Computer Modeling Religion

Computer Modeling Religion
An international team of experts including computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others set out to find a method for computer modeling religion. The “Modeling Religion Project” ran for three years with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. They completed the project and gave their report in June 2018.

Collaborating on the project were Boston’s Center for Mind and Culture, the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center, and the University of Agder in Norway. The goal was to use artificial intelligence to predict which political philosophy will give the best outcome. What does that have to do with religion, you ask? Read more.

The experts entered data collected from real people (largely in Norway) concerning economic security, education, and religiosity into computer models. The computer models were “trained” with “a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures.” In the computer model, the researchers could increase investment in education or provide more jobs or give the youth more social opportunities and so forth. The outcome was supposed to give politicians a tool to choose the most effective policy to follow. You still might wonder what this has to do with computer modeling religion.

Okay, here is the crucial part concerning religion. A spinoff of that project is another one called “Forecasting Religiosity and Existential Security with an Agent-Based Model.” This project is asking questions such as: “Why aren’t there more atheists? Why is America secularizing at a slower rate than Western Europe?” They also are attempting to learn what factors make a society more religious or speed up secularization. LeRon Shults who teaches philosophy and theology at Norway’s University of Agder said that by entering data from 22 different countries, they can predict “whether and how belief in heaven and hell, belief in God, and religious attendance would go up and down over a 10-year period.”

The researchers found that four factors lead a society to become more secular (less religious). The factors are:

1-Having enough money and food (existential security)

2-Having personal freedom (to choose whether or not to believe)

3-Welcoming diversity (or pluralism)

4-Higher level of education (in science and the humanities)

They found that all four of those factors must be present to speed up the secularization of a society. If any one of those four is missing, the society will remain more religious.

Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University, collaborated on the project with Shults. Wildman said that keeping education local and in private schools and not welcoming pluralism have been “forms of resistance to secularization” in the United States that have slowed the move away from religion. He suggests that we need to nationalize education and be more welcoming of diversity and pluralism so that we can achieve more secularization as Europe has done. He hopes that their computer model will help politicians learn how to do that. However, he is not optimistic that politicians will accept his recommendations anytime soon, but he said, “We’re going to get them in the end.”

What, then, are the implications of computer modeling religion? You see the four factors that the researchers say will speed up the secularization of a society. Think about what this might tell us about the future. We will continue with that thought tomorrow. In the meantime, below are some links for more information about this project.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Click HERE for information about the Modeling Religion Project.
Click HERE for research reports from the project.
Click HERE for an article from The Atlantic titled “Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular.”

Fake News

Fake News
In the last two years, the word “fake” has shown up so many times in the media and political arena that people are now well aware of the fact that not everything is as it appears. Fake news is nothing new, and the early Christians had to deal with fake apostles, fake witnesses, and scams of all kinds. (See Acts 6:13 and Acts 8 for examples.)

In the scientific area, there have been so many fakes in every field that there are some people who make a living just exposing fakes. This is a constant problem in the field of paleontology where fake fossils have confused the theories of evolution and earth history. In The Week magazine for August 10, 2018, carried an interesting story about “The Great Chinese Dinosaur Boom.” Scientists have found rich fossil beds in northeastern China. Local farmers have discovered that they can make good money by selling fossils to collectors who are not scientists. The result is that they have glued pieces together to make it look like a new form of life. This reminds us of the fake human tracks that were promoted in Glen Rose, Texas, in past years by people trying to sell the religious position that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

There are several lessons for all of us here. One is not to trust any human without checking out their claim. That is true of every endeavor in our lives. Few of us would buy a used car without investigating the claim of the salesman about what an excellent deal we are getting. Why would we accept religious or secular claims without giving the same spirit of investigation to the story?

In a world of fake news, the one thing we can trust and that is absolutely true is God’s word. Don’t trust what people claim that it says. Study it for yourself. That may mean looking up the meaning of the words of the original language and taking the time to look at the context. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, for refuting error and for giving guidance as well as for moral discipline, that the man of God may be complete and adequately equipped for all good work ” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

American Marijuana Attitude

American Marijuana Attitude
A recent study showed that most Americans view marijuana favorably thinking that it has significant benefits and few risks. Science does not support the new American marijuana attitude.

The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the new study on July 23. The researchers conducted an online survey of more than 9,000 people from all over the United States. They found that 81 percent of U.S. adults believe that marijuana has at least one benefit. The most common benefit mentioned was pain management. Other supposed benefits in people’s minds were the treatment of diseases and relief from anxiety, stress, and depression. At the same time, 91 percent of the respondents believe that marijuana has at least one risk. The most common risk mentioned was not medical problems, but legal. They also mentioned addiction and impaired memory. The bottom line is that the American public sees marijuana as having few health risks and significant health benefits.

The prevailing favorable American marijuana attitude is most likely due to the influence of the media. Some individuals and businesses stand to make a massive amount of money on marijuana, and governments see it as a source of tax revenue. In the meantime, the public is ignoring costs in healthcare, addiction treatment, traffic enforcement, and traffic deaths. In a previous post, we reported on a study of the effects of marijuana on the brain. The American Medical Association published information in the JAMA Internal Medicine on the increase in fatal car accidents in the United States on April 20 each year. That’s the cannabis celebration day on which thousands of marijuana enthusiasts light up at 4:20 PM in celebration of pot. The 4/20 celebration has grown as marijuana has become more widely available and legal. According to the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, there was a 12 percent increase in fatal crashes on April 20 and a 38 percent increase among drivers younger than 21.

Since Washington state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had traces of marijuana in their blood has doubled. One of the problems involves trying to set a legal limit for marijuana because its effect on the body is very different from alcohol. Blood alcohol level reliably predicts impairment. The level of THC (the chemical in pot) in the blood is not the critical factor until it enters the tissue of the brain where it has its effect. The THC blood level may be lower when the brain is most affected.

Getting high on marijuana makes changes in the human brain and smoking the weed has many of the same health dangers as smoking tobacco. It seems clear that the American marijuana attitude is changing, but it is also clear that we need to step back and think more clearly before our thinking becomes blurred by pot.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

How to Define Religious Freedom

How to Define Religious Freedom
It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or news magazine these days without seeing an article about religious freedom. That raises questions of how to define religious freedom.

Atheists maintain that religions are vehicles of discrimination, and in some cases that charge is valid. We previously reviewed the history of the Mormon Church which excluded blacks in its early days. There have been cults that have excluded people based on their sex or their occupation. Should the government allow a religious group to advocate the violation of the laws of the land? What about a religion that advocates violence or suicide as was the case in the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana? We have a case in the Midwest where a nun is suing the Roman Catholic Church because they won’t allow her to become a priest. Recently a local Church of Christ was threatened with a lawsuit because they wouldn’t interview a woman for the advertised position of pulpit minister. The list of grievances is virtually endless and raises questions of how to define religious freedom.

Many people in America limit the definition of religious freedom to the right to meet in a single facility and worship God as you choose, but your religion must not move outside of that building. In this view, you may not share your faith with anyone outside of the building or make it part of what you do at work, in school, or in the presence of the general public. This has been evident in cases where a person is asked to make something or do something that violates their religious convictions. Asking Christians to act against their faith has led to legal cases involving people like Jack Phillips and his wedding cakes or Barronelle Stutzman and her flower displays or Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski and their custom art. Pro-life pregnancy care centers have been told they must promote abortion options in spite of their religious convictions.

As the government tries to decide how to define religious freedom, we must remember that Christianity does not need religious freedom to survive. God cannot be defeated by the ACLU, no matter how much money they have. It may be that the right to worship outside of a government-registered building is going to be destroyed by activists and government officials who are determined to drive historical Christian beliefs from the public square. Remember that the early church did not have religious freedom, but the teaching of Jesus Christ on love and service still survived.

“And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

State of Israel and Zionism

State of Israel
We get quite a bit of mail from people asking why we don’t support the political State of Israel. My education in this area of study is minimal. Dr. Douglas Jacoby, who is an expert on this subject, concisely expresses the problems with Zionism and what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ kingdom. I hope the following from Dr. Jacoby’s website will be helpful. –John N. Clayton

Teaching: Central to Yahweh’s plans which culminate in the heavenly Zion are political conditions in an earthly Zion. Israel is still in a covenant relationship with God. Jesus’ return is in some way connected with the conversion of all national Israel. Christians should support the State of Israel militarily. The Palestinians are not the people of God, but the enemy of America and Israel.

Biblical emphasis: God is sovereign over history.

Support: Joshua 21:43; Zephaniah 3:20.

Biblical error: When the modern State of Israel was created in 1948, many Palestinians (most were Christian or Muslim) were evicted from their homes, their land expropriated by the fledgling government. These actions did not fulfill prophecy. God did promise the land to Israel- which she received over 3000 years ago (Joshua 21:43). God also promised to bring her back from exile, in the event that she repented (Deuteronomy 30:4; see also Zephaniah 3:20). The Jews came back to their land in the 6th century BC, under the Persian king Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:22-23), not in the years leading up to 1948. No national promise remains to be fulfilled. See also Matthew 3:7-11; 21:33-46

Further: The architects of modern Israel were mainly atheists and agnostics. The formation of the modern state of Israel was not accompanied by faith and repentance; it was a human undertaking. That is why the rabbis of Orthodox Judaism oppose Zionism for its atheism and humanism.

We have posted information from Dr. Jacoby on this subject before, and you can read it HERE. For more, go to his website www.douglasjacoby.com.

Religious ID Card Required

Religious ID Card Required
In the movie “God’s Not Dead” there was a depiction of a professor who required his students to write a statement disavowing belief in God if they wished to pass the course. Since that movie, there have been debates about whether people should be required to have a religious ID card to identify their beliefs.

In May, 2018, Christianity Today published a report that Pakistan now requires citizens to disclose their religion on official documents, government job applications, and voter registrations. One Islamabad judge has stated that applicants for certain positions need to affirm that Muhammad was the final prophet or be considered betrayers of the state.

This is an issue that should be a grave concern to any American–be they an atheist or a believer. The movement to have gender and racial balance in all areas of life might in the future to require religious balance as well. We could be on the road to government requiring a religious ID card to show our religion or lack of religion as Pakistan has apparently embraced.
–John N. Clayton

Legalizing Sin Industries

Legalizing Sin Industries - Gambling
We now have casinos in virtually every state in the United States. The government will soon approve online gambling. The push for state-sanctioned prostitution is gaining momentum. Legalized marijuana is now a major industry. The trend is certainly toward legalizing sin industries.

Here in Michigan, local governments are being swamped with applications for permits to open marijuana shops and dispensaries. From a biblical and logical viewpoint, we seem to be on a collision course with total collapse. Students of history tell us that the fall of Rome did not come from without but from within. The moral temper of the people became so bad that the entire structure collapsed.

The usual justification for legalizing sin industries is that the government can control (and tax) the industry when it has a legally sanctioned framework. Following that argument, prohibition was a failure because those promoting alcohol just went underground and the use of alcohol continued. The comparison is made to marijuana by those promoting the legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug. As is our usual approach to any issue, we ask the question, “What is the evidence?”

1. Does legalization result in control and produce fewer problems? We rarely hear any comment from the “little people” about what prohibition was like. By “little people” I mean folks who work a regular job, raise kids and try to be active in local affairs. What we read about in the media are the rich and famous who had the money and the time to go to the “speakeasy,” those and who were involved in organized crime, and the “high rollers.” The men and women who worked on the assembly line or as clerks would testify that prohibition did reduce drunkenness in all age levels. The alcohol-related crime was high among the high rollers but not among the everyday people.

2. Already we see the failure of the recreational marijuana craze in Los Angeles. Marijuana at the government approved stores is selling for $25.00 per gram, and on the street, the same thing can be purchased for $5.00. On the street, you are not paying state excise tax.

3. The problems of lung damage continue to exist, and smoking marijuana is illegal in smoke-free areas or any other place where tobacco is banned. Legalizing marijuana does to eliminate the health hazards.

4. Legalization of marijuana increases usage which in turn produces sharp increases in cases of car accidents, abuse of other people, the neglect of children, and crime. Statistics from police agencies show sharp increases in these areas when marijuana is legalized. We also see cases where children ingest marijuana that is left unsecured around the house.

5. The use of any drug puts the person at risk of being led to another more effective drug. Gateway cases with marijuana are increasing, and the cost is already creating a burden. States adjacent to states where marijuana is legal have been threatening lawsuits because of the increased burden produced by people carrying drugs across state lines. This also creates problems for families and businesses where recreational drugs have created financial hardship and psychological problems.

Legalizing sin industries has never worked, and for Christians it is especially important to “avoid all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Freedom of Speech on Campus

Freedom of Speech on Campus
We object to the loss of liberty in other parts of the world, but we have our own battles taking place on American soil. Freedom of speech on campus is one area of concern.

Georgetown University is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. In the fall of 2017, a pro-family student organization named Love Saxa was attacked by LGBT students for promoting pro-family values in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The university investigated the challenges to Love Saxa and found them groundless, but took the student money intended for Love Saxa and gave it to LGBT organizations on campus.

Members of a student group called Young Americans for Liberty were arrested for passing out copies of the United States Constitution to students on the sidewalk at Kellogg Community College in Michigan. This seems hard to believe since the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly. Only after the YAL won a legal suit did the college administration allow the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees.

Administrations of colleges and universities have been restricting freedom of speech on campus, but mostly when it relates to religious or conservative views. Tomorrow’s leaders are being trained to accept only the views of their liberal colleges. The persecution of religion in America today flies in the face of the constitution, and we are reading of case after case where Christian churches and organizations are facing persecution in this country on a daily basis.

The greatest single way to fight this persecution is by making people aware of what is happening. Most Americans, if they know what is going on, will stand against government control and restriction of free speech, including freedom of religious groups.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Defining Death

Defining Death
The challenge of defining death continues to make front page news in the media.

The first weekend in May a story came out of a young man named Trenton McKinley in Mobile, Alabama who was crushed in an accident and showed no brain waves. Doctors told his parents he would not survive and suggested that they allow the doctors to harvest organs from their son to extend the lives of five other children. The day before the surgery to harvest the organs, Trenton regained consciousness and was able to talk with his parents. He is expected to recover.

At the same time in Liverpool, England, a 23-month-old boy named Alfie Evans died from a degenerative brain disease. The British courts would not allow the boy’s parents to take him to Italy for a treatment that the court thought would do no good. Several years ago an infant in London named Charlie Gard had a similar diagnosis, and the courts prevented the parents from taking their baby to the United States for treatment. Even Pope Francis got involved in the case of Alfie Evans, but to no avail. In England at least, defining death revolves around brain waves. The case of Trenton McKinley is going to bring new debate about the two cases in England where the courts overruled the parents.

Defining death has become a complicated issue. From a biblical standpoint, death is when the soul is separated from the body, and it is irreversible. The McKinley family is claiming that Trenton’s recovery is a miracle, but there are possible medical explanations for what happened. It is ironic that abortions are performed with no concern for the rights of the child, the parents, or someone else who might want to raise the child.

The Week published a survey of this question with references in the May 11, 2018, issue, page 14. It will be interesting to see if these cases bring any serious change in how the medical establishment deals with death, especially the death of a child.
–John N. Clayton

War Against Churches and Morals

War Against Churches and Morals
The Bible takes some strong stands on moral issues. That has led to a war against churches by those who reject biblical morals.

No one seems to be too upset with the Bible’s statements that murder is wrong until a church suggests that putting a baby to death simply because it has not been born yet is a form of murder. The Bible warns us about unhealthy lifestyle choices and tells us that our bodies are “the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:15-20). There are things God warns us not to do with our bodies including sexual activity outside of God’s plan for marriage. These things are the teachings of the New Testament. They are not forced on anyone, but they are taught as a moral framework that has generally worked in America since the founding of this country. Now churches are threatened with the governmental abolition of these practices and teachings. The government is banning speech which supports biblical morals with threats against the churches.

The website ChurchClarity.org publishes a database of churches which it believes have policies which “place restrictions on individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Queer.” The Fort Des Moines Church of Christ was censored by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission because the church did not allow members of the opposite sex to use their restrooms and showers. The Community Church in Laurel, Maryland purchased a property for $470,000. Because the city planner did not want a church there, the city changed the zoning code and told the church that they would be fined $250 a day if they used their building. This reminds us of an ongoing problem in Chicago where the city didn’t want any churches to build within the city limits. Their excuse was that it would take the property off the tax rolls, even though the buildings were in a slum and were falling apart.

ADF is an organization with a group of lawyers who fight these persecutions. They have managed to have some anti-church laws overturned, but this war against churches is just getting started. Congregations need to be aware of how to defend themselves against attacks from atheists and skeptics. There are resources available to assist those facing government persecution available through The Alliance Defending Freedom, 15100 N 90th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, Phone 800-835-5233, ADFLegal.org
–John N. Clayton © 2018