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.”

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

Jack Phillips Supreme Court Decision

Jack Phillips Supreme Court Decision
We have mentioned before the threats to religious freedom in the United States to people who just want to live out their faith. One of those cases concerns a Christian cake artist in Colorado by the name of Jack Phillips.

Phillips designs artistic cakes for special occasions. He will design cakes for anyone; however, he does not use his artistic talents to decorate cakes for events that go against his Christian convictions. That would include cakes to celebrate a divorce or Halloween or—and this is the sticky part—a same-sex wedding. When he chose to practice his faith, he was severely punished by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. He had no problem with making cakes for the men who were getting married, but he could not be involved in an event that violated his strongly-held faith.

On Monday, June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States by a vote of 7-2 agreed that the state of Colorado had wrongly treated him. Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion said, “[t]he neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here …. The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

This decision is a victory for a Christian who wants to live out his faith in the United States of America where the First Amendment to the Constitution grants freedom of religion. However, it is not a clear and final victory because we don’t know how the court would have ruled if the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not been so over-the-top in their judgment against Jack Phillips. One of the commissioners had said that Phillips’ request for religious freedom was, “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

There are other religious freedom cases pending, and we will see how they play out in the courts. One of them is the case of floral artist Barronelle Stutzman. When one person’s right to free expression of their faith is removed, and the government punishes the person for their sincerely held religious convictions, we are all in danger. I am sure you will hear more on this.
–Roland Earnst © 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

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

Nudist Colony Mail Service

Nudist Colony Mail Service
There is a new twist to the question of whether an employee has to serve a customer in a way that violates the employee’s moral convictions. It involves nudist colony mail service at a resort in Florida. Leonard Rusin is a resident of Eden RV Resort, which is a nudist RV park. A package delivery had to be signed for by Rusin. That meant the mail carrier had to go to his RV. The postal employee marked the package “Undeliverable” rather than go into the nudist resort.

We have reported on other cases where business owners refused to violate their moral convictions, such as the cake decorator who would not create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. In this case, a government employee is involved. Mr. Rusin says, “I pay for a service, and I expect that service.” We can see a police officer having the same dilemma. The nudist colony residents maintain that the U.S. Postal Service is discriminating against them just because they don’t like to wear clothes. Nudist colony mail service is a relatively simple issue. As our society becomes more secular and vacates the principles of Jesus Christ, moral conflicts like this will grow in number and complexity.

When I talk to Christian young people about their dress and entertainment, I try to avoid absolute standards. I don’t set rules such as whether the skirt should be one inch or four inches below the knee. My argument is that if a man and a woman are both Christians, they are going to choose dress and entertainment by a standard that takes into account their faith and the needs, emotions, and sensitivities of the other person. The standard should be,“How will what I wear affect the person I am with, as well as others?”

Jesus has solutions to moral struggles. They involve a lack of selfishness and concern for the needs of others.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Original story in The Week, March 9, 2018, page 6.

America’s Founding Fathers and Christianity

America's Founding Fathers
There is a continuing effort by atheists and skeptics to claim that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written by men who were deists, agnostics, and atheists. The fact is that of the 54 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 29 were ordained ministers of established churches and most of the others were deeply religious men involved in the Christian faith. That was the character of America’s founding fathers. Those historical documents came from a Christian heritage based on three fundamental Christian values:

CHRISTIAN VALUE # 1 – The equality of all humanity before God. The Christian notion of equality says that people are equal because (1) God made humanity in His image. (2) He loved us enough to sacrifice His son for each of us. That is the basis of, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

CHRISTIAN VALUE # 2 – Human nature is evil. God holds mankind to a higher standard of goodness based on His law, and because of our fallen nature, we fail to reach this standard. The separation of powers and a system of checks and balances were written into the constitution to limit what the government can do and were written by men who knew the nature of humans.

CHRISTIAN VALUE # 3 – God was willing to sacrifice His Son giving each of us an opportunity for salvation. In America, each individual has the right to participate in electing our representatives. The Bill of Rights seeks to protect the rights of the individual. Only a high valuation of the individual could produce a society that granted all people regardless of race, gender, or social position, inalienable rights that no one, not even a king, could take away.

Today our culture attempts to denigrate Christianity, and society attempts to take away the rights that America’s founding fathers wrote into our historical documents. We must not allow the belief system of the founders of our country to be ignored.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
(This article was based on the writings of Dr. Andrew Stebbins published on Reasons to Believe’s Blog. You can read the article at reasons.org.)

Anti-Christian Challenges to Free Speech

Anti-Christian Challenges to Free Speech
The number of seemingly ridiculous anti-Christian challenges to free speech by state schools and atheist groups just keeps growing. Here are some recent examples.

NEW YORK: The board of trustees rejected a “Students for Life” attempt to register at Queen’s College, while other groups were approved. The trustees gave no reason, but ultimately the policy was changed when the students took legal action.

MAINE: The Augusta school board threatened dismissal of special education teacher, Toni Richardson, for telling a co-worker she would pray for him. They attend the same church! Legal action stopped the dismissal, but saying that phrase when students can overhear it will still cause dismissal.

MICHIGAN: Students promoted the free market ideas of a group called “Turning Point” by dressing up as dinosaurs and passing out literature. Because the literature mentioned that the ideas were based on the Bible, they were disciplined and restricted by the administration of the Macomb Community College in Detroit. A lawsuit is pending.

NEW JERSEY: A Franciscan bishop conducted a “bless the animals service” at the Bergan County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, New Jersey. It was a huge success according to personnel at the shelter. Local atheist Candice Yaacobi picked the day of the highly publicized blessing to show up at the shelter and claims that she was “traumatized” when she was “confronted by the sight of a priest in full Franciscan vestments.” She is now suing the animal shelter. The point here is not that there is any significance in blessing animals, but that professional atheist groups want to silence any view but their own.

Citizen magazine reported these cases in the March 2018, issue (pages 9-10). Our files are full of other examples of atheists’ anti-Christian challenges to free speech. The Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family are leading the fight to stop this kind of abuse.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Thomas Jefferson Quotes

Thomas Jefferson Quotes
I find it interesting to see the Thomas Jefferson Quotes that are carved into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. We often hear that Jefferson was antagonistic toward religion and not a believer in God. Many today want to remind us of the statement Jefferson made in a letter where he referred to “a wall of separation between church and state.” They take it out of context as if those words were in the U.S. Constitution, which they are not.

To get an idea of where Jefferson stood in relation to God and the country he loved and helped to found, it helps to read his words that are carved into three panels on his memorial in the nations captital.

Panel One
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” – from The Declaration of Independence

Panel Two
“Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…”

Panel Three
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever…”

To Summarize: 1-Our rights are given to us by God, not by government. 2-We should be free to openly profess our faith and argue for our faith. 3-We need to recognize God as the giver of liberty.

We agree with the Thomas Jefferson quotes.
–Roland Earnst © 2018
Find more information about Thomas Jefferson here.

Politically Correct Orthodoxy and Free Speech

Politically Correct Orthodoxy and Free Speech
A conflict arose at the University of Pennsylvania because of an article titled “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.” It was written by Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School. It ran up against politically correct orthodoxy.

The two professors presented a list of behavioral norms that they say were universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. The norms were, “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

The professors maintained that these behavioral norms led to the prosperity of the 1950s and that abandoning them in the 1960s has led to the ills afflicting American society. These include: Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid use is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.”

As you might imagine, because of politically correct orthodoxy on campus there was a groundswell of opposition to the article. The authors are scholars with data to support their claims. The opposition has presented emotional rhetoric condemning the authors, not data that would invalidate their claims or provide an alternative solution to the problems. Problems cannot be resolved when no constructive debate about solutions is allowed. Wax wrote in a follow-up, “..academic institutions in general should also be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions that affect our society and our way of life–something not possible in today’s atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy.”

This is exactly what we face when we attempt to show people that the Christian system is the answer to many of our problems. In the atmosphere of pluralism and claims that there is no absolute truth, the data which support Christianity and show that it does work are not allowed. Enforced orthodoxy in our society says that you can’t teach or maintain a value that might offend someone. We really have no such thing as free speech, because the only voices that are allowed to be heard are those supporting politically correct orthodoxy. No one wants to hear, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6) or “All scripture is given by inspiration … that the man or woman of God may be perfect, completely furnished to everything” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Reference: Imprimis, “Are We Free to Discuss American’s Real Problems?” January 2018, Volume 47 #1.
–John N. Clayton © 2018