Carrion Cactus Fools Flies

Carrion Cactus Fools Flies
Carrion Cactus (Stapelia gigantea) and Flower

One of the exciting things we see in the natural world is how living things solve problems produced by the environment. An excellent example is the carrion cactus that lives in hot and dry deserts of Africa.

Getting enough water is a challenge for plants that live in places where rainfall is very sparse. Those plants employ ingenious ways of storing water and reducing transpiration losses by having needles instead of leaves. What we might not have thought about is the problem of pollination in the desert environment. There aren’t enough plants to support a bee population, and pollinators are few and far between.

One cactus called the carrion cactus (Stapelia gigantea) has solved the pollination issue in an unusual way. When the cactus flowers are ready to be pollinated, they give off a foul smell that reeks of dead and rotting flesh. The smell of carrion attracts flies. As they scramble over the flowers trying to find the dead organism, they get pollen on their bodies and pollinate the cactus flowers.

God has created creatures that clean up dead and decaying organic matter. We have discussed the design roles of dung beetles, vultures, and worms in cleaning up the environment. In the carrion cactus, we see a plant that fools insects into thinking there is something to clean up as a way to accomplish pollination. This impressive trick allows a plant to thrive in the dry and hostile environment of the desert.

We saw the carrion cactus at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They feature amazing displays of many kinds of plants, including desert plants and carnivorous plants, that show God’s creativity.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Why Did Dinosaurs Exist?

South American Tapir brings to mind the question "Why Did Dinosaurs Exist?"

An interesting question we often hear is, “Why did dinosaurs exist?” We have pointed out in several articles and posts that none of the words used to describe the animals in Genesis 1 can reasonably describe a dinosaur. The same is true in Job and other scriptures that describe large animals. If we take Genesis 1, the animals described in that chapter are animals Moses knew, and their role was clearly defined.

We have suggested that the dinosaurs were a part of the preparation of the Earth for human habitation. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” does not tell us how He did it or what processes and time were involved. Asking why did dinosaurs exist, leads to the question of whether there was a logical reason for an animal like brontosaurus to exist.

Science News (July 4 and 18, 2020) published an article about research on the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris), the largest mammal in South America. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brazil refers to the tapir as the gardener of the forest. The rainforests would be biological deserts except for the actions of the tapir. This large mammal feeds on the seeds of about 300 plant species and defecates them in areas that would otherwise be barren. In modern times the tapir has been a primary factor in the recovery of burned-over areas. When Earth was a barren desert at the time of the dinosaurs, the problem would have been even more critical.

We suggest that the dinosaurs were the gardeners of the Jurassic and Cretaceous geological periods. A brontosaurus would produce massive amounts of dung filled with seeds. They would have kept a balance between plant growth and the re-seeding of plants. The enormous meat-eating dinosaurs were mostly carrion eaters that helped with cleanup and helped to control the populations of plant-eaters.

As we question why did dinosaurs exist, we see God’s wisdom in the process of creation. He provided a world that allows humans to have food and resources to use in daily life. At the same time, the design left a guide for modern humans to follow in locating and synthesizing these resources. We know where to find the minerals and fuels because we understand the process God used to put them there.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

For a detailed description of Genesis 1 go to doesgodexist.org and read the booklet “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word.”

Animals Designed to Clean Up Biological Waste

Animals Designed to Clean Up Biological Waste - Lammergeier or bearded vulture

One of the fascinating areas of scientific investigation is studying animals designed to clean up biological waste. This is especially true in mountainous regions where dry conditions and harsh terrain do not allow normal organic decomposition.

The lammergeier or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is an example of such an animal. This large bird lives in scattered mountainous areas in Europe and Africa and across Asia, including Siberia and the Himalayas. It has a wingspan of ten feet (three meters). The main item on its menu is bones.

The World Atlas of Birds reports that this bird picks up the bones of animals that have died naturally or been killed by predators and carries them to high elevations. It then drops the bones onto the ground to smash them into smaller pieces. Lammergeiers do not eat just the bone marrow. They actually swallow large pieces of bone. To do this, they have an extremely elastic esophagus. Their stomach has a group of cells that secrete a highly concentrated acid, which is stronger than battery acid. It is strong enough to dissolve the calcium in the bones to liberate the protein and the fat. Amazingly the bird’s digestive enzymes are specially designed to survive a highly acidic environment and continue to function.

We need animals designed to clean up biological waste. Many animals are designed to survive in environments that are inhospitable to life. With special adaptations built into their bodies, they can do quite well. Trying to find ways that any one of these designs could occur by chance is challenging. Seeing designs in birds that require a large number of things to be changed simultaneously is an even greater challenge. Birds such as lammergeiers, woodpeckers, and penguins are great examples of the creative abilities of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Time Debate and Genesis

Time Debate and Genesis

Several years ago, I was involved in a three-way debate in California between a Young Earth Creationist, a Modern Apologist Scholar, and myself. I was supposed to present design arguments while the other two engaged in an intellectual tug-of-war over the Genesis account. I learned from that experience not to get involved in that kind of time debate again.

I have engaged in debates with atheists for over 50 years, but those debates were easy to understand, and the different views were clear. This Califonia debate was between believers. Because the subject was the integrity of the Genesis account, I used a chart that shows that the SEQUENCE of the Genesis 1 account and the fossil record are identical. The Apologist Scholar denigrated my chart by saying that the events described occurred over a 600 million year period, and, therefore, the Genesis account could not be viewed as historically accurate. The Young Earth Creationist reacted to that claim, and they engaged in a free-for-all about the time issues and the purpose of Genesis 1. The point of my chart was lost in the time debate.

Humans always get hung up on the time issues. God created time. Psalms 90:4 says, “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night.” God is outside of time, and the Bible tells us over-and-over not to restrict Him by demanding a time-scale for what God does. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power” (Acts 1:7).

The message of Genesis is not about time. The first verse of the Bible describes an event and process that is not dated or timed. The fact that the first chapter gives an accurate account of the SEQUENCE in which God created the Earth and all that is on it is excellent evidence that it came from the Creator. Since God created time, there is no reason for us to get hung up on how long God chose to do His work.

Theologians have led us down a rocky road of ascribing dates and times to the things God has done or will do. The birth of Christ certainly did not happen on December 25. Denominations have been created by theologians who try to establish when Christ will come again and when the judgment will take place. This is even though Jesus said, “…of that day and hour knows no man, no not the angels of heaven – only my Father” (Matthew 24:36).

People want to know when things will happen so that they can be prepared, but 2 Peter 3:11 anticipates that and warns us to always be prepared. It is hard for us to comprehend the fact that time for us ends when we die. It is equally difficult to realize that God acts outside of time. Many people stumble by putting the Genesis account at odds with the scientific evidence or relegating the Bible to symbolism and mythology rather than being literally true. Don’t get caught up in the time debate and make time an enemy of faith in the God of love, truth, and wisdom portrayed in His Word.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The Christian Temple and the Jewish Temple

The Christian Temple and the Jewish Temple
Illustration of the Temple Solomon Built

One of the great misunderstandings of atheists and believers alike is the true meaning of the temple. The Christian temple is radically different from all other temples, including the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple’s history goes back to the time of King David, who complained that he lived in a house made of cedar while the ark of God was in curtains. God told David in 2 Samuel 7:3 to do what was in his heart. The enthusiasm for building a physical temple seems to come from David, but he did not complete the job.

There are many problems with temples. They are costly to build and maintain, they can be destroyed, and they can become political tools of evil people. However, the main problem is that temples limit God. If God dwells in His house, then you go to His house to be with God. When you leave His house, you leave God. That also is likely to mean you leave your morals behind. Did you ever wonder what was in David’s mind when he got involved with Bathsheba? Where was God in his thinking? Answer – in the Temple with his morals. How often do we see people who claim to be religious have the same moral weaknesses as everyone else?

Jesus gave a completely different view of the Christian Temple. First Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that Christians are God’s temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. In Acts 17:24-25, Paul told the pagans that God does NOT live in temples made with human hands and is not served by human hands. First Corinthians 6:15-20 tells Christians that their bodies are the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and that going to a prostitute is a logical impossibility.

Jesus made comparisons between the Jewish Temple and the Christian Temple. Just as the Jewish Temple had lights, so too should the Christian Temple. “You are the light of the world.” (See Matthew 5:14-16.) Galatians 5:22-26 speaks of what the Holy Spirit working in the Christian’s life will produce. Jewish worship involved giving the best they had. Mark 12:42 (the widow’s mite), and Luke 18:18-27 (the rich young ruler) make clear the Christian sacrifice and priorities.

The Jewish Temple was a place of learning and growth, and so too is the Christian temple. We need to learn and grow every day. This website and the “Does God Exist?” ministry are dedicated to helping people learn and grow. We learn new things every day, and we are always amazed to see how God uses our feeble efforts to help others grow.

You can receive God’s Spirit, making you a temple of God, by obeying Acts 2:38. That verse tells us that we will receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit” when we are baptized into Christ. God will never leave us, but we can force the Spirit out of our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The blessings of being the temple that Jesus promised far outweigh any physical reward. Human efforts to replace the true temple with a “temple made with human hands” cannot compare.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

God’s Will and Our Free Will

God's Will and Our Free Will

One of the struggles that we all have with our relationship to God is understanding why negative things happen to us. Some say “this is God’s will” in response to COVID-19, but when your loved one dies from it, that isn’t much help. Some of us have been taught a determinist view of God. God’s decretive or determining will is seen as sovereign, universal, and all-inclusive. What can we understand about God’s will and our free will?

One writer has said, “God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It includes everything–even sin and suffering. So your career, marriage, friends, sicknesses, accidents, income, etc. are all part of God’s determined will but are not revealed to you ahead of time.”

Why does God allow someone to have one tragedy after another that they didn’t cause? Why should a young mother have a severe illness and die? Why do babies die? Anyone who says they have all the answers is a liar because none of us do, and being an atheist doesn’t help either. There are some scriptural clues in the use of four Greek words:

Prothesis” usually translated purpose. See Romans 8:28; 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.

Boule” which means counsel. See Acts 2:23; 4:28; Ephesians 1:11.

Eudokia” meaning desire, good pleasure. See Ephesians 1:5;9; Philippians 2:13.

Epitrepo” means to permit. See 1 Corinthians 16:7; Hebrews 6:3.

I hope you will take some time to read through those passages and think about how they are different, and how they may overlap. It seems that God’s will has three primary connotations: purpose, desire, and permission. Jack Cottrell has an excellent treatment of this in his book What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, College Press, ©1984, pp. 299-329.

Cottrell goes into this subject deeply, but here is a simplified explanation. The determinist view has one glaring weakness. It ignores the purpose for which God created humans. We are not robots programmed to a specific end. In revealing God’s will through His purpose, His desire, and His permission, the Bible shows us that we are precious to Him. He allows our free will to love, serve, and obey Him–or rejecting Him. God tells us what is best for us, and He makes it clear what His desire is for us. But He permits us to choose to reject Him and live in destructive ways.

Our free will is the key here, but we need to know we have a purpose in existence and that free will is a part of that purpose. God allows us to have problems and permits us to seek evil solutions to those problems. If our love for God and our desire to have a relationship with Him is strong enough, the problems will not destroy our relationship with Him. God promises us limits (see 1 Corinthians 10:13) and takes the problems and makes good come out of them (see Romans 8:28). These challenges can boost our relationship with God or destroy it. That is our choice.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos - Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant
Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant

Those of us who are interested in the subject of creation have been excited about some new data which will help us understand the cosmos. Apparently God has built into the creation various devices to help us more clearly see what He has created. Among those devices are fast radio bursts (FRBs).

When high mass stars draw in matter, they emit various frequencies of radio waves. Neutron stars and black holes release radio waves in a wide range of different energies. High energy waves travel through space without being affected a great deal by anything. Lower energy radio waves are affected by whatever material they pass through. Recent research has shown that in interstellar space there are variations in the actual speed of radio waves coming from a common source, depending on how much intergalactic material the waves are going through.

The material that slows the radiation is the ordinary particles called baryons, including protons and neutrons. We now know that interstellar space is full of the matter that makes up our galaxy, but at a very low density. These microscopic baryons do not emit light so we have not been able to detect their presence in the past. Fast radio bursts can make it possible for us to observe them because of the effect they have on the speed of the radiation.

Astronomers know from observing the light that was emitted when the universe was young that baryons should be the source of five percent of all the mass and energy in the cosmos. If that was true at the beginning, it should also be true today. However, the stars and gas we can see only account for half of that amount. The baryons are not uniform or isotropic in their distribution, but rather exist as filaments making a sort of web of low density matter which can be measured using FRBs. Astronomers are optimistic that this discovery will account for the “missing mass” in the creation. (This is the missing mass of regular matter, not dark matter, which is still a mystery.)

When the Bible challenges us to “know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20), it implies that this process is ongoing. In the 21st century we are blessed with new and better tools to see what God has made. Like the microscope, fast radio bursts open whole new vistas for us so that we can see and understand more of the handiwork of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News , June 20, 2020, page 6, and Nature.com

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

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