Natural Disaster and God

Natural Disaster and God Every time natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, people tend to blame God for what happened. The current examples are the hurricane in the panhandle of Florida, and the catastrophic earthquake in Indonesia. What atheists and skeptics fail to realize about natural disasters is that the vast majority of catastrophes are due to human ignorance and mismanagement. Both of the current crises demonstrate that point.

The major loss of life and devastation in Indonesia is in an area that was built on a restored landfill. Gravel, sand, and dirt were brought in to make living space for what were mostly poor workers and laborers. Engineers have warned for a very long time that the land under the highly populated area was unstable, and the earthquake was enough to cause that land to move in a significant way. You could call this a human-designed natural disaster.

In America, we have the same situation in New Orleans and Los Angeles. New Orleans is built on an area that is soft and prone to flooding, and part of the city is even below sea level. Los Angeles is built in an earthquake active area riddled with faults. It isn’t a question of whether a severe earthquake will happen in the Los Angeles area, it is just a question of when. There will be a catastrophe when that happens, and God will be blamed for causing it.

Hurricane Michael is a demonstration of another human-caused natural disaster. One of the designs of our planet is the method which brings water to areas that would otherwise be a desert. At the equator, the direct sunlight evaporates ocean water which falls as rain causing tropical rain forests. The remaining dry air moves north or south in what is called the “Hadley Cells.” When that dry air cools and returns Earth’s surface at 30 degrees latitude, it produces desert conditions. Most of the world’s great deserts are found at 30 degrees north or south latitude–the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the Mohave, etc.

In the southeastern United States, 30 degrees north latitude runs through northern Florida. That area would be a desert were it not for hurricanes. The heating of the ocean in the summer is sufficient to lift massive amounts of water which are then carried to the land restoring lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Without that large water supply system, that area would be a desert like the Sahara. The land area around the Gulf of Mexico in its pristine state had barrier beaches and mangrove forests that moderated the wind and storm surge. When I was a child living in Alabama, we looked forward to “hurricane parties” when we would “button down” and enjoy not having to work. The storm’s damage was limited, and even the storm surge was never a problem. That was 80 years ago.

Since that time, we have modified the shoreline stripping the barrier beaches of vegetation, and building houses where they are easily destroyed by water or wind. Even the vast mangrove swamps that were a buffer to storms have been removed, and channels have been built lined with aluminum houses, golf courses, and boat facilities. It was an invitation for a natural disaster.

We are sympathetic to those who have suffered because of the greed and foolishness of city planners and real estate salespeople. But don’t blame God for the foolishness of human actions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Is Hell a Physical Place?

Is Hell a Physical Place?
The October issue of Smithsonian magazine (page 14) contains a book review and discussion of portrayals of hell dating back to 400 BC. The pictures in the magazine are horrible scenes of torture and suffering with many of the images related to Catholic teachings on purgatory. All of the pictures reflect a belief that hell is a physical place with physical torture techniques applied to those rejected by God. But is hell a physical place?

We see the same portrayals in our newspapers with cartoons showing little men with horns and pitchforks doing nasty things to those condemned to eternal torture. We get frequent letters from unbelievers and people with doubts questioning the concept of hell. They argue that it is impossible to believe in a God who would punish anyone with eternal physical torture, especially those who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Because the media continues to feed those images to the public, a high percentage of our population believes that the Bible teaches this physical abuse.

There is no question that the Bible clearly indicates that there is eternal punishment for those who choose to reject God. But there is a difference between eternal punishment and eternal punishing. A person executed for a crime is penalized eternally, but the execution is not eternal torture.

Jesus spoke of the difference between these two in Matthew 10:28, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” There are numerous other passages which speak of hell as a separation from God and all that goes with God–love, peace, joy, etc. Torturing is not something God does. Then is hell a physical place or is it more likely an eternal separation from God and everything that is good and pleasing?
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Why Poisonous Animals?

Why Poisonous Animals? Eastern Coral Snake
There are 2700 known species of snakes on this planet. Of all those, 412 species, or 15.2%, are poisonous. Five hundred thousand people are bitten every year, and 40,000 of them die. People are afflicted by poisonous lizards (two varieties), frogs, salamanders, and a variety of toxic insects. This brings up the question of why poisonous animals exist if a loving God made all things.

If you or someone you know has suffered an attack by one of these poisonous animals, you know that even when it is not deadly, it’s still a very unpleasant experience. The skeptic and even the non-skeptic is moved to ask why God would create a reptile or amphibian that could cause such terrible discomfort to humans. Why should an innocent child die because of picking up a pretty ribbon that turned out to be a coral snake?

If you have experienced an encounter, no canned explanation will make the pain and loss go away. But can we make any sense of why poisonous animals exist?

We must first begin by recognizing that God may not have created these animals as they are today. God did not create many animals (dog and cattle breeds for example) as they are today. They have changed over the years. It is possible that the same is true of poisonous animals, and their original ancestors may not have been deadly. However, the complexity of the poison systems in reptiles and amphibians seems to make this explanation a little imaginative, if not impossible. Even if true, it does not remove God’s awareness of the situation.

A better answer to this question of why poisonous animals exist lies in the wisdom and planning of God. The Bible says we can know God exists and see His wisdom by looking at the creation. (See Romans 1: 19-23; Psalms 19: 1.) The more we learn about the creation, the more we see God’s design.

One thing we have come to understand is the need for balance in ecosystems. We know that all living things serve a purpose in their natural setting. Animals and insects eat plants which keep the plants from crowding themselves out. Carnivorous animals keep the plant-eaters from wiping out their food supply. Because animals do not fear death as we do, the system is not as cruel and as callous as some would have us believe. In a balanced system, things generally function smoothly and efficiently.

One of the critical factors in maintaining balance is the survival of reasonable numbers of all species. Most reptiles and amphibians are soft-bodied, slow, and generally vulnerable. Camouflage protects some, but the poisonous glands of others are necessary to do the job. Not only does this protect that animal, but any animals that look similar. Poison also helps the animals catch their food. Rats and mice are the primary food source of many snakes, but without the venom, the snakes could never catch them. Very few snakes or poisonous animals of any kind will attack a human. Most bites occur when a person molests a poisonous animal. The obvious purpose of the poison is defense and obtaining food. Accidents do happen, but the poison was not given as a device to be used on humans.

Another important factor is that poisonous animals provide medicines that we cannot secure from any other source. Medicine from snake venom stops the agents which cause rheumatoid arthritis. There are many other examples of ways science has found to use the poisons from animals.

We can see that there are reasons why poisonous animals exist. Venomous animals do not prove that God didn’t thoughtfully and intelligently design the creation. We sometimes have to look a little more closely to see the ultimate wisdom of the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Canyonlands Tour 2018

Canyonlands Tour 2018

This week John Clayton is with a group of people on what we call the Canyonlands Tour. Many times over the years John has taken groups of people to visit the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion Canyon, as well as other locations in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

The Canyonlands Tour is not just a sightseeing trip. It’s an opportunity for Christians to learn about how God has worked to create those “natural wonders.” John uses his knowledge of geology to explain the many interesting and beautiful features of the “canyonlands” area. Some people try to explain the Grand Canyon by “flood geology.” John explains what the real science of geology actually tells us about the formation of that remarkable Canyon.

With the assistance of Alan Doty who has hiked the canyons many times, the Canyonlands Tour is always an interesting and educational experience. One of the places on the agenda is the “desert view” area overlooking the Canyon. That is the location of a watchtower which visitors can tour.

On a level of the tower, there is a wall which has a plaque attached as you can see in the picture. The plaque contains the words from Psalm 66:4. It says, “All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to Thy name.” That plaque has been there for years. With atheists demanding the removal of any acknowledgment of God on public property, perhaps the only reason those words are still there is that some might interpret the “Thee” and “Thy” as referring to the Grand Canyon.

However, those pronouns do not refer to the Canyon, but to the One who created it. The process of creating the Canyon was no small feat. It did not happen in one flood. The people on the Canyonlands Tour will learn something about the processes that science still does not fully understand. In the meantime, there are those who say the Grand Canyon disproves God. It does not. It only invalidates a false interpretation of the Bible which many have adopted.

It’s too bad the people who placed that plaque didn’t include verse 3 as well. It says, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you'” (NIV). I am sure that there have been some atheists who have cringed when they read the words of that plaque. I suspect that sometime an “offended” atheist will demand its removal. However, nobody can remove the Grand Canyon and the testimony it gives to the power and glory of God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Is there Anything God Can’t Do?

Is there Anything God Can't Do?
This October will mark 50 years that I have been doing question/answer sessions in lectureships and answering written questions in correspondence courses and online. One of the favorite questions from skeptics and atheists has to do with what God can or cannot do. Is there anything God can’t do?

If you say that there is something God cannot do, you have a direct conflict with numerous passages in the Bible that indicate nothing is impossible for God. If you say there is nothing God can’t do, you get a response like, “Can God create a rock so big He can’t move it?” There are all kinds of fun responses to that question. Marshall Keeble once said, “Yep, and He can create a bulldozer big enough to do the job.” Marshall was being funny and not proposing a serious answer. Theologians have constructed all kinds of elaborate arguments to respond to the question such as saying God cannot lie etc. The problem, however, is in a fundamental error in understanding.

My favorite analogy offered seriously is to ask the skeptic to draw me a four-sided triangle. It should be evident that the question is flawed. A triangle by definition has three angles and is subtended by three sides. In a Euclidean universe, a four-sided triangle cannot exist. A rock, by definition according to Webster is a mass of stone. If a mass of stone gets too large, it assumes a different name – asteroid, continent, planet, etc. Since God created the cosmos including planetary-sized masses of rock, the question reflects the ignorance of the person who asked the question.

If there were such a thing as a four-sided triangle, God could create it, but we have to throw out the question because it makes no sense to us. The same is true of a stone so big God can’t move it. Is there Anything God Can’t Do? That question is a way of avoiding the truth of what God has done.

I have many people who write me and say, “I don’t want anything to do with the church.” The obvious weasel word here is “church.” Webster has the primary definition of church as a place of worship. The biblical concept of church is very different. It refers to those who are called out of the world – people not a building. Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on what Peter had confessed—that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. There was no building at that time, nor during the lifetime of the apostles. We don’t try to defend what human-created structures and organizations do. No serious person would reject the church the Bible describes if they really understood it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Value of Pi in the Bible

Value of Pi in the Bible
It may not appear that the passage below would cause a major question of biblical infallibility. However, atheists and skeptics try to make an issue of the value of pi in the Bible.

Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. 2 Chronicles 4:2

In several lectureships recently, I have been challenged to explain why the passage is not in error. The point is that it gives the diameter of the top of the circular bowl and its circumference. If the bowl’s diameter is known, one can calculate the circumference by the formula we all learned in elementary school, which says that C=2πr (the circumference is equal to two times pi times the radius). If we know the circumference, we can calculate the value of π, which would be C divided by 2r. In this case that gives the value of π as 3.00000. We all know that π is twenty-two sevenths or 3.142857142. Obviously, according to the skeptics, the value of pi in the Bible is in error.

My first reaction to hearing this challenge was that it was nit-picking in the first degree. I have seen it repeated so many times by so many recently that I need to answer it again. It may also be that this passage is actually a positive proof of the integrity and accuracy of the biblical narrative.

The first point that I need to make is that one must observe significant figures when making any measurement. In my physics laboratory, the balances measure things to a tenth of a gram. If you wish to measure the mass of something to a hundredth or thousandth of a gram, you have to use another balance. Every year, I have a student who wants to record a mass accurate to a millionth of a gram. On their lab sheet, they will give me a number like 28.6581432 grams—on a balance that has no marks or calibrations beyond a tenth of a gram!

In the case of the biblical record, the unit is the cubit. A cubit is the distance from the elbow to the tip of the finger. It should be evident that the length of the cubit depends upon the size of the person whose forearm you measure. My wife’s cubit is about three inches shorter than mine. This is no factor in the kind of measurements that the cubit was used for, but it does mean that the cubit was only accurate to the nearest whole number—three. Obviously, the value of pi in the Bible is accurate to the number of significant figures to which the cubit can be measured.

It is also possible that the 30-cubit measurement was around the inside circumference of the bowl since that is what held the liquid. The 10 cubits may be the outside diameter since that would be what the bowl was forged from and the space it occupied. In that case, the outside circumference would be 31.43. If we assume the same man made both measurements and was accurate to two decimal places (which is unlikely), we can calculate the thickness of the material of which the bowl was made. Since C=2πr, then:

r(outside) – r(inside) = C(out) – C(in) =.18 cubits

That is about 3 inches which would mean the thickness of the bowl would be 1.5 inches, which is very reasonable. I made this point at a lecture recently and had an atheist respond with, “I don’t care what’s reasonable, the fact is, the Bible says pi is 3.00 and that’s wrong!” The idea she was advancing was that if there was any possible way she could interpret a biblical passage that would make it look ridiculous, that is the way she would interpret it. No amount of discussion about significant figures or possible measurement parameters would change her mind. She insisted the value of pi in the Bible is 3.000 and that is wrong!

The same person became incensed when I would not accept the dubious possibility that volcanoes produced the layers of iridium found in the dinosaur remains. This idea, which deals with evolution, has a mountain of other evidence which indicates that volcanoes did not produce these layers, but that they came from an astronomical catastrophe.

I have had the same kind of experience with religious people when their pet religious tradition was called into question by the available evidence. Certainly, this discussion points out some questions about approaches. Perhaps we have to get to the realization that putting pearls before swine is an exercise in futility. (See Matthew 7:6.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Wreck of the SS Cedarville

Wreck of the SS Cedarville
Between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, there is a stretch of water known as the Straits of Mackinac. (Pronounced mack-in-awe) This narrow channel connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Nearby is a museum which tells the story of shipwrecks in the Straits. One of those was the wreck of the SS Cedarville in the early morning of May 7, 1965.

The Cedarville was carrying a heavy load of limestone and traveling through the straits in dense fog. In spite of low visibility Captain Martin Joppich kept the ship moving at top speed. He even ordered the wheelsman to cut corners off the official shipping channel to save time. Radar detected two oncoming vessels. One of them was identified as the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord. Captain Joppich ordered the crew to reduce speed and steer starboard to pass the Topdalsfjord on the port side. In doing that, the Cedarville steered directly into the path of the Topdalsfjord. The Norwegian ship sliced a large hole into the side of the Cedarville.

Captain Joppich ordered the crew to stop the engines and drop anchor. The crew prepared the lifeboats, but no order was given to abandon ship. The ship was starting to list to port, so the crew began to fill the starboard ballast tanks. The captain then ordered the crew to raise anchor and steer the ship to shallow water six miles (10 km) away. By the time they had gone just over two miles (3.3 km), the ship rolled over and sank.

Of the 35 crew members, ten of them died in the wreck of the SS Cedarville. What mistakes did the captain make? The Cedarville was going too fast for foggy conditions. The ship steered the wrong way into the path of another vessel. The crew was not given orders to abandon ship. There was another area of shallow water only two miles (3.2 km) away that they might have reached before sinking. All of these things were caused by the captain making bad decisions.

A plaque at the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum says, “To some degree, all wrecks in the Straits of Mackinac were avoidable. Someone exercised bad judgment or performed their duties incorrectly. In many instances, several people made many small errors, each individually, but momentous when combined with others. As a result, ships went down while passengers and crewmembers died.” The wreck of the SS Cedarville is only one example.

The plaque says the real cause of wrecks is people. How often do people cause wrecks and destruction to their own lives or the lives of others and then blame God for the pain? Does God allow us to make bad choices? Yes, but when we make those bad choices, we should put the blame where it belongs, and not on God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Belief in God

Belief in God
This ministry has existed for 50 years with the fundamental purpose of showing those willing to look at the scientific evidence, that God does exist and that the Bible is His Word. Various religious people have frequently told us that what we are doing is useless because everyone really has a belief in God. Data that shows that 40% of Americans say “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. But the critics argue that even people with no church connection still have a belief in God.

One of the more reliable organizations that gathers demographic data on religious issues is the Pew Research Center. The June 2018 issue of Christianity Today published a report from Pew Research in which 4700 adults were asked if they “believe in God as described in the Bible.” Almost half, 44% of the respondents, said they did not. The obvious devil in the details is whether what they think the Bible describes is actually the way the Bible describes God. (If you think the Bible describes God shown in the picture above, you are mistaken. We have a video that deals with that point and you can watch it HERE.) It is evident that a growing population in this country have faith issues with belief in God as the essential starting point.

We maintain that there is a tremendous need to educate people on the evidence for God’s existence, and what the Bible actually says about God. We have a free correspondence course available on our doesgodexist.org website. There is absolutely no charge or obligation of any kind. The course is written at a college level and is graded by John Clayton, the director of the Does God Exist? Ministry. We also have other written courses available through the mail with postage paid envelopes provided. Join us in learning and growing.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs
An article in the British tabloid Daily Star on April 8, 2018, claimed that new tests on Buzz Aldrin confirm that he contacted an alien on his trip to the Moon in 1969. The story supposedly came from an Ohio scientific group called “The Institute of BioAcoustic Biology and Sound Health.” That group claims to have a “top secret” test to determine what the subject actually experienced or saw. They gave no explanation of the test or why it overrules what the subject says.

The reason we even mention this is because atheist journals and even in major newspapers like USA Today have cited it. NASA has pointed out that four panels separated from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in flight, and they would have followed the same general trajectory as the spacecraft. Buzz Aldrin said in a Reddit chat session, “I feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels.” He has denied having any contact with aliens. The BioAcoustic group claims that audio tests have shown hidden truths in Aldrin’s speech.

We have repeatedly pointed out that the question of whether there is life on other planets, is not a biblical or apologetic issue. The Bible doesn’t say that this is the only place where God has chosen to create life. However, it has become increasingly obvious that if there is alien intelligent life in space, it is too far away to be of any consequence to us. In spite of that, the media continues to push the idea that life in space somehow contradicts the Bible and supports atheism.

There is an adage that when a person doesn’t believe in something they will believe anything. That seems to apply here. Our focus needs to be on solving Earth’s problems, not attempts to divert attention to poorly supported scientific claims of alien intervention.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

How Many Atheists?

How Many Atheists?
How many atheists are there in America? This ministry has existed for 50 years, and throughout most of that time, Church members have told us that there is no such thing as an atheist. They have said that we are wasting our time trying to convince people that God does exist.

Atheists claim that as people become better educated they realize that “God” and religion are just products of ignorance. This ministry was begun by a man who came to faith in God through science and did so late in his scientific education. Because of that, our approach has been different from what most Christians can relate to and understand. That difference has its advantages, but it also makes us a lightning rod for some denominational leaders.

In the April 2018 issue of Scientific American (page 77), Michael Shermer devoted his regular column to the subject of how many atheists there are. He concludes that in America alone there are 64 million atheists. Shermer is an atheist himself, even though he graduated from Pepperdine University where he studied religion. We might be suspicious about his claims, but the article quotes a variety of valid data-gathering sources including a Harris Poll, a Pew Research Center poll, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, and the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Shermer ends his article by saying that the number of atheists in America is:

“…a staggering number that no politician can afford to ignore… we should be thinking about the deeper implications for how people will find meaning as the traditional source of it wanes in influence. And we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.”

Some of us have already tried reason and science as a source of morals and values. It didn’t work and led us to realize that only Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). I would not wish that rough road of experience for anyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2018