Carrion Cactus Fools Flies

Carrion Cactus Fools Flies
Carrion Cactus (Stapelia gigantea) and Flower

One of the exciting things we see in the natural world is how living things solve problems produced by the environment. An excellent example is the carrion cactus that lives in hot and dry deserts of Africa.

Getting enough water is a challenge for plants that live in places where rainfall is very sparse. Those plants employ ingenious ways of storing water and reducing transpiration losses by having needles instead of leaves. What we might not have thought about is the problem of pollination in the desert environment. There aren’t enough plants to support a bee population, and pollinators are few and far between.

One cactus called the carrion cactus (Stapelia gigantea) has solved the pollination issue in an unusual way. When the cactus flowers are ready to be pollinated, they give off a foul smell that reeks of dead and rotting flesh. The smell of carrion attracts flies. As they scramble over the flowers trying to find the dead organism, they get pollen on their bodies and pollinate the cactus flowers.

God has created creatures that clean up dead and decaying organic matter. We have discussed the design roles of dung beetles, vultures, and worms in cleaning up the environment. In the carrion cactus, we see a plant that fools insects into thinking there is something to clean up as a way to accomplish pollination. This impressive trick allows a plant to thrive in the dry and hostile environment of the desert.

We saw the carrion cactus at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They feature amazing displays of many kinds of plants, including desert plants and carnivorous plants, that show God’s creativity.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

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

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

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

What Is Falsification and How Does it Relate to Faith?

We see misunderstandings of the question of falsification by both atheists and religionists. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?

Let us begin this discussion by giving a simple definition of falsification. The Falsification Principle, initially proposed by Karl Popper, is a way of demarcating science from non-science. It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be testable and falsifiable. For example, the hypothesis that “all swans are white,” can be falsified by observing a black swan.

It always disturbs me to read a religious writing that claims scientific proof that a faith healer accomplished a miracle cure. An excellent example of this was William Nolen’s studies reported in a book titled In Search of A Miracle released in 1975. Nolen investigated the claims of faith healers Kathryn Kulman and Norbu Chen. He showed that there were observable, natural explanations for what had been called “miracles.” Nolen believed he could test Kulman and Chen’s claims by investigating whether there were other explanations for their claimed miracles. There were, so they could not be scientifically proven to be true. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God? You can have faith in someone, but you cannot call it science.

The scientific community is guilty of the same kind of error when it promotes an idea that cannot be tested and calls it science. It is fashionable in today’s world for scientists to propose the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes. They use this idea to explain how our universe could be fine-tuned for life. With a nearly infinite number of universes, we just happen to be in the one with all of the right stuff for life. Multiverse proposals say that quantum pops create universes and that an infinite number of pops would eventually produce every possible set of properties, including ours.

That is an interesting fantasy, but it is just that. There is no way to falsify that proposal, and so it is not scientific. Skeptics will be quick to point out that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is also not falsifiable, and that is true. But look at the logical outcome of these two choices. If God created the universe and placed humans in it, then there is a reason there is something instead of nothing, and there is a purpose for our existence. If the faith statement of the multiverse is true, the question of why we exist remains unanswered, and any purpose for the “pops” is pure fantasy.

Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible, as a whole, brings us understanding that we are part of a struggle between good and evil and that God is love and wants to have a relationship with us. We can’t offer scientific proof of that, so it is a statement of faith. But it is far more full of meaning and purpose than to speak of what we see in the cosmos as “quantum pops” of something without a cause or purpose. So the question we all have to entertain is, “What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?” The proposed multiverse alternative to God is not falsifiable, and therefore it is faith and not science. In what do you place your faith?

— 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.

Why Call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

Nazareth, Israel. Why Call Him Jesus the Nazarene?
Modern city of Nazareth, Israel

One of the interesting facts about Jesus Christ is that the name of the town where He grew up is frequently used with his name. When Pilate ordered a sign to be placed on the cross, it said, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19). When Christ appeared to Saul (Acts 22:8), he said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Peter and Paul referred to Jesus as “the Nazarene” in Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 10:38, and 26:9. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

There is a reason why the village of Nazareth was always kept in the dossier of Jesus Christ. The reason is still valid today. Christ never attempted to use worldly standards to emphasize His message. When He had the opportunity to gather a following, He sent the crowds away. When people wanted to elevate Him to a ruling position, He rejected those attempts. Remember that when Peter drew his sword to stop the arrest of Christ, Jesus told him to put it away and healed the man Peter had injured. (See Matthew 26:47-52.) Unlike all other religious figures and organizations, Jesus emitted a gentle image and focused people on His message, not His appearance or power.

Nazareth was an obscure little village in Galilee, and not highly regarded. In John 1:46, when Nathanael was introduced to Christ (John 1:46), he said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Even the relationship between Christ and the village of Nazareth was not that good. In Luke 4:16-30, when Jesus returned to his home town, the citizens rejected him and tried to throw him off a cliff.

Matthew wrote about Jesus, “Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). Although no Old Testament prophecy uses the title “Nazarene,” many passages predict that Jesus would be “despised and rejected.” (See Isaiah 53:3; Psalms 22:6; Daniel 9:26; and Zechariah 12:10.) Nazareth was a despised place (as we see from Nathanael’s comment), and even the citizens that despised place rejected Jesus.

Our world of religious violence, hatred, and power is the complete opposite of that for which Jesus Christ stood. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?” Using that title reminds us of what Christianity is not, and what it is. Christianity, like Christ, is not about worldly power or prestige. It is about love and compassion.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Wife Sharing Proposed in China

Wife Sharing Proposed in China

From 1980 until 2016, the Communist Chinese government mandated a one-child policy, which led many couples to abort female fetuses because having a male child offered many advantages. As a result, China now has 34 million more males than females. Fudan University professor Yew-Kwang Ng has proposed wife sharing as an academic solution to “men’s physical and psychological needs not being met.”

Ng argues that Chinese prostitutes already serve more than ten clients in a day. He added that making meals for three husbands won’t take much more time than making a meal for one husband. Ng says these facts prove that allowing women to have many husbands is a solution to the imbalance created by the one-child policy. You can imagine the response the wife sharing proposal received on social media. The backlash may prevent the Chinese government from implementing this proposal.

The point here is that when humans throw out one of God’s laws, there are always problems with collateral damage. As America throws out one standard of behavior after another, we wonder what the consequences will be. God’s plan for men and women works. The problem is that humans always want to find an alternative to God’s plan, and the result is catastrophic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: The Week, June 26, 2020, page 14.

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