How Little We Know – The Pulsating Earth

How Little We Know - The Pulsating Earth

The May 2021 issue of Discover magazine (page 20) carries an interesting article about a mystery that scientists have been unable to solve. The mystery is why planet Earth pulsates every 26 seconds. Researchers at the Lamont Geological Observatory first reported the pulsation in 1960. After more than 60 years, nobody has formulated an accepted explanation of why this is happening. The point here is not Earth’s pulsations but how little we know about creation.

In time someone will probably find an acceptable explanation for Earth’s pulsations. My point is the nature of human knowledge. We are all amazed at what science has accomplished. We watch the helicopter fly on Mars. We see the COVID vaccine developed in less than a year when it usually took half a decade to build a vaccine. We are amazed by new fabrics and the products of genetic engineering.

The fact is how little we know. Human knowledge is still very primitive compared to all that we observe. We are still struggling to understand what caused gravity. We are only dimly aware of the quantum world and how it forms the material we see around us. Our understanding of the human mind is so incomplete that experts in the field of brain study say we still don’t understand what 95% of the brain does. Perhaps the most significant gap in the knowledge and beliefs of many of us is the question of why there is something instead of nothing.

What little we do understand puts us in awe of the power and intelligence of God. Dr. Frank Baxter used to say that everything he knew as a scientist taught him, “That a wonder-working hand has gone before.” In Proverbs 8:4-5, Wisdom says it another way: “To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding.” The Psalmist said it this way:” When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him (Psalms 8:3-4).

Every bit of knowledge we acquire reminds us of how little we know and raises more questions for us to investigate. This is a wonderful time to be alive when so many of the secrets of God’s creation are just being discovered.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Discover magazine May 2021

No Room for Arrogance in Christianity

No Room for Arrogance

When I was an atheist, one thing that always turned me off was the seeming arrogance of religious people I knew. The “better than thou” attitude is not only unwarranted, but it is unscriptural. The Bible gives us no room for arrogance.

The classic biblical rebuttal of the attitude of arrogance is the parable Jesus taught in Luke 18:9-14. This parable was about a “religious” guy who did everything right religiously and a tax collector who was a Jew who betrayed his fellow Jews by working for the Roman government.

The Pharisee did everything right and told God about it. His opening line was, “I thank you that I am not like other men.” Then he went on to talk about all the good things he did. The tax collector looked down at the ground and “smote his breast,” which was a symbol of sorrow in that culture. Then he begged God for forgiveness. Luke tells us that Jesus “spoke this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Luke 18:9).

Jesus and the apostles hit this theme over and over. In Luke 7:37-50, we see Christ contrasting the woman who was a sinner with the Pharisee, a part of the religious elite. Jesus praised her and held her actions up as exemplary while he condemned the Pharisee. In Romans 2:17-24, Paul addresses the hypocrisy of religious people who claim to be knowledgeable but don’t practice what they preach. In Matthew 5:14-16, Christ holds up His followers as people who are “the light of the world” for how they live.

It took me a long time as an atheist to realize the fact that “sitting in the chicken coup doesn’t make you a chicken.” Sitting in the Church building doesn’t make you a Christian. The assembly of Christians is not a venue to be entertained but a hospital for people seeking to be what God called them to be. If you are reading this and have been turned off by the arrogance and self-righteousness of people who claim to be Christians, please understand that those folks turned off Jesus Christ as well.

Philippians 2:5-8 reminds us that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the point of death, even death on the cross.” How can any of us be very self-righteous or arrogant when we think about that statement. There is no room for arrogance in Christianity.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Happiness Comes from Following Christ’s Teaching

Happiness Comes from Following Christ's Teaching - Robert Ingersoll
Robert G. Ingersoll 1833-1899

Robert Ingersoll is an atheist hero because he traveled the country attacking God, Christianity, and the Bible in the nineteenth century. Ingersoll is quoted as saying, “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, the way to be happy is to make other people happy.” That statement is remarkably similar to the writings of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:10-13 and the words of Christ in John 16:22-24. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.

Every attempt by atheists to provide an alternative to the teachings of Christ has ended up in frustration and pain. When an atheist built a town in Missouri with the name “Liberal,” it collapsed in a short time, with the founder saying he never again wanted to live in a town with no churches. Governments based on atheism in the past and today have not been successful in providing peace and prosperity for their citizens.

It is easy to attack Christianity while enjoying the blessings of Christ’s teachings. Offering a useful and positive alternative to what Jesus taught is another matter. As the United States drifts away from its Christian roots and embraces humanism, secularism, and atheism, we see an increase in suicides, shootings, racism, and abuse. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.

When someone is incarcerated, the prison usually asks their religious beliefs for the record. Very few prisoners say “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “none.” In our prison work, we ask prisoners taking our correspondence courses to explain how they got to the point of being jailed. Merle Haggard wrote a song in which he said: “In spite of all my Sunday learning, to the wrong I kept on turning. No one could steer me right, but mother tried.” Haggard’s mother was a member of the Church of Christ, and his prison stint took place because he rejected the teachings he learned as a child. We hear that line over and over from many of our students in prison.

My father was an atheist, but he was a very moral man. I asked him one time why he was faithful to my mother. His response was, “I guess it is because of the way I was raised.” His father was a minister, and his mother was a strong Christian woman. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them (Matthew 7:16). Atheism has no positive fruit in the long run. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching. Robert Ingersoll found a receptive audience only when he repeated the teachings of the Bible.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Inspiration for this came from Faulkner University spring bulletin 2021.

Solutions to the Mosquito Problems

Solutions to the Mosquito Problems
Damselfly

One of the big problems that humans face is mosquito infestations. Most of us know that mosquitoes can carry serious diseases, with malaria being at the top of the list. It is essential to understand that the presence of mosquitos is not a failure in God’s design of the natural world. What are the solutions to the mosquito problems?

Most mosquito species are pollinating insects. Of the problem species, only the females draw blood, usually from decaying remains of animals. Before humans invaded natural habitats, mosquitos were less of an issue than in modern times. The larvae do not survive well in running water, and mosquitos are such weak fliers that even a slight breeze will keep them at bay.

The human response to mosquitos has been badly misdirected. The most common response has been to spray areas with heavy doses of chemicals that kill mosquitos. The problem is that the spraying kills everything else as well. Pesticides do not discriminate between good insects and bad ones. Animals dependent on insects for food are radically affected by massive spraying. Since 1970, nearly three billion birds have disappeared from North America. The solution to mosquito problems is quite simple–let God’s natural agents control the mosquito population.

Dragonflies and damselflies are voracious mosquito eaters concentrating on mosquito larvae. Hummingbirds eat hundreds of insects every day. American bullfrogs have long sticky tongues designed to catch insects, and mosquitos are at the top of their list. Red-eared slider turtles are mosquito eaters, with one study showing a 99% drop in mosquito numbers in ditches where the turtles were introduced. Woodpeckers, warblers, and wrens all eat mosquitos. They are all solutions to the mosquito problems.

Mass spraying creates imbalances in insect populations and kills birds and animals that feed on mosquito larvae. The spray also has serious implications for humans who react to the chemicals, including some forms of cancer. Humans have contributed to the dilemma that mosquitos bring to all of us, but God has natural solutions to the mosquito problems.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife April/May issue 2021.

Legal Bias Against Christianity

Legal Bias Against Christianity

One of the peripheral issues to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the question of whether the government can shut down worship gatherings if it perceives they are spreading disease. There was a legal battle in California because the state had passed a law that said no more than three households could gather for religious services. Religious leaders said that the ruling stopped most Bible studies, prayer meetings, and other services in people’s homes and meeting places. The same law allowed more than three households to gather in hair salons, retail stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. Is it more dangerous for people to gather for religious purposes than for those other activities? Is there a legal bias against Christianity?

Early in the pandemic, the Supreme Court said that limiting worship to three households complied with the First Amendment. With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett taking Ginsburg’s place, the court changed direction. On April 9, 2021, the court ruled the state could not restrict religious worship and that the same precautions used for businesses had to must apply to churches.

We have pointed out that having large crowds is not required for Christian worship, so the ability to worship is not the question. The question is whether there is a legal bias against Christianity. Shouldn’t religious teaching and campaigns be allow to have the same freedom as businesses? There have been cases where the virus was spread through a lack of social distancing in religious activities and in other activities.

It does seem that the double standard of allowing movie theaters to operate and shutting down religious activities involving the same number of people is inconsistent. Legal bias against Christianity is certainly an issue here, and the problem is far from settled.

— John N. Clayto © 2021

Reference: USA TODAY 4/11/21.

Murder Hornet Madness

Murder Hornet Madness - Asian Giant Hornet
Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

The media can stir up unfounded and destructive emotional reactions to what, in reality, are minor events. In May of 2020, the media announced that Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) hornets had been found in Washington State and British Columbia. The media referred to them as “murder hornets” and expressed the fear that those hornets would sweep across the continent, killing people with their lethal stings. That caused some panic, especially in the eastern United States, which could be called “murder hornet madness.”

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven had numerous calls from people who believed they had a murder hornet in their backyard. In all cases so far, the specimen turned out to be a European hornet, bald face hornet, robber fly, or cicada-killer wasp.

To quell murder hornet madness, here are the facts about the Asian giant hornets from Science News:

1) They hunt for honeybees, not people, and the concern is for the honey industry, not because they will kill humans. A few months ago, we posted about how the honeybees have devised a defense against them.

2) Their nests have all been destroyed.

3) Studies show that migration to the east is almost impossible because of the mountains and other natural barriers in the way.

4) None of them have been seen anywhere but in the coastal ranges of Washington state and British Columbia. That is 3000 miles away from the people calling their local entomologists claiming to see them in their yards or parks.

Expert entomologist Gale Ridge, who has been working on the Asian giant hornet issue, says, “The combination of half-listening and overdramatization of the facts by the media creates an anxiety driven stew.” There is a threat to honeybees, making it essential to prevent this invasive species from getting a foothold in North America. However, Asian giant hornets are not a direct risk to humans.

We need to realize that the media are trying to get viewers and readers. They often overlook or overdramatize the facts, even creating “murder hornet madness.” That is true not just in cases of natural phenomena but also in politics and religion.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News, December 19, 2020 and January 2, 2021.

Learning from the Natural World

Learning from the Natural World

One of the ways people discover new materials and new applications is by learning from the natural world. Scientists have wondered how bugs that live in wet areas avoid water damage and bacterial infections. Researchers are using a fabrication process called nanoimprinting lithography to study the wings of Neotibicen pruinisus, the annual cicada found in the central region of the United States.

Cicada wings are made of a complex pillar-shaped nanostructure that repels water and prevents bacteria from establishing a foothold. New fabrication tools have enabled scientists to produce replicas of the wings and pillars. Entomologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have reported that this work will be beneficial in engineering applications across various subjects–everything from aircraft wings to medical equipment.

We look at what we feel are simple forms of life and fail to realize the complexity of their design. Earth is full of examples like the Cicada. Researchers are learning from the natural world. Everywhere we look, we find a wonder-working hand has gone before to allow life to exist all over the planet.

When God wanted to convince Job of His intelligence, power, and design (Job 38-41), He used astronomical and geologic creations and the design of an assortment of living things. Job responded by saying, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). We must continue learning from the natural world God created because there is still much we don’t know. That is not just true of the material world but also of the spiritual world as well.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: nsf.gov

Near-Death Experiences and God

Near-Death Experiences and God

The April 16, 2021, issue of The Week magazine (pages 48-49) carried an article about the research of Bruce Greyson, a professor emeritus in psychiatry at the University of Virginia. Dr. Greyson has been collecting hundreds of records of people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs). In 1975, psychiatrist Raymond Moody wrote a best-selling book titled Life After Life. Dr. Greyson has a new book similar to Moody’s simply titled After. It contains a series of case studies of people who have had NDEs.

The article discusses possible explanations of the near-death experiences people have had in terms of brain responses to stress. But the Greyson studies go beyond just trying to find a physical explanation for what people experience. One interesting fact is that people who have had NDEs are changed by the experience. Greyson says that a near-death experience “dramatically transforms people’s attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors.” People lose their fear of dying, they lose their fear of life, and they see a purpose in life they hadn’t seen before.

Greyson says, “I’ve spoken to people who were policemen or career military officers who couldn’t go back to their jobs, couldn’t stand the idea of violence. The idea of hurting someone becomes abhorrent to them. They end up going into helpful professions. They become teachers, or health care workers, or social workers.”

Dr. Greyson ends his article by saying that he grew up without any spiritual background, and he still is not sure of what “spiritual” means. He says that researching near-death experiences for 40 or 50 years convinced him that there is more to life than just our physical bodies. He says he now recognizes that there is a nonphysical part of us, but he is not sure what it is.

Our society has tried to portray humans as just animals. The research that honest seekers like Greyson are doing gives strong support to the fact that what defines us is our soul–that part of us created in the image of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Wonder of Birds

The Wonder of Birds - Bald Eagle

We live on the edge of the St. Joseph River in Michigan. By the river and surrounded by woods, I have the joy of observing the wonder of birds in enormous varieties. As I watch geese, swans and ducks take off and land on the river, I am amazed at the way they put their feet out and water ski to a stop. I enjoy seeing them stand on one foot, seemingly asleep with half of their bodies ready to react to any danger.

When our resident bald eagle flies by 100 feet above the water, the ducks turn their heads to track the eagle. The eagle swoops down and picks up a small dead fish which I couldn’t see from 20 feet away. I watch three species of woodpeckers hammer away at the trees on the edge of the river with such force that bark flies in all directions. Still, the design of their skulls lets them do this for hours on end without brain damage.

I watch the finches and nuthatches pick off berries from the poison ivy and eat them in the dead of winter. They never have any problem with the oil that I am allergic to. I watch the hummingbirds come to my feeders and hover for a long time, eating the sugar solution and engaging in territorial combat. I hear the birds singing as they mark their territories, with each species having its own peculiar melody.

As a person trained in physics and chemistry, I am enthralled by the wonder of birds and their widely varied properties. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an ongoing study of the properties and abilities of birds. One area of research is the specialized equipment individual bird species have. The eagle’s eyes are incredible optical tools that give it the ability to see a small fish from 100 feet above the water.

Woodpecker heads show engineering with their shock-absorbing design to prevent brain damage from the constant hammering they use to get bugs. People researching flight techniques study the wing design of hummingbirds which allows them to hover. The design of the bird’s gut prevents the poison ivy oil from lingering long enough to cause a reaction.

All birds have design features that allow them to survive. Their digestive and waste removal systems avoid the use of a bladder. The vascular system with a unique heart design allows the Swainson’s thrush to travel 3000 miles in a single flight with its heart beating 840 times a minute. Darwin showed us that the design of the bird genetics is flexible enough to allow their beaks to vary depending on what diet is available in their environment.

Humans throughout history have depended on birds as a food source. Where would we be in America without chickens and turkeys? God sustained the ancient Israelites with quails, a provision that continues today in that part of the world. In some areas, songbirds are a source of meat even though they are small. For those of us who look for evidence of God’s design in the natural world, birds are an incredible example of how much has to be done to produce an animal that can do what birds do.

The wonder of birds is not reasonably explained by accidental change. We all need to be concerned about the fact that between human exploitation, the removal of resources and habitat by humans, natural climate change, and pollution, the population of birds on our planet is getting smaller and smaller. Since 1970, three billion birds have vanished from the United States. God told us to take care of the world in which He has placed us. Caring for all of God’s creatures, including birds, is everyone’s responsibility.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Increase in Paranormal Beliefs

Increase in Paranormal Beliefs

Someone said that when people don’t believe in something, they will believe anything. As our culture has turned away from God, it has forsaken Christ’s teachings and turned to irrational ideas. New studies show an increase in paranormal beliefs.

Statistics from the Chapman University “Survey on American Fears” from 2015 to 2018 show that the percentage of people who believe in haunted houses has grown from 41.4% to 57.7%. The percentage of people who believe Bigfoot is real has increased from 11.4% to 20.7%. Those believing that aliens have been visiting Earth has grown from 18.1% to 35.1%. Faith in the ability of fortune tellers and psychics to foresee the future has increased by a small percentage as well.

There are many contributing causes for the increase in paranormal beliefs, but a part of it is biblical ignorance and rejection of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus urged people to seek and to think. When Thomas had doubts, Jesus showed him the evidence. Biblical miracles always had a purpose in conveying truth. Through the prophets, God warned Israel not to trust magicians, soothsayers, witches, and sorcerers. The law gave lethal consequences for those who persisted in promoting the paranormal.

Chaos in all aspects of American life today results from people believing what they are told without demanding evidence and factual information. It has affected the pandemic, the election, and the racial struggles that are going on throughout this country. Let us urge people not to believe anything just because someone says it is true. We must demand evidence and think!

— John N. Clayton © 2021