday we talked about Galileo. Today we have a quote from John Lennox on Galileo.

Dr. Lennox is Professor of Mathematics emeritus at the University of Oxford and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. In his book God’s Undertaker, he told about how Galileo, as a Bible believer, advanced a better scientific understanding that went against not only the churchmen but also the philosophers of his day. They were disciples of Aristotle and interpreted the Bible to fit an Aristotelian view of the universe. Referring to the refusal of the authorities to accept Galileo’s more scientific perspective, Lennox has a warning for today:

“Philosophers and scientists today also have a need of humility in light of facts, even if those facts are being pointed out to them by a believer in God. Lack of belief in God is no more a guarantee of scientific orthodoxy than is belief in God. What is clear, in Galileo’s time and ours, is that criticism of a reigning scientific paradigm is fraught with risk, no matter who is engaged in it.”

We could also point out that from the time of Aristotle until Einstein, the prevailing view of science was that the universe was eternal. That was even though Genesis, the first book of the Bible written long before Aristotle, clearly says there was a beginning. Even Einstein was reluctant to accept the fact of a beginning, and other scientists refused to accept it for many years. Today, Dr. Lennox and others point out the many problems with Darwinian evolution. Meanwhile, the science establishment continues to accept it by faith ignoring the obvious problems shown by mathematics and the fossil record.

The problem which the religious and philosophical establishment had with the heliocentric system was their interpretation of the Bible and devotion to Aristotle. The problem some scientists today have with accepting an intelligent cause for life is their rejection of the Bible and devotion to Darwinism. Another quote from John Lennox on Galileo and religious leaders is, “The important lesson is that we should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it.” In other words, both sides must follow the facts wherever they lead, free from devotion to HUMAN doctrines.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2019

You will find the above quotes in God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? By John C. Lennox published by Lion Hudson, Oxford, England.

Galileo Is a Poster Child

Galileo Is a Poster Child

Atheists frequently use Galileo as proof that religion is destructive and that good scientists don’t believe in God. In reality, Galileo is a poster child for the view that we try to present in all of our websites, videos, and printed materials.

Atheists have created a classic example of “fake news,” and the facts are undeniable in Galileo’s case. Galileo was a firm believer in God and the Bible, and he remained so all of his life. Among his most famous statements about science and faith were, “The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics … The human mind is a work of God and one of the most excellent.”

Galileo argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not the other way around. That was in opposition to the way the church leaders interpreted the Bible. The Pope urged Galileo to present both sides of the argument in a book. The Pope insisted that since God is omnipotent, He could create natural phenomenon any way He wanted to. Galileo wrote the book as a dialogue between the two sides. He named the character presenting the argument in favor of an Earth-centered solar system “Simplicio” meaning “buffoon.” Galileo made the Earth-centered case seem dull-witted. That caused the Pope to put Galileo in the permanent isolation of house arrest. Galileo was never tortured, and his house arrest was in the hospitality of luxurious private residences belonging to friends.

The main point here is that Galileo is a poster child for the harmony of science and faith because he was a believer in the biblical worldview who advanced a better scientific understanding of the universe. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Legislator.” Johannes Kepler who gave us the laws of planetary motion wrote: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed upon it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

As the famous scientist Michael Faraday lay on his deathbed, a visiting friend asked him what his speculations were now that he knew he was dying. His response was “Speculations, man, I have none! I have certainties. I thank God that I do not rest my dying head upon speculations, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.”

Since Galileo is a poster child for science and faith, you could also add Kepler and Faraday and several others.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

All quotes are from Just Thinking magazine, Volume 27.1 available from Ravi Zacharias International.

Talking to a Dead Loved One

 Talking to a Dead Loved One

Most of us have seen, heard of, or perhaps even witnessed psychics who seem to do some amazing things. This may include telling some detail about a person’s life that only the person or a close family member would know. Sometimes psychics turn into what debunkers call “grief vampires” in which they convince grieving family member they are talking to a dead loved one. According to financial analysts, this has turned into a two billion dollar industry.

In the old days, psychics and mentalists learned how to read body language and would give vague generalities about a person that seemed pretty amazing. They were mostly just games with little money involved and no recruitment of followers. These are called “cold readings” and don’t involve family finances. In the last few years, this has turned into “hot readings” where a psychic reveals personal information and tells the customer what to do.

Hot readings may require giving a family fortune to an unknown person because a dead uncle said to do it. Marrying someone so that a wealthy person’s estate is accessible is another example. Paying a cancer clinic for a miracle cure of cancer is a third example. The list of exploitative psychic claims that involve talking to a dead loved one is vast.

One reason for the resurgence of psychic activity using hot readings is because of technology. Psychics will focus in on a customer and review their Facebook postings for a year or more to gain information that previously only family members would know. The Week magazine (April 5, 2019) described some cases where psychics used Facebook material to build up a dossier of information that convinced people they were talking to a dead loved one such as a parent or child.

Our apologetics studies necessarily involve claims that someone has the power to talk with the dead. The Bible makes it clear that no human can communicate with the dead. First Samuel 28:7-20 tells the story of Saul contacting the witch at Endor. The witch conducted a séance to bring Samuel back from the dead. Seances are scams, and this woman was going to perform her usual scam activity when the real deal shows up – the spirit of Samuel! The woman screamed when she realized that Samuel was actually there (verse 12) and that a miracle beyond the reach of her scam activity had taken place.

No one has power over death except God, and Jesus destroyed the power of death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Revelation 21:4 shows that being with God is the antidote to death and all the bad things that can be a part of life. A group called “Guerrilla Skeptics” has been posting false data on Facebook to see if psychics would use it. They have caught so-called psychics at their own game. People who are skilled in psychic techniques can put on a convincing show, but it is just a show. No human can contact us after we die, because talking to a dead loved one is not possible.

— John N. Clayton © 2019