Should God Have Protected Notre Dame Cathedral?

Should God Have Protected Notre Dame Cathedral?We have all seen the tragedy of the huge fire that destroyed much of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In the days after the fire, we have witnessed theological discussions about why the fire happened, and whether it is a demonstration that there is no God. Should God have protected Notre Dame Cathedral?

We want to point out a few things about the fire, Notre Dame Cathedral, and what the Bible says about the Church and church buildings. Of course, the fire was a tragedy. Anti-Catholic writers and atheists have denied it was a tragedy. Those critics maintain that it was good that this religious symbol was destroyed. We would point out that Notre Dame Cathedral has great historical significance and was a testimony to the artistic expression and skill of ancient human engineers and artisans. The building was a museum and had great tourism value. A destructive event in the Louvre or the Smithsonian would be comparable to what happened at Notre Dame.

From a theological standpoint, the fire is of little or no significance. Nowhere in the New Testament was there a command or instruction to build any kind of building. The name Notre Dame means “Our Lady.” Mary was blessed to be a tool of God to bring His Son into the world, but nowhere does the Bible command us to worship her. The Bible does not portray her as an intermediary between God and man.

The word “Church” in the original Greek is “ekklesia,” meaning “that which is called out.” The Bible never uses the term in reference to a building. Passages like 1 Corinthians 3:16 tell us what the Church is. From a religious standpoint, church buildings have often been a bane to faith, consuming money that should have gone to provide for the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. Frequently buildings becoming objects of worship themselves — an idol instead of a tool.

We are sad about what has happened. It is interesting to see the French government talking about using national funds to restore the building. Should God have protected Notre Dame Cathedral? The question is meaningless because the fire has nothing to do with God’s actions in the world today.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Plague of Frogs: Is it Possible?

Is a plague of frogs possible?

In Genesis 8 we read about a plague against Pharaoh that involved frogs. The frogs came upon the land of Egypt in such numbers that they got into everything, including beds and food preparation areas. Verse 5 indicates that this abundance of fogs came from the rivers, ponds and streams. Is a plague of frogs possible?

Skeptics have suggested that such an event is not possible. They have even suggested that this is just an attempt at humor by the biblical writers. Preachers have generally just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, God can do anything.”

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently experienced a mini-plague. In March of 2019, people awoke to an infestation of thousands of baby bufo toads covering the city. There were so many that one resident described it as a plague of frogs “covering every square inch. You couldn’t walk through grass without stepping on one.”

A singe female frog can produce a vast number of eggs. It isn’t hard to visualize how this plague could happen. Like all of the plagues directed at the Pharaoh, the message is more important than trying to figure out how the plague was accomplished. But, of course, “God can do anything that is according to His will and nature.”

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: The Week, April 5, 2019, page 6.

Pontius Pilate’s Ring

 Pontius Pilate's Ring found at Herodium

Archaeological discoveries are becoming public at an astonishing rate. Some of those finds have been around for a long time, but only recently has new technology shown us what they are. An example is Pontius Pilate’s ring.

In 1969 Professor Gideon Foerster found the ring in the Judean Desert fortress known as Herodium (pictured). Now, fifty years later the ring was cleaned and examined by new tools of photographic technology. The scientists discovered that it bore a Greek inscription with the name of Pilate. Skeptics have maintained that the spelling of the Greek text suggests that it was not Pontius Pilate’s ring. Instead, it was the ring of a regional administrator who was collecting taxes for the Romans and wore the ring to stamp items for Pilate.

Historians and archaeologists will debate the actual owner and user of the ring for a long time without coming to a consensus. From an apologetic standpoint, the significance of the ring is huge no matter who wore it. Skeptics claim that the Bible is historically inaccurate. They suggest that the claims about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus are folklore and the product of a vivid imagination. The archaeological discovery of the James burial box a few years ago was wrongly interpreted because of the heavy influence of skeptical bias.

Every time a part of the biblical account is verified by an archaeological find, the skeptics’ arguments are weakened. Doubts about the existence, power, and influence of the man who condemned Jesus to death can be laid to rest with the finding of Pontius Pilate’s ring. That is true whether he wore the ring or if someone who served him wore it.

We know that Herodium was built by Herod the Great and had fallen into disrepair. Pilate restored it to serve as a Roman administrative center. Finding Pilate’s ring there, only confirms the reach of his influence and power.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Biblical Archaeological Review, March/April 2019, page 6.

Vastness of Space

Vastness of Space and the Big Dipper

One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.

In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.

There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.

We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.

The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.

When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 she says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth was.” The vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Historical Integrity of the Bible and AOL News

Historical Integrity of the Bible - Tel Dan Stele
AOL News for January 5, 2019, carried a list of archaeological finds supporting the historical integrity of the Bible. Skeptics and atheists continually flood the media with claims of supposed contradictions between the Bible and historical evidence. A listing like this with pictures and descriptions is a refreshing change. Unfortunately, there is little documentation of the biblical references or which archaeological teams made the discoveries. The list on AOL News is as follows:

The bones of Mary Magdalene which are in the Church of Saint Maximin have been examined. Scientists confirmed that they do belong to a woman from the area where the Bible says Mary Magdalene lived and from the time she lived.

Solomon’s wall to protect Jerusalem has been found.

A ziggurat (tower) has been found at Etemenanki which is located in the former ancient city of Babylon matching the description of the Tower of Babel in the Bible.

A seal with Jezebel’s name and insignia has been found and dated to the 9th century BCE, so claims that she was a biblical myth do not stand.

The Tel Dan Stele has a reference to the “House of David” refuting atheist claims that David never existed.

The city of Nazareth was discovered in 2001 and matches the biblical description of where Jesus lived as a child.

The Pilate Stone was found in 1971 and his title of “Prefect of Judea” is written on the stone.

Herod’s tomb was discovered in 2007 with the details fitting Josephus’ description of the man who killed the Bethlehem babies described in the Bible.

A seal with Isaiah’s name has been discovered, so claims that he never existed have been debunked. (A seal of Hezekiah has also been discovered, but that is not mentioned in the AOL report.)

The tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was discovered in 1990.

We would like to make clear that this is an AOL production, not a report by an archaeological research group. However, we have seen most of these reports in Biblical Archaeology Review and Archaeology magazine which are both academic productions of professional archaeology groups. There is support for the historical integrity of the Bible.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Design Is an Illusion – Not

Design Is an Illusion – Not
If you read our posts and publications regularly, you probably know that we are continually talking about design in the universe, on our planet, and especially in living things. We think that it is impossible to look at life and say that we see no design. However, some people can see the same things and say design is an illusion. They are willing to accept on faith that everything came into existence out of nothing and evolved by pure accident with no intelligence involved.

One person who refuses to see design in nature is a very well-known evolutionary biologist. Richard Dawkins has written several best-selling books that are supposed to be on the subject of biology. However, they are actually books on theology. The high point (or low point) of his books on theology is The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin 2006). He travels the world giving lectures on theology, under the guise of biology.

Dawkins’ field of study is biology, not theology, so we take his pronouncements with a grain of salt. However, even Dawkins has to admit that his biological studies appear to show design. In his book The Blind Watchmaker he wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” However, he then goes into theology by stating that design is an illusion and there is no designer. That means there is no ultimate purpose in life beyond day-to-day survival. In River Out of Eden Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good…”

No design, no purpose, no evil, and no good—that’s the way Dawkins describes the living things he has spent his life studying. Life, of course, includes human beings—you and I. If Dawkins is right, why should he study living things, or why should we? What is the purpose of using our purposeless lives to study purposeless things? Perhaps Dawkins has found his purpose in theology as he endeavors to convince everyone that there is no God.

As we think about this, we have to be amazed at how incredibly ironic the Dawkins delusion is. In the meantime, we will continue to admire the design we see in the world and pay homage to the Designer. Faced with the Dawkins challenge that design is an illusion, we choose to believe our eyes–and our common sense.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Bible Manuscripts and National Geographic

Bible Manuscripts and National Geographic
Atheists often suggest that the Bible is a group of fake manuscripts with a traceable history of distortion and rewriting. Therefore, it can’t be taken seriously. Perhaps the main hero of biblical skeptics and critics is Bart Ehrman. In 2005 Ehrman released a book titled Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. In that book, he claims there are massive mistakes in Bible manuscripts. Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, is an atheist who was previously an evangelical Christian.

In the December 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine, the lead article by Robert Draper is titled “The Bible Hunters.” It is a well-documented article about the history of searching for and finding early Bible manuscripts. It shows how those manuscripts agree with the Bible we have today and that more and more evidence supports the integrity of the Scriptures.

If you aren’t familiar with Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament, this article will help you learn about the interesting story of how it was discovered. The article details the finding of a nearly complete copy of the book of Isaiah, the Messianic prophet, from the Dead Sea Scrolls dating before the time of Christ. It also details a number of other ancient Bible manuscripts.

The article is honest and admits the deliberate altering of some documents. While it may make people aware of some of the problems of Biblical documents, the weight of the evidence revealed in the article is very supportive of Biblical accuracy. We can accept the Bible as God’s Word, and most of the difficulties are likely to be resolved with more study of the Bible manuscripts.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Relying On Ignorance

Relying on Ignorance of Grand Canyon Formation
We often hear from young people who have been taught something in a Bible class or sermon or a religious publication or video that they know cannot be true. Many creationists and creationist groups lack training in the fields in which they claim to be experts, and they are relying on ignorance of their hearers. When smart young people hear something they know is incorrect, it gives them a reason to reject the church and perhaps reject God’s existence.

A classic example of this is shown in explanations of the Grand Canyon. Many writers try to explain away the formation of the Grand Canyon by saying that the Flood of Noah did it. They say the Flood formed the Canyon in a short time just a few thousand years ago. They claim that the Flood laid down the sediments, and when the water swept off the land, it carved the Grand Canyon.

As an Earth Science teacher in the public schools in South Bend, Indiana, I taught young people about petrology — the study of rocks. Knowing how rocks were formed enabled scientists to find resources such as copper, oil, marble, iron, and certain gems. We can now synthesize some of these materials by copying the methods by which they were formed in the Earth’s past. Relying on ignorance would not allow us to find or synthesize these materials.

We know that the deposition of materials and subsequent erosion by the Flood did not form the Grand Canyon. The dominant rock in the Grand Canyon is limestone. Children taking Earth Science courses learn that limestone is a chemical precipitate. Quiet waters produce it over a long time. Most of us know about rock candy in which a solution of sugar crystallizes to create the candy. Limestone produced by a similar process, as is halite, dolomite, and gypsum. These are chemically precipitated rocks, never deposited in moving water.

A recent headline in a creationist journal reads, “Rapid Limestone Deposits Match the Flood.” A young person told me that she didn’t want to hear anything else from the Church because the statements in the journal were clearly not true. She doubted anything the Church said was true as a result. She also pointed out other problems. The Canyon is not just one rock type. It has alternating layers of different materials produced by different climates and processes. There are desert-produced sandstones, conglomerates which are produced by running streams, salt deposits produced by evaporation, and lavas that flowed across the top of the rock layers below them and were not injected as sills.

There is a huge burden on us to know what we are talking about. We must be as accurate as we can in understanding what the evidence shows. The general public is ignorant of most of these things and will not call an error to our attention. However, young people today are better educated in scientific facts, and we must not be relying on ignorance to expect our explanations to go unchallenged.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Being Rational About Creation

Being Rational About Creation
In response to our postings, we often receive messages like these: 1) “There is absolutely no proof that any god exists!” 2) “Belief in a god is not rational.” 3) “There is no evidence of any ‘Creator’ (whether it’s God or an Advanced Alien or Magic Unicorn).” We asked the people who posted each of these comments, “Are you absolutely sure that there is no evidence of any Creator?” Being rational requires comparing options to see which is most reasonable.

A basic fact is that anything that begins to exist has to have a cause. Science has proven that the universe had a beginning, therefore, what was the cause? According to science, the cosmic creation event (better known as the “big bang”) was the beginning of matter/energy and space/time. If whatever caused the universe created matter, then that Cause has to be non-material, and not under the restraints of the physical laws of the material universe. If the Cause of the universe created time, then that Cause must be outside of the time dimension in which we are bound.

Science, by its very nature, cannot investigate, prove, or disprove anything that lies outside of the dimensions of matter, energy, space, and time in which science operates and which it investigates. Modern science suggests that there are other dimensions beyond the three spatial dimensions and the one time dimension that we experience. If anyone says that scientific, empirical evidence is the only way to know reality, that person is making a faith statement, not a scientific statement.

All reasoning begins from certain faith commitments that we cannot reach by pure reason. Being rational requires being open to the available options. A person who believes that “God created the heavens and the earth” is acting on faith. So also is the person who says, “There is no evidence of a creator.” Which of these two ideas is more “rational?”

1) The universe began to exist without a cause.

2) A Cause/Creator outside of time and space and not restricted by the physical laws of matter/energy brought the universe into existence.

The truth has to be one of those two options.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Abraham Had Camels

Abraham Had Camels
It’s the case of the missing camels. One argument that biblical skeptics keep resurrecting is the claim that there were no camels in ancient Israel. In Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant took ten camels and went to find a wife for his son Isaac. The charge is that there were no camels in the Promised Land at that time so this account is in error. We want to know if it is true that Abraham had camels.

Camels are mentioned 22 times in Genesis and are mentioned again in Exodus 9:3, Leviticus 11:4, 1 Samuel 15:3, 1 Kings 10:2 and 2 Kings 8:9 as well as other passages. In modern times famed archaeologist William F. Albright claimed that there were no camels in the Holy Land until the 10th century B.C. National Geographic repeated that claim claim in 2014.

Dr. Mark Chavalas in the November/December 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review makes it likely that Abraham had camels and the biblical account is not in error. He gives archaeological evidence that there were camels all around the Holy Land as early as the 4th millennium B.C. Here are five of the pieces of evidence Chavalas gives:

1) In the 4th millennium B.C., a bactrian camel (one with two humps) is portrayed in artwork in Eastern Iran.
2) In the 3rd millennium B.C., a dromedary (with one hump) appears on a plaque from modern day Iraq.
3) Camel skeletal remains from the 3rd millennium have been found in Iran.
4) Camel remains from 2400 B.C. were found in the Sumerian city of Shuruppak.
5) A Babylonian document from the 18th century B.C. contains the line “the milk of the camel is sweet.”

Abraham and his family came from Mesopotamia (Genesis 12) and moved to the land God promised to him. Migrating to this new land, Abraham, who was rich in livestock, would have brought his animals with him. (See Genesis 13:2.) So it seems evident that Abraham had camels. The attempts of skeptics to declare the Bible anachronistic is simply a case of letting prejudice override a reasonable search for evidence.
–John N. Clayton © 2018