Intellectually Honest Skepticism

Intellectually Honest SkepticismAs I speak on college and university campuses, a large number of people (both atheists and religious) find a statement I like to open with to be astounding. The statement is, “You can intelligently and logically and rationally believe in God.” There is an immediate air of doubt in the minds of many who cannot or do not want to believe it. I don’t know how many of them change their minds in the course or our lectures. Skepticism abounds today, but what we need is intellectually honest skepticism willing to seek the truth.

Certainly one major factor has been that various churches, groups, and individuals have dogmatically forced a creed of creationism upon all members. Those creeds frequently fly in the face of both science and common sense. The more capable and clearest thinking young people who refuse to be force-fed this dogma, simply leave the church. Many of the leading atheist speakers in the United States today came from a church background.

The growth of aggressive atheism is another factor leading many to think that intelligent, logical belief in God is impossible. Attractive websites and high budget, colorful printed materials promote naturalism, if not downright atheism. Saturated with scientific materialism and locked into a mindset that anything religious is automatically wrong, they claim to be the only voice of reason, logic, and competent science.

Instead of skepticism referring to a healthy, scientifically rigorous approach to issues and solving problems, the word has become synonymous with an anti-religion mindset. It is evident that, in a great many cases, the atheist community has completely taken over the concept of skepticism.

I want to suggest that intellectually honest skepticism is Christian in nature, and it is the approach Jesus used in His ministry and teachings. In fact, the Bible condemned religionism more strongly than atheism. The Bible makes only fleeting references to atheism. (See Romans 1:19-23.) The strong condemnation statements of Christ, and the Bible writers in general, come down on the religious leaders who force their traditions on the population. The teachings of Christ focused on attitudes and how we treat each other. The religious establishment constantly criticized Christ because He did not adhere to their traditions. His teaching was logical, practical, and pragmatic not built on the traditions of the past. He asked questions and awaited logical responses.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5th Edition) defines a skeptic as “one who carries a critical or incredulous attitude into his inquiries.” Skepticism is defined as “the doctrine that all knowledge is uncertain.” This does not mean that skeptical minds reject anything that is not physical. Limiting our belief system to only what we can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear precludes all kinds of things. A vast percentage of nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, relativistic physics, and even some mathematics depends upon knowledge that does not involve the senses.

Intellectually honest skepticism demands inquiry and also recognizes that knowledge is uncertain because humans are uncertain. This does not mean that there is no such thing as truth. It just means that skeptics should be aware of their own limitations and of the human capacity to misjudge. Intellectually honest skeptics know the danger of preconceived ideas and their approach should be humble, open, and careful. Being skeptical does not mean that a person has no beliefs, morals, or convictions. I can have strong convictions and beliefs and can communicate those to others and still have the ability to change my beliefs and understandings.

Unfortunately, skepticism in today’s American culture is at least as dogmatic as ultraconservative, fundamentalistic religion. Any skeptics who would question Darwin, would likely be castigated by their peers. There is a need for intellectually honest skepticism in the world. I am a skeptic in approach, but there are some basic things that my skeptical approach has led me to believe strongly. If we reason together in an open, skeptical way, we can learn. Blind, closed skepticism and blind, closed dogmatism are impossible to tell apart to those who are seeking the truth.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Bible in the Information Age

Bible in the Information AgeAn article questioning the relevance of the Bible in the information age appeared in the Rochester (Indiana) Sentinel on May 8, 2019. The article was titled “The Bible Versus Information Age,” and in it, Dave Gudeman wrote:

“As long as you have a church that doesn’t question the Bible…you will have a stagnant congregation with little spiritual life…When a pastor is willing to ask what his or her congregation believes about the Bible, about God, about their faith and their beliefs about who Jesus is and then be willing to build their congregations around those beliefs, you would have the fastest growing church in town.”

I don’t question the reality of that statement, but what you would have is a social club, and not the Church Jesus died to establish. Earlier in his column, Mr. Gudeman wrote that many young people questioning the validity of the Bible “…leads me to wonder if the Bible can stand up to the scrutiny and logic of today’s information age of the internet.”

If you are a thinking and questioning adult, you know that the Bible can do more than stand up to the “scrutiny and logic.” The Bible in the information age is the same as it always has been — a tool to help young and old learn what works, what is true, and what is not.

The number of scams and immoral promotions on the internet is massive. A large percentage of the pornography being absorbed by young people today is coming from the internet. We have cited case after case on this website of misinformed or deliberately misrepresented information on the web. Our own array of sites beginning with doesgodexist.org and including “evidence4god” on Facebook has made use of the information age to show the strong evidence for God and to give answers to faith questions people ask.

The difference is whether you want a big church or an informed group of believers who work together to teach and provide accurate information while practicing what Jesus taught. That includes feeding the hungry, clothing those who need clothes, ministering to people in prison, bringing medical care to children. It also includes exposing misinformation such as the idea that somehow, humanity has outgrown the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible in the information age.
—John N. Clayton © 2019

Joy of Motherhood

Joy of MotherhoodI would like to be a mother. I can’t imagine the joy of motherhood bringing a new life into the world, nurturing that child and watching her or him grow into a productive adult. I want to be a mother very badly, but I don’t have the equipment to do that.

Yesterday we talked about how atheists and feminists try to vilify Christ and Christianity by suggesting that the Bible treats women as second-class citizens. However, Christ and His apostles treated women as equals. (See John 4 and Galatians 3:26-29.) The passage the atheists point out is 1 Timothy 2:9-15. That passage tells us that women can be saved in childbirth. In other words that role is so important that being a mother can be an opportunity to fulfill an incredible role that God has made available. Women don’t have to accept that role, but it is available. No matter how badly I want to be a mother, it simply isn’t possible.

A woman can accept the role of being a mother, but men have no way to choose that role. In the spiritual realm, God has given men a role. Just like the baseball team, having the male lead the family spiritually doesn’t diminish the value of a woman any more than being a first baseman diminishes the value of a catcher. A woman’s worth is not diminished by allowing her husband to fulfill his role as a leader in worship.

Unfortunately, most men are not up to fulfilling the role of being the spiritual leader of the family. Frequently women have to step in and help when the male refuses or is unable to fill the role. A first baseman can fill in for a catcher, but that is certainly not the way the roles are assigned or work their best.

Read Proverbs 31:10-31, Acts 16:14-15, 40, Acts 21:8-9 and Acts 2:17-18. Look at Ephesians 5:25-28 and consider God’s plan for both men and women. Christianity has elevated women and provided a basis for gender equality. Equality does not mean sameness, and we should thank God for the special design He has built into men and women to allow them to have meaningful roles producing happy and fulfilling lives – including the joy of motherhood.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Does Intelligent Design Destroy Science?

Does Intelligent Design Destroy Science?Skeptics claim that Intelligent Design destroys science. This claim shows how badly the skeptics misunderstand Intelligent Design.

The dictionary defines science as knowledge. When we do scientific experiments and make observations, we are trying to gain knowledge. We apply that knowledge to those situations where we can gain more knowledge. We never just say “God did it” and stop investigating. We continue experimenting because we want to understand how and why God did it. Believing that there is design in all aspects of the creation never stops us from looking for a deeper understanding. Naturalism is frequently just the opposite. A classic example of this is Junk DNA.

As naturalists examined the DNA in various animals, they found that there was DNA that didn’t seem to be necessary. They called it “Junk DNA” assuming that it was a byproduct left over from the evolutionary process. For many researchers, that was the end of the story. No further experiments were designed to find a purpose for junk DNA. In this case, a naturalistic view and assumption stopped the scientific investigation, or at least slowed it down.

A biology professor chastised me for referring to junk DNA as a dead-end street. His exact words were “God doesn’t make any junk.” The assumption that junk DNA wasn’t junk led to further investigation. That research now tells us the so-called “junk” has a purpose and plays a vital role in life processes. Believing that everything we see was created with a purpose and a design, and wanting to understand that design is a great catalyst for scientific investigation.

Historically, most of the significant discoveries of science over the past 1000 years have been made by scientists who recognized purpose and design in the cosmos. They were striving to understand that design. In our quarterly journal (which you can read on doesgodexist.org), we have a column titled “Scientists and God.” We present statements by leading scientists about their faith and their recognition of purpose and design in the creation. Does Intelligent Design destroy science? No, it supports science.

We quoted Albert Einstein in our first quarter journal for 2019 when he said:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written the books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human beings toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

Whether we study biology or quantum mechanics, Intelligent Design enhances science because the universe was intelligently designed.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Religion Causes Wars – Or Not!

Religion Causes Wars – Or Not!Many years ago I was a college student far from home, and I needed to find a dentist. As I was sitting in the dental chair of this man I had never met before, I was confronted for the first time with the argument that religion causes wars.

Have you ever noticed that dentists always have an advantage over their patients when it comes to conversations? A dentist can say anything or ask any question while your mouth is numb or full of cotton. You try to respond with something that sounds like it’s coming from a toddler or a drunk person. “Mummammberabalub.” Why can’t I be understood?

Anyway, I made the mistake of telling him (while I could still talk) that I was a student in a Christian college. That sent the dentist on a diatribe about how Christianity has been the cause of almost every war in the last 2000 years. I was not in a position to argue coherently, and besides, he had a drill in his hand.

I have heard the argument that religion causes wars many times since – and not just from dentists. This particular dentist seemed to have a personal grievance against Christianity. A recent study took the war/religion connection in a different direction. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Behavior, was titled “War Increases Religiosity.” The researchers analyzed over 1700 individuals in three countries that had experienced major internal conflicts. The countries where the subjects lived were Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Tajikistan. The research team felt that these were good countries to study not only because of their recent wars but also because of their diverse cultures and geographical areas.

The researchers found that people who were more affected by war were more likely to participate in religious activities, both Christian and Muslim. Their conclusion stated: “…our results suggest that the experience of war-related violence increases religious engagement and ritual participation.” Also, very important, they said: “The potential existence of these relationships has important theoretical, political and social implications.”

Just what are those implications? A media report of the research put it this way: “If war makes people more religious, and if religion makes people more war-prone, we have the recipe for a devastating feedback loop – which could help to at least partially explain some of the current situations in modern-day war areas.” In other words, war leads to more religion and religion causes wars.

So this supposedly dangerous feedback loop indicates that the key to stamping out wars is to stamp out religion. Hold on a minute! I want to get back to that dentist. As I said, he seemed to have a particular grudge against Christianity. What are Christians? They are Christ followers. What does that mean? They follow the teaching and example of Christ.

What was the example of Christ? When falsely accused, beaten, and crucified, He did not even open His mouth against His accusers. In fact, He prayed for them as He hung on the cross. When enemies came to arrest Him, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword because “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

What were His teachings? Read Matthew chapters 5-7. He said when someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. Give to those who try to take from you, and go the extra mile for them. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 & 35). Does that sound like a war-monger?

The dentist said that religion causes wars, but is that true of real Christianity? Of course, some people claim to be Christians but don’t follow Christ’s example or His teaching. But Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). Obeying the commands and example of Jesus leads to peace, not war.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

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