Nature is the Unknown God

Temple of Zeus - Today Nature is the Unknown God Atheists and skeptics attack belief in God. They say that if God were real, He would show Himself in the method of their choice. They also charge that believers in God are merely worshiping a “god-of-the-gaps.” basis – meaning that when they don’t understand something, they simply say, “God did it!” We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not use gap arguments. We look at what the choices are and what the evidence supports using scientific methods and applying mathematics to test the alternatives. That is not inventing a god to explain what we don’t understand, unlike the Egyptian sun god (Ra) or the Greek god of the sky (Zeus). The picture shows the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Athens, the city where Paul saw an altar to the “unknown god.” Today Nature is the unknown god.

Most atheists and skeptics in their writings will assert that Nature established the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. You see statements like, “it is nature’s way of doing things” to explain why things are the way they are. Nature is invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why is it that atheists will say that believers in the God of the Bible are unintelligent, and those who believe in Nature are the thinkers? No one can tell us where Nature came from. Nature is the unknown god and the atheist’s “god-of-the-gaps.”

It is easy to attribute everything we know and don’t know to the great god “Nature.” Our world today is making the same mistake as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in biblical times. Today’s philosophers do what their ancestors did when they attribute all unknown phenomena like dark matter and superstrings to Nature. They explain even what they do understand by using that same Nature god.

Paul, in Athens speaking to the educated philosophers of his day, said: “For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription ‘To the Unknown God.’ Whom therefore you ignorantly worship…” (Acts 17:23). Is Nature your god and chance his only tool? The God we discuss is a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) both now and in eternity. Nature is a false god and an invention of humans with no promise for anything beyond this life.
—- John N. Clayton © 2019

Textual Criticism and Biblical Inerrancy

Textual Criticism and Biblical InerrancyOne of the frequently asked questions that we receive is whether or not we believe that the Bible is inerrant. The problem with the question is that rarely does the questioner explain what they mean by the term “inerrant.” It has become fashionable to use the issue of biblical inerrancy to ridicule Christians. Fundamentalism claims to be a blind belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, and apparent errors in fundamentalist teaching call into question the credibility of the Bible. What is the relationship between textual criticism and biblical inerrancy?

Scholars have used a process called “textual criticism” to evaluate the biblical text. The translators of the King James Version of the Bible used what was called the Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”). That refers to the dominant manuscript in Greek published in 1516 and available to the King James translators. Since 1516, there have been numerous discoveries of new manuscripts and fragments. In many cases, they are older than the text used by the King James translators. There have also been better understandings of what words mean and how the culture of the time understood those words. Sometimes the translators’ understanding of what the original writer was trying to say may have been affected by the translators’ cultural biases. Comparing the older and more credible manuscripts with the ones used by the King James translators shows some differences (errors), and that is what textual criticism is all about.

It is important to understand that this process of textual criticism does not make major changes in the meanings of words. In the New Testament, only about one word in 1,000 is in any way different between the Textus Receptus and the newer manuscripts. Even when there is a difference, it is rarely of any consequence. Sometimes it was because of a copying error. Sometimes a copyist put a comment in the margin as they translated and printers inserted it into the manuscript. Making the comparisons allows us to get better and better translations, and that is a good thing.

The problem is what we understand biblical inerrancy to mean. Inerrancy does not mean that a particular translation is without mistakes. It does not mean that one specific set of English words have biblical credibility, while others do not. Textual criticism and biblical inerrancy need not conflict.

The notion that those of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God have something to fear from textual criticism is misguided. It is the same kind of error that has caused some people to claim that a particular translation of the Bible is the only one that we can use. We can trust God’s Word, but we have to work to overcome the problems of culture and time. We must consider the changes in word meanings as well as mechanical issues of translation and reproduction. It may take some work, but we need not question the fact that “All Scripture is given by God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man (or woman) of God may be perfect, completely furnished to every good work” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17 from a combination of various translations).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Promise and Hope of Christianity

Promise and Hope of ChristianityWe can’t win with the atheist press, because atheists attack us for anything we do or anything we don’t do. If Christians are not involved in the latest natural disaster relief effort, atheists criticize that non-involvement. They ignore the fact that virtually no atheist organization has ever consistently engaged in disaster relief. When Christians are involved, critics question their motives and challenge their financial involvement. The atheist critics are overlooking the promise and hope of Christianity.

Our small congregation here in Michigan has a food pantry that serves around 100 people in our area. We and are constantly reminded by the state that we cannot allow our name to be on anything we give people because that is considered to be self-serving.

An atheist spokesman recently told me that he would never become a Christian because he wanted to enjoy life and be happy. He said he wanted no part of being poor and miserable by giving everything away. He was very familiar with Matthew 25:31-36 where Jesus says that service to others is a measurement by which we will be judged. The Bible urges Christians to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), to do good to all (Galatians 6:10), and to be helpful to the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14-16).

What atheists and many believers alike are forgetting is the promise and hope of Christianity. Jesus came “that (we) might have life, and that (we) might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Bible teaches that we should take care of our bodies. Ephesians 5:29 tells us, “No man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it…” The body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and God’s Spirit lives within us ( 2 Corinthians 5:5). Acts 2:40 finds Peter telling the crowd at Pentecost, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

The Bible is concerned about more than our physical well being. A more significant threat to an enjoyable life and happiness is our mental condition. Jesus cured extreme mental illness in the wonderful story of Luke 8:26-40. Psalms 139 and Psalms 23 provide the viewpoint of a child of God who is mentally stable, satisfied with life, and confident about the future. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 -7 provides ways of living at peace with good mental health. Romans 8:28 gives a level of confidence no atheist can comprehend. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul expresses a view all Christians can have. “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, to be content. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

I have lived as a vocal, campaigning atheist, and I have been with loved ones who lived and died as atheists. Atheism is not a happy philosophy or religion, and it makes no promises about the future but eternal blackness at best. If I found there is no God, I would still want to live as a Christian, because the promise and hope of Christianity now and in the future is priceless. The peace that the Holy Spirit brings assures me that God is real.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?One of the struggles we all have is understanding why God allows disastrous events that cause massive destruction and suffering to humans. Atheists use this question as a club against faith, and it is perhaps their best weapon. The list of events that harm humans is huge – earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, fires, floods, droughts, etc. At this time of the year, hurricanes are at the front of our awareness. Does God cause natural disasters to punish people?

If you have just seen a natural event take place that destroyed your home and killed a loved one, no rational explanation is going to be of any help. Our hearts go out to those of you who are trying to make sense of what seems to be a senseless disaster that has hurt them in ways that no one else can understand. We don’t want anyone to think that we have all the answers. If somehow we can remove ourselves from our own emotions, here are three things we need to understanding:

1) God does not cause disasters. The notion that God brings catastrophes upon people He doesn’t like, or people who violate His laws or commands is inconsistent with the nature of God. James 1:13 tells us clearly that God doesn’t tempt us in any way. The passage specifically deals with moral temptation, but verse 17 goes on to say that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” God brings good things. Jealousy or vindictiveness is not a part of His nature.

2) Human stupidity in the face of natural processes is a significant cause of calamity. Hurricanes are a classic example of this. The Earth has zones of climate that are made functional by natural processes which create climate zones. The Hadley Cell explains these zones, with different zones creating tropical rainforests and deserts. Those zones are balanced by natural processes such as hurricanes that carry water into what would otherwise be a desert. Thirty-degree latitudes north and south would be deserts if it were not for hurricanes that bring massive amounts of water to recharge water supplies. In the United States, northern Florida and southern Georgia would be deserts with no water were it not for hurricanes. Humans ignoring this system and building in areas known to be vulnerable to hurricanes while removing natural barriers such as mangroves causes much of the suffering and death.

3) Human mismanagement of God’s creation due to greed and ignorance is a major cause of human suffering. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God gave humans the assignment to take care of “the garden, to dress it and keep it.” We are the caretakers of what God has created, but selfishness and greed have caused significant suffering and destruction. We all know that polluting the air, rivers, lakes, and now the ocean has led to cancer and now appears to be affecting Earth’s climate. We all understand that exploitative agriculture has led to fires, erosion, dust storms, and insect swarms. Scientific journals are full of studies showing how human mismanagement of what God has given us is leading and has led to disaster.

Does God cause natural disasters? The answer is “NO!” It isn’t God’s will that humans suffer from natural disasters, but God has never promised us that He will protect us from ourselves. What God has done is to build a base by which His servants can help those who are suffering. The Church has a responsibility to show God’s love and compassion for the hurting. Atheists need to pitch in and help clean up the mess, not try to blame God. (Read Matthew 25:31-40.)
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Worshiping a Human Deity

Worshiping a Human Deity Some people think of God as a human – the “old man in the sky.” They think of a god with human limitations and needs as if we are worshiping a human deity. Questions about the race, sex, culture, language, and appearance of God are all rooted in the misconception that God possesses human properties and limitations. God does not have a sexual identity, and the Bible describes God with both masculine and feminine qualities. There is no neuter gender in Hebrew, so if a sexual identity is given, it must come from the context. Even the New Testament, sometimes provides a feminine description of God. (See Luke 13:34.)

Man’s creation in the image of God is also not a human concept. We do not look like God physically or in any physical human way. We are in God’s image by our capacity to love sacrificially, our creative abilities in art and music, our capacity to engage in spiritual things, and our ability to feel guilt and sympathy and compassion. Even the purpose of human existence is linked to this concept. God did not create humans because He was lonely. The purpose of our creation is rooted in nonhuman struggles that we can only vaguely comprehend. The reason for our existence is independent of any physical human objective. (See Ephesians 3:9 -11; 6:12; and Job 1,2.)

Our worship of God is frequently skewed by our conception of God as a human with human needs. Sometimes we seem to act as though God needs our praise because He is depressed. We don’t praise God because God has a self-image problem. The quality of our praise or singing is not of importance to God. Sometimes we emphasize the quality of our singing praises more than the participation of everyone in the process. That emphasis reflects our limited understanding of the nature of God as a spirit. John 4:24 tells us that, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” We forget that because we have a limited human concept of God. We are not worshiping a human deity.

We tend to replace the simplicity and total involvement of the first century Church in their worship of God with elaborate theatrical productions. Our productions may have entertainment value, but we often fail to realize that God is not appeased with things humans deem as important. The Bible portrays God as looking on the hearts of those who worship Him, not the overt process. One of the best biblical examples is in Leviticus 10:1-2 where Nadab and Abihu, two priests, offered “strange fire” in replacement for what God had ordered. There is no indication that they neglected anything God had told them to do. They dressed up the fire in some way that would make it more appealing on a human level. God reacts strongly to this human substitution.

It is easy for people living in Western societies to look at human-like images from primitive cultures and wonder how they could conceive of God in such a distorted way. But we may be guilty of worshiping a human deity in our own way. God calls us to understand that His ways and thoughts are not like ours and that He does not have our limitations. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let us listen to the true God and strive to understand what He wills for us rather than creating God in our image and trying to appease something of our own creation.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Worshiping a God-of-the-Gaps

Worshiping a God-of-the-GapsIn ancient times, people created gods to explain what they did not understand. They were worshiping a god-of-the-gaps. When the volcano blew up with power and awesomeness that exceeded their understanding, they created a volcano god to explain it. When powerful weather systems impacted their world, they invented wind gods and rain gods to explain what they experienced. We smile at their ignorance, but their attempts to appease these created deities sometimes resulted in human sacrifice and a massive waste of resources.

In modem times, we have made similar arguments when trying to explain the power of the Sun, or the majesty of everything from the cosmos to life itself by saying, “God did it.” There have even been those who have explained tragic natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, cancer, leukemia, and manic depression by attributing them to “acts of God.” The first problem that this produces is that it makes God an evil, vindictive being deliberately bringing pain and tragedy to his creation. That is not the nature of God, and it is totally inconsistent with His image.

James 1:13-14 tells us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and desires.” If God caused the tornado that destroyed your home and killed your family, then your love for God and your trust in His care for you are going to be severely eroded. Atheists, and the media in general, tend to blame every natural disaster on God in one way or another. Then after creating a false concept of God, they reject the idea of worshiping a god-of-the-gaps based on the assumptions they made.

Humans or human stupidity cause most natural disasters. We are only beginning to understand how we bring disasters on ourselves. Cancer and leukemia are largely related to human-made carcinogens in the environment. Our injudicious use of the land surface and mismanagement of water resources are primary causes of floods. Even weather problems can be related to the way humans have used the land and what they have released into the atmosphere. Environmental extremists have caused many of us to resistant suggestions that we must address human mismanagement of resources. But there is an ever-increasing body of data that shows that many so-called “acts of God” are the products of human mismanagement. Even natural events like hurricanes and earthquakes which have beneficial effects are catastrophic because of human foolishness. Building tall structures where earthquakes are a regular event is a foolish enterprise, and constructing human habitats where hurricanes regularly strike, causes exaggerated damage.

Worshiping a god-of-the-gaps who caused all the bad things in life is going to be a worship of fear and dread. Trying to appease a god so that he will not zap people with tragedy is what caused human sacrifice and all kinds of pagan rituals in the past. In modern times, such a concept promotes fear and an exaggerated attempt to find a way to please the god for the wrong reasons. There can never be a loving father/child relationship that breeds confidence, peace, and love of life.

Atheists reading this discussion are likely to say that apologists attempting to argue for the existence of God based on design are also worshiping a god-of-the-gaps. If we point to a fantastic property of an animal that allows that animal to survive in a given environment, are we not making the same mistake? Will not someone in the future explain a natural way in which that attribute came about, thus debunking any claim that God designed it? That challenge is a good one, and in some cases, it might be valid. But the fact that we know how someone built a computer does not change the fact that it took intelligence to do it. I have frequently heard people define science as man’s attempt to figure out how God did something.

It is also important to realize that we can approach many design questions mathematically. If we can calculate the probability of an event accurately, then we can get an indication of whether chance is a valid mechanism to explain what we see. The question of design is part of a more general argument. Did the subject at hand have a beginning, or has it always been? If it had a beginning, was it caused or not caused? If it was caused, is chance a viable explanation for the cause, or is there evidence of intelligence? This logical series of choices is not worshiping a god-of-the-gaps, but following a series of logical steps leading to a reasonable conclusion.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Entrapped for His Faith

Entrapped for His FaithWe have previously mentioned Christian business owners who have been sued for refusing to do something that violated their Christian faith. One of the individuals we mentioned before is Jack Phillips who owns a business called “Masterpiece Cakeshop” in Colorado. Because some people didn’t respect his religious beliefs, they set up a plan so he would be entrapped for his faith.

The big issue here is whether a business owner has the right to refuse goods or services that violates that owners religious convictions. That battle is going on in the courts in various cases. When Mr. Phillps declined to design a cake for a same-sex wedding, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission prosecuted him, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Phillips won against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the Supreme Court. Then someone set up a plan for Phillips to be entrapped for his faith. An attorney called Masterpiece Cakeshop and requested a cake that would be blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate a gender transition. Mr. Phillips believes that God created us male and female and that humans have no right to change the way God created us. He declined to make the cake. The attorney then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the Colorado government began to prosecute Mr. Phillips again.

It turns out that the attorney was not celebrating a gender transition. The request was an attempt to set Mr. Phillips up to be entrapped for his faith and dragged into court again. The question is whether individual freedom still exists in the United States. Can a person freely follow their faith and allow it to influence what they do professionally?

The information on this case comes from a legal organization called Alliance Defending Freedom in their August 2019, bulletin. More and more, Christians are being attacked for their faith both in the physical world and in the legal world. Thankfully the attacks cannot be made in the spiritual world in which we function.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Religion Is a Way to Make Money

Religion Is a Way to Make MoneyI Timothy 6:4-5 “He has an elevated opinion of himself, being without knowledge, but dotes on an unhealthy love of questionings and war of words which leads only to envy, division, insults, insinuations and wranglings of men corrupted in mind and destitute of truth who think religion is a way to make money.”

The above description could be a description of some atheists I know. It also could be describing some religious figures who claim to be Christians. I think every lectureship I have ever done contained a person who dominated the question/answer session and attempted to impugn my motives. Atheists tend to believe that all religious speakers are hypocrites just in it for the money. Religious figures have desired to take over our ministry and link it to theirs so they could increase their income. Others seemed to believe that our outreach was taking paying contacts away from them.

This is not a new issue. The Bible has many accounts of this same kind of attitude. Acts 8 tells about a man named Simon who believed that religion is a way to make money. He had used sorcery “and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that he was a great one” (Verse 9). When he saw the power of the apostles, he tried to buy it (verses 18-19). Peter told him, “Your money will perish with you because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” Acts 19:13-14 tells a fascinating story of the seven sons of Sceva who are called “vagabond Jewish exorcists.” They had a colossal failure when they tried to merchandise the religious tools of the apostles to help people who had serious problems.

There are con artists today who believe religion is a way to make money. I don’t know of any human enterprise where greed is not involved, including atheist and skeptic projects. However, for every religious con artist out there, there are hundreds of people who do their ministry with no pay at all. No one gets rich in running a food pantry or a day-care center or a prison ministry. For every TV evangelist making money, there are dozens of people supporting themselves with a secular job while using their resources to do what God has called them to do.

The passage in 1 Timothy 6 cited earlier ends with Paul saying: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And if we have food and shelter, let us be content with that. But they that want to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil: which some have coveted, erring from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (Verses 6-10).

Just for the record – your author does not receive a salary from this ministry and supports himself with his 41 years of teaching science in the South Bend Community Schools Corporation.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Philistine People and DNA

Philistine People and DNA
Ashkelon Archaeology Site

One of the main groups described in the Old Testament is the Philistine people. Genesis 10:14 tells us that the Philistines came from Casluhim, the son of Mizraim, the son of Ham. Abraham and Isaac had dealings with the Philistine king Abimelech and his general Phichol.

The Bible goes on to tell us that when the Israelites left Egypt, the Philistines had settled along the coast between Egypt and Gaza (Exodus 13:17-18). There they prevented the Israelites from moving through the area. There were many Philistine encounters after Israel had moved into the Promised Land. We are all familiar with the story of Samson and the Philistine temptress Delilah. David and the Philistine Goliath is also a familiar story. Skeptics throughout the years have tried to suggest that these are all myths and that such characters and peoples never existed.

Scientists recently found the remains of ten individuals buried at the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon. Archaeogeneticists used the DNA to compile genetic evidence that supports the biblical account. Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute says that the genetic evidence indicates a seafaring population from southern Europe settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast and inhabited Ashkelon between 3400 and 3150 years ago.

The Philistine people certainly existed, and as scientists gather more evidence, their interactions with ancient Israel seem to be without question. Science continues to confirm the Bible in many ways.

Reference: Science News, August 3, 2019, page 16.

Nazca Lines and Birds

Nazca Lines and BirdsOne of the enduring UFO claims has been the massive drawings on Peru’s Nazca desert plateau. As far back as Eric Von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods in 1968, there have been those who claim that people on the Earth could not have made the drawings. They claim that the lines marked out landing strips for alien space crafts. It has been proven that people CAN, in fact, make huge drawings visible from space. However, there have not been good explanations as to what the Nazca drawings represent. Masaki Eda, a zooarchaeologist from Hokkaido University in Japan, seems to have found some clues in his recent study of the Nazca Lines and birds.

The large hummingbird drawing, which has been popularized, is an excellent portrayal of a bird known as the long-tailed hermit. Two other drawings that Eda has identified are a pelican and a guano bird. This doesn’t answer all of the mysteries of the Nazca lines, however, because those birds are rainforest or coastal birds, and the Nazca plateau is a desert. Social anthropologists studying the religions and myths of the people of the area may tell us more. There is still much to be learned about the Nazca lines and birds.

As we have emphasized before, the question of life in space is not a biblical issue and has no bearing on the scientific evidence for the existence of God. It is essential to realize that we live in a world that is as God describes it in the Bible, and He has given us the responsibility to care for it. Aliens are not our creators. The evidence does not support substituting UFOs or alien abduction theories for honoring God and living the life Christ calls us to live.
— John N. Clayton ©