More Church-State Issues

Church and StateOne of the delicate areas in our culture today is the issue of the separation of church and state. It might appear on the surface that this is a no-brainer, but like most things, it isn’t that simple. Romans 13:6-7 instructs Christians to pay taxes and obey civil authority, and in Luke 20:25 Jesus tells us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Constitution of the United States is clear about the government not sponsoring a religion but also guarantees religious freedom. Every nation with a state religion has had enormous problems with what evolved from that endorsement. It is biblical and logical to keep the state and religion separate.

The current crisis which appears to be headed for the Supreme Court is the situation where a church is handling an issue too big for the state and needs money that the state has available to meet the need. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel that was under their playground with safer and cleaner material made from recycled tires. This material was available from the state by simply applying for a grant to get the material. The state denied the grant to the church saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court which had a tie vote.

It would seem logical that the state should not fund a theology major’s education in religion, but protecting children from physical damage would seem to be a different kind of issue. When Trinity was evaluated by the state on its physical facilities and its program, which does not include religious instruction, it placed fifth among 44 applicants for the state funds. The “slippery slope” issue becomes a part of this, because if Trinity is given money for its playground, what comes next? Isn’t saving the church money freeing up their funds for religious purposes? If the church accepts money from the government isn’t it potentially allowing the government to make rules that it will have to follow? It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court decides.
Data from USA Today, April 19, 2017, page 3A.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Global Citizens

Globe Skimmer Dragonfly
Globe Skimmer Dragonfly

One of the most interesting examples of design in living things is the ability that various forms of life have to migrate great distances for a wide variety of reasons. Sea turtles have an uncanny ability to return to the same beaches over and over to lay their eggs. Whales can travel long distances when they are ready to calve, giving their offspring a greater chance of survival. Migrations can be critical to animals or plants other than the animal making the migration. Sometimes the migration is critical to an environmental ecosystem. The salmon migration in Alaska, for example, is critical to the entire area sustaining plant life and a wide variety of animal life.

When insect migrations are studied, the question of how they make the migrations and why becomes even more complicated. Monarch butterflies make migrations of great lengths even though their life expectancy is too short for any single butterfly to make the entire migration. The champion of insect migrations is the globe skimmer dragonfly (Pantala flavescens). This insect has wide wings that look very delicate, but those wings can carry it for thousands of miles seeking wet seasons when it can reproduce. Migration has spread this insect’s DNA worldwide to every continent except Antarctica. Globe skimmers can fly for hours without landing and have been seen as high as 20,000 feet (6,200 m) in the Himalayas. They are sometimes called wandering gliders because they can glide on thermals in a way similar to birds. They seem to prefer moist winds, and they don’t stop for bad weather.

Migration is a fascinating part of the life of many creatures from whales to insects. Especially when we think of migrating insects like monarch butterflies and globe skimmers, it seems obvious that the ability and desire to make the migration are programmed into their DNA. We would suggest programming needs a Programmer.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Bystander Effect and Christians

No More Bystanding
No More Bystanding

Several years ago there was an incident in which a young woman on a New York street was attacked, beaten, and eventually killed by a young man while over 100 people stood around and watched. No one came to the young woman’s aid, and there have been similar incidents in other places in the United States. Psychologists have labeled this the “bystander effect.” There have been numerous studies done to answer the question of why this happens. Our culture seems to fear involvement, and the “lawyer effect” where people are afraid they will get sued or hurt is only part of the issue. Thanks to cell phones we now can assume that everyone can call for whatever help they need, and our view of others is becoming an isolationist view.

If your religious view is “survival of the fittest,” then anyone who needs help is simply not fit and endangering your fitness by helping them is not going to happen. When I was an atheist, I would be likely to stop and help a woman who was having car trouble, but my motives were less than altruistic. I would be very unlikely to help a man in the same situation. Not all atheists are so selfishly guided, but the logic of atheistic beliefs would deny endangering oneself to benefit another. Some religions would push a person to help others of the same faith, but people of a different faith are considered to be enemies and would not be helped. The “golden rule” is recognized by almost everyone as a nice philosophy, but the bystander effect seems to be more widely practiced in today’s world.

In Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, the bystanders were the people most qualified to give aid. The twist is that the outcast Samaritan, rejected by the people to whom Jesus was speaking, refused to be a bystander and give aid to the wounded man. The first century Church stood out in the society in which it functioned by responding to the needs of everyone in Jerusalem (Acts 3-5). Throughout the New Testament, we see the emphasis on doing good to everyone.

How do we as individuals take the “bystander effect” out of our thinking? I would suggest that we need to spend some time looking at what Jesus taught, and how the early Church responded to the culture of the day. When you read James 5, you get the picture of Christians not only addressing the physical needs of those around them but also being a part of the emotional and spiritual struggles of daily living as well. The entire “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) moves us to think differently by allowing God’s Word to permeate our hearts. Second Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that Scripture has value in molding and shaping our attitudes and thoughts. We can be the light of the world that Jesus talks about. The people of Jesus’ day were astonished at his doctrine. Our world today will also be astonished when Christians live as God calls us to live. The deeper our world sinks into secularism and selfish bystander non-involvement, the brighter the Christian light will become.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Many Extinct Species?

Fossils
Fossils

Atheists often challenge us with the widely quoted statistic that “95 to 99 percent of all creatures that have ever lived are now extinct.” Their argument is that if there were a wise God who created life, he would have done a better job. The skeptics are assuming that they know the purpose for which a wise God would have created those life-forms. Perhaps the extinct species had a purpose of preparing the Earth for humans, and they went extinct because they had served their purpose. But I am assuming that humans are the pinnacle and ultimate purpose of God’s creation. Atheists reject that idea. One of our skeptical followers recently posted a comment referring to “the virus called man,” as if humans are a blight on an otherwise good world.

Another possibility is that perhaps the statistic of extinct species is highly exaggerated. Since the life-forms that have gone extinct are no longer around, how do scientists determine how many species have gone extinct since life began? The number of fossils of extinct species we have actually found is estimated to be about 250,000. So we have direct evidence of a quarter of a million extinct species. According to National Geographic (May 2014), there are at least 1.9 million animal species today and at least 450,000 plant species. If it’s true that 95 percent of the animal species have gone extinct and there are 1.9 million living today, that means that over 36 million have gone extinct. If we have fossils of only 250,000 extinct species (plants and animals) how do we know that there were 36 million others for which we have no evidence? According to National Geographic (May 2014), Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University, and his colleagues “reviewed data from fossil records and noted when species disappeared, then used statistical modeling to fill in holes in the record.” In other words, they are filling in the “holes” or “missing links” in the evolutionary record to determine how many other species must have existed that disappeared without a trace.

The questions we might want to ask are, “Why do we have fossils of only 250,000 species out of 36,000,000? Why are we assuming that 36,000,000 species have gone extinct based on the evidence of fossils totaling less than seven-tenths of one percent of that number?” The answer to those questions is apparently the fact that naturalistic evolution from single-celled life to humans requires us to make that assumption. Perhaps this gives us something to ponder.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Constants in the Universe

Physics Formulas
Physics Formulas

A major component of the cosmological evidence for the existence of God is the value of constants that govern the universe. Over the centuries scientists have determined the value of these constants, and all of our knowledge of the cosmos is based on these values. These constants are also used to define the units in which we measure things like mass, length, current flow, temperature, time, and light intensity. You either have to believe that these precise numerical values are a product of chance, or that they have been consciously chosen by a Creator. It’s the precise values of these constants that allow the cosmos to exist and to remain stable. Here are only nine of the constants and their role in science and in defining the units used by scientists.

PLANCK CONSTANT- This constant is 6.626070040 x 10^-34 kg m^2/sec.
This constant denotes the scale of quantum mechanics and is used to define the kilogram, a standard unit of mass. It is used in many equations in physics.

SPEED OF LIGHT IN A VACUUM- The value is 299,792,458 m/sec. This is the maximum speed of any object in the universe and is used to define the meter. It is equal to the energy of a mass divided by the speed of light squared and is used in many equations in physics.

ELEMENTARY CHARGE- The value is 1.6021766208 x 10^-19 ampere seconds and is the value of the electrical charge on an electron or proton. It is used to define the ampere, the basic unit of electrical current.

BOLTZMANN CONSTANT- The value is 1.38064852 x 10^-23 kg m^2/(s^2 kelvin). This constant is used to convert from energy to temperature and is used to define the Kelvin.

AVOGADRO CONSTANT- This chemical constant is 6.022140857 x 10^23/mole and indicates the number of particles in one mole of a substance. The mole is used with the Rydberg constant in defining the kilogram and is the basis of mass calculations in chemical reactions.

RYDBERG CONSTANT- The value is 10,973,731.568508/m and determines the wavelengths of light emitted from a hydrogen atom. In addition to its use with Avogadro in determining the kilogram, it is used in spectroscopy.

HYPERFINE SPLITTING OF CESIUM- The value is 9,192,631,770/sec and is the frequency of a cesium atomic clock used to accurately define the second.

LUMINOUS EFFICACY- The value is 683 candela steradian s^3/kg m^2 and is used in converting brightness to energy per unit of time. It is used by astronomers and physicists working with light intensities.

FINE-STRUCTURE CONSTANT- The value is 1/137.035999139 and is used to determine the strength of electromagnetic interactions between charged particles.

As you look at these constants and notice their precision, you can get a sense of the precision that was needed just to establish the basic components of our universe. This list is not exhaustive, and science students know that they as well as others are essential to understanding the basics of chemistry and physics.

Proverbs 8:22-23 takes on a whole new meaning if we understand that wisdom is speaking and says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” The frontiers of science today in quantum mechanics and cosmology are just beginning to understand the essential nature of the constants and the complex science needed to create time, space, and the beginnings of matter/energy. We can see even more clearly the statement of Romans 1:20 telling us that “we can know there is a God through the things he has made.”
Constant data from Science News, November 12, 2016, page 26.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cubit Pi Silliness

Cubit Pi There is no limit to the extremes that skeptics will go trying to find mistakes in the Bible. One recent case involves cubit pi. An atheist claimed that the Bible was full of mathematical mistakes and impossibilities indicating the primitive nature and lack of knowledge of the authors. The case used was 1 Kings 7:23-26 and 2 Chronicles 4:2,5 where a laver is described, and numbers are given for its dimensions in cubits. The Bible says that the circumference of the round laver was 30 cubits and that the diameter was 10 cubits from rim to rim. The formula for the circumference of a circle is pi (3.14) times the diameter, so in this case it would be 31.4 cubits, not 30. A Hebrew cubit was 17.5 inches, a Babylonian cubit was 19.8 inches, and an Egyptian cubit was 20.63 inches, so this seems to be about a 19-inch mistake.

One might suggest that the rounding of numbers is the issue here since ancient measuring devices didn’t measure to two decimal places. But there is another interesting possibility. The ten cubits is measured rim to rim which would mean that the outside circumference was 31.4 cubits. However, if 30 cubits is the inside circumference of the laver, that would make the inside diameter 9.55 cubits. Subtracting 9.55 cubits from 10 would leave a difference of .45 cubits. So the thickness of the walls of the laver would be one-half of .45 cubits or .225 cubits (about 3.8 inches). First Kings 7:26 and 2 Chronicles 4:5 states that the walls of the laver were a “handbreadth” in thickness. Excavations of artifacts from ancient times frequently find lavers with that thickness, so the numbers are totally reasonable.

This is just another example of how desperate skeptics are to discard God and His Word. First Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for our faith, but some questions seem too silly to dignify by attempting an answer. This cubit pi challenge may be one of those questions, but we have an answer anyway.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gathering to Worship

Gathering to Worship
Gathering to Worship

We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.

The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).

Worship is not to be entertained, but to participate. It isn’t to admire one another’s talents, but to be blessed with the opportunity to tap into a power beyond our own, and to learn how to live in a way that fulfills our purpose in existing. If someone is not “getting anything out of it”, the reason is that they came with the wrong expectations and for the wrong purpose. Worship is meaningless only if we do not have a relationship with God.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Symbols

Emojis
Emojis

Humans seem to enjoy using symbols for everything in life. Notice the emoticons and emojis used in electronic communication. It is interesting that the use of symbols to convey meaning is an attribute of humans that is not seen in any other form of life. Animals may use sounds or chemicals to alert others of their kind to danger, territory, or sexual availability, but these are not symbols. Sometimes symbols have different meanings to different cultures or even different generations. In my hippie days, holding up two fingers in a “V” meant “peace.” When I was first inducted into military service, the same symbol meant “victory” and indicated an intention to conquer. Symbols convey information, and as the deaf can demonstrate to us, they can even form the basis of complex communication.

Our use of symbols is a reflection of our spiritual makeup. We can create art, express ourselves in music, and worship God because we possess a soul which allows these unique forms of expression. The most mentally challenged among us can use symbols and rejoice in being able to do so.

Sometimes symbols and their use are unique to a particular time in human history. A classic example of this is the use of the cross. In today’s world, the cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity. People wear crosses to express their personal faith. The cross is put on many buildings, Bibles, and along our roadsides. Steven Lemley in an article in Power for Today (January 2, 2017) points out that in the first century the cross was only a sign of the execution of guilty criminals. He reminds us that wearing a cross or having it adorn a place of worship in the first century, would be like us today wearing the image of a hypodermic needle used in executions. Many saw the cross as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23) or a sign of God’s weakness. Paul used the cross as a symbol of separating ourselves from the world (Galatians 6:14) as well as crucifying our sinful nature (Romans 6:6).

For the first century Christians, the outline of a fish was used as a symbol. The Greek word “fish” spelled out an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Archaeological discoveries of ancient Christian symbols display the fish and sometimes a young man holding a lamb. Today we see people with fish symbols on their cars. We also see the cross used as a symbol to remind us of the terrible suffering that Jesus endured, and the ultimate victory of Christ over sin. All symbols, even emojis, can remind us that we have an eternal spiritual nature that we can express in many ways. The use of symbols, worship, and prayer are uniquely human features reminding us that we were created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Picking and Choosing Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

As an old physics teacher, I find it interesting to watch people on both sides of the argument about the existence of God pick and choose various parts of Einstein’s work to support their positions. Picking and choosing Einstein to prove your point is not an option.

Recently I had an atheist and a Christian dispensationalist both use Einstein’s time dilation equation to support their position. That equation says that your time in motion is determined by your time at rest divided by the square root of one minus your velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared.

This formula indicates that the higher the velocity of motion, the smaller the value of the denominator of that equation becomes. Therefore, time expands. This is a fact. Neutrons in nuclear accelerators might live 18 minutes at rest before decaying into protons and electrons. When accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, they last much longer before decaying.

My atheist friend maintains that since the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion, it will eventually reach the speed of light and time will stop. He then proposes that time will reverse since the value of the denominator in Einstein’s equation would become negative. He then suggests that this process will be repeated in an eternal universe. Therefore, no beginning and no God.

My dispensationalist friend is one of several authors who propose that the universe started out expanding at a much higher velocity with time passing at a different rate than we experience today. This would mean that the evidence for the cosmos being very old is an illusion. In the beginning, time passed more slowly because of the much higher velocity of expansion. Since we move more slowly today, time is passing faster. Therefore, the universe is much younger than it would appear.

Both of these people were picking and choosing Einstein to support a personal religious opinion. Both of them are ignoring much of Einstein’s work. When the neutron referred to earlier is accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, not only does its time frame change but its relativistic mass changes too. Another one of Einstein’s equations looks just like the time equation but deals with mass. The change in the relativistic mass of a particle is equal to its mass at rest divided by the square root of one minus its velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared.

Experimentally this calculation works and can be verified. Perhaps the most well-known equation of Issac Newton is F = MA. This tells us that the force (F) needed to accelerate a mass (M) is equal to its mass multiplied by the acceleration (A). We all know from experience that the greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to speed it up when we push it, and the faster we want it to go the harder we have to push. If the relativistic mass increases as you get near the speed of light, what happens to the force you have to exert? Obviously, It increases too. At the speed of light, you would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite force to move it.

Another fascinating equation from Einstein is that the length of an object changes as it approaches the speed of light. In the reverse of the change in time and mass, the length contracts in the direction of motion as the object gets closer the speed of light. At the speed of light, the length would be zero, and the object would cease to exist.

These are simplifications of Einstein’s work, but the point is that picking and choosing Einstein to prove your point is not honest. Relativistic effects cannot be picked and chosen while ignoring other effects. God created the cosmos with certain constants and relationships. These choices allow us to exist, but they also put a limit on what is possible. We struggle to comprehend all that is involved in the simple phrase, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”


–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Event that Changed the World

Empty Tomb

Early on the first day of the week, some women came to the tomb where the lifeless body of Jesus had been placed. It was empty. It had been opened–not by any human hands but by an angel. It wasn’t opened to let Jesus out. The tomb was opened so that people might see that it was empty. The followers of Jesus were not expecting him to be alive again. At first, they couldn’t believe it. Powerful people tried to find the body or to convince the public that it had been stolen. But they could not.

Now, over 2000 years later, there are still those who try to deny the resurrection. The evidence is there. The friends of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection, but after they had seen him alive, they spent the rest of their lives telling others about it. Even when they were tortured and killed for preaching the resurrection, not one of them ever recanted. Without a body, the powerful enemies of Jesus could not disprove the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, written only a few years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul recorded what scholars believe was an oral tradition of the resurrection appearances dating back to the very time of the resurrection. If it had not been true, this tradition and Paul’s record of it would have been debunked by the eyewitnesses who were still around. It was true, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most solidly attested event of ancient history. The world will never be the same because of the day when death was conquered.
–Roland Earnst © 2017