Natural Disaster and God

Natural Disaster and God Every time natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, people tend to blame God for what happened. The current examples are the hurricane in the panhandle of Florida, and the catastrophic earthquake in Indonesia. What atheists and skeptics fail to realize about natural disasters is that the vast majority of catastrophes are due to human ignorance and mismanagement. Both of the current crises demonstrate that point.

The major loss of life and devastation in Indonesia is in an area that was built on a restored landfill. Gravel, sand, and dirt were brought in to make living space for what were mostly poor workers and laborers. Engineers have warned for a very long time that the land under the highly populated area was unstable, and the earthquake was enough to cause that land to move in a significant way. You could call this a human-designed natural disaster.

In America, we have the same situation in New Orleans and Los Angeles. New Orleans is built on an area that is soft and prone to flooding, and part of the city is even below sea level. Los Angeles is built in an earthquake active area riddled with faults. It isn’t a question of whether a severe earthquake will happen in the Los Angeles area, it is just a question of when. There will be a catastrophe when that happens, and God will be blamed for causing it.

Hurricane Michael is a demonstration of another human-caused natural disaster. One of the designs of our planet is the method which brings water to areas that would otherwise be a desert. At the equator, the direct sunlight evaporates ocean water which falls as rain causing tropical rain forests. The remaining dry air moves north or south in what is called the “Hadley Cells.” When that dry air cools and returns Earth’s surface at 30 degrees latitude, it produces desert conditions. Most of the world’s great deserts are found at 30 degrees north or south latitude–the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the Mohave, etc.

In the southeastern United States, 30 degrees north latitude runs through northern Florida. That area would be a desert were it not for hurricanes. The heating of the ocean in the summer is sufficient to lift massive amounts of water which are then carried to the land restoring lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Without that large water supply system, that area would be a desert like the Sahara. The land area around the Gulf of Mexico in its pristine state had barrier beaches and mangrove forests that moderated the wind and storm surge. When I was a child living in Alabama, we looked forward to “hurricane parties” when we would “button down” and enjoy not having to work. The storm’s damage was limited, and even the storm surge was never a problem. That was 80 years ago.

Since that time, we have modified the shoreline stripping the barrier beaches of vegetation, and building houses where they are easily destroyed by water or wind. Even the vast mangrove swamps that were a buffer to storms have been removed, and channels have been built lined with aluminum houses, golf courses, and boat facilities. It was an invitation for a natural disaster.

We are sympathetic to those who have suffered because of the greed and foolishness of city planners and real estate salespeople. But don’t blame God for the foolishness of human actions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Genesis 1:1 and the Creation Week

Genesis 1:1 and Zion Canyon
Because it was not God’s purpose to give details of the creation of the universe, Genesis 1:1 covers it in one sentence. “Reshith Elohim bara shamayan erets.” Those are the Hebrew words translated: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a historical statement which says there was a beginning to everything in space and on Earth. Those few words tell us that God was the cause of the creation. The creation included a planet with everything that we would need to exist and flourish–carbon, oxygen, water, coal, oil, nitrates, etc. “Erets” refers to a functional planet–not to a blob of gook.

As we drove through the canyonlands last month (see earlier posts), we saw how God prepared the Earth and the physical, chemical, and biological agents He used. It is interesting to see that dinosaurs, as well as many microscopic forms of life, were the gardeners who allowed all of this to happen. Without dinosaurs, there would have been no agents to process the giant plants of that day and spread their seeds. Without tiny diatoms, there would have been no agents present to form the oil and other fossil fuels that we need. Notice that Genesis 1:1 is untimed and undated! How long did it take? When did it happen? The Bible doesn’t say.

In Genesis 1:2 we see that the earth needed to be formed. The word translated “earth” is the same Hebrew word “erets” found in verse 1. This second usage is clearly different, however, because Genesis 1:9-10 indicates that God separated this earth from the water, meaning that it refers to the earth people live on, not planet Earth.

In the following verses of Genesis, the “days” of the “creation week” give specific explanations of the origin of the plants, water creatures, cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks the ancient Israelites knew. Each Hebrew word refers to known and domesticated animals, not unknown animals. Days are used to provide continuity to the sequence in which God created life. How long those days were, whether they were consecutive or had long time-periods between them can be debated endlessly.

The fact is that the first verse describes the creation made by God with the things humans would need to survive on Earth. As we said, that first verse is untimed and undated. All of the studies of geologists and biologist as to how those resources were produced are covered in that one verse of Genesis 1:1. The creation week is a description of the actual production of humans and their domesticated animals.

On our trip into the canyonlands, we saw the power, wisdom, and planning God used to allow us to exist. Proverbs 8 presents wisdom as the causal agent of creation–not blind mechanistic chance. Theological claims that create conflict between God’s word and the display of His wisdom and design are due to human error, not to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Conflict Between Scientific Evidence and the Bible

Conflict Between Scientific Evidence and the Bible- Petrified Forest
For the past two days, we have been reviewing some of the things we saw and learned on the Canyonlands Educational Tour of last month. We explained our approach to the physical evidence of creation and all of the Scriptures that tell what happened. We say that the two sources must agree. If the same God who gave us the Bible also did the creating, they cannot disagree. If there seems to be a conflict between scientific evidence and the Bible, we either have bad science or bad theology or both. And there has been plenty of both.

There has been great conflict between the physical evidence that the Earth is very old and denominational interpretations of the Bible’s creation week. As we visit the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified Forest, the massive amount of evidence that the Earth is much more than 6,000 years old becomes obvious. So how do we resolve this apparent conflict between scientific evidence and the Bible? If we are not locked into those denominational belief systems, we can take the Bible literally. By that we mean, look at who wrote it, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it.

Genesis was written in the style of Hebrew poetry to all of humanity–those living in the days of Moses as well as those living in the 21st century. We cannot expect the account to deal with quantum mechanics, because the people of Moses’ day would not have understood it. The animals described in Genesis are animals that people of Moses’ day would know. Don’t look for duckbilled platypuses, echidnas, penguins, or dinosaurs in the Genesis account. Don’t look for descriptions of stellar production of heavy elements or evolution of stars or even continental drift.

We could list hundreds of things that you would not expect in the biblical account because the ancient Israelites would have no way to understand them. Furthermore, there would be no reason to give such details, and the Bible would be too heavy to carry. For that reason, the Bible begins with the single sentence: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That sentence prepares the reader for a simplified description of the actual production of humans and their domesticated animals on the planet we call home. There is no conflict between scientific evidence and the Bible when taken literally. We will have more on that tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton

God’s Engineering Skills

God's Engineering Skills at Sunset Crater
Yesterday we began to tell you about last month’s Canyonlands Educational Tour. It was a week of learning about how God works. In the canyonlands area, we can see God’s engineering skills.

Our trip was a bus tour with 50 people participating. We departed from Flagstaff, Arizona. That area allows us to study the basic rocks from which all other rocks were made, and that is volcanic material. Our analysis of elements in space and the minerals in Earth’s crust show us that all rocks are made of materials found in the interior of the Earth. For example, granite is made up of quartz which breaks down into sand and makes sandstone. Orthoclase is another constituent of granite, and it weathers to produce clay which is a major part of shale. Visiting Sunset Crater (pictured) and seeing the volcanic mountains surrounding Flagstaff allows us to understand the method by which God produced all other rocks.

In the first session of our trip on Sunday evening, before we departed, we pointed out the one basic assumption that underlies our entire trip. That assumption is that God is not a magician who does everything by slight of hand and magic. We see God’s engineering skills as He uses natural processes to produce things in the creation. The Bible tells us that “God planted a garden” (Genesis 2:8) not that He waved a magic wand and a garden appeared. When God created man’s body in Genesis 2:7, he “formed man of the dust of the earth.” The Hebrew word used to describe that process is yatshir which is a word denoting something an artist might do in creating a work of pottery from clay.

God did not “zap” the Grand Canyon into existence with all its many kinds of rocks and embedded fossils. Many religious people want to have God “speaking” these things into existence. The Bible indicates that God commanded the creation elements indicating that other agents were doing the actual work. In our twenty-first century mentality of rejecting scams and con-artists, it is important not to put God into the role of being a trickster. God did His creating process in such a way that we can discover the processes. That is the reason the Bible says we can “know God exists through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). In Proverbs 8, wisdom personified speaks of God’s engineering skills.

We see the evidence of God’s engineering skills in the creation processes, and we read the Scriptures that tell what happened. Our approach to all of the evidence and the Scriptures is that they MUST agree. If the same God who gave us the Bible also did the creating, they cannot disagree. If there seems to be a conflict between the scientific evidence and what the Bible says, we either have bad science or bad theology or both. There has been plenty of both.

Tomorrow, we will continue to examine more of the things we saw of God’s engineering skills during our week in the canyonlands.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Canyonlands Educational Tour 2018

Canyonlands Educational Tour
One month ago, on Sunday, September 9, 2018, we began our thirty-sixth Canyonlands Educational Tour. Since 1968 we have been taking what I call field trips into the Grand Canyon and the areas that surround the Grand Canyon. That includes Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Canyonlands National District including Lake Powell, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and the areas that surround all of those places.

My constant companion and technical expert has been Alan Doty from Sedona, Arizona. He holds advanced degrees in geology and has been a well-known figure in the area and an active Christian. Alan has made over 300 trips to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and was the first to climb Isis Temple. His knowledge of the area is second to none. Our trips into this area have included four boat trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, ten bus trips in which we spend a day at each of the sites of interest, and 16 hikes into points of interest in the canyonlands area. We have prepared field trip guides and have conducted studies and lectures on all of the trips.

Why do we do this? The Does God Exist? ministry is dedicated to providing evidence to convince thinking people that science is a friend of faith in God, and that science and the Bible do not conflict. As educators in the public schools, we have seen a great deal of bad science and bad theology combine to destroy the faith of many young people. There is no area where more bad science and bad theology have been promoted than in the canyonlands area.

Not understanding the evidence and not taking the Bible literally have led to a major source of conflict for many people. By taking the Bible literally, I mean looking at who wrote the passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how people of the time would have understood it. Having a week of concentrated study in one of the greatest natural science laboratories on Earth is a wonderful way to combat bad science and bad theology. It is also our hope that participants will go back home and use what they have learned in our seminars to build the faith of people in their home congregations. At the same time, we want to prepare them to combat the efforts of local skeptics to discredit the Bible and destroy faith in God.

Over the next few days, we want to give you a glimpse of what we did on this year’s Canyonlands Educational Tour.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Alone In the Milky Way

Alone In the Milky Way
Yesterday we mentioned an article by John Gribbin in Scientific American (September 2018, page 96 or online HERE.) The title of the article was “Are Humans Alone in the Milky Way?” Although Gribbin suggests that some form of life exists elsewhere in the galaxy, he insists there could be no sentient beings like ourselves. The reasons for concluding that we are alone in the Milky Way galaxy are these “amazing” and “implausible” “coincidences.”

SPECIAL TIMING. The elements that make up a terrestrial planet like Earth are produced from hydrogen and helium by thermonuclear fusion. We see supernova explosions producing the heavy metals that make up a terrestrial planet and life itself, but it takes time for this process to create the necessary elements. Most of the exoplanets we see have minimal amounts of the heavy elements because they are early in their stellar evolution. Even the sun itself is 71% hydrogen and 27% helium with only 2% metals. The timing of putting the materials together to make a terrestrial planet is critical.

LOCATION IN THE GALAXY. The location of a solar system in the galaxy makes a difference. The galactic habitable zone is the area where there is a freedom from the concentration of supernovae. Systems near the center of the galaxy have high levels of radiation in the form of X-rays and cosmic rays. There is a massive black hole in the center of our galaxy called Sagittarius A which produces massive amounts of radiation. Gamma-ray bursts occur in certain places in the galaxy. In our area of the galaxy, sterilizing radiation bursts do not happen.

Recent studies of the galactic habitable zone tell us that it extends from 23,000 to 30,000 light-years from the center or only about 7% of the galactic radius. This zone contains only about 5% of the stars, because stars tend to concentrate toward the core of the galaxy. Our Sun is close to the center of the galactic habitable zone providing rare long-term stability.

TYPE OF PLANET. So far astronomers have discovered about 50 “earth-like planets.” What that means is that they have found rocky planets in the habitable zone that are about the same size as Earth. Venus would qualify as an “Earth-like planet,” but it is an excellent example of how misleading that statement is. Venus has a thick crust with no sign of plate tectonics, no magnetic field, no way to recycle materials, and no stabilizing moon. Our Moon keeps the tilt of Earth’s axis at 23 ½ degrees providing a stable climate.

Realize that all of these factors are just to have a ball of rock in the right place at the right time with the right materials with which to make life. Now we would need to calculate the odds of getting the right chemicals together at the right time in the right place with the right catalyst to make the first living thing. Books have been written about how improbable those steps are. The writers are not religious fanatics, but scientists who are doing the research.

The Scientific American article, concludes that we are alone in the Milky Way:

“As we put everything together, what can we say? Is life likely to exist elsewhere in the galaxy? Almost certainly yes, given the speed with which it appeared on Earth. Is another technological civilization likely to exist today? Almost certainly no, given the chain of circumstances that led to our existence. These considerations suggest we are unique not just on our planet but in the whole Milky Way. And if our planet is so special, it becomes all the more important to preserve this unique world for ourselves, our descendants and the many creatures that call Earth home.”

We must make one additional point. If an intelligent Creator was involved in this process, the probability of a habitable Earth with life on it is 100%. Perhaps we are not really alone in the Milky Way because there is a God who cares about us. For those who might want to consider this option, we encourage you to watch program #6 of the video series available free on doesgodexist.tv.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Implausible Coincidences

Implausible Coincidences in the Milky Way
Our ministry has been in existence for 50 years this month. During that time we have presented a large number of evidences that the creation of Earth and life on Earth cannot be a product of chance. Our arguments have been statistical, starting with the basic rule that when you have many parameters, you can estimate the total probability by multiplying the odds of all the factors involved. That approach has not changed, but the number of parameters and the odds grows with new data and information. Implausible coincidences continue to compound.

In the past several years, astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way. Skeptics point out that the probability of one of those planets harboring sentient beings like ourselves gets better with each new discovery. Scientific American (September 2018, page 96) published a good review of some of the factors that are involved. The article plainly states this:

“Optimism about the possibilities of intelligent extraterrestrial life ignores what we know about how humans came to exist. We are here because of a long chain of implausible coincidences – many, many, many things had to go right to result on the situation in which we find ourselves. This chain is so implausible, in fact, that there is good reason to conclude that humans most likely are the only technological civilization in the galaxy.”

That is an interesting conclusion. The article goes on to list the variables that point to that conclusion:

SPECIAL TIMING
LOCATION IN THE GALAXY
TYPE OF PLANET

Tomorrow, we will examine those “coincidences.” The article concludes by describing the improbable nature of advanced human life. However, it credits evolution for the creation of that life while showing how “implausible” and “amazing” it is. We believe a supernatural Intelligence was involved which we call God.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
The Scientific American article is available online HERE.

Design In Nature

Design In Nature
When a person says that the mindless forces of evolution can easily explain everything that appears to be design in nature, you have to wonder if that person understands the principles of statistics.

From a statistical standpoint the more parameters that exist, the less likely it is that a desired final result will occur. The odds of a single coin flipped into the air and landing on heads is one in two or 1/2. What are the odds of five flipped coins landing heads up? That would be 1/2 multiplied by itself five times. The answer is one in thirty-two or 1/32. If you throw fifty coins up at the same time, the chance of all fifty showing heads is so small as to be considered impossible. (Multiply 1/2 fifty times.)

In nature, we see situations where the odds would be equivalent to throwing a million (or more) coins up and having them all land on heads. There is no way that an open-minded, thinking person can begin to entertain the idea that blind chance can explain such events.

Books and movies on nature often use a phrase like “nature planned…” or “evolution engineered…” or “genetic forces created…” some natural phenomenon. If you truly believe that the forces that created and designed the universe with our planet and everything on it are “mindless, blind, mechanistic chance,” then you can’t attach words that indicate wisdom, purpose, design, engineering, or creativity.

The design in nature is hard to miss. It has to be rooted in the mind of a Designer. Some things are just beyond what mere chance can do.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

CLEVER Planets

CLEVER Planets Include Earth
We have often mentioned many of the conditions that must exist to make a planet habitable. The number is large and growing as science learns more about Earth’s special life-supporting features. Now NASA has awarded $7,700,000 to Rice University to conduct a five-year study to see what it takes to create a “recipe for a habitable planet.” The project has been named CLEVER Planets, an acronym for Cycles of Life-Essential Volatile Elements in Rocky Planets.

The award comes from NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NexSS). The research team will include experts in astrophysics, atmosphere and climate science, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and organic chemistry. The investigators are from Rice University, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the University of California-Davis, UCLA, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. This will be the most in-depth study of what it takes to create a habitable planet.

The lead investigator of CLEVER Planets, Rajdeep Dasgupta of Rice, wrote: “A recipe for life as we know it requires essential elements like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.” Of course, that is not all that is required to create a recipe for a life-supporting planet. There are also many other conditions including liquid water, the right temperature with stable conditions, a proper atmosphere, and shielding from dangerous radiation. Having an atmosphere requires a planet of the right size to have the right amount of gravity to sustain an atmosphere. To have liquid water and the right temperature requires that the planet must be the right distance from the right kind and size of star. The planet needs a magnetic field to shield from dangerous particles coming from the star. To have a magnetic field, there must be magnetic elements inside the planet. The list goes on and on.

We look forward to seeing the results of the CLEVER Planets study five years from now. The bottom line is that it is very, very difficult to get all of the right ingredients required to create the recipe for a habitable planet. Earth is an exceptional place in the universe.

It seems doubtful that we will find any other planet similar to Earth. But as we have said before, if there is any form of life anywhere else in the universe, that has nothing to do with the existence of God. We believe in a God who can do anything He chooses to do in keeping with His nature.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Hydrogen Wall and Creation

Hydrogen Wall and New Horizons
One of the interesting hints in the Genesis account is the suggestion that two creations were involved. A new scientific discovery of a hydrogen wall may also suggest that.

Genesis 1:1 uses the Hebrew word erets (earth) in describing the creation of the cosmos. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That would suggest the simple idea that God created everything including all of the galaxies and whatever else exists in interstellar space.

In verses 9 and 10 the same word (erets) is used in a more restricted way: “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land earth…” This second creation is what the creation week describes with humans and their domesticated animals as the focus of that week.

As the New Horizons spacecraft was leaving the solar system, it encountered what appears to be a hydrogen wall at the edge of our solar neighborhood. As our Sun moves through the galaxy it produces a stream of charged particles called a solar wind. This “wind” collides with uncharged hydrogen atoms producing a wall of hydrogen. This bubble or wall is about 100 times further from the Sun than the Earth is. The wall indicates that our planet and its solar system are isolated as a unit from the rest of the cosmos.

This new data on a possible hydrogen wall reinforces the biblical picture of God’s action during the creation week as a very special action on a very special planet. God created the cosmos, but then He set Earth apart as a place for those creatures created in His image. That is the primary message of Genesis.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News, September 15, 2018, page 10, or click HERE.