Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who had a new tomb carved into a stone hillside. This was not a pauper’s grave. Only the rich and powerful could afford such a tomb. But the first man to use it was not a wealthy man. He grew up as the son of a carpenter. He had no home to call his own. He had a small group of friends who deserted him at the last minute. He had thousands of admirers who quickly sought to get rid of him when he didn’t overthrow the Romans as they expected.
The ancient Assyrian army would drive a stake into the chest of their enemies impaling them. Then they would plant that stake in the ground to display their victim. They did this both to frighten and to intimidate those who would oppose them.
The ancient Romans further refined this gruesome tactic. Instead of impaling their victims on a stake, they nailed them to the stake. Impaling resulted in quick death, but crucifixion extended the horror. Crucifixion was slow and agonizing torture that sometimes lasted more than a day. It’s from this execution method that we get our word “excruciating”–which literally means “from the cross.” Crucifixions took place in public where people could see the victim and become terrified to go against the Roman government. This torture was used for the worst of criminals.
It is easy for humans to minimize the design that is needed for life to exist on Earth. How do you feed massive numbers of birds, especially in the spring when winter has taken away most of their food sources, and their food needs are maximized as they lay eggs and feed baby birds? In the past scientists have shrugged their shoulders and imagined that there are food sources we don’t recognize that fill this gap until the summer season generates sufficient seeds and insects to sustain the growing populations. Similar problems exist for many other animals like bats that depend on insects for their nutritional needs.
In the April 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 84), there is an interesting report about previously unknown migrations of insects. We have known about monarch butterflies for some time, but this study by British researchers shows that migrations of insects are massive. Over southern Britain alone there are 3.3 trillion insects migrating. That is an average of 3200 tons of bugs moving through the skies over Britain every year. The study also reports that similar patterns have been observed in Texas, India, and China.
The complexity of this migration is astounding. Insects don’t live long enough for one bug to complete the migration. Researchers found that in some cases six generations were involved to complete a migration. The insects do not just get randomly blown about. They travel in a well-programmed pattern taking advantage of wind direction and speed. The elevation at which they fly to get the strongest support for their journey is carefully chosen. For a number of reasons, spring migrations are different from fall migrations.
One of the most interesting areas of scientific research today is the study of dark matter. We have known for more than half a century that galaxies are groups of billions of stars revolving around a core. Science had assumed that the glue holding galaxies together was the gravitational force produced by the mass of the stars in the galaxy. The problem with this explanation was that the stars were spiraling too fast for the gravity produced by their mass to hold the galaxy together.
If you stand in the center of a circle and spin a bucket of water on a rope, you have to spin it at a certain speed to keep the water in the bucket. If you go too slow, the bucket will hit the ground, and if you go too fast, it will break the rope. In the case of galaxies, the stars were going so fast for the gravity of the stars to hold the system together. Some other gravitational force must be the glue doing the job. The discovery of black holes in the center of galaxies was thought to be a possible answer, but the speed was much too fast for even that source. The amount of mass it would take to hold some of the galaxies together is as much as 85% higher than what we can observe.
This problem led to the proposal that there is a missing mass. Scientists suggested particles called WIMPS, which is an acronym for “weakly interacting massive particles.” For some time now, experiments have been conducted to find evidence for WIMPS. The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, has been smashing protons together in hopes of detecting the particle. The Large Underground Xenon experiment in South Dakota has been looking for traces of them as well. So far neither attempt has been successful. In an article in Scientific American (October 2016, page 16) Edward Kolb, who was involved in proposing the existence of WIMPS, said: “We are more in the dark about dark matter than we were five years ago.” David Spergel who is an astrophysicist at Princeton says, “…we now need more hints from nature about where to go next.”
It seems that God has already taught us quite a bit about the complexity of creation. Thanks to Isaac Newton we know that mass has a connection to gravity. Thanks to Albert Einstein we know that the shape of space has something to do with it as well. Making a galaxy is not a simple task. Just like the making of electric charge, the process involves understandings that science is just beginning to comprehend. Quantum mechanics has taught us that a whole new set of laws governs what happens in forming these building blocks of what we see.
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.
Much has been made of bacteria that live in extreme conditions. We have mentioned the forms that live in the geyser pools at Yellowstone National Park. Those bacteria use a chemical source to allow them to exist in high-temperature environments. They, in turn, provide the basis for other forms of life that use the Sun as their energy source. The British Broadcasting Corporation has had numerous features in which they have reported on other animals that function in extreme environments. Some of the examples that the BBC cites are:
The sperm whale feeds 2000 meters down in the ocean where the pressure “is the equivalent of carrying ten jumbo jets on your back.” The whales deflate their lungs to do this and then spend up to an hour using chemically-stored oxygen to supply their muscles while they are down there.
Polar bears spend seven months without eating or drinking and then give birth in an area where the temperatures can hit -60 Celsius and the winds can reach 160 km/hr.
The bar-headed geese that fly over the Himalayas at 10,000 feet by concentrating oxygen with their special lung design.
DOES GOD EXIST? maintains a Facebook page with daily postings. We often get challenges and questions from atheists and skeptics or those who are seeking for answers. We want to share the following conversation from Facebook. The article we posted was about animals that are ruminants (cud chewers) The article ended like this:
DGE?- …This system of digestion allows animals who are grazers to survive in the hostile world of the wilderness. The balance in nature between predators and those animals that eat plant material is critical. If there are too many herbivores (plant eaters), they will eat all of the vegetation. If there are too many successful carnivores (meat eating predators), they can wipe out all of the plant eaters. The Master Designer has given us a balanced system with many features to allow animals and plants to avoid extinction. Cud chewing is one of those features. Ever since Adam and Eve, human actions have often thrown the system out of balance.
SEEKER- I would call that adaptation or evolution and the fact that you mention Adam and Eve says this was penned by someone who believes in creation. If Adam was the first man on Earth shortly after the creation by God, then where did the dinosaurs come from? Still not had a decent answer on that yet.
DGE?- Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It does not say when the beginning was or how long God took to create the heavens and the Earth. The verse is undated and not timed. Then in verse 2, we are told that Earth was in place and it was formless and empty. Beginning in verse 3 we see a description of the stages of creation that God used to transform the formless and empty Earth into a planet that was full of life. Finally, on the last “day” of that creation, God brings human beings on the scene. The word translated “day” is the Hebrew “yom” which has four literal meanings in the Bible. It can mean a 24-hour day. It can mean the daylight portion of a 24-hour day. It can mean any portion of a 24-hour day. It can also mean an indefinite, but finite period of time. If you want to say that in Genesis chapter 1 it has to mean a 24-hour day, then you have a problem with dinosaurs and many other things. If you understand it as being an indefinite period of time, then any conflict between the Bible and science disappears. At DOES GOD EXIST? we believe that science and the Bible are friends, not enemies.
SEEKER- That still doesn’t answer the original question on dinosaurs. I have heard some say that the fossils we have were placed by “God” to test man’s faith, but I find this extremely hard to believe. Darwin is still winning. If there is an all-powerful God then why does he allow doubt? Why does he not simply show himself and remove all doubt? I guess a possibility is that if man was made in his image then like the man God too has died.
DGE?- When the Bible says that God made male and female in his image (Genesis 1:27) it doesn’t mean physical image. God is not physical. Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). God is eternal and not subject to physical death. If the days of Genesis 1 are long but finite periods of time (as mentioned before), then dinosaurs would have been created on one of the earlier “days” before humans were created. (Probably day 5) Or perhaps dinosaurs roamed the Earth in that untimed period after God created the Earth in verse 1 and the time when it was empty and dark. Perhaps after a mass extinction. Many other creatures are not mentioned in the Genesis account–some extinct and some still in existence. The creatures mentioned are the ones familiar to humans. There was no Hebrew word for dinosaurs or other creatures that people did not know existed.
SEEKER- Definitely getting there now, but all based on “If.” Surely a day was twenty-four hours then as it is now and not millions of years. Also, it seems then that the Bible was written by man if the writer had no word for dinosaurs and never knew they existed. God surely would have had a name for them. I don’t understand if God does exist then why are we not born with this knowledge, why is it not a natural instinct like feeding from a mother’s breast at birth. Why would he want to give us doubt? Darwin still winning but I would so love God to win.
DGE?- There are other Bible passages where the Hebrew word “yom” translated “day” in Genesis 1 is used to mean an indefinite period of time longer than a day. (e.g. Hosea 6:2) If there were no word for the dinosaur in Hebrew and God made one up, how would anyone know what it meant? Hebrew is a language for human communication. If the people did not know what the word meant and had never seen a dinosaur, the word would be nonsense. We can know there is a God by the things he has made (Romans 1:20). I think we are born believing in God, and unbelief is learned. People in every primitive tribe in the history of the world have believed in “gods.” There is something deep in our soul that tells us there is something more—something beyond this life and higher than ourselves. It’s a vestige of an ancient memory of the Garden of Eden that we all long to find again.
SEEKER- Out of all conversations I have ever had on this subject I have to say you have been the one with answers that make any sort of sense. A vicar I once tried to discuss with simply said I must have faith and believe without doubting or questioning the Bible. My problem with that is the fact we mainly read from the King James version which I think Henry VIII doctored a bit. Darwin still holds a very strong argument though, and school did not help as one class was RE (Religious Education ) then the next class had a big poster of Darwin’s ape-to-man illustration. I so wish I could be an absolute believer without doubt as it really does give me one big headache. If there is a God, then can I be forgiven for having doubt or do those with doubt not enter into eternal life?
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.
A comic strip called “Close to Home” is carried in daily newspapers around the country. On April 1, 2017, the cartoon showed a huge pipeline labeled “Prozac” running into a town named “Gurgeville.” A television news reporter is shown giving a report and saying, “Since adding the pipeline, Gurgeville has had a 30% drop in crime, divorces are down 40%, and student grades are up 28%.” I thought it was appropriate that our newspaper, The South Bend Tribune, ran the cartoon on April Fool’s Day. But for many people in our culture, the message that drugs are the solution to all our problems is real.
God’s solution to most of the things we try to medicate away is TIME. Dr. Stephen Eckstein wrote a wonderful article titled “Quality Time is LOTS of Time.” Eckstein points out that for the first few months after birth a baby requires almost all of the mother’s time. If the mother is sincere in her love, she will change her activities so that the baby can grow and develop. Any child deprived of this time and of both parents engaging in cuddling, kissing, and expressing love to the child is irreparably harmed. As the child grows, there must be time in which the parents play with the child, read to the child, and give the child enormous attention. We public school teachers see an amazing number of children on medications that are simply addressing the problems that result from their growing up without time from their parents.
We adults also need the time of others to be stable, productive adults. Jesus set the example of maturing and growing stable adults. Can you imagine Jesus and his disciples meeting one time a week for an hour? For three years the disciples walked, talked, traveled, ate, and lived together. The Passover meal of John 13:25 portrays an intimate social setting where teaching and sharing took place. The members of the early Church described in Acts 2:42-47 were together daily, sharing, eating, praying, and enjoying the stability of a common faith and experience.
For many of us, Church today involves parading into a building, watching a performance for an hour, being told to come back 167 hours later, and then returning to the struggles and challenges of the modern world. This simply doesn’t work, and people quit coming because their needs are not met. The Church is people, not a building. Passages like 1 Corinthians 3:11-23 make it clear that what most of us experience as “church” is not even close to what God planned for us. There are times when a medication is needed because of chemical imbalances and medical conditions, but for most of us, pharmaceutical Prozac is not the answer. God’s Prozac involves having large amounts of time with those who love us and with those whose values will lead us to good choices in life.