Time Debate and Genesis

Time Debate and Genesis

Several years ago, I was involved in a three-way debate in California between a Young Earth Creationist, a Modern Apologist Scholar, and myself. I was supposed to present design arguments while the other two engaged in an intellectual tug-of-war over the Genesis account. I learned from that experience not to get involved in that kind of time debate again.

I have engaged in debates with atheists for over 50 years, but those debates were easy to understand, and the different views were clear. This Califonia debate was between believers. Because the subject was the integrity of the Genesis account, I used a chart that shows that the SEQUENCE of the Genesis 1 account and the fossil record are identical. The Apologist Scholar denigrated my chart by saying that the events described occurred over a 600 million year period, and, therefore, the Genesis account could not be viewed as historically accurate. The Young Earth Creationist reacted to that claim, and they engaged in a free-for-all about the time issues and the purpose of Genesis 1. The point of my chart was lost in the time debate.

Humans always get hung up on the time issues. God created time. Psalms 90:4 says, “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night.” God is outside of time, and the Bible tells us over-and-over not to restrict Him by demanding a time-scale for what God does. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power” (Acts 1:7).

The message of Genesis is not about time. The first verse of the Bible describes an event and process that is not dated or timed. The fact that the first chapter gives an accurate account of the SEQUENCE in which God created the Earth and all that is on it is excellent evidence that it came from the Creator. Since God created time, there is no reason for us to get hung up on how long God chose to do His work.

Theologians have led us down a rocky road of ascribing dates and times to the things God has done or will do. The birth of Christ certainly did not happen on December 25. Denominations have been created by theologians who try to establish when Christ will come again and when the judgment will take place. This is even though Jesus said, “…of that day and hour knows no man, no not the angels of heaven – only my Father” (Matthew 24:36).

People want to know when things will happen so that they can be prepared, but 2 Peter 3:11 anticipates that and warns us to always be prepared. It is hard for us to comprehend the fact that time for us ends when we die. It is equally difficult to realize that God acts outside of time. Many people stumble by putting the Genesis account at odds with the scientific evidence or relegating the Bible to symbolism and mythology rather than being literally true. Don’t get caught up in the time debate and make time an enemy of faith in the God of love, truth, and wisdom portrayed in His Word.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The Christian Temple and the Jewish Temple

The Christian Temple and the Jewish Temple
Illustration of the Temple Solomon Built

One of the great misunderstandings of atheists and believers alike is the true meaning of the temple. The Christian temple is radically different from all other temples, including the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple’s history goes back to the time of King David, who complained that he lived in a house made of cedar while the ark of God was in curtains. God told David in 2 Samuel 7:3 to do what was in his heart. The enthusiasm for building a physical temple seems to come from David, but he did not complete the job.

There are many problems with temples. They are costly to build and maintain, they can be destroyed, and they can become political tools of evil people. However, the main problem is that temples limit God. If God dwells in His house, then you go to His house to be with God. When you leave His house, you leave God. That also is likely to mean you leave your morals behind. Did you ever wonder what was in David’s mind when he got involved with Bathsheba? Where was God in his thinking? Answer – in the Temple with his morals. How often do we see people who claim to be religious have the same moral weaknesses as everyone else?

Jesus gave a completely different view of the Christian Temple. First Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that Christians are God’s temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. In Acts 17:24-25, Paul told the pagans that God does NOT live in temples made with human hands and is not served by human hands. First Corinthians 6:15-20 tells Christians that their bodies are the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and that going to a prostitute is a logical impossibility.

Jesus made comparisons between the Jewish Temple and the Christian Temple. Just as the Jewish Temple had lights, so too should the Christian Temple. “You are the light of the world.” (See Matthew 5:14-16.) Galatians 5:22-26 speaks of what the Holy Spirit working in the Christian’s life will produce. Jewish worship involved giving the best they had. Mark 12:42 (the widow’s mite), and Luke 18:18-27 (the rich young ruler) make clear the Christian sacrifice and priorities.

The Jewish Temple was a place of learning and growth, and so too is the Christian temple. We need to learn and grow every day. This website and the “Does God Exist?” ministry are dedicated to helping people learn and grow. We learn new things every day, and we are always amazed to see how God uses our feeble efforts to help others grow.

You can receive God’s Spirit, making you a temple of God, by obeying Acts 2:38. That verse tells us that we will receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit” when we are baptized into Christ. God will never leave us, but we can force the Spirit out of our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The blessings of being the temple that Jesus promised far outweigh any physical reward. Human efforts to replace the true temple with a “temple made with human hands” cannot compare.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

God’s Will and Our Free Will

God's Will and Our Free Will

One of the struggles that we all have with our relationship to God is understanding why negative things happen to us. Some say “this is God’s will” in response to COVID-19, but when your loved one dies from it, that isn’t much help. Some of us have been taught a determinist view of God. God’s decretive or determining will is seen as sovereign, universal, and all-inclusive. What can we understand about God’s will and our free will?

One writer has said, “God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It includes everything–even sin and suffering. So your career, marriage, friends, sicknesses, accidents, income, etc. are all part of God’s determined will but are not revealed to you ahead of time.”

Why does God allow someone to have one tragedy after another that they didn’t cause? Why should a young mother have a severe illness and die? Why do babies die? Anyone who says they have all the answers is a liar because none of us do, and being an atheist doesn’t help either. There are some scriptural clues in the use of four Greek words:

Prothesis” usually translated purpose. See Romans 8:28; 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.

Boule” which means counsel. See Acts 2:23; 4:28; Ephesians 1:11.

Eudokia” meaning desire, good pleasure. See Ephesians 1:5;9; Philippians 2:13.

Epitrepo” means to permit. See 1 Corinthians 16:7; Hebrews 6:3.

I hope you will take some time to read through those passages and think about how they are different, and how they may overlap. It seems that God’s will has three primary connotations: purpose, desire, and permission. Jack Cottrell has an excellent treatment of this in his book What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, College Press, ©1984, pp. 299-329.

Cottrell goes into this subject deeply, but here is a simplified explanation. The determinist view has one glaring weakness. It ignores the purpose for which God created humans. We are not robots programmed to a specific end. In revealing God’s will through His purpose, His desire, and His permission, the Bible shows us that we are precious to Him. He allows our free will to love, serve, and obey Him–or rejecting Him. God tells us what is best for us, and He makes it clear what His desire is for us. But He permits us to choose to reject Him and live in destructive ways.

Our free will is the key here, but we need to know we have a purpose in existence and that free will is a part of that purpose. God allows us to have problems and permits us to seek evil solutions to those problems. If our love for God and our desire to have a relationship with Him is strong enough, the problems will not destroy our relationship with Him. God promises us limits (see 1 Corinthians 10:13) and takes the problems and makes good come out of them (see Romans 8:28). These challenges can boost our relationship with God or destroy it. That is our choice.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

God’s Hygienic Food Laws, Wet Markets and COVID-19

Chinese Wet Market and God's Hygienic Food Laws
Chinese Wet Market

One of the enduring questions with the COVID-19 virus is its origin. We know that it came from the wet markets in Wuhan, China, but it is essential to look at what practices led to this pandemic. No one in the scientific community denies that epidemics and pandemics begin when a pathogen moves from one species to another. We need to consider how God’s hygienic food laws which He gave to the Israelites prevented epidemics and pandemics.

When you read the Old Testament, you see all kinds of restrictions on food. Those include not only what the Israelites could eat, but also how it was procured and prepared. From the earliest times, eating blood was forbidden (Genesis 9:4). Any preparation that allowed blood to remain in the meat was prohibited, so an animal that was strangled could not be eaten. Eating anything that had died on its own was forbidden (Exodus 22:31 and Leviticus 17:15). Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 give a long and tedious list of what could be eaten and what could not. There were even instructions on how to prepare the meat (Exodus 12:8-9).

The practice in the Old Testament was that eating meat of any kind (other than fish) was a rare situation and usually only for the wealthy. The main diet was grains and fruits. When humans began to build cities, this dietary practice changed, but the early Christians retained much of the Old Testament diet and restrictions. (See Acts 15:29; 21:25.)

As humans moved away from the biblical instructions of God’s hygienic food laws and the handling of animals, they instituted some very dubious practices. The July/August 2020 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (pages 20-24) carries a discussion titled “Did Superstition Cause the COVID-19 Outbreak?” The article describes traditional Chinese beliefs about meat and other byproducts of wild animals.

In China, much of the food is distributed in wet markets. In these markets, fish and a variety of other animals such as bats are slaughtered and gutted on-site to guarantee freshness. In places like Wuhan, the ground is wet with melted ice and the blood of various species. The animals to be slaughtered are kept alive in closely packed open cages where the blood and feces intermingle.

When we read through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we may feel burdened with what appears to be an endless list of restrictions and rules. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the wet markets’ environment is conducive to the spread of disease. Epidemics of the past can be related directly and indirectly to cultural practices that would not have happened in the Israelite culture in the day of Moses. We have new problems today because of the size of the human population and the closeness of animals of all kinds and humans. The COVID-19 tragedy is a reminder of the wisdom we see in God’s hygienic food laws in the Old Testament.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos - Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant
Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant

Those of us who are interested in the subject of creation have been excited about some new data which will help us understand the cosmos. Apparently God has built into the creation various devices to help us more clearly see what He has created. Among those devices are fast radio bursts (FRBs).

When high mass stars draw in matter, they emit various frequencies of radio waves. Neutron stars and black holes release radio waves in a wide range of different energies. High energy waves travel through space without being affected a great deal by anything. Lower energy radio waves are affected by whatever material they pass through. Recent research has shown that in interstellar space there are variations in the actual speed of radio waves coming from a common source, depending on how much intergalactic material the waves are going through.

The material that slows the radiation is the ordinary particles called baryons, including protons and neutrons. We now know that interstellar space is full of the matter that makes up our galaxy, but at a very low density. These microscopic baryons do not emit light so we have not been able to detect their presence in the past. Fast radio bursts can make it possible for us to observe them because of the effect they have on the speed of the radiation.

Astronomers know from observing the light that was emitted when the universe was young that baryons should be the source of five percent of all the mass and energy in the cosmos. If that was true at the beginning, it should also be true today. However, the stars and gas we can see only account for half of that amount. The baryons are not uniform or isotropic in their distribution, but rather exist as filaments making a sort of web of low density matter which can be measured using FRBs. Astronomers are optimistic that this discovery will account for the “missing mass” in the creation. (This is the missing mass of regular matter, not dark matter, which is still a mystery.)

When the Bible challenges us to “know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20), it implies that this process is ongoing. In the 21st century we are blessed with new and better tools to see what God has made. Like the microscope, fast radio bursts open whole new vistas for us so that we can see and understand more of the handiwork of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News , June 20, 2020, page 6, and Nature.com

Literalism and a Literal Understanding of the Bible

Literalism and a Literal Understanding of the Bible

There is a common mistake made by atheists and by many preachers who say they take the Bible literally. The problem involves knowing the difference between literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. Literalism is interpreting a passage while ignoring who wrote it, why they wrote it, what kind of literature or teaching technique it is, and to whom it was written.

When atheists try to say that a biblical passage cannot be true, they are almost always using literalism. An example is skeptics who claim that the Bible says the Earth is flat and has corners like a sheet of paper. They use Revelation 7:1 to support this, “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth…” If you don’t read the passage’s context, you might conclude that it says the Earth is flat and has corners. There is a “Flat Earth Society” that believes that today, but that is not what the Bible is saying. In the past, literalist church leaders insisted that the Bible says the Sun orbits the Earth instead of the other way around. They based that on passages that talk about the motion of the Sun (such as Joshua 19) or a passage they believed said that the Earth cannot be moved (Psalms 93:1 KJV).

A more complex example is seen in Luke 16:19-31. It’s the familiar story of Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham. Atheists have used this account to ridicule the concept of heaven and hell and preachers have used it to justify fire and damnation sermons. Is this passage a literal description of the judgment scene? This is an excellent example of the principles of literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible.

This passage is one of a series of parables. It begins as the other parables with, “There was a …” Abraham is the only proper name used in the passage. “A certain rich man…” is never identified. The word translated “Lazarus” means “without help” in the original language. It is a description of the beggar, not his formal name. Abraham is never given the role of a judge in the scripture. He is the father of Israel, but he certainly is not God. Jesus told the story to “the Pharisees who were covetous” (verse 14) and considered themselves sons of Abraham. Jesus did not address the parable to theologians wanting to know the nature of hell. The picture of people in hell seeing people in heaven may be useful for artists, but it violates all descriptions of heaven and hell. The parable’s message is condemning the hypocrisy of people who claimed a relationship with God but did nothing to help others.

We must apply these principles to any passage we read. Were the nephilim of Genesis 6 literal giants? No, we have discussed that before. Did the animal in Job 41:14 have doors on its face? Does light shine when it sneezes (verse 18)? Do sparks, smoke, and flame come out of its mouth (verse 19, 20)? Is its heart as hard as a millstone (verse 24)?

There are many other passages where people confuse literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. The entire book of Revelation is misrepresented by folks who use literalism instead of taking it literally. As we have said before, taking a Bible passage literally means looking at who wrote it, to whom and why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. The Bible is easy to understand, and its message is 100% true, but, like any written message, it can be distorted and misrepresented. Sometimes skeptics do that purposely. Many times believers do it innocently because they don’t read it carefully and apply common sense to understand it literally.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Is God’s Design of Our Bodies Faulty?

Is God's Design of Our Bodies Faulty?

One question repeatedly arises from skeptics, atheists, and people struggling with health issues. They want to know why we have all of the diseases, syndromes, and disabilities that afflict people. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? Is the bad stuff that comes into our lives punishment for some transgression of God’s laws?

It seems that we have more things that can go wrong with us today than ever before, and a large percentage of our modern afflictions are genetic or congenital. It isn’t just that we have more names for current problems, but the problems themselves seem to be more abundant.

The Bible tells us that God is never the author of our problems. James 1:13 makes it clear that God never brings bad things upon us. The passage goes on to say, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning.”

A part of the answer to the source of these afflictions is our development of plastics. In 1922, the first synthetic plastic was sold by the Bakelite Corporation. In 2018, 400 million tons of new plastics were created. We all cringe when we see pictures of whales or sea turtles or albatrosses dying because of ingesting plastic, but we don’t realize that we too are consuming plastic. The average American consumes more than 74,000 microplastic particles every year. These particles contain bisphenol A and phthalates, which in turn attract polychlorinated biphenyls. These chemicals have been shown to affect brain and organ development in children, and they are linked to infertility, hormonal problems, and cardiovascular problems in adults.

There are efforts to control plastics production, and science is researching ways to remove dangerous chemicals from the plastics we use. Our point is that this is another case where blaming God for a problem that humans have created is not logical or reasonable. Is God’s design of our bodies faulty? As David wrote, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). Much of what goes wrong with our bodies is due to our ignorant use of things that damage them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Consumer Reports, June 2020.

Fossil Nicknamed Little Foot

Foot Bones of the Fossil Nicknamed Little Foot
Fossil Little Foot’s little foot

The subject of human evolution is an area that continues to change with new techniques and new data, such as the study of a fossil nicknamed Little Foot. This area is of interest to those of us involved in apologetics – the study of evidence for the existence of God. The biblical concept of human creation is that we are created in the “image of God.” That message is clearly not referring to our physical makeup or how we look. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and it is our spiritual makeup, which is in God’s image.

The origin of the races of humans is interesting historically, but especially now with the “black lives matter” movement. Evolutionists at the time of Darwin claimed that black people were early prototypes of humans, but were not fully human and therefore could be treated like animals. For many people, that belief, as absurd as it is, was the justification for slavery. As far as apologetics is concerned, the uniqueness of all humans is rooted in human spiritual abilities. Those include the capacity to worship, the ability to create music and art, the ability to feel spiritual emotions, and our concept of self-awareness.

The assumption that humans evolved from some ancient ape-like animal has been fraught with difficulties and controversy. A skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus found at Sterkfontein in South Africa has added to the discussion. The fossil nicknamed Little Foot has a well-preserved atlas vertebra that sits just beneath the cranium at the top of the spinal column. By studying this vertebra, scientists can determine the flow of blood to the brain.

Little Foot’s blood flow was significantly lower than the flow into human brains, which means that Little Foot’s brain was severely restricted. Scientists classify it as Australopithecus, which refers to a group of apes and monkeys. New data adds to the evidence that science needs to clarify the physical models of change in monkeys, apes, and, most importantly, in humans.

Any attempt to use science to denigrate a race of humans as inferior is unsupported by the evidence. We see human uniqueness in the truth of the simple biblical statement, “God that made the world and all things within it … has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the earth…” (Acts 17:24 and 26).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Archaeology magazine

Religious Hucksters and COVID-19

Religious Hucksters and COVID-19

One of the funniest stories in the Bible is about religious hucksters (Acts 19:13-16). A group of “vagabond Jews” tried to conduct a religious healing of a man. These seven religious “healers” were the sons of a priest named Sceva. They performed their chanting, which included mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. Then the evil spirit in the man they were trying to heal spoke up and said, “Jesus I know and Paul I know; but who are you?” The patient jumped on the seven “healers,” ripped their clothes off, and ran them out of the house “naked and wounded.”

Today we see religious hucksters promoting all kinds of things that are supposed to heal people of the coronavirus or prevent its infection. Atheists use these charlatans to attack belief in God. In the June 2020 issue of the Center For Inquiry, there is a full-page article on Jim Bakker, the former TV evangelist. Bakker has a “silver solution” containing colloidal silver which he claims can cure COVID-19.

Silver is dangerous when it is in solution with other chemicals. Silver nitrate is an important tool in chemistry for use in qualitative analysis. One thing students learn early in chemistry is that silver nitrate will turn their skin to a blue/black color. The National Institutes of Health has issued a warning saying, “Colloidal silver can be dangerous to your health.” The Center for Inquiry article says “..Bakker and those like him don’t care whether their drugs work – as long as they sell.”

The story in Acts 19 is a warning to us that religious deception is as old as humanity, and we need to trust God and not modern “snake oil” hucksters like Bakker. Atheists will continue to use religious hucksters to destroy people’s faith in God. Educating ourselves and others about the false claims of people who pretend to speak for God is one way we can defend our faith and avoid adding tragedy to people already in pain.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Willful Blindness and Race

Willful Blindness and Race

I have been thinking about willful blindness. Many years ago, in a lectureship in Canada, I met a Christian lady who was born and raised in Germany before and during World War II. After the war, she became a Christian, but during the war, she was part of Hitler’s youth workers and active in the Nazi movement. As she talked about her leadership role in the Nazi movement, she spoke of being enthusiastic about the successes of Nazism and how it gave young Nazi workers pride and enthusiasm for the economic and social achievements it generated.

As she spoke, she became subdued and said that when she and other young Germans heard that Jews were being put in concentration camps and killed just because they were Jews, they didn’t believe it. “We are too smart, too religious, too kind to ever allow such things to happen. That can not be true!” She then looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “But we were so terribly, horribly, awfully wrong.”

I have often heard people say that they can’t understand how the German people allowed the persecution of the Jews under Hitler. The reason is willful blindness! As we are seeing and hearing the cry of our black friends and neighbors now in 2020, we need to have the courage to ask if we, too, are willfully blind.

Willful blindness is common to humans. In Matthew 21:7-11, we see people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem with a huge parade and with cries of love and support. In Matthew 27:22-25, we see these same people crying, “Crucify him!!” In Acts 7:54-60, we see people killing Stephen and even covering their ears to avoid hearing the truth about what they were doing.

I am an old man, and I have lived and worked among people of color all my life. Yet until the last few weeks, I never heard about the horrible destruction and murder of over three hundred innocent blacks living in Greenwood, Oklahoma, on May 31-June 1 of 1921. A prosperous town known as “Black Wall-street” was made up of black homes and businesses. It was attacked, and 1265 houses were burned, 150 businesses destroyed and looted, and 9,000 left homeless.

How did I never hear of this tragedy? I never thought about the impact of how we all got here. My ancestors came to America to escape persecution and to look for freedom. My black friends are here because their ancestors were ripped away from family and home, taken on a trip they didn’t want to take, and denied basic rights and freedom. How have I ignored that fact? The answer is “willful blindness.”

In this time of having our vision restored, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific and reflect on how they apply to us:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all of the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Let us all work at getting rid of our own willful blindness and ask God to help us have the total spiritual sight that Paul talked about in Galatians 3:26-28.

— John N. Clayton © 2020