Guinea Worms and God

Guinea worm being removed from victim's foot.
Guinea worm being removed from victim’s foot.

Are you carrying around some vestigial conviction that God is good, or that Nature loves you? We guarantee that our newest nominee, the Guinea Worm, will fix that in one easy lesson. –From an atheist website.

Many atheist sites promoted the Guinea worm as the ultimate example of how one cannot believe in God because of terrible things that exist in the creation. It also shows how far atheists will go, and how much sarcasm and derision fills most atheist sites. A frequently quoted phrase is this one: “God’s plan [for the Guinea worm] is … carefully engineered pain machines, self-sustaining, spreading ever wider and deeper through the world … the worm is the very incarnation of god’s plan.”

A careful study of this situation is useful not only to answer the challenges of atheists but to better understand the design issue and how God functions in the world. The Guinea worm is a creature that is unquestionably a real horror story. This animal begins with Guinea worm larvae in ponds or rivers being eaten by small lobster-like water fleas. The embryos mature inside the water fleas. When humans drink the water, the water fleas with the larvae get into the human stomach where the fleas are digested, but the Guinea worm is not. They will find their way to the small intestine where they burrow through the wall and pass into the body cavity. During the next 10 to 14 months, the female worm will grow to as much as 31 inches (80 cm) long and as big around as cooked spaghetti. It will migrate to the lower limbs of the human. The worm will chew its way to the surface of the skin where it will emerge from a blister which causes a painful burning sensation. The only way to get relief is to put the foot or leg into water. When this is done, the female will release a milky white liquid with millions of larvae into the water contaminating the water supply. Once the worm emerges through the skin, you can pull it out, but you can only move it a few centimeters each day. If you pull too fast and break the worm, it will cause massive infection in the human body. It can take weeks to pull a worm from a person’s body. A person who has this parasite is likely to have many worms in his body and can be totally incapacitated and in severe pain. A person does not develop immunity and can be infected multiple times.

Our purpose is not to “gross you out” as my high school kids liked to say, but rather to look at the question of why such horrific creatures exist and how issues like this relate to the concept of a loving and compassionate God. Many other examples could be given from mosquitoes to the AIDS virus, and the points we want to make here apply to all of them.

It is important to understand that many things that exist in the world were not created by God, but they are a consequence of something else. As a simple example, God did not create war, but because God created humans with free will, there is war. Similar statements would apply to pornography, sexual abuse, and any number of other social issues. In the biological arena, there are many things that exist because good things have been mismanaged, misused, or are a product of a human-corrupted environment. Humans have many times caused nature to function in a way it was not designed to function. There are many examples of animal behavior that turn out to be aberrant, caused by the duress of captivity or other human activity and not by the normal function of the organism. In other cases, natural processes have caused changes with negative consequences. Seventy-five percent of all mosquitoes are pollinating insects that feed on nectar and plant juices and do not depend upon blood to survive. However, in many species, the mouthparts of the females have adapted to pierce the skin of humans or animals. Many virus mutations have caused changes in what was a positive organism and turned it into a negative one. Genetic studies of the Guinea worm have shown it is related to other worms which have positive roles in the environment. It appears that this terrible parasite is a mutant. Our point is that assuming that the Guinea worm is something God created to torture humans is an assumption that is due to the vested interests of those making the claim, not what the evidence shows.

Guinea worm infections are due to misuse of the environment. The worm is totally transmitted by humans drinking from contaminated water. Filtering water to remove the water fleas would stop the disease. Drinking from underground water sources would prevent it. The water sources given to the Israelites in the Old Testament would never have allowed the Guinea worm to exist. Not allowing humans to enter water supplies would stop the disease. For the most part, the disease has occurred where war has forced people to extreme situations and conditions.

God gave humans instructions on how to live. God told the first humans to have dominion over the Earth and all that is on it, and to “take care of the garden, to dress it and keep it.” Mismanagement of the natural world has caused massive hardship for humans, but to attribute this to a design or plan of God is to simply be dishonest. Christian organizations have led the battle against the Guinea worm. Atheist complaints against agents like the Guinea worm would be much more convincing if atheists were instrumental in helping to alleviate the suffering. The Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter began attacking the problem in 1986 when there were almost a million cases. Since then the number of cases has decreased each year until there were only 25 in 2016. Many Christian organizations have worked to supply clean drinking water to people in impoverished and war-torn nations.

This is what Christianity is about–helping others, especially those who are less fortunate and who are victimized by the selfishness and arrogance that exists in the world. It is Christianity that characteristically rises to meet natural disasters, human disasters, and human needs and suffering on any scale. Pointing to errors made by people who claim to be Christians is not a response to the massive good done by Christians who obey the commands of Jesus to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. Christian teaching in the Bible defines pure and undefiled religion as “to look after the orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Jesus said of his followers, “by their fruits you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). Christians establishing hospitals, providing sources of clean drinking water, and caring for the orphaned and neglected are demonstrations of the truthfulness of that statement.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Evidence that God’s Plan for Marriage Works

Young Couple
In my college days at Indiana University, there was a department known as the Kinsey Institute. The first public studies of human sexual conduct that had been given wide circulation were conducted by Kinsey and revealed much about the morality of our culture. That institute is still functioning and recently released a study of brain responses to sexual interactions in humans. The bottom line is that the first person you have sexual relations with “lays down a template for what you find attractive.” A study reported in the Journal of Neurophysiology goes into a chemical discussion of the brain’s natural opiates which are set in a person’s first sexual experience.

What stands out in this study is that any kind of promiscuity violates the design of the system that is built into us. Proverbs 5:18-19 portrays the ideal for a man when it tells us: “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be as the loving hind, a graceful doe; and let her breasts satisfy you at all times and be ravished with her love.” God’s plan is for a single relationship (Genesis 2:24) which is nurtured and cared for (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

Science has now verified that our bodies and our brains are designed to function as God has instructed us. The society in which we live has changed sex into a commodity. The glorification of multiple partners is more than a violation of how God has told us to live. It also abuses the design God built into us to allow for ultimate sexual pleasure not in a one night stand but throughout our adult lives. (Quote from Discover magazine, April 2017, page 26.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Life on Ceres?

Ceres Organic Material
Ceres Organic Material

News items in the media in early March have made the spectacular announcement that “life material” has been found on Ceres, an asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Technically that announcement is correct, with the weasel word being “life material.” NASA was very careful to announce that they have “not actually found any signs of life on the dwarf planet.” What they have found on Ceres is a spectrograph of light reflected from the surface giving the same pattern as seen in hydrocarbons on Earth–specifically kerite and asphaltite.

We have pointed out repeatedly that finding life in space is not a biblical issue. The Bible doesn’t tell us that God did not create life elsewhere, and He very well may have. There is a deeper motive for announcements like this one. If you are going to teach that life began in a primeval soup full of organic molecules, you have to find the molecules to put into the soup. Amino acids have been found in meteorites and in dark nebulae, but most have been small and very limited in complexity.

Life and its formation are so complex that even having the “soup” doesn’t tell you much about how life could have formed. The picture that is emerging of the early days of Earth does not show an environment hospitable to the organic soup that is postulated by some cosmologists. The assumption of anaerobic conditions is not valid, and the number of agents hostile to life existing seems to grow with every passing discovery. Future studies will tell us more about how God prepared the Earth and perhaps the universe for life, but none of this is a threat to the faith of those who believe that God is the creator of all we see. Data from Science News, March 18, 2017, page 8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Brain Responses to Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality

“I will praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: your works are wonderful, and I know that deep in my soul.” Psalms 139:14.

We can see one of the best examples of the wisdom of God’s design in the incredible complexity of the human body. Just being able to stand up and walk while keeping one’s balance is far more sophisticated than most of us realize. Walking uses, among many other things, our visual system and our vestibular system. The vestibular system involves fluid-filled canals and specialized membranes in our inner ear. We get “seasick” when that system senses motion, but everything our visual system sees is motionless. The brain is getting conflicting information on different sensory channels, and the result is motion sickness. The word “nausea” is derived from the Greek word “naus” meaning ship. You have probably had the experience of being on a ship or maybe a simulation of a ship and having nausea overtake you.

In virtual reality (VR), there is also a mismatch. Your eyes see that you are moving in a virtual world, but your vestibular system senses that you are not moving. A recent study at the University of Minnesota found that 78% of the women playing the horror game “Affected” in virtual reality reported feeling sick. In that same trial, 33% of the men felt sick, indicating that there is a gender effect in the virtual reality experience.

Virtual reality has become a big business. In 2014 Facebook bought the virtual reality company Oculus for about two billion dollars, and the industry is estimated to be a $100 billion business. Premium headsets run around $400 for Sony PlayStation or $800 for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Audi, General Motors, and Vroom are building virtual reality showrooms, and architects are using virtual reality to walk clients through buildings that don’t yet exist.

We live in an age of incredible technological advances, but none of them compare to the complexity of the human body. Engineers of virtual reality systems have to design their systems to be compatible with the system God designed. That is a major challenge for the manufacturers of VR at this time in the twenty-first century. Data from Science News, March 18, 2017, page 24.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Design of Basic Chemistry

Chemistry Class
Chemistry Class

I enjoyed teaching basic chemistry. Once we got over the fear factor that came from what other people had told them, young people became as enthralled as I am with the way chemistry works. Just the basic concept of acids, bases and salts was a revelation to most kids. They had visions of acids being stuff that could eat your arm off and had a hard time understanding that the salad dressing they put on their lunch was primarily an acid. When they saw that their soda pop would turn litmus red indicating it had acid in it, they were incredulous. Understanding that ascorbic acid was vitamin C and that there was acid in their stomach made kids realize that acids serve us in many benign ways.

The next revelation was that bases also have many important uses. Household ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is a base. Sodium hydroxide is a strong base able to do amazing things to grease, making it a classic soap. Calcium hydroxide is lime, and some kids knew it was used on their lawns and gardens. The real surprise for kids was what a salt is. When I pulled out the salt shaker, I would ask them what kind of salt was in it? Most of them knew it was sodium chloride, but I had twenty salt shakers all of which were labeled “salt, ” and none of them contained sodium chloride. Some were potassium chloride, and some were calcium chloride. Some were different colors such as copper chloride, iron chloride, and cobalt chloride. It was interesting to watch them test the salts with litmus paper as they discovered that salts could be acidic or basic.

The next step was to make salts. We would take hydrochloric acid (a strong acid) and mix it with sodium hydroxide (a strong base) and get sodium chloride and water–two things you take into your body. If you mixed the hydrochloric acid with a weak base like aluminum hydroxide you would get aluminum chloride which would turn litmus paper red indicating an acidic nature. What do you put on your plants to make them grow? Some plants like an acidic soil. If you pour hydrochloric acid on the soil, you will kill the plants, but acid salt will make such plants flourish.

One day after doing all of these tests and writing all of this down, one of my students looked at the board and all the equations we had written and said, “Who thought all of this stuff up in the first place?” That question is always out there, in every science class, every experiment, and every view we make through a microscope or a telescope. Romans 1: 20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Science is knowledge, and the more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Is Muhammad the Comforter?

The Quran
The Quran

As Islam becomes more dominant in America, Muslims have begun to attack Christianity and the Bible with increasing frequency. There are several videos on the web that claim that the Comforter mentioned in John 14:26 is Muhammad. The word Muhammad means “praised one” and the claim is that the original word in the Greek was “perikleitos” which means “famous everywhere” or “renowned,” but that it was corrupted into “parakletos” meaning “counselor.” So how do you and I, not being experts in Greek, answer this question?

The answer is to look at the context of the passage. You don’t have to be a Greek expert to see that this passage is not dealing with a physical human who was a military leader. In John 14:23 Jesus talks about his disciples loving God and promising that the Godhead would dwell with those who love God. He then in verse 26 tells them that He would be sending “the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit” who would teach them all things. This statement is right after Judas had left and before Jesus was arrested. The reference is not to a claimed prophet who would live some 600 years later. (Islamic teaching is that Muhammed began getting messages from Gabriel in A.D. 610.) Verse 26 also tells us that the Comforter would come in the name of Jesus, and no Muslim would agree that Muhammad came in the name of Jesus.

Another issue is the Muslim claim that the biblical documents have been corrupted. The problem with that claim is that all of these documents were written before Muhammad was born, and copies of the manuscripts exist that are much older than A.D. 610. Complete manuscripts of John 14 dating from the third or fourth century exist. The question would have to be, “At what time were the documents corrupted?” It would have to be before the third century and yet the Quran dates to the seventh century.

It is easy for anyone to take a passage in the Bible out of context and make it say whatever they want it to say. Assaults that attempt to undo the work of Christ are all around us in the world today, but that was also true when the New Testament was written. (See Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Peter 3:1-3; 1 John 4:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Exoplanet Data Goes Wild

Alien Planet Fantasy
Alien Planet Fantasy

An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. At the time that I am writing there are 3,565 known exoplanets, but by the time you read this, there could be over 4,000. In spite of what the media says, there have been no “Earth-twin,” “habitable,” or “Earth-like” planets found. These are cliches the media throws around which have very little scientific validity. When a scientist identifies a planet as being in a habitable zone, it simply means that water could exist on the planet in a liquid form. Scientists consider water, carbon, and oxygen essential for life. But there are many other variables that must be carefully chosen before an “Earth-like” planet could actually have life on it.

The exoplanets that have been discovered so far are an incredibly varied group. Most are too big, too hot, too gassy (like our gas giant Jupiter), or they have orbits that are too eccentric (ovals, not circles) to support life. Some planets are so hot that they rain glass. Others are so cold that no biological organism could exist on them. The stars around which these planets orbit are also an incredibly varied group with enormous ranges in size, activity, temperature, and radiation levels. In most cases, those stars are orbiting other stars making life nearly impossible.

Every day new discoveries are reported. We now understand more about how planets form, and that tells us how special our planet is. We need to take care of it, because moving to another planet is not feasible now, and may never be possible. Data from Discover magazine, April 2017, pages 40 -45.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Some Definitions

Word Definition

Many articles that we have posted on the “Does God Exist?” websites have revolved around definitions. Let us attempt to clarify some definitions.

EVOLUTION means different things to different people. Evolution essentially means change over time. We can see evidence of that in dogs and cattle and roses. Some would call those changes within plant and animal types as microevolution. There is also evolution of one type of animal into something completely different. That is sometimes called macroevolution, and it is something we don’t see. When someone says “you can’t believe in evolution and believe in God,” there will be different understandings of what that statement means. There are leading evolutionists like Dr. Francis Collins who are also prominent Christian leaders. Theistic evolution is evolution designed or guided by God. Naturalistic evolution is totally different.

NATURALISM asserts that natural laws are the only rules that govern the structure and behavior of the universe and that the universe at every stage of change is a product of those laws. Naturalism leaves out God and offers a purely materialistic cause and understanding of the universe.

MATERIALISM is the belief that physical “stuff” is the only thing that is real. Anything that is not physical in nature is deemed to be of no value in determining answers to the choices of life. Anything that cannot be measured or tested by science does not exist.

SCIENTISM is the belief that science is the only reliable source of truth. Years ago science was defined simply as knowledge. The modern definition of science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Scientism goes beyond science to make science a god.

DEISM is belief in the existence of a supreme being–a creator who started the universe but does not intervene or show any interest in it. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

THEISM is belief in the existence of a deity or deities, but not necessarily the God of the Bible.

CHRISTIANITY finds evidence for our faith in God and the creation through Jesus Christ. We maintain that the cosmos is far too complex to be the product of chance, undirected natural laws. We don’t believe that the material is all that exists. We know from experience that science cannot answer every question we ask. We see that the physical world is limited in what it can offer us, and what it cannot offer us is far more important than material things. We view science as a friend and as a tool to learn about and address problems in the physical universe. But we understand it won’t give us answers to the most important questions. “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “How should I live?” We really want to find answers to these questions. Science can show us the wisdom, design, and power of the Creator. Science cannot show us God–or show us that God does not exist. Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, came to show us God’s love and give us the answers to those most important questions of life. Science can give us truths, but Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. (John 14:6)
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Another Lesson from (Recent) History

Mir Space Station photo by NASA
Mir Space Station photo by NASA

The older I get, the less confidence I have that the history presented by the media is correct. I was in high school from 1951 to 1955, and the sitcoms and movies that I see of things that supposedly happened during that period are so far from what really happened that I wonder where the people who make these programs got their information.

The April 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, contains an article by Bob Berman telling of what actually happened in the Russian Mir space station from 1986 to 2001. The media reports at that time painted a very idealistic picture of great cooperation, wonderful technological achievements, and trouble-free living in space. We know now that the Russians controlled reports by cutting the pay of anyone who complained about what was happening on Mir or told of any negative events.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the time when United States astronauts inhabited Mir. When medical doctor Jerry Linenger arrived on Mir in 1997, he found clutter and leaky pipes. Propylene glycol was leaking into the air so the astronauts had to wear breathing masks and were not allowed to exercise because they couldn’t breathe deeply. The climate-control was dysfunctional, so the temperature stayed around 90 degrees. On February 23, 1997, an oxygen-generating canister exploded creating a fire that nearly killed everyone on board. On June 25, 1997, a supply ship rammed Mir once again nearly killing everyone on board. Berman calls Mir “a bit of a death trap.”

Media portrayals of what happened in biblical times are even more difficult. The portrayal of Noah’s Ark in the “Ark Encounter” and the movie Noah as well as movies about the Passion Week, and the entire Genesis account have been embellished, westernized, and modernized by the media and entertainment industries leaving completely erroneous concepts of what really happened. The biblical narrative uses an economy of language because the focus is not on the event itself but on the meaning of the event. We can trust the biblical narrative, but we need to be careful about buying into the media presentations of biblical events. There is a difference between history as revealed in God’s Word and history as shown in modern media portrayals.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Travel in Space

Travel in Space
Popular movies portray travel in space as just being a matter of solving simple propulsion problems. The truth is that cosmic radiation is now better understood as a huge risk to space travel. In Scientific American (February 2017, page 54) Charles Limolihas wrote an excellent scientific discussion of the dangers of cosmic radiation.

Galactic cosmic rays are charged atomic nuclei flying at nearly the speed of light, probably coming from the supernova remnants of dead stars. Our Sun generates a great amount of radiation, but the cosmic rays are much more of a hazard. When these atomic nuclei hit molecules in our body, they ionize atoms, knocking electrons off the atoms and causing the atoms to become charged. These charged atoms hit other atoms, and there is a domino effect that is greatly magnified because of the extra energy involved. In human bodies, there are clusters of damage from such radiation, and just trying to duplicate the process in the laboratory has turned out to be incredibly difficult. Limolihas and his fellow researchers have shown that there is a much greater effect on brain tissue than anyone imagined.

The Earth is designed to handle this huge radiation by having two levels of shielding. The Earth’s magnetic field sweeps galactic cosmic rays away from the areas of the planet where most people live, and the atmosphere stops much of the rest. The amount of cosmic radiation we receive on the surface on Earth’s surface is relatively harmless. When you travel in space beyond Earth’s magnetic field, you, have virtually no protection, and that is going to be a huge challenge for space engineers to solve.

The lesson we would bring from this is that God’s design of Earth becomes more and more amazing as we learn of the complexities that have to be taken care of for you and me just to get up in the morning.
–John N. Clayton © 2017