Beauty Among the Thorns

Cactus Flowers
Cactus Flowers

When my oldest daughter married and moved to West Texas, I worried about how a young lady born and raised in Indiana would fare in an area that was essentially a desert. Leaving a state full of lakes, streams, trees, and fruit and vegetable crops for a world of cactus and yucca seemed to be quite an adjustment. When my daughter and her husband showed us a lot they were buying high on a butte, I worried even more. They were miles from town and surrounded by nothing but thorn-covered plants, mesquite trees, and bare rock and dirt.

Our first visit after they built their new house was during a time when they had been blessed with a great deal of rain. I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in the landscape. Everything was green, and most things were blooming. Even the obnoxious cactus I always managed to get scratched by was covered with beautiful flowers.

When you study the design of desert plants and animals, you find they have a beauty all their own, and their design radiates the wisdom of the Creator. Sometimes you have to look among the thorns to see it, but there is always a testimony to God’s wisdom and design in the world around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Stem Cell Scams and Moral Issues

Stem Cells
Stem Cells

For several years now we have talked about the morality of fetal stem cells and what they can be used for and where they come from. The original fetal stem cells came in many cases from aborted babies. The concern of many people was that if the medical establishment paid for fetal stem cells that women might find it financially lucrative to get pregnant, have an abortion, and sell the fetal stem cells. As research continued, it was discovered that a large percentage of stem cell treatments could be done successfully with adult stem cells. All of this was carefully controlled by the Food and Drug Administration and was based on good science.

A study released on June 30, 2016, by University of California stem cell scientists reports that 570 clinics are now offering stem cell treatments for things that in many cases have poor scientific support. An extreme example is the offering of cosmetics that will make your face look like a baby’s “because the stem cells came from the umbilical cord of a baby.” Not only are some of these claims probably not true, but they can be dangerous. Stem cells are cells that can grow into almost any kind of cell, and that makes them useful for medical purposes. The problem is that they can also grow into tumors and the tumors can migrate to other parts of the body.

God’s design of the human body is incredible, and over the years we have had numerous articles about that in the “Dandy Designs” section of our printed periodical. However, changing the use of what God has designed and created may sometimes be beyond human reach. At the very least, we need to move slowly and carefully as we try to change the use of or improve the function of God’s design. Data from Austin American-Statesman, July 3, 2016, page A8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Illegal Prayers

Hands Of Praying
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. In Irving, Texas my daughter lived near a housing development that was bought, built, and developed by a Muslim businessman. He did not allow any non-Muslim to purchase property or build a house within the development. This man even built a mosque on the property for the use of the residents. The development is run by a group of Muslim commissioners who manage the finances and make decisions about maintenance and new construction. This group meets once a month and opens each meeting with a prayer which is led by one of the commissioners.

So far this discussion is factual, but now let us suggest the hypothetical part. Let’s suppose that one of the owners within the development converted to Christianity. He goes to a development board meeting which is opened by a Muslim who leads a Muslim prayer. The Christian is offended because it was not a Christian prayer, and so he sues, claiming that allowing the Muslim prayer is preferring one religion over another.

Now back to the factual. In an Associated Press headline dated February 16, 2017, we read “Court Says County Prayers are Illegal.” The board of commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan, begins each meeting with prayer led by one of the commissioners. All of the commissioners are Christians. One man who has been attending the meetings was offended by the prayers and filed a lawsuit. The man lost in U.S. District Court, so the case was appealed. What the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled is that “prayer invocations can be legal” but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners couldn’t just have Christian prayers. Suggesting that board members who are of one faith should lead a prayer of a different faith not only is somewhat ludicrous but would be offensive to most religions. If a Muslim ran for the board of commissioners and was elected, that person could lead a Muslim prayer. The offended man was described in one news story as a “pagan.” How would he not be offended by any prayer? Requiring that no invocation could be given would be tantamount to the government endorsing atheism. The founding fathers gave us the blessing of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but they never intended to turn America into an atheist state.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Did These Things Happen?

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon

One of the more beautiful areas of the United States is Bryce Canyon. There is no other place quite like it, so the processes and conditions there must be unique. Anyone who visits the area with its rugged landscape would be motivated to ask how it got to be the way it is.

It is interesting that we frequently see atheist authors and creationist authors giving the same answer to this question. Both say that you either believe that all of these geological phenomena–as well as everything else in the creation–was either created that way by God or it has come about as a product of blind chance. In both camps, there is a prevalent view that all things are either God-designed or chance-designed and that there is no other alternative. It is understandable why atheists would want to make such a narrow choice available. Not only does it push forward their religious view that there is no God, but it also makes belief in God seem to be a shallow and inconsistent view of reality. The problem of human suffering and disaster is a much more difficult area for believers to deal with if God is pulling all the strings and making it all happen. This viewpoint places belief in God in an illogical box.

It would seem that Bryce Canyon is the ideal place to show the foolishness of forcing only these two choices. Did God sit down and carve each pillar as an artist would carve a statue? If not, does this mean that chance formation of the environment that produced the columns is the only other option? How about the option that God designed the system and let it run its course?

Geologists believe there are a wide variety of factors that contributed to the production of Bryce Canyon. When the rocks that make up the Canyon were laid down, they were deposited in a flat area near sea level. The sand and the iron oxide that colors it were deposited in beds that were flat. After many beds had been laid down, a new material was deposited with complex minerals making it very hard. After the area had been covered with several more layers of material, the whole region was lifted up to 8000 feet by forces deep within the earth. Water eroding this uplifted area found it difficult to cut through the hard material on top. Once that hard layer was cut through, the water cut deeper and deeper instead of flattening the area. The hard cap rock remained as the softer rock layers were eroded. Does this process preclude God having any role in the carving of Bryce?

Many times we have emphasized that the Bible tells us that God brings about His will in two ways. One way is the performance of a miracle that only God can do. The Hebrew word bara (create) denotes this kind of process and is only used when referring to God’s activity–never human activity. The second way is that God makes things happen in a natural way with no miraculous action. The Hebrew word asah (make) indicates this and is often applied to things that even humans can do. At the end of the Genesis account, the author tells us that God used both processes in bringing about the Creation. Genesis 2:3 says that God rested from all the work he had “created” (bara) and “made” (asah).

A failure to understand both processes that God uses in bringing things into existence leaves us with many problems in a variety of areas. God’s capacity to heal is not only seen in miracles that defy acts of doctors, but also in the design of the human body, in our mental outlook, in plants and animals that provide us with drugs, and in environmental factors. The bad things that happen to us do not happen because “God does it to us.” They come as a logical result of the struggle between good and evil and as a consequence of what we have individually and collectively done to the environment. War, starvation, poverty, and the spread of disease are not God-caused, but the result of our refusal to live as God commanded.

When we look at life itself, at the cosmos as a whole, and at beautiful places like Bryce Canyon, we are seeing the handiwork of God. The design built into everything from quarks to intergalactic space allows processes to function and bring about the beauty we see. Humans or God can direct how the processes will progress, but the initial design demands intelligence that makes mere chance a belief system without credibility.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cleaning Up the Mess

Dung Beetle at Work
Dung Beetle at Work

There is a great story circulating about a man named Jesse Newton who lives in Arkansas and has a dog. He also has a robotic floor-cleaner called a Roomba. The Roomba is a device you program to run while you are in bed, and it goes all around the rooms you designate sweeping up any dirt and debris on the floor. Last fall Mr. Newton had his robot programmed to clean his house starting at 1:30 AM.

The Roomba was doing fine until it hit a pile of dog poop that was picked up by the brushes and wheels of the device. The robot then spread the feces all through the house, on the carpets, the floors, the chair legs, the baseboards, and the kids’ toy box. Mr. Newton tells the whole hilarious story of how he discovered the mess at 3:00 AM and how he spent the next three hours trying to clean it up. He said the Roomba left the house “looking like a Jackson Pollock poop painting.” The story went viral on Facebook and was picked up by many news agencies, newspapers, and their websites, including USA Today and The Guardian. You can Google it to get the whole story.

That story reminded me of articles we have published in the past dealing with the process of cleaning up the waste that accumulates in nature. There are many living things that exist solely on the wastes of animals and plants. A classic example is the dung beetle, which cuts up chunks of “cow pies” or “elephant pies” into small balls and rolls them to their homes underground. Termites process dead trees into fine confetti which helps aerate the soil. Flies produce maggots which process large carrion in such a way that it is returned to the ecosystem in the form of chemicals. Certain kinds of fish clean up the bottom of rivers and lakes. While zebra mussels are a hazard to water-handling equipment, they filter and clean the water of their environment.

The universe is designed in such a way that things are constantly being recycled, cleaned, and worked back into the soil for future generations. This cleaning operation is highly complex and vital to all forms of life. It was not just a series of fortunate accidents that designed and maintains the system. By the way, iRobot, the company that manufactures the Roomba, says that this problem is not uncommon for people who have dogs or cats. Their engineers have been working on “poop detection technology,” but for now, they recommend not using the device when animals that might make a mess are present. We are glad that God figured out the process a long time ago.

–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Reference: The Week, December 23/30, 2016, page 24, also Facebook and various websites.

Expressions of Love

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

It is incredible what men and women have done over the centuries to show their love. People have fought wars, done incredible feats of strength and endurance, and written beautiful poetry and music as an expression or demonstration of their love. The story of one well-known expression of love goes like this:

In the early 1600s, the ruler of India was a man named Shah Jahan. The love of his life was named Mumtaz Mahal. The love, support, and advice that Mumtaz Mahal gave the ruler were so great that he discussed all state affairs with her and had her affix the royal seal to all state documents before they were released. She even accompanied him to military battles. In 1629, Shah Jahan set out for battle with Mumtaz Mahal, but on June 7, 1631, Mumtaz Mahal suddenly died while giving birth to her fourteenth child. The emperor devoted himself to building a monument to his wife. It was given the name which is a colloquial abbreviation of her name–Taj Mahal. The structure was finished in 1648 and Mumtaz was buried under it. On January 22, 1666, Shah Jahan died and was buried beside his wife.

People have marveled at the beauty of the construction of the Taj Mahal, and the love story it expressed has superseded language and political boundaries. There is a still greater love story that needs to occupy our attention. It is not the love of a man and a woman that dominates this love story, but rather it is the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith. Unlike all other religious systems, pure Christianity made love the number one priority. Consider the strength of the following biblical teachings:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love you neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11).

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The thing that sets Christianity apart and causes it to radiate a new way of living for all people is its emphasis on love. Only Christianity has the potential to eradicate national, political, and ethnic barriers to love and peace. Only Christianity can lift women to the level of dignity and importance that they deserve and eradicate racial prejudice. These things can never be accomplished by force or violence. No amount of political rhetoric or physical effort can change greed, selfishness, or inflated egos because they lie protected in the recesses of attitudes. When men and women allow their attitudes and values to be shaped by love, meaningful, positive change can occur.

We marvel at wonders of the world constructed as expressions of love, but even more incredible are the changes that happen in human lives through the power of Christ. There are many people whose lives have changed in dramatic ways and who know that the power to make that change did not come from themselves but from the God who “so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“How Many Gallons of Gas Does One Dinosaur Make?”

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex

Marilyn vos Savant has a column in Parade magazine. In the February 5, 2017, issue (page 8) the above was the title of her column, taken from a reader. We get this same question in one form or another on a fairly regular basis, and it is usually from an adult, not a child. The view of many people seems to be that the gasoline that drives our cars and all of our fossil fuels came from the bodies of dinosaurs that were smushed into crude oil. The fact that the Sinclair Oil Company had a green brontosaurus as their mascot for a long time probably contributed to this misunderstanding. The real answer has a lot to do with our view of how God has provided for advanced human civilization. Reflect on this issue for a moment, and ask yourself what you would answer when a young person asks you where did crude oil come from? In a Bible class context the question might be, “How did God make crude oil?”

The answer to this question comes from our view of how God does things. Do we view God as a magician who zaps things into existence? Did God just zap petroleum products deep underground so that we could find them and use them to drive the industrial age and our infatuation with gasoline-powered cars? We have tried to suggest over the years that God has used natural processes for most of what He has done. In Genesis 1, the word for “create” indicating a process that only God can do is only used three times–verses 1, 21, and 27. These are all major items–space/time in verse 1, life in verse 21, and the human soul in verse 27. All of the other verses in Genesis 1 use a word for “make” or “formed” which implies a natural process. The bottom line is that most of what Genesis 1 describes were things formed by natural processes, not miraculous acts of God. In Genesis 2:3 both words are referred to as methods that God had used: “…he had rested from all his work which God (elohim) created (bara) and made (asah).” (Hebrew words in parentheses.)

So where did the gasoline for your car come from? The answer is that it came from an ecology that God created and shaped to produce it. That ecology was warm, had a special chemical balance, and was full of an animal called foraminifera–a single-celled organism that formed a drop of crude oil in its body during its life processes. When the organism died, the skeletal remains formed diatomaceous earth and the drop of oil from its body united with hundreds of other drops to make a pool of crude oil. The agents that served as the gardeners to provide nutrients, prune, spread seeds, and generally control the ecology were the dinosaurs. Because God used this method, scientists can locate oil deposits literally miles below the earth’s surface. If God had formed the petroleum with a magic trick, humans would not be able to locate these resources. Because we know how the oil was formed, we know where to find it.

God used an incredible group of animals to prepare the things that humans would need. Not only was oil produced in this way, but coal, and iron and a plethora of other resources. God employed engineering skill and ecological genius to give us the standard of living we enjoy today. This is much more exciting than smushed dinosaurs.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

A Visit to the Galapagos Islands

Blue-Footed Boobies on the Galapagos Islands
Blue-Footed Boobies on the Galapagos Islands

(Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin and has been proclaimed by many organizations as “Darwin Day.” This post by John Clayton is a condensed version of an article in the printed DOES GOD EXIST? Journal for May/June 2013.)

The Galapagos Islands are located some 600 miles west of Ecuador. They were made famous by the studies and work of Charles Darwin who visited the islands in 1835 at the age of 26. His studies led him to some understandings which violated the religious traditions of his day. They also were seized upon by some philosophers to justify a belief system that rejected God and depended on naturalism as the faith upon which they lived their lives.

The reason I have always wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands is that evolution has been used as a club by many skeptics and atheists against belief in God and acceptance of the Bible as His word. In our ministry, we have maintained that science and faith are friends and not enemies and that science supports the biblical record. We have also maintained that since the same God who created all living things also gave us the biblical record, no scientific fact can conflict with what the Bible says. If there is a conflict, I believe it is because we have bad science or bad theology or both.

Darwin was studying the question of how animals came to be as we see them today. There are 13 species of finches scattered throughout the 13 main islands, six small islands, and 42 islets, where detailed studies of the finches have been conducted. In addition to the finches, there are various iguana species that cannot interbreed. The Galapagos land iguanas are infertile with the Galapagos marine iguanas. The marine iguanas feed on algae on the floor of the ocean and have a gland in their respiratory system that collects excess salt in their bodies and “sneezes” it away. Even the huge Galapagos tortoises, which can weigh over 500 pounds, are different on each island and infertile with the tortoises on other islands. Today our studies of DNA and the genomes of living things have shown how close these animals are to each other genetically. The incredible wisdom built into their DNA allows them to adapt and become unique for a particular environment. The research being done at the Charles Darwin Research Center is helping us to understand how to control and protect all forms of life on this planet.

In Darwin’s day, the claim of most theologians would have been that God created each tortoise separately, and placed each one on its island and that they were unchanged to this day. What Darwin maintained was that there was a design system built into the animals which allowed them to change to fit the physical conditions in which they found themselves. Since genetics was not a functional science at that time, Darwin had no idea what the design feature was that allowed this natural change, but he maintained it was the explanation for the finches and iguanas and tortoises.

What was going on theologically in Darwin’s day is essentially what is going on today. People had decided that the Bible was too radical to be believed. Not only did people not want to follow the Bible’s teachings, but they considered it to be primitive ignorance to suggest that Genesis was true. We now know that the genome of the iguanas contains enough stored information to allow the iguanas to live in a marine or land environment. The design of the genome is a fantastic demonstration of God’s wisdom and design allowing the finches to live in every ecological niche the Galapagos has to offer. Even the tortoises have subtle physical characteristics that enable them to reproduce and live in particular habitats.

What impressed me about the work going on in the research stations we visited was that it was good science and not speculative theories and philosophies. Researchers were not looking for a link between the finches and the iguanas. They were concerned with understanding how the natural history of the Galapagos had shaped and was being shaped by the forms of life that exist there. In talking with researchers, I encountered no one who felt there was a conflict between what they were doing and faith in God and the Bible. We had a guide assigned to our boat by the governmental agencies. He was very knowledgeable and expressed some wonderment that anyone would even suggest that somehow this area that he knew so well would be contributing to doubts about God and the Bible.

We have much to learn about how God has designed and created the Earth and it’s living creatures. There is no reason to fear that one’s faith will be destroyed because the beauty and wisdom of God shine as brightly in the Galapagos as any place on this planet. It is sad that in our day people have taken Darwin’s work and attempted to exclude God from our thought processes as we study life on Earth.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
For the complete article and pictures go to:
http://www.doesgodexist.org/MayJun13/DGEMayJun13.html

Dinosaur Demise

Dinosaur
Tarbosaurus Dinosaur

Everyone seems to have a fascination with dinosaurs. For kids, it may just be the old “monster under the bed” type of obsession, but adults have similar desires flavored by wanting to know more. Trying to suggest that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, as some creationists do, stretches credibility to the breaking point. Not only is there no credible evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together (although the number of attempts never seems to diminish), but the conditions under which the dinosaurs lived would be virtually impossible for humans to survive. Temperatures, the composition of the atmosphere, and the efficiency of the dinosaur predators make most people at least doubt the cohabitation of humans and these huge reptiles. Movies like Jurassic Park help reinforce the difficulties of such a co-existence.

We have suggested that taking the Bible in a very literal way eliminates the need for trying to make a T. Rex a household pet. The Hebrew words used in the creation week all refer, if they are taken literally, to animals that Moses knew and/or had control over. Behemah in Genesis 1:24 refers to a cow, not a T. Rex. Kanaph oph in verse 21 refers to a chicken, not a pterodactyl. The creation week is an explanation to the Israelites about God’s creation of the living things they knew and depended on. Duckbilled Platypus is not in the creation week, nor are phytoplankton, bacteria, viruses, penguins, worms, arthropods in general, or dinosaurs. References to living things in passages like Exodus 20:11 are referring back to the creation week in the choice of words and the purpose.

Genesis 1:1 talks about the miraculous creation of the universe and the Earth in particular. The word for Earth (erets) normally refers to a functional planet–not a blob of gook. The method God used to produce the Earth is not given. Proverbs 8:22 discusses this in some references to God’s wisdom and planning, but not the mechanics of how God did what He did. The use of living ecosystems to produce a functional Earth is not out of the question, and the evidence shows that this is how God did it. Dinosaurs were the gardeners of prehistoric Earth, with some dinosaurs pruning and spreading the seeds of plants that produced coal and other resources humans would need.

In verse two of Genesis 1, we are told that the Earth became empty and wasted and that darkness came on the face of the Earth. The Hebrew tohu bohu choshek is normally used to address a destructive change. If in fact, biological systems were preparing the Earth for humans in verse 1, then verse 2 indicates a change. The evidence strongly supports this understanding. In Science News for February 4, 2017, pages 16-26, there is an excellent article by Thomas Sumner reporting on new research into the demise of the dinosaurs. It is titled “Devastation Detectives, ” and it reports on new data that backs up the asteroid impact that made the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan. It also shows that in addition to the asteroid strike, massive volcanic eruptions were taking place on the opposite side of the planet that contributed to the renovation of the Earth. The evidence is that the destruction was complete. Fish have been found with their gills filled with silicon dust, and the atmosphere seems to have been so full of ash and materials from these catastrophes that the Earth was in darkness. The congruence of all this and the biblical account is too complete to ignore.

I am aware that our critics will say that we are just fitting science to the Bible or vice-versa. We would plead guilty to that charge. Science is facts, and if we believe that the Bible came from the Creator of the universe, then the facts must fit the Bible. If they don’t fit, we either have misunderstood the facts of science, or we have misunderstood the Bible. When God says something, we should not question it. When God just says He did it, we are free to look at the evidence and try to understand how. That is what science is about, and it leads to a better way of living for all of us. The way the new data fits Genesis 1:1-2 is too complete to ignore. Genesis is not a myth, but it is also not complete. There are many things we would like to know more about, and the role of the dinosaurs is certainly one of those things. For more on the Hebrew of Genesis, go to our doesgodexist.org website and read “God’s Revelation Through His Rocks and His Word.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

God’s Carbon Sink

Carbon Element Periodic Table
In our age of scary stories about global warming when alarmists are warning that humans are destroying the Earth by our huge carbon footprint, it is always good to hear something positive. That is especially true when that positive thing is something people have held up as negative for a very long time. I have stood on the edge of a huge swamp in the southern part of the United States and wondered what possible use an area like that would have. You can talk about providing a home for insects, birds, or rare tropical plants, but the swamp still looks like a wasteland with its mile after mile of muck and dead vegetation.

Imagine a swamp that covers 56,000 square miles and has a depth of 20 feet of ugly black muck. Why would God create a place like that? What possible use can it have? That huge swamp is the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in Africa’s central Congo Basin, and it has been accumulating for nearly 11,000 years. We now know that this particular swamp is a huge carbon sink. Recent measurements by scientists show that this one swamp holds about thirty billion tons of carbon. That’s the equivalent of 20 years of United States fossil fuel emissions. Satellite measurements have shown this swamp is sixteen times larger than previous estimates. Chemical studies show it is highly acidic and devoid of oxygen so it traps carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.

Planet Earth can sustain the amount of life it does because it is was engineered with a design anticipating the various cycles and conditions that are needed for life to continue. There seems to be a number of design features that help to balance our carbon footprint. Caring for a place like this huge swamp means being careful about how we use what God has given us. Reference: The Week, February 3, 2017, page 19, and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/11/worlds-largest-peatland-vast-carbon-storage-capacity-found-congo.
–John N. Clayton © 2017