American Religious Beliefs in 2023

American Religious Beliefs in 2023

On January 24, 2024, the Pew Research Center released 2023 data on American religious beliefs. It suggests that the rise of religious “nones” may be slowing. The “nones” are people who claim no religious affiliation, and they have been the fastest-growing religious belief group in America. In the past 50 years, “nones” went from less than 5% to 30% of all Americans. However, this latest report put the “nones” at 28%. Some of the other numbers reported are:

  • Nones are 17% atheist, 20% agnostic, and 63% nothing in particular.
  • Thirty years ago, 90% of Americans were “Christian,” and now that number is 60%.
  • 69% of nones are younger than 50.
  • 97% of nones attend religious services a few times a year or not at all.
  • 56% say they believe in “some higher power” aside from the God of the Bible.

The Pew Research Center has a good reputation for gathering data, but still, there is no such thing as an infallible academic survey. Sampling is complex and affected by many variables, but Pew Research has worked hard to avoid pitfalls as much as possible. 

The “Does God Exist Ministry” began in 1968 when we were concerned about American religious beliefs. We saw massive ignorance about the evidence for the existence of God, the validity of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, and the inspiration of the Bible. There is a tendency for churches to pretend that everyone believes in God. Believers have suggested that teaching about the evidence for believing in God, Jesus, and the Bible is a waste of time. There have even been attempts by religionists to shut down this ministry, and the refusal to look at science-based evidence has grown. 

Our concern about American religious beliefs is why we offer free correspondence courses and a variety of video lessons on our website doesgodexist.tv. We want anyone with an open mind to see evidence from science and to share that with others. We encourage everyone to know why they believe what they believe. Understand that science is simply knowledge, and it strongly supports faith. If someone thinks there is a conflict between science and faith, they either have bad science, bad theology, or both. 

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Has the rise of religious ‘nones’ come to an end in the U.S.?” Pew Research Center, January 24, 2024.

You Are Hopeless

You Are Hopeless

Has anyone ever told you that you are hopeless? I remember the feeling when I was told that my ability to communicate with others in a classroom setting was hopeless. This happened when I was a junior in college and was planning to become a science teacher as a career.

Part of my preparation for teaching was an analysis by the university’s speech department. They evaluated my ability to speak in a way that others could understand. The person testing me pulled up in his chair and said, “The speech problem you have cannot be corrected. You are hopeless and need to change your major because you could never speak in a classroom setting.”

As I held the hand of a loved one with cancer, medical personnel said, “It is hopeless. There is nothing that can be done to stop the cancer.” That diagnosis was unexpected, and my loved one turned and looked at me with frightened eyes and repeated the diagnosis – “I am hopeless.”

In both of these cases, the pronouncement of hopelessness was premature. My loved one lived for more than five years – a time filled with great joy and thanksgiving. When the woman I was eventually to marry heard that I had been told I was “hopeless,” she had something to say. She said, “You may be hopeless in the speech department, but you want to teach science in high school, and those kids will be able to understand what you say.” She was right. I taught in South Bend, Indiana’s public schools for 41 years and was selected as “teacher of the year” on one occasion.

These are trivial cases compared to the challenges facing teenagers today. Atheist and agnostic teaching tells them, “You are hopeless.” If you don’t see a purpose in being alive, when life gets hard and dreams crash, it is easy to decide to end life. The suicide rate at all levels is at an all-time high in our culture today, mainly because when we discard God, there is no hope.

The Bible repeatedly tells us there is a reason for hope. Psalms 42:5 and 62:5 urge us to put our faith in God. Romans 15:13 speaks of God giving us hope through the action of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as a function of hope and not just the hope of heaven. As Christians, we are part of the war between good and evil. With the hope of an eternal existence with God and knowing our life has a purpose here and now, Christians have a reason for hope.

John N. Clayton © 2024

The Journey to Safety

The Journey to Safety of a Sea Turtle
Hatchling Sea Turtle Journey to Safety of the Ocean

We have often talked about the design of animals. Various animals act on what we often call “instinct.” Programmed into sea turtles is a journey to safety. When baby sea turtles hatch on the beach, they instinctively and quickly head to the ocean to escape the predators on land. Their mothers didn’t teach them to do that. It is programmed into them. When a kangaroo is born, it will instinctively journey to safety by climbing into its mother’s pouch. She does nothing to assist the tiny creature. Programming a specific action is very efficient, so we program computers to do specific tasks.

In contrast to programmed actions, there is free will. When we tell our children what to do, they may do something entirely different. The child can understand our instructions but still refuse to follow them. The reason is that the child finds other things he wants to do are more appealing.

The bottom line is that commanding actions is less efficient than programming those actions. A baby sea turtle, kangaroo, or robot will act in the way it is programmed. If you are a parent, you have realized that your child will not always do what you command. The question, then, is why didn’t God program humans to do what He wanted? Why did He give us free will? Programming us to act as He desired would have been much more efficient.

God commands us rather than programming us to do His will because He wants to have a relationship with us. Robots can be very efficient because they have specific functions programmed into them and will do what their designer intended. That is not true of humans. However, you can never have a real relationship with a robot. God wants to have a relationship with us. He knew what would happen when He created the first humans, but He did it anyway. We have rebelled and made a mess of our lives and our world. Hatred, war, and mayhem have been the results.

Why, then, did God choose to create us? To Him, having a relationship with us was worth the price. Jesus Christ came to Earth to restore the broken relationship. He was the perfect man, but at the same time, He was God in the flesh. He showed us how to have a loving relationship with God and each other. Then, He bore the punishment for our disobedience to restore the broken relationships.

We are not robots. We are God’s creation, in His image, with free will. We can choose the journey to safety or ignore God and choose our own path. God has made the journey to safety and peace available to us. Why choose the path to destruction?

— Roland Earnst © 2023

The Purpose for the Cosmos

The Purpose for the Cosmos

Scientists and philosophers speculate on the question, “Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing?” The question is why our solar system exists and why there should be countless galaxies other than our Milky Way. Part of this question no one can answer, at least not at the present time. What is the purpose for the cosmos?

Is there intelligent life in any of the other solar systems? We can’t answer that question yet. However, if God’s purpose in creating the physical world in which we live is to advance the battle between good and evil, would He also do that in other places? Isaiah 55:8-9 challenges us to understand that God is not limited to our capacity to think and understand. In that passage, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Science fiction writers have created a whole industry on the assumption that the war between good and evil is ongoing and not limited to the planet on which we live.

A theologian may object to the possibility of other planets with intelligent life, saying, “So you think that Jesus died more than once and experienced more than one resurrection?” The answer to that is “no.” The biblical account is limited to planet Earth. However, many years ago, on a Larry King talk show with an atheist, a caller asked the atheist, “What would you do if a spaceship landed on the White House lawn and a little green man jumped out with a Bible in his hand and said, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?'” My atheist opponent smiled and said, “Punt.”

God may provide a different means for the battle between good and evil than what we see on planet Earth. The point is that there is a purpose for our existence and a purpose for the cosmos. God may use other places and methods to carry out that battle. On a cosmic level, the atheist has no purpose for existing.

Another point we must consider about why the universe exists is that all we see in the cosmos may simply be the result of the creation of time, space, and energy in the beginning. We now understand that the “big bang” singularity was not just a physical process. God created time and space, and matter-energy was engrained in the fabric of space. For us humans, limited to our five senses and able only to comprehend the changes in our physical world, the purpose for the cosmos is beyond our current understanding.

Recent advances in quantum mechanics have shown that time did have a beginning and that the fabric of space contains all the residual matter produced by the creation process. God was not just concerned about the scientifically ignorant population of the days of Moses and Christ. God knew that humans would eventually come to understand the creation process to such an extent that we could see evidence of God’s hand in the cosmos. As God’s ultimate creation, it makes sense that humans would seek to know the purpose for the cosmos.

We suggest that what makes humans unique and special is our spiritual makeup, being created in the image of God. Our physical qualities are of secondary importance. The whole message of the cosmos is that God is a God of incredible power, wisdom, and purpose. The universe radiates that, and the more we see of the creation, the more we understand of its Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Answering Today’s Challenges

Answering Today’s Challenges

The Church struggles to stay informed and relevant on the issues and answering today’s challenges. In October 2023, the Survey Center on American Life and the Associated Press/NORC released new data revealing the attitudes and beliefs of our friends and neighbors. If the Church is going to lead people to faith in God, we need to know what they believe. Jesus knew the teachings of Judaism and the beliefs of the Romans, and we must follow His example. 

Here are some results of the recent surveys:

1) 44% of Americans have “hardly any confidence” in organized religion.

2) 29% of Americans believe evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on Earth.

3) 38% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time due to processes guided by God or a higher power.

4) 31% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time, and God or a higher power had no role in this process.

5) 12% believe humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. 

6) 49% believe scientists generally believe the universe was created in a single, violent event, often called the “Big Bang.”

The problem with surveys is that words like “evolution” are not defined. If “Naturalism” were used instead of “evolution,” the numbers would be different. Confusing “evolution” and “creation” is another source of problems with surveys. Evolution deals with the changes in things already created. It does not attempt to explain the creation of space, time, matter/energy, or anything spiritual. 

It is interesting to see surveys like these and compare them to similar ones from past years. You don’t wear a hockey uniform to play baseball, and you can’t reach people today based on what people believed in the 20th century. God’s Word does not change and is a rock-solid guide for life, but young people today are radically different from last century. Answering today’s challenges requires meeting people where they are and not depending on methods that worked in the past. 

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: The American Perspectives Survey was conducted between May 16 and 24, 2023. The AP/NORC data was in The Week for October 20, 2023, on page 17. 

Neanderthals and the Bible

Neanderthals and the Bible
Wax figure of Neanderthal man in Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

In 1856, workers in Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany, discovered a cave containing human bones that were different from modern humans. Scientists gave those bones the name Neanderthal, which means “Valley of the New Man.” We have written about this before (such as HERE, HERE, and HERE), but how can we reconcile Neanderthals and the Bible?

Since that first discovery, anthropologists have found Neanderthal remains throughout Europe and elsewhere. Neanderthals had large brains, thick bones, and muscle attachments, indicating high strength. The age of these specimens is much greater than any written human communication. They lived a nomadic lifestyle and dwelled in caves and natural shelters. They did not have cities or build sophisticated structures, but recent studies show intelligent behavior, including mastering fire for cooking, controlling animals, and providing warmth.

Genetic studies show that modern humans had Neanderthal ancestors. Some writers claim that Neanderthals were humans physically but had no soul and, thus, no spiritual awareness. That raises the question of how Neanderthals connect with Adam in Genesis 1 and 2. Those who promote theistic evolution say that ape-like hominoids evolved. Then, when these individuals reached a certain level, God infused them with a soul and called them “Adam,” Hebrew for “of the ground.” Some claim that Cain encountered Neanderthals in the area that Cain was banished to in Genesis 4:14 and following.

The point is that rather than deny that Neanderthals existed, we need to realize that there are many possible ways to reconcile Neanderthals and the Bible account of Adam and Eve. As scientists make more discoveries, the picture may become more evident. Meanwhile, we know the biblical account is valid and not at odds with findings about human history.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: The Naked Neanderthal by Ludovic Slimak and wikipedia.org

Attitude Toward Money

Attitude Toward Money

“Come all of you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money – come and buy and eat; yes, come and buy wine and milk without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” – Isaiah 55:1-2

One of the great mistakes of both atheists and religionists is their attitude toward money. Money is the number one cause of divorce in America. There are well-oiled machines designed to extract money from you and me. Some religious groups feel they must beg and coerce for money to do their work. Some secularists think that being rich is the only way to happiness. The fact is that the financially wealthiest people among us have not been the happiest. Here are a few biblical warnings about money.

1) MONEY CAN’T BUY EVERYTHING. The passage from Isaiah refers to what brings real happiness and satisfaction. Having a purpose in life and knowing you are fulfilling that purpose brings incredible joy. Regardless of your attitude toward money, and no matter how much you have, all the money in the world will not help when death comes.

2) MONEY CAN BE USED FOR GOOD. Luke 16:9-13 finds Jesus telling His followers that through the proper use of money, they can make friends by improving their future, helping others find their purpose in life, and building up the Church (not a human institution) to be an agent of good. Matthew 25:34-40 shows explicitly how Christians can use money. Not only does feeding the hungry, providing water for the thirsty, clothing those who are cold, taking care of the sick, taking in those who need shelter, and helping those in prison meet the needs of hurting people, but it also brings true satisfaction to those who provide it.

3) MONEY MAKES A GOOD SERVANT BUT A BAD MASTER. First Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many arrows.” Notice it is not money that is evil, but the love of money. Our attitude toward money can lead us astray. Second Corinthians 9:6-8 talks about sowing generously and tells us God loves those who give cheerfully. A casino is near our meeting place, and people have come to us in tears because they lost what money they had there. We must ask, “Who or what is your master?”

It has always been a practice of the “Does God Exist?” ministry to not ask anyone for money. If God wants this work to be successful, He will fund it, and He does that through people who love Him and cheerfully wish to use the money God has provided them to support causes that make a difference.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

AI Is a Huge Threat to Humanity – Or Not

AI Is a Huge Threat to Humanity – Or Not

The media thrives on exaggerations and misrepresentations involving doomsday scenarios. One of the biggest movies when I was a teenager was titled “When Worlds Collide.” It was a science fiction story of a rogue star and its planet hitting and destroying the Earth with only a select group of humans escaping. A recent popular movie was built around the scientists developing an atomic bomb while fearing it would destroy the Earth. Several media presentations have suggested that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will wipe out humanity. Media outlets like The Guardian, The New York Post, Entrepreneur, and the BBC have all indicated that AI is a huge threat to humanity.

Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by computer systems. Science fiction has long postulated that machines will replace humans and rule the world. Many science fiction stories revolve around non-human enemies of humanity or heroes such as R2-d2 and C-3po. What can computers do or not do? Is it true that AI is a huge threat to humanity?

AI can do some jobs faster and with greater accuracy than humans. Computers can build and run automation systems, causing the loss of human jobs. Computers can process languages more quickly than humans. They can also process numbers faster and more accurately, meaning that AI can predict economic change, develop weaponry, and invade human privacy quickly and efficiently. AI can create images, both authentic and false, and even produce videos known as deepfakes. AI can deliver fake news with video support that is so good humans can’t tell what is real and what is fake. 

As we consider whether AI Is a huge threat to humanity, we must understand that the dangers are philosophical and not inevitable. There is an adage about computers that says, “garbage equals garbage out.” Building computers capable of producing AI requires intelligence and design by humans. Like almost everything humans create, we can use AI to mislead and damage or to improve people’s lives. As in everything else, we desperately need people guided by the teachings of Jesus to make the decisions about how we will use AI.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Approximating Reality” in American Scientist magazine for July/August 2023

ASA Journal 75th Anniversary

ASA Journal 75th Anniversary

On January 7, 1949, the first issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation was released. It was a bulletin written by scientists who believed in God and who wanted to make an academic response to the skepticism creeping into America’s secular education. The ASA is not an effort by preachers but a product of the thinking and faith of scientists who believe in God. The ASA Journal is active today, and they released volume 75 # 2 of their journal Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith in September 2023.

The 75th-anniversary issue of the ASA Journal contains twenty-five ASA fellows and editors who tell of their work in conveying academic support for faith through science. Every issue of the ASA journal contains book reviews, but this issue has 20 reviews of books dealing with various apologetics issues.

Anyone can read the ASA Journal, but members of the American Scientific Affiliation must “have attained a bachelor’s or higher degree in a science-related discipline, or they must be philosophers, historians, Bible scholars, theologians or other professionals whose vocational activity contributes to the intersection of faith and science.” They must also give assent to the “statement of faith” (you can see this statement on www.asa3.org-ABOUT-Statement of Faith.)

It is essential to understand that this group consists of people from all denominations and belief systems who believe science supports faith in God. The scholars debate and sometimes express views that others, including your author, may disagree with. However, the organization has made a robust academic response to the growing tide of skepticism, naturalism, agnosticism, and atheism in America today.

You can get more information at www.asa3.org or 978-887-8833. Their mailing address is American Scientific Affiliation, 218 Boston St., Ste 208, Topsfield, MA 01983-2210.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

The Purpose for Human Existence

The Purpose for Human Existence

“Why do I exist?” People have discussed and debated the purpose for human existence from about every philosophical direction imaginable. Atheists have written books to tell us that we are just accidents with no purpose for existence. Many theologians give the trite answer, “Because God wanted to create us,” which is not much of an answer.

Recent evangelical ministers have used the analogy of couples deciding to have a child. If a child asks his parents, “Why did you have me?” What would they say? They might say, “Because we wanted a child to love.” Later, a parent might say their child has brought them great pride as they tell anyone who listens, “That’s my child.” Does that human parent comparison explain why God created us?

I would consider that it is not reasonable to suggest that we humans fulfill a need that God has. God does not have human needs. We don’t praise God because He has an ego problem or is struggling with depression. The Apostle Paul tells us to “glorify God” in Romans 15:6 and elsewhere, but that does not mean God needs us to build Him up because He lacks something. That would be like a political figure or an entertainer who needs people to praise him and build his esteem. Thinking that God has such needs is rooted in human attempts to create God in our own image.

In the Bible, we can find clues to help us understand more clearly the purpose for human existence. For example, the book of Job shows a conflict beyond our daily physical struggles. God never explained to Job the spiritual battle behind the purpose for his existence and which led to the pain he suffered. But after his dialogue with God, Job concluded that the answer is beyond human knowledge or understanding. Speaking through Ezekiel, God tells us that Job, Noah, and Daniel achieved the purpose for which they were created, but their righteousness could not make up for the sins of others. (See Ezekiel 14:14 and 20.)

The New Testament further clarifies the purpose for human existence. First, we see a major confrontation in the war between good and evil in Matthew 4:1-10 when Satan tempted Jesus. Then we see the culmination of the conflict in Revelation 20-22. People often fail to understand the Book of Revelation because they don’t understand that it is not describing a physical war. The war between good and evil is in a realm beyond this physical world. Ephesians 6:10-20 makes it clear that the purpose of our existence is beyond flesh and blood but involves a struggle “against the rulers, against the authorities against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In Ephesians 3:8-13, Paul writes that his purpose in existing was “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Revelation chapters 20 to 22 give a prophecy of the ultimate destruction of evil and the wonderful existence we all can have if we fulfill the purpose for which God created us. First, John 1: 5-9 makes it clear that we will not be perfect, but we will be forgiven and cleansed as we fulfill the purpose for human existence. Atheists try to tell us that evil doesn’t exist and that there is no reason for us to be here. However, the evidence and the biblical message show us the reason for our existence and the joy and love God makes available to us all.

— John N. Clayton © 2023