Ancient Artifacts Caution

Ancient Artifacts at the Clayton Museum
The Clayton Museum of Ancient History in York, Nebraska, has a problem that all of us need to be aware of. That museum houses Foster Standback’s collections of ancient artifacts from Palestine and the Roman world from the time of Jesus.

The problem is that there is a huge market for ancient things that can bring massive profits to those who sell them. This has resulted in looting, black market selling, the making of fakes, and damage to archaeological sites. UNESCO is the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1970 UNESCO established a Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In 1972 the nations of the world agreed not to trade in illicit cultural heritage objects.

The reason for this agreement is not only to stop criminal acts but also to keep ancient artifacts in their context. Once the archaeological context of an object is lost, it is worth far less academically, as it can no longer tell us anything about the people who made it. The goal is to allow scholars to gain as much information as they can about the objects in their context. The archaeological evidence can contribute to our understanding of the past.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to enforce an agreement between the nations of the world to anything. There are organizations such as The Museum of the Bible that buy artifacts from black-market dealers claiming to be trying to preserve the objects. A good general rule is that if you see an ad for ancient artifacts from the time of Christ, especially things of religious significance, do not purchase them. It is not only illegal, but it is highly likely you are paying a lot of money for something that is fraudulent.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Reference: Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2018, page 6.

Archaeological Discoveries at Masada

Archaeological Discoveries at Masada
More than 2000 years ago, King Herod built a fortress in the Judean Desert that could house 10,000 soldiers. He equipped it with five palaces and water installations which included three bathhouses and a swimming pool. Masada is a butte with incredibly steep sides making it an easy place to defend. When Rome set out to defeat the Jewish zealots, the rebels sought refuge at Masada where they held out from A.D. 66 to 73. In recent years there have been new archaeological discoveries at Masada.

Archeologists have been exploring the remains of Masada for a very long time. In the past ten years, new technology has revealed a great deal of information about the history of Rome, Palestine, the Jewish community, and the Christian community. Biblical Archaeology Review for September/October 2018 carries an excellent article about what they have learned. The discoveries have strong implications for the credibility of the Bible and help us understand the conditions that existed at the time of Jesus and during the early years of the Church. Here are some of the recent finds:

Masada had an advanced water system, enough to produce extensive agriculture including a winery with 50 fermentation tanks.

Herod had huge gardens with trees and flowers as well as agricultural products.

There was an Essene community at Masada. The Essenes are the Jewish group that left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Jews had animals of burden during the siege by the Romans.

A Christian community had a chapel on Masada by A.D. 400 and a Church which included a monastery on Masada from the fifth to seventh centuries.

Archaeological discoveries at Masada give us new insights into biblical events and beliefs. The interactions of the apostles and Jesus with the Jews and the Romans give us a better understanding of what happened in New Testament times, during the life of Jesus, and for the first 500 years of the Church.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Alcohol and Health Exhaustive Study

Alcohol and Health
The most exhaustive study of the long-term effects of alcohol has been released by King’s College, London, and the Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom. The study included 28 million people in 195 countries and included 694 separate studies. The research shows a strong connection between alcohol and health.

The report stated that “no amount of alcohol is safe to consume.” It went on to say: “The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous – alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption.”

The study shows that alcohol is the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease. Overall 2.2% of deaths in women and 6.8% of deaths in men come from alcohol-related cancers. The study also gives data for drinkers in different countries. Denmark had the highest usage with 95.3% of the women in Denmark and 97.1% of the men regularly using alcohol. Pakistan had the lowest with 0.8% of the men and 0.3%of the women in Bangladesh being regular drinkers. A standard drink was 10 grams of alcohol. Ukraine had the highest amount of alcohol consumed–8.2 drinks a day being consumed by the men in Ukraine and 4.2 drinks a day by the women. The report dealt with alcohol and health. Data on traffic accidents and alcohol is in addition to these health problems.

Like many other issues, Christians have to look at their responsibility to take care of their bodies. First Corinthians 3:16 tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that God condemns those things that destroy the temple. The cost of alcohol goes far beyond the purchase price. Medical expense, psychological damage, treatment expense, and accident expense make alcohol the most destructive drug in our world today.

The study shows that 32.5% of the world’s population drink alcohol which adds up to 2.4 billion people. What does it take for our world to realize the cost and speak against the use of alcohol? How can Christians take an ambiguous position on this issue? The wisest man who ever lived said it well, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
You can read the report HERE.

Why Roosters Don’t Go Deaf

Why Roosters Don't Go Deaf
Roosters are loud! They can hit volumes as high as 140 decibels which is the level of sound on an aircraft carrier deck. For humans, a noise above 120 decibels, about the level of a chainsaw, can cause permanent hearing damage. So you may wonder why roosters don’t go deaf.

Belgian researchers writing in the journal Zoology have the answer. They examined the skull structure of the birds. The researchers found that they have a built-in defense against loud sounds in the form of a sound barrier. When a rooster adjusts its head and neck to crow, small flaps of tissue close the ear canal. They effectively act as earplugs to dampens the noise significantly.

On top of that, the study reveals that roosters can regenerate the tiny hair cells deep within the ear that can become damaged by loud noises. Humans can’t do that, which is why deafness caused by loud sounds is permanent for us. For roosters, a degree of deafness would likely only be temporary if it happened at all.

“Micro-CT scans of a rooster and chicken head show that in roosters the auditory canal closes when the beak is opened,” the researchers wrote. “In hens the diameter of the auditory canal only narrows but does not close completely. A morphological difference between the sexes in shape of a bursa-like slit which occurs in the outer ear canal causes the outer ear canal to close in roosters but not in hens.”

So now you know why roosters don’t go deaf. God’s design in every living thing on Earth shows wisdom and an exceptional understanding of the problems that each species faces. The more we learn about the creation, the more we understand the wisdom and creative nature of God. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
You can read more about the research by clicking HERE.

Why So Much Stuff in Space?

Why So Much Stuff in Space?
One of the questions people ask about God’s creation is why so much stuff in space? If humans are the focus of God’s creation, why did He create so many planets, galaxies, and stars? If God’s purpose was to have the human race as the battlefield for the struggle between good and evil, surely He didn’t need to create 100 billion other stars in our galaxy and billions of other galaxies.

There are so many assumptions involved in this question that it would take many more pages to explore them all. First, this question assumes that God’s creation of life only happened here. It assumes that there are no other planets anywhere in the creation that have sentient beings living on them. You can argue that forever, but the Bible doesn’t give an answer. The Bible only describes Earth because it presents a message for our planet and its people.

The question also assumes that God only intended for us to live on the surface of this planet. I get letters regularly from people who suggest that we have no business going into outer space because God intends for us to live here and nowhere else. That is a massive assumption, and one that I suggest is misguided. One recent discovery has given another possible answer to why so much stuff in space. Humans are rapidly exploiting the mineral wealth of planet Earth. We know that the Earth contains a finite amount of iron, nickel, cobalt. If we should survive on Earth for much longer than the 21st century, we are going to run out of resources.

Japan’s robotic spacecraft Hayabusa 2 visited asteroid 162173 Ryugu (pictured) in June of 2018. Data from the spacecraft indicates that this asteroid is composed almost entirely of nickel and iron. The spacecraft was returning a sample to Earth for analysis. This asteroid is one kilometer wide, and at the current market value, the iron and nickel in the asteroid are worth over 80 billion dollars. God’s plan for us may be far greater and longer than we realize. Space contains a wealth of mineral resources. God has provided for us in many ways, and we always seem to have just enough of a resource to get us to the next source. We had just enough wood to get us to hydrocarbons, and just enough hydrocarbons to bring us to nuclear and solar power.

Our problem is not resources. Our problem is being able to get along with each other well enough to avoid destroying ourselves. Jesus Christ has the answer to that major issue, but the size of the cosmos merely reflects God’s power and wisdom. As we wonder why so much stuff in space, we have to think of the words of the psalmist, “What is man, that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet” (Psalms 8:4-6).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on asteroid Ryugu click HERE.

Why Are Plants Green?

Why Are Plants Green?
Why are plants green? The answer to this is some pretty basic physics.

The colors of light that we receive from the Sun have different energies. Red is the lowest of these energies followed by yellow, green, and blue. The sunlight with the highest energy that actually reaches the surface of the Earth is green. Blue light, which is more energetic, is refracted away by Earth’s atmosphere and scattered as it interacts with molecules in our upper atmosphere. That’s why the sky is blue.

When you look at an object, the color you see is the color reflected by that object. A red ball is red because it reflects red and absorbs all other colors. A green leaf is green because it reflects green and absorbs all other colors. If the highest energy of light reaching the surface of the Earth is green, and if the leaf reflects green, what does this do for the leaf? The answer should be pretty obvious – it keeps the leaf from absorbing too much energy and getting cooked. In the fall of the year when the leaves lose their chlorophyll A, which gives them the green color, what happens? The leaf gets cooked, falls off the tree, and we have to scrape it off the yard.

If a planet had a different atmosphere so that a different energy of light reached its surface, its plants would have to be a different color. To quote Kermit the Frog “It’s not easy being green.” Why are plants green? They are green because green is essential to life on Earth.

This explanation is greatly oversimplified. Obviously, not all plants have green leaves. Some plants live under a canopy of other trees and have to use a different system. The design of life on Earth is incredible, and the green trees and grass around us testify to the wisdom of God in making a place for life to exist.

We have a children’s book titled Why Is the Sky Blue, Why Is the Grass Green. You can read it and all of our children’s books on our Grandpa John’s Science Club site using THIS LINK.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Secularizing a Culture

Secularizing a Culture
Is it possible to discover the key factors for secularizing a culture? Yesterday we discussed an international computer modeling project called the Modeling Religion Project. The goal of the international team of experts working on the project was to use computer modeling to learn how politicians could manipulate the religiosity or secularization of a society. We won’t go into all of the background details again, but you can read yesterday’s post HERE.

We said that this scientific study determined that four factors lead to secularizing a culture. The factors are: 1-Having material things, 2-Having personal freedom, 3-Welcoming diversity or pluralism, 4-Having a higher level of education in science and the humanities. We quoted Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University and a collaborator on the project who seems to want our culture to become more secularized and less religious. He said, “The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen.” He also said, “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming attitude to pluralism. These are forms of resistance to secularization.”

You shouldn’t need a computer model to realize that having money and material things along with personal freedom can lead people to forget about God. The ancient Israelite nation demonstrated that multiple times, and we can see it in more modern societies. Unfortunately, people turn to God in hard times and forget about Him when things are going well. Welcoming diversity or pluralism, when it means that we consider all faiths or no faith to be equally valid, is also an obvious path to secularization. However, sharing our faith with people of diverse cultures does not lead to secularization. Also, education does not have to be a path to unbelief. The DOES GOD EXIST? program has always said that science and the Bible, when both are correctly understood, are friends and not enemies.

Professor Wildman built another computer model to determine why some religious groups survive while others fall apart. He concluded that one of the most important factors is that the movements that persist have “a highly charismatic leader who personally practices what he preaches.” Wildman said, “It’s basically, leave the groups alone when the leaders are less consistent, kill the leaders that have those specific qualities.” In other words, he is saying not to worry about religious movements with leaders who are not charismatic and who don’t practice what they preach. They will probably die out anyway. The religious movements that will last and have a radical effect on society are those led by a charismatic leader who practices what he preaches.

What religious leader fits that description precisely? Jesus Christ, of course. What did the ones who wanted to end His religious movement do? They killed Him. The thing they did not count on, was that we would not stay dead.

Computer modeling has now given us the steps to secularizing a culture. Professor Wildman put it this way: “The MODRN (Modeling Religion in Norway) model gives you a recipe for accelerating secularization—and it gives you a recipe for blocking it. You can use it to make everything revert to supernaturalism by messing with some of those key conditions—say, by triggering some ecological disaster. Then everything goes plunging back into pre-secularism. That keeps me up at night.”

We suggest that we should be working to create not a “secular” or “religious” society, but a society based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. We don’t need an ecological disaster. We do need a 1-a secure society, 2-with personal freedom of speech and religion, 3-that welcomes and shares with those in need, not only physically, but spiritually, 4-and with education that recognizes that God speaks through His creation (science) and through His word (the Bible). Remember that the authorities tried to kill Jesus and His message, but they could not.
–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.”

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.”

Blaming California Wildfires on God

Blaming California Wildfires on God
I am writing this article near Redding, California. We have been involved in lectureships in California during this month of August 2018. The fires that are burning in this state have been a constant source of inconvenience for us. They are a major tragedy for people here who have lost homes, businesses, and health. Smoke makes travel difficult, but for people with respiratory problems, the smoke can be lethal. Over and over we have heard references to “why did God do this to us” or in other cases “thank God for…” While we understand the emotions that go with all that is happening, we need to stop blaming California wildfires on God.

While working in California, we are blessed to be with Keith Crummer. Keith has been an ecosystem manager and forest management expert in California for over 30 years. He has degrees in forest management from the University of California at Berkeley and from Oregon State. As we discussed the incredible damage of this current series of fires, Crummer just shook his head in sadness. He told us that what is happening in California was caused by human ignorance and mismanagement.

One fact that astounded me is that there are more trees in the United States now than have ever existed in the history of this area. Before the white man arrived on the scene, trees grew and died just as they do today. When the biomass accumulated on the forest floor, small fires set by lightning or by spontaneous combustion eliminated it. Those fires wiped out small trees and allowed grasses to flourish which in turn supported deer, elk, and other mammals. That made the forest less dense. While fires existed, they were small fires that ran out of fuel very quickly.

Then humans moved in and stopped the fires and allowed vast amounts of biomass to accumulate on the forest floor. The trees became so dense that grass could not grow. Crummer said that scientists know that managing the forest involves harvesting the material that falls to the forest floor, thinning the trees, and using the energy that is available from them. This would eliminate the potential for uncontrolled burning because massive amounts of fuel would not be available. It would also allow animals like deer and elk to proliferate. The current fire catastrophe is 100% due to the mismanagement of the environment by people who thought they were doing the right thing by eliminating fires and refusing to allow cutting down trees or removing brush.

In the Genesis account, God told the first humans to “…fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth” ( Genesis 1:28-30). “The Lord God took man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it…” (Genesis 2:15-16).

God did not tell them to merely preserve the creation. The creation is a living, changing, dynamic entity. It is our job to facilitate the changing Earth. Working and keeping the Earth means to control those things that would destroy what God created including the animals that live on it. We need to stop blaming California wildfires on God. After the fires in Yellowstone National Park, the elk and deer populations returned to levels close to what they were before humans arrived. If we had done what God commanded in Genesis and worked the forests of the western states, the fires today would not be spreading as they are.

So God did not “do it” to those who lost homes. We understand the anguish and desperation that our friends have experienced, but instead of blaming California wildfires on God we need to realize that politicians and bureaucrats have mismanaged the wonderful resources God has given us. Environmental extremists need to understand more fully what must be done to preserve and protect the environment for the benefit of future generations. Followers of Jesus Christ need to let those who are suffering know that we want to help them. God is not the cause of their burden, but He wants to send His people to love and support those who are suffering.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

‘Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor

'Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor
In October of 2017, astronomer Robert Weryk using a telescope in Hawaii discovered an object careening through our solar system from somewhere in interstellar space. Astronomers assumed it was an asteroid from some other stellar system in our galaxy. UFO promoters saw it as a spaceship from some other star system that was spying on our planet. The name given to it is ‘Oumuamua which is Hawaiian for “scout.”

The object was quite narrow and seem to be less irregular than most asteroids. Closer examination has shown that the surface of the object is a reddish color which is typical of some comets which have a crust covering an icy interior. Its size is approximately 800 by 100 feet (230 by 35 meters).

Studies of the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua show it is tumbling and changing directions in a way that indicates a force other than the Sun’s gravity working on it. Naturally, the UFO promoters were overjoyed saying that this proves that alien spacecraft are all around us, and we just happened to catch this one. The SETI Institute used its powerful Allen Telescope Array to examine the object but detected no radio signals indicating intelligence. The problem with the UFO idea is that the change of direction is much smaller than what rockets on a spacecraft would cause. The overall trajectory of ‘Oumuamua has not changed significantly as it heads out of the solar system. It is traveling to fast for any of our existing spacecraft to reach it, but it will still take 20,000 years to be completely clear of our solar system.

After much study, astronomers concluded that ‘Oumuamua is a comet. When comets get near the Sun, they spew gases from their interior. This jetting of gas always has some effect on the trajectory of the comet. The amount of change in ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory is consistent with the effect of a comet’s gas jets.

As we have emphasized before, the Bible doesn’t say that Earth is the only place in the universe where God chose to create life. At present, however, there is no credible evidence that there is life elsewhere, although microscopic forms may exist on Mars and some moons in our system. The idea of alien visitation is pure speculation with no evidence to support it.

The Lord tells us how to live in another existence. Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 to learn more about it. Waiting for an E.T. to come and whisk you away to a heaven is wishful thinking. Waiting for the Lord to come again has much more promise and much more supporting evidence.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018