Missing the Beginning

Earth, Moon, and Sun
Earth, Moon, and Sun

The first word in the Hebrew text of Genesis is reshith, translated into English as “In the beginning.” For hundreds of years, atheists have tried to dispute the notion that there was a beginning. Until the latter part of the twentieth-century scientists didn’t know that there was a beginning. There is an old joke that says, “What did Moses know that Einstein didn’t?” The answer: “That there was a beginning.” The problem is that if a person admits that there was a beginning, they are faced with the question, “What was the cause of the beginning?” It is much simpler just to deny that there was a beginning and maintain that everything has always been–not necessarily as it is today, but in a form that could change into what we see today.

In the 2003 version of the Humanist Manifesto, the statement was clearly made, “The universe is self-existing and not created.” Older versions had the word “eternal” in the statement. It is obvious that the question of origins is evaded by the use of “self-existing” so the word “eternal” is not needed. Atheists will usually respond to this point by saying that religious people claim God is self-existing, so there is no reason why atheists cannot make the same claim about the universe. Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos said, “Why is it any more reasonable to say that God has always been than to say that the cosmos has always been?”

The answer to this challenge lies in the nature of God and the nature of the cosmos. When we measure light, we measure its frequency in cycles per second. When we measure speed in space, we measure it in meters per second. Force, mass, acceleration, energy, momentum, and inertia are all measured in space/time units. We are limited to understanding things in terms of time and space. Various scientific measuring tools have verified that there was a beginning to time and space. The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, suggesting that it has accelerated away from a place where it began.

Since research in all areas of science has made it increasingly obvious that the cosmos had a beginning, science seeks to explain the beginning. The result is that theories are being proposed such as String Theory which suggests that there are multiple dimensions beyond our own. Since String Theory and proposals of multiple universes cannot be tested scientifically, they fail to give an answer to the beginning. We are limited by our inability to devise experiments to measure and test these theories. The biblical term “In the beginning” refers to the origin of all of reality. Whether God created the universe using strings of energy or a big bang is not relevant.

The atheist will say that being unable to explain origins does not necessarily mean that God did it. We are not proposing a “God-of-the-Gaps” argument in which we say, “God did it because we have no other explanation.” What we are saying is that the Bible makes it clear that God is outside of all other dimensions. God is described as the creator of time and space. God is described as a being with no time/space dimensional limitations (1 John 1:5; 4:8,12,16; 2 Peter 3:8; Colossians 1:16-17). Also, the biblical description of God shows a number of properties that are clearly seen in the cosmos and which blind chance would not produce. These include love, care, design, patience, personality, purpose, wisdom, and planning. More and more evidence is coming to light showing that our universe was designed and fine-tuned to sustain carbon-based life. Atheists and skeptics may try to counter this evidence, but they have no real alternative to offer.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

The Laws of Physics

Laws of Physics
Laws of Physics

“Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview. Even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us.”
–Paul Davies, Templeton Prize Address, May 1995.

Where did the laws of physics come from? Are they our laws or nature’s laws? Did Newton’s inverse law of gravitation come into existence because of the culture in which Newton lived? According to Davies, to suggest that is “arrant nonsense.” The laws are extracted through experiment and mathematical theory. The laws are not something that our culture presses upon us. They are God’s message to us.

In his presentation, Davies asked why we have these laws instead of some other set of laws. He raised the question of why this set of laws works for us. The laws seem to be contrived, fine-tuned, and formulated so that life and consciousness can exist. Some scientists suggest that there are multiple universes where different laws are present and different sentient beings survive due to those laws. They are making a creative response to this question; but not only is the suggestion un-testable, it also conflicts with the obvious complexity of the laws that work in our universe. Here in the twenty-first century, we are still finding new laws and new understandings that clarify what has been given to us by past scientists.

Dr. John Barrow in his Templeton address observed, “In the history of science new theories extend and subsume old ones. Although Newton’s theory of mechanics and gravity has been superseded by Einstein’s and will be succeeded by some other theory in the future, a thousand years from now engineers will still rely on Newton’s theories. Likewise religious conceptions of the universe also use approximations and analogies to help in grasping ultimate things.”

We suggest that the Psalmist’s statement, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1), will still be quoted and be relevant should Earth survive for a thousand years.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Antony Flew and the Failures of Modern Atheism

Antony Flew was one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century. He wrote over thirty books opposing religion and was a professor at the University of Keele and at Oxford, Aberdeen, and Reading. Flew changed his mind about the existence of God because he said, “You have to go where the evidence leads you.” In his final book There is a God he describes the failures of modern atheism:

1) Atheists refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God’s existence.
2) Atheists do not address the central grounds for positing a divine reality.
3) Atheists fail to address the issue of the origins of rationality embedded in the fabric of the universe, of life understood as autonomous agency, and of consciousness, conceptual thought, and the self.
4) Atheists show no awareness of the fallacies and muddles that led to the rise and fall of logical positivism. The “new atheism” is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy.
5) The excesses and atrocities of organized religion have no bearing whatsoever on the existence of God.

You find more details on each of these points in Flew’s book. Atheists try to suggest that only the ignorant and uneducated believe in God, but the evidence is to the contrary. Flew is just one example of people with extraordinary intelligence who see the evidence and base what they believe on that evidence.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bee Facts

Bee Working
Bee Working

In addition to yesterday’s article on the use of quantum mechanics by bees, here are some more incredible bee facts about these amazing creatures:

– Bees have five eyes–two large compound eyes and three simple eyes (ocelli) used to detect light intensity. A worker bee’s eyes have 7,000 lenses.

– Bee wings have an electrostatic charge which attracts pollen.

-A bee has two sets of wings. Rapid slapping generates warmth and evaporates water from nectar to make honey.

– Bees have wing hooks which enable the bee to use one of each set of wings or use the wings together for maximum efficiency.

– The proboscis, which is an airtight straw-like tube, sucks up nectar and also works in reverse to feed offspring from a honey stomach.

-The bee has a mandible with jaws that help bite and pack pollen as well as shape wax for building the honeycomb.

– Leg brushes scrape pollen from front to back where it collects in the pollen sac attached to the rear leg.

– Bees have a honey stomach which is a second reservoir where they temporarily store nectar before it is regurgitated.

– A worker bee can carry more than half its weight in pollen and can visit up to 100 flowers in one trip.

– A queen bee lays 1500 eggs a day and lives for three to seven years.

Bees are truly an amazing part of God’s creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bees and Quantum Mechanics

Bees on Honeycomb
Bees on Honeycomb

One of the most detailed discussions of living things is Karl von Frisch’s book Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Von Frisch spent 40 years studying how bees communicate to other bees information about pollen sources. He referred to the honeycomb as a dance floor and described the bee making a “waggle dance” which gave other bees information where to find nectar. The bee dance indicates the direction to this food source and an alteration of the shape of the dance indicates the distance to the source. If the food source was close, the bee uses a round dance instead of the waggle dance. Von Frisch’s study catalogs what the bee does, but it doesn’t tell you how the bee does it.

Barbara Shipman is a mathematician with an interest in bees. There is a mathematical concept known as “manifolds.” Manifolds can have two dimensions, but they can have an infinite number of dimensions. One type of manifold called the “flag manifold” has six dimensions. As Shipman worked with flag manifolds, she saw patterns that were similar to the patterns of the waggle dance of the bees. Physicists use flag manifolds in dealing with subatomic particles called quarks which are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Shipman believes that bees are sensitive to quarks and the sensitivity appears to be a reaction to a quantum field acting on the membranes of selected cells in the bees. It has been demonstrated that bees are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field and the polarization of sunlight. Shipman is seeking to add the dimension of quantum fields to the bee’s repertoire of tools for location and communication.

If you are interested in digging into this in depth, there is an excellent article titled “Quantum Honeybees” in Discover magazine, November 1997. We have not found later discussions in the current literature, but the mystery of how bees communicate is far greater than the articles we have found on wolves, whales, and elephants. Attributing such things to chance products of natural selection is creative, but suggesting that the wisdom of a Creator is involved is far more satisfying to many of us who have studied these abilities.
— John N. Clayton © 2017

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