We live at a time where there is great concern about the environment. We have seen the effect of human carelessness in dumping wastes into the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes. As an earth science teacher in the public schools, I always was disturbed by the complacency of students and administrators toward this critical issue. In my lectureships, I have sometimes had skeptics suggest that the problems of ecology are due to Christianity. In Genesis 1:28 God told the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Someone has commented that this is the only command God ever gave that man completely obeyed, and there might be some truth to that. Atheists have maintained that this is the cause of human abuse of the natural world in which we live.
From a biblical standpoint, this is a misuse of the message of the Scriptures. Any statement in the Bible can only be properly understood if you look at who write it, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Genesis 1:28 was written to let us know that God expects us to control the Earth and its resources, but it gives no indication of how to do that. In Genesis 2:15, God told the man to, “take care of the Garden, to dress it and to keep it.” In Genesis 3:23 we are told that after the man had left the garden, he was to “work the ground from which he was taken.”
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, a great emphasis is placed on the beauty of the creation and the great wisdom and power that created it. Proverbs 8:22-31 puts an emphasis on the wisdom involved in all that was done to prepare the Earth for human life. The Psalms are full of references to God’s creation, and Jesus in Matthew 6:26-30 calls his followers to consider the beauty of the creation. Even more important, throughout the Bible humans are viewed as caretakers and guardians of what God has given us. Nowhere is there an instruction or suggestion that the creation is to be exploited or abused.
Our ministry is designed to help people with faith problems. Most of our focus in on the scientific evidence for the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. Unfortunately, we have to spend a significant amount of time dealing with people who have lost their faith in God because of the actions and/or teachings of people who claim to be Christians. Sometimes things are presented in the name of Christianity that are so outlandish that people can see they don’t make sense. When that happens, we find it’s something that isn’t in the Bible or is a distortion of what the Bible says.
In 1 Corinthians 15:29 the King James translation of the passage reads: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the top governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormon Church), teaches that modern day Mormons should be baptized for dead ancestors who didn’t receive baptism while they were alive. On April 1-2, 2017, the Quorum met at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, that was broadcast in 90 languages throughout the world. They urged members of the Mormon church to participate in the “Baptism for the Dead” ritual.
We have already received some challenges from atheists and skeptics about this practice. The skeptics say that the concept of people choosing to believe in Christ and having the freedom to reject God is destroyed by this practice. We have to side with the atheists here and say that such a practice is ludicrous and makes a mockery of the purpose of baptism. God never forces people to believe or to accept a religious practice and no person can do so on behalf of someone else.
The Mormon baptism is a long way from the baptism described in the Bible. Romans 6 explains baptism as a dying to sin in complete repentance to no longer be a slave to sin. It is an act of becoming a “new person.” Baptism is never portrayed as a ticket to heaven done without understanding or choice. To correctly understand 1 Corinthians 15:29 we need to take it in context. The phrase “for the dead” in the original Greek is “huper nekroon.” This is more accurately translated “on account of.” In the context, beginning in verse 12 the Apostle Paul is writing about the resurrection of Christ. He is challenging those who say that Christ has not been raised from the dead. Then in verse 29, Paul is simply saying, “Why be baptized if there is no resurrection?” In verse 19 Paul points out the fact that if there is nothing after this life, Christians have no hope and should be pitied. But in the entire passage he is insisting that the resurrection of Christ is real, and therefore so will be the resurrection of Christ’s followers who have been baptized. (Examine Romans 6:3-5.) The notion that we can somehow do a proxy baptism flies in the face of everything Paul taught in the rest of the chapter and the rest of the New Testament.
The polarization that has taken place in America in the past 25 years is appalling. That statement is true on many levels with the political situation being the one that gets the most attention in the media. The relationship between the Church and the State has strong advocates that have very different agendas.
On one side of the issue are groups who advocate freedom FROM religion. They don’t want religious people to take a public stand on moral issues. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is an example of such a group. They say: “We envision an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.” That sounds good, but the problem with groups like this is that they do not want any attempt on the part of religious people to evangelize or to promote moral agendas. You can go to church if you wish, but don’t say or do anything outside of the church walls that demonstrates your faith. Any religious group opposing gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, legalizing marijuana, or any other moral issue is considered to be violating the separation of Church and State. Also when a church congregation helps families with food shortages they cannot let the families know that they are doing so because of their religious convictions or invite them to any church events if they use any government commodities, even if the church purchases those commodities. A Christian can be fined or jailed in America for publicly living out their faith in opposition to gay marriage or other moral issues.
On the other side are groups advocating freedom OF religion. An example is Alliance Defending Freedom who strongly oppose any government interference with individual expressions of religious belief. Groups like this are fighting in courts for the right of religious people to live out their faith in the public arena. The problem is that some fringe religious groups hold to something that clashes with the safety and well-being of innocent people. An example is those who oppose medical treatment for disease. We had a case in Indiana in which a child was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the parents refused to allow the child to have insulin shots on religious grounds.
I would suggest that the most prolific atheist of our time is Michael Shermer. Unlike Richard Dawkins, Shermer knows something about the Bible and Christianity. Shermer is a graduate of Pepperdine University, where he enrolled to become a preacher in the Church of Christ. Because of this education, Shermer understands the biblical account of Jesus. Even though his view of Christ and the Church has been altered by his embracing of atheism he does raise good arguments that are well presented and usually factually correct. He is the editor of Skeptic magazine and has a column in Scientific American which is almost always from an atheist/skeptic position. In the April 2017, issue of that magazine (page 78) Shermer has “What is Truth, Anyway” as the title of his column.
The problem Shermer and I would suggest that all of us face, is that truth has many meanings. In the Old Testament, the word truth was used in two senses: (1) Facts that may be ascertained to be true or false. (2) The existential and moral, or truth as the attribute of a person. The Hebrew word “met” is used for the former and “muna” is used for the latter and is translated “faithfulness” in some translations. In the New Testament Greek words for truth (aletheia, alethes and alethinos) are used in three different senses: (1) Dependability, truthfulness, uprightness of character applied to God and to men. (Romans 3:7 and 15:8; 2 Corinthians 7:14; and Ephesians 5:9) (2) Truth in the absolute sense of what is real and complete as opposed to false and wanting (Mark 5:33 and Ephesians 4:25). Jesus used this to describe himself in John 14:6. (3) Something real as opposed to a copy. (Hebrews 8:2 and John 6:32,35)
Much of the debate between creationists and atheists is rooted in what the two viewpoints are willing to accept as truth. Shermer says, “It is not impossible that the dinosaurs died a few thousand years ago as Young Earth creationists believe, but it is so unlikely we need not waste our time considering it.” I would agree with Shermer on this point because of the problems it poses, and we have discussed this in our publications many times. However, both sides in the discussion have made a decision of what they consider to be true, and both sides are unwilling to look any further at the evidence because they feel they have the truth.
Shermer moves from this scientific discussion to the question of whether Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. He rejects both of these suggestions because the claim is extraordinary and he doesn’t consider the evidence for the validity of the claim convincing since other explanations are possible. About these other explanations, Shermer says, “Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.”
The bottom line in Shermer’s argument is naturalism–that everything that has ever happened can be explained by science. By assuming naturalism, most atheists preclude any kind of evidence that cannot be falsified or tested experimentally. Shermer’s rejection of the resurrection is a rejection of historical evidence. He rejects the testimony of witnesses because they could be biased and cannot be checked, and yet that is true of all historical events. He doesn’t consider the logical problem of the apostles dying for something if they knew it was false. He rejects the effect Christ has had in the lives of millions of people as subjective and emotionally driven. When you demand scientific falsification of any true event, you preclude much of what we know of the past and even some of the present.
Here in Indiana, there has been a battle going for many years about what you can put on a license plate. Personalized plates are legal here, but they must meet three criteria:
*They cannot carry a connotation offensive to good taste or decency.
*They cannot be misleading.
*The BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) cannot consider it improper.
In 2013 when the BMV refused to allow a motorist to have a plate that just had “OINK” written on it, the ACLU sued. Almost any religious message has been considered offensive and improper, so “Jesus Saves” has been rejected and having the name of a church has been rejected. These cases have been local because no one wanted to go to court until this February when Chris Bontrager of Goshen was told he couldn’t put “ATHEIST” on a plate. The ACLU got involved again, and on March 20 Bontrager got his plate.
The question now becomes why an atheist should be allowed to put his belief system on the plate when no one else has been given the same privilege. The answer may simply be that no one asked, but you can be sure there will be people jumping on the wagon at this point, and all kinds of messages will be suggested.
The first word in the Hebrew text of Genesis is reshith, translated into English as “In the beginning.” For hundreds of years, atheists have tried to dispute the notion that there was a beginning. Until the latter part of the twentieth-century scientists didn’t know that there was a beginning. There is an old joke that says, “What did Moses know that Einstein didn’t?” The answer: “That there was a beginning.” Why was science missing the beginning?
The problem is that if a person admits that there was a beginning, they are faced with the question, “What was the cause of the beginning?” It is much simpler just to deny that there was a beginning and maintain that everything has always been–not necessarily as it is today, but in a form that could change into what we see today.
In the 2003 version of the Humanist Manifesto, the statement was clearly made, “The universe is self-existing and not created.” Older versions had the word “eternal” in the statement. It is obvious that the question of origins is evaded by the use of “self-existing” so the word “eternal” is not needed. Atheists will usually respond to this point by saying that religious people claim God is self-existing, so there is no reason why atheists cannot make the same claim about the universe. Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos said, “Why is it any more reasonable to say that God has always been than to say that the cosmos has always been?”
The answer to this challenge lies in the nature of God and the nature of the cosmos. When we measure light, we measure its frequency in cycles per second. When we measure speed in space, we measure it in meters per second. Force, mass, acceleration, energy, momentum, and inertia are all measured in space/time units. We are limited to understanding things in terms of time and space. Various scientific measuring tools have verified that there was a beginning to time and space. The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, suggesting that it has accelerated away from a place where it began.
Since research in all areas of science has made it increasingly obvious that the cosmos had a beginning, science seeks to explain the beginning. The result is that theories are being proposed such as String Theory which suggests that there are multiple dimensions beyond our own. Since String Theory and proposals of multiple universes cannot be tested scientifically, they fail to give an answer to the beginning. We are limited by our inability to devise experiments to measure and test these theories. The biblical term “In the beginning” refers to the origin of all of reality. Whether God created the universe using strings of energy or a big bang is not relevant.
The atheist will say that being unable to explain origins does not necessarily mean that God did it. We are not proposing a “God-of-the-Gaps” argument in which we say, “God did it because we have no other explanation.” What we are saying is that the Bible makes it clear that God is outside of all other dimensions. God is described as the creator of time and space. God is described as a being with no time/space dimensional limitations (1 John 1:5; 4:8,12,16; 2 Peter 3:8; Colossians 1:16-17). Also, the biblical description of God shows a number of properties that are clearly seen in the cosmos and which blind chance would not produce. These include love, care, design, patience, personality, purpose, wisdom, and planning.
Now that science is not missing the beginning, more and more evidence is coming to light showing that our universe was designed and fine-tuned to sustain carbon-based life. Atheists and skeptics may try to counter this evidence, but they have no real alternative to offer.
Antony Flew was one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century. He wrote over thirty books opposing religion and was a professor at the University of Keele and at Oxford, Aberdeen, and Reading. Flew changed his mind about the existence of God because he said, “You have to go where the evidence leads you.” In his final book There is a God he describes the failures of modern atheism:
1) Atheists refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God’s existence.
2) Atheists do not address the central grounds for positing a divine reality.
3) Atheists fail to address the issue of the origins of rationality embedded in the fabric of the universe, of life understood as autonomous agency, and of consciousness, conceptual thought, and the self.
4) Atheists show no awareness of the fallacies and muddles that led to the rise and fall of logical positivism. The “new atheism” is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy.
5) The excesses and atrocities of organized religion have no bearing whatsoever on the existence of God.
Are you carrying around some vestigial conviction that God is good, or that Nature loves you? We guarantee that our newest nominee, the Guinea Worm, will fix that in one easy lesson. –From an atheist website.
Many atheist sites promoted the Guinea worm as the ultimate example of how one cannot believe in God because of terrible things that exist in the creation. It also shows how far atheists will go, and how much sarcasm and derision fills most atheist sites. A frequently quoted phrase is this one: “God’s plan [for the Guinea worm] is … carefully engineered pain machines, self-sustaining, spreading ever wider and deeper through the world … the worm is the very incarnation of god’s plan.”
A careful study of this situation is useful not only to answer the challenges of atheists but to better understand the design issue and how God functions in the world. The Guinea worm is a creature that is unquestionably a real horror story. This animal begins with Guinea worm larvae in ponds or rivers being eaten by small lobster-like water fleas. The embryos mature inside the water fleas. When humans drink the water, the water fleas with the larvae get into the human stomach where the fleas are digested, but the Guinea worm is not. They will find their way to the small intestine where they burrow through the wall and pass into the body cavity. During the next 10 to 14 months, the female worm will grow to as much as 31 inches (80 cm) long and as big around as cooked spaghetti. It will migrate to the lower limbs of the human. The worm will chew its way to the surface of the skin where it will emerge from a blister which causes a painful burning sensation. The only way to get relief is to put the foot or leg into water. When this is done, the female will release a milky white liquid with millions of larvae into the water contaminating the water supply. Once the worm emerges through the skin, you can pull it out, but you can only move it a few centimeters each day. If you pull too fast and break the worm, it will cause massive infection in the human body. It can take weeks to pull a worm from a person’s body. A person who has this parasite is likely to have many worms in his body and can be totally incapacitated and in severe pain. A person does not develop immunity and can be infected multiple times.
Our purpose is not to “gross you out” as my high school kids liked to say, but rather to look at the question of why such horrific creatures exist and how issues like this relate to the concept of a loving and compassionate God. Many other examples could be given from mosquitoes to the AIDS virus, and the points we want to make here apply to all of them.
It is important to understand that many things that exist in the world were not created by God, but they are a consequence of something else. As a simple example, God did not create war, but because God created humans with free will, there is war. Similar statements would apply to pornography, sexual abuse, and any number of other social issues. In the biological arena, there are many things that exist because good things have been mismanaged, misused, or are a product of a human-corrupted environment. Humans have many times caused nature to function in a way it was not designed to function. There are many examples of animal behavior that turn out to be aberrant, caused by the duress of captivity or other human activity and not by the normal function of the organism. In other cases, natural processes have caused changes with negative consequences. Seventy-five percent of all mosquitoes are pollinating insects that feed on nectar and plant juices and do not depend upon blood to survive. However, in many species, the mouthparts of the females have adapted to pierce the skin of humans or animals. Many virus mutations have caused changes in what was a positive organism and turned it into a negative one. Genetic studies of the Guinea worm have shown it is related to other worms which have positive roles in the environment. It appears that this terrible parasite is a mutant. Our point is that assuming that the Guinea worm is something God created to torture humans is an assumption that is due to the vested interests of those making the claim, not what the evidence shows.
Guinea worm infections are due to misuse of the environment. The worm is totally transmitted by humans drinking from contaminated water. Filtering water to remove the water fleas would stop the disease. Drinking from underground water sources would prevent it. The water sources given to the Israelites in the Old Testament would never have allowed the Guinea worm to exist. Not allowing humans to enter water supplies would stop the disease. For the most part, the disease has occurred where war has forced people to extreme situations and conditions.
God gave humans instructions on how to live. God told the first humans to have dominion over the Earth and all that is on it, and to “take care of the garden, to dress it and keep it.” Mismanagement of the natural world has caused massive hardship for humans, but to attribute this to a design or plan of God is to simply be dishonest. Christian organizations have led the battle against the Guinea worm. Atheist complaints against agents like the Guinea worm would be much more convincing if atheists were instrumental in helping to alleviate the suffering. The Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter began attacking the problem in 1986 when there were almost a million cases. Since then the number of cases has decreased each year until there were only 25 in 2016. Many Christian organizations have worked to supply clean drinking water to people in impoverished and war-torn nations.
One of the more convincing evidences that the Bible is inspired and not the work of human minds is the fact that it gives a proven, workable, testable, logical standard of conduct that improves the condition of all humans and brings real meaning to life. Skeptics and atheists do not like to hear that, and they will argue vociferously against it. In modern times, we have had a parade of philosophers from Ayn Rand to the secular humanists of the American Humanist Association that have suggested alternatives, all based on the “virtuous nature of humankind.” It is easy to show from a historical standpoint that such standards are doomed to failure.
Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia in 1819. Jefferson dreamed of a public college which would have no regulations nor rules. Students of “good report” would be admitted and expected to practice “good will and judgment” that would respect the rights and property of others. Jefferson called it the “Grand Experiment” in which democracy and public education were brought together. It is important to note that it had a faculty and student body composed of the “cream of the crop.” There were no religious values imposed on the students and no rules concocted by previous generations that could be construed as an attempt by elders to manipulate, control, or restrict the younger generation. The University of Virginia offered an opportunity to see where highly educated, intelligent people would go with a lack of external rules and regulations.
The University of Virginia experiment of the 1820s was a total failure. Students did not go to class, drinking became a major problem, all kinds of offensive sexual conduct was carried on, and violence escalated. One night, 14 students high on alcohol went on a rampage assaulting professors with bricks and canes. The trustees of the University held a special meeting with the 82-year-old Jefferson in attendance. In his speech, Jefferson called the grand experiment “the most painful event of his life” and sat down with tears of grief unable to finish his speech. The board of trustees then enacted a series of rules and regulations along with a code of conduct that was rigidly enforced.
One might argue that a total lack of rules and regulations is unworkable, but that the Christian system is only one of hundreds of systems which will work equally well. To see the fallacy of that argument, look at what other systems have done. Look at what communism, as practiced in Russia, China, or North Korea, has produced. See what monarchies over the millennia have done to and for their subjects. Consider how women have been treated in Muslim cultures or how science and technology have fared in animalistic ancestor-worship cultures. While it’s true that some horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, those atrocities were done in diametric contradiction to Christ and his teachings.
It has been said that if you don’t believe in something, you will believe anything. Many teenagers today have been turned off by religion. For a large number of these kids, the problem is that religion doesn’t make sense. They see adults preaching one thing and living in diametric opposition to what they are preaching. They find that when they ask questions, those questions are not being answered.
Recently someone sent us a copy of a teen magazine which is also on the web. One of the articles that caught my eye was highlighted with “people are trying to grasp on to something higher than themselves.” The article then quotes the Pew Research Center data we have discussed in this journal saying that Americans are becoming less religious. They then promote “rock stars” which are crystals which they say will “de-stress, boost energy, and brighten your mood.” The minerals they list are hematite which they say will help you sleep and rose quartz which they say “will open you up to platonic and romantic love” (and they don’t explain how love can be both platonic and romantic). They also have amazonite which has turquoise which they say will help with accountability, and amethyst which will cure addictive behaviors. These, of course, are all common minerals which you could find in your backyard. To call them “magic stones” and promote their use as a solution to teenage issues in the twenty-first century is an out and out lie.