What Makes You Special?

What Makes You Special?

What makes you special? As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique.

Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.

Our opposable thumbs allow us to do things that no animal can. Most apes and monkeys have opposable thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers. That is unique, but it’s not what makes you special.

Humans can speak and write. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. You can understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading. But still, there is more to what makes you special.

Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes others’ needs rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.

Our brain is unique, not because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds any animal’s brain in intelligence.

The most remarkable difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of advanced self-consciousness and purpose? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul, that brings us closer to what makes you special.

We have to look beyond the physical realm to understand what makes humans special. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our desire to worship all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in your soul because God created you in His image and designed you to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes you special.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Designed for Fellowship

Designed for Fellowship

Sometimes evidence of God’s design in our lives shows up in unusual places. A recent example of that is a study by neuroscientist Livia Tomova and her associates at MIT that showed we were designed for fellowship.

The study involved 40 people who were required to fast for 10 hours. Then the researchers showed them pictures of pizza and chocolate cake and recorded the brain waves from the midbrain of the subjects. Several days later, they took the same 40 people and did not allow them to have any contact with other people for 10 hours. That meant no friends, no Facebook, no Instagram, no social contact. Then the researchers showed them pictures of people chatting or playing team sports. The brain waves showed the same response as they had for food deprivation.

The area of the brain the researchers studied plays an essential role in human desire for food, friends, drugs, or gambling. The research indicates that humans are designed for fellowship. The effects on people who are socially isolated by COVID-19 are significant. It may explain some behavior issues that researchers have noted. Social isolation puts both mental and physical health at stake. It can even leave people craving for more food, drugs, or gambling.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that when God created Adam, He recognized “It is not good that the man should be alone…” Humans are designed to be social in our base nature. We may think that we like to be alone, but the reality is that eventually, we all need contact with other humans.

After a period of isolation, all of us need to be with other people. The biblical model of the Church is that “when two or three are gathered together” in the name of Jesus, He is there also (Matthew 18:20). One of the frustrations associated with the pandemic is not being able to be with other people who share our convictions and values. We are designed for fellowship with others. That is the way God created us.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News January 16, 2021, page 5.

What Makes Us Human?

What Makes Us Human? Are crows human?

One of the significant points of contention between those who believe in God and those who don’t is the concept of what makes us human. The biblical position is that humans are that form of life created in the image of God. Our spiritual makeup allows us to create art and music, worship a supreme being, feel guilt, be sympathetic, and have a form of love that is self-sacrificing and has nothing to do with survival. The atheist response to this is that our intelligence and brain structure accounts for these characteristics. The atheist insists that they are totally a product of our evolution.

What does the evidence show? That is a complicated question, and one we frequently address as science makes new discoveries. National Wildlife magazine (June/July 2020) published an interesting article about crows and research by John Marzluff at the University of Washington. For the past ten years, researchers at the university have been putting on caveman masks and catching and tagging crows. The crows have learned that the caveman face means trouble, and they mob and dive-bomb the researchers. When baby crows learn to fly, they immediately do the same, even though they do not have personal experience with being caught and tagged.

Crows are incredible creatures. Crows will fashion twigs into hooks to reach food in a hollow tree or limb. Other crows will drop nuts on a hard pavement to crack them open. Crows have learned to pay attention to what a farmer has in his hands. They will fly away from a farmer with a gun, but not when the same farmer holds a rake. Crows will help raise younger siblings, and that cooperation causes them to flock together and seemingly communicate with each other.

The point is that intelligence is not a measure of human-ness. The things that make humans different than crows is not our brain. Mentally challenged humans do the things that make us human. Many animals with high intelligence do not engage in those things. What makes us human is being created in the image of God. Having that image makes humans unique and special, and gives us value and purpose in our existence. Human life is sacred, and that hasn’t changed despite our abuse of one another.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Chimpanzees and Humans

Chimpanzees and Humans

Books and articles have been published indicating that chimpanzees and humans share about 98.7% of the same genes. So some have suggested that chimpanzees should be considered 98.7% human and have all the rights that humans enjoy. There have been lawsuits to remove chimps from zoos or restrictive areas so they can express their “humanness.”

Objective observers who study chimp behavior in detail do not see chimps as human. The Bible makes it clear that only humans are created in the image of God. Being in God’s image leads to attributes that are unique to humans. Those include not only creative ability such as in art and music, but they also include the way we treat one another. In Galatians 3:28, Paul makes it clear that as Christians, there is no distinction between one human and another. Paul specifically includes “no male nor female” in his list of who are equals. The whole notion of marriage (Genesis 2:24) and the role of women (Proverbs 31:10-31) esteem and protects women.

Chimpanzees and humans are not alike. In his book The Human Swarm, Dr. Mark Moffett describes the real life of female chimpanzees. When female chimps reach sexual maturity, they leave their group never to return. Female chimps are beaten up or ignored by males except when they are in heat, and then sex is forced upon them. Female chimps do not befriend each other. They give birth in a private, hidden place to avoid having their babies killed by other females. Male chimps have no role in parenting or protecting the mother and baby.

There is an adage said in jest that we often hear in the break room at the graduate center, “Make sure your data conforms to your conclusions.” It is easy for us to interpret animal behavior as human-like, especially comparing chimpanzees and humans. But we must recognize human uniqueness. We have heard the horror story of a pet chimp turning on and seriously injuring a human. You can remove the chimp from its fellow animals, but you cannot remove the animal behavior from the chimp. We are the only beings created in God’s image.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Skeptic Magazine, “The Misunderstood Art of Making Comparisons” Volume 25:1 2020

Human Double Image

Human Double Image

In reading the Bible, you might get the impression that it presents a human double image:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Genesis 1: 27

“…and Adam begat a son in his own likeness after his image; and called his name Seth …” Genesis 5:3.

Both Christians and Atheists are often confused about the meaning of these images. With our modern understanding of genetics, it should be easy for us to understand this human double image in our relationship to one another. Perhaps less easy to see is our relationship to God. On average, the genetic difference between humans is .1 %. Even though this seems very small, it accounts for the differences that make us individuals, including race, hair, facial features, body type, fingerprints, etc. Our DNA can stand up in a court of law to prove our individuality. A genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis is due to a .00004% error in the genome, Seth was in the physical image of Adam, and especially at that early stage of human development Seth must have looked very much like Adam.

When God created Adam in “His own image,” it should be clear that it does not mean Adam’s physical image. In Genesis 2:7, we see a clear reference to the creation of the physical makeup of Adam. The Hebrew word used in verse 7 is “yatsar,” which refers to something an artist or potter might do. The verse says God made Adam’s body from the dust of the Earth. God breathed “into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” In Genesis 1:27, the Hebrew word used is “bara,” which refers to a miraculous act that only God can do. Man is spiritually in God’s image, and woman also has that spiritual component.

In John 1:14, we read that the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us. A change took place in the divine son of God. He became flesh. When we visualize God as a man, we see Him on our level. We can’t understand how God can do the things He does, because He is not limited to a physical body as we are.

We have a human double image. Our physical form is limited and will return to the dust from which it came. Like Seth, we may have genetic similarities to others, but our soul is in God’s image and does not have the physical limitations of our body. Heaven may not be appealing to some who view it as a physical retreat. However, a timeless spiritual existence has joy that our physical bodies cannot even comprehend. We need to take care of our physical bodies to enjoy good health and long years in this life, but more important is to take care of our spiritual self. That part of us is created in the image of God, and that part of our image is eternal.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Milk Production and Greenhouse Gases

Milk Production and Greenhouse GasesHow do you feed millions of humans and meet their nutritional needs without destroying the planet with greenhouse gases? The World Wildlife Federation has released data on one of the primary sources of food for more than six billion people worldwide – milk. The average person in the United States consumed 643 pounds (292 kg) of dairy products in 2017, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Those foods came from 9.3 million dairy cows, but there are 278 million in the world. Milk production has grown by 30% from 2005 to 2015, and that comes to 909 million tons. India is the leading producer with 20% of the world’s supply. The U.S. has 12%.

The design of cattle that can produce that much milk was recognized in prehistoric times, and cattle were worshiped because they provided so much food for humans. Skeptics would respond that the environmental impact of cattle is so huge that it is a bad design. It does take 144 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk in the U.S., with over 93% of it involved in growing feed for the cattle. The average dairy cow will eat 100 pounds of feed, and 9% of American cropland is used to grow feed crops for dairy cows. A cow will produce 17 gallons of urine and manure, which can pollute rivers and lakes, and they generate greenhouse gases.

The fact is that only 2% of the total U.S. emission of greenhouse gases comes from milk production. The Northern Great Plains cover 180 million acres in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The land became rich in resources and healthy when grazing animals such as bison aerated and fertilized the soil. With the past numbers of those animals gone, scientists now say that something else must fill that niche or erosion will increase, and invasive plants will take over. Studies by the World Wildlife Federation show that cattle production areas in the Northern Great Plains have lower per acre emissions than row crop agriculture such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. The most recent study shows “done right, ranching can help conserve biodiversity while minimizing its own environmental footprint.”

Like everything else that God has given us, milk production must be managed carefully and with a concern about “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15). Milk is one of God’s great blessings, and a land “flowing with milk and honey” is held out as the most favorable place to live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: World Wildlife Federation Winter Quarter Report 2019-20. .

Godly Love

Godly Love
The Bible describes godly love:
“God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. It is through this that love has attained its perfection in us in our being fearless on the day of judgment, for we realize that our life in this world is actually His life lived in us. There is no fear in love, for love, when perfect drives out fear because fear involves punishment. If a man fears, there is something imperfect in his love.” 1 John 4:16-18

I believe that the most misunderstood word in the English language is “love.” For most of our 21st-century population, love refers to sexual activity, and more and more, the music industry fosters that idea. Young people today speak of “making love” because the sexual concept is all that they have ever heard. The Bible is unique in its presentation of what love is about. You can’t make sense of “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:43-44) or “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) if the sexual notion of love is all you understand. The whole idea of loving God cannot be comprehended by a culture that has a sexual fixation on the word love.

The Greek language is far more useful in focusing on the complexities of love. There is a sexual connection to “love” in the Greek word “eros,” but that word is never used in the Bible. When discussing a wish or want, the Greek word “thelo” is used in Mark 12:38. When talking about the love of brethren, the Greek word “phileo” is used as in 1 Peter 3:8. The word “phileo” is used to describe something material or emotional. For example, “philarguros” refers to the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), while “philedonos” refers to the love of pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4) and “philautos” refers to the love of self (2 Timothy 3:2).

The most unique and spiritually important word for love in the New Testament is the noun “agape” and the verb form “agapao.” This is godly love—a love that values and esteems, an unselfish, serving love that has no sexual implications. This word is used 114 times in the New Testament and is described in passages like 1 John 4:7 to 5:3 and 1 John 3:16-18. The most touching example of the use of this word is in John 21:15 – 17, where Jesus keeps asking whether Peter loves Him by using the word “agapao” and Peter keeps answering with the word “phileo.”

A non-Christian cannot have or comprehend the agape type of love that Jesus expects from His followers. The teachings of Jesus are hard for many of us because we don’t have a concept of what it means to “agape” someone. Look at the passages in Matthew 5:43-44, John 15:12, Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 1:9, and 1 John 4:12 and realize how we struggle with those teachings. God’s Spirit helps the obedient Christian, and we can learn to love spiritual things (John 3:19-21). We can build the new life described in Romans 6:4-14 and 1 John 4:15-19. John 3:16 makes perfect sense when we understand what godly love is all about.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Negative Data on Marijuana

Negative Data on MarijuanaThe current craze on the use of marijuana has convinced many people that it is a miracle drug that will take care of all health issues. Some claim that it can not only help in cases of mental illness and dementia but that it also can cure cancer, Crone’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other common maladies. There are medical uses of components of marijuana that are promising and may be refined and used as pharmaceuticals in years ahead. What many are ignoring is negative data on marijuana.

There are good reasons to avoid using marijuana in some cases. In Colorado, the following negative factors are connected to the use of recreational marijuana:

1) Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, there has been an 8% rise in homelessness. The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice has shown that the legalization of marijuana has attracted transient people to the state.

2) The Colorado Health Department has shown a 400% increase in children younger than eight years of age who have been poisoned by high potency cannabis leading to emergency room visits.

3) Children ages 1 to 13 have been exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke in thousands of homes.

4) A study by the University of Colorado of 639 teenagers treated in 2015 in one Colorado hospital system either had cannabis in their urine or told a doctor they had used it.

5) The Highway Loss Data Institute has reported that Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have seen a 3% jump in auto collision claims since the legalization of marijuana in those states.

Having cannabis available as a controlled medical substance is one thing. It is another thing to make recreational marijuana available to anyone and everyone knowing the negative data on marijuana use. Like cigarette smoke, this is a health hazard that doesn’t just involve the user but also involves people in the user’s house and environment.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Rebecca R. Bibbs in the Herald Bulletin 11/4/19, page A2.

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young Children

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young ChildrenWe have frequently pointed out that the teachings of Jesus Christ make it clear that we must love and respect those with whom we disagree. Matthew 5:39-48 is hard to misunderstand. We must not attempt to harm anyone, including those who might be teaching things that oppose what the Bible says. There is no excuse for those who claim to be Christians to physically attack anyone because they are a part of the LGBT movement. At the same time, we have to be concerned and vocally oppose those who promote immoral behavior, especially when it involves presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.

Recently the popular children’s show “Arthur” on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) ran an episode entitled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” It featured a wedding ceremony between Mr. Ratburn and a character named Patrick. This program is funded by tax dollars and is aimed at preschool children. Disney has placed LGBT characters in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast and its television cartoon series Doc McStuffins. Drag Queen events have been held in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, in programs aimed at preschool children.

LGBT leaders claim that these promotions of their lifestyles are no different than a PBS program on Christmas music, or Christmas events held in public venues. It would seem that presenting material to preschoolers about drag queens and gay marriage is far more complicated than historical stories. Since tax dollars fund PBS, and religious programming is constantly refused by the same media, it seems that promotion of the LGBT lifestyle should also be prohibited.

The bottom line is that parents need to monitor what their children are exposed to. You can’t rely on PBS or Disney to offer only factual and moral material and avoid presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Family Research Council, October 2019 newsletter pages 1-4.

Most Difficult Issues of Life

Most Difficult Issues of LifeI believe that one of the most difficult issues of life is what to do when…
…you have been told you are going to die
…you are in enormous pain
…there seems to be no hope of recovery
…your care is using up the inheritance of your children
…and quality of life for you is absolutely zero with no hope it will ever get better.

I have seen friends and family in that situation and observed it in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This issue is a growing problem because our population is aging. At my age, I find that when I read the obituaries in the South Bend Tribune, there is someone I know listed nearly every day. We are not talking about “pulling the plug,” where a mechanical device keeps a body technically alive. We are talking about physically doing something to a patient that will result in death.

In 2019, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Hawaii, and New York all passed laws that either allowed medical aid in dying or made it easier to get help to die. Hearings that will lead to medical assistance bills were conducted in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada. An organization called “Compassion and Choices” has spearheaded a national movement to promote physician assisted suicide, and they have enormous support from celebrities and academics.

The fact is that death remains one of the most difficult issues of life. The arguments against physician assisted suicide are especially emotional. By choosing that path, we are trusting human judgment about whether death is close at hand. There are cases where someone who was expected to die made an amazing recovery. Psychological and spiritual healing sometimes results when a person knows that they are about to die. Support as friends and family rally around a dying person can rebuild relationships and restore family unity that is rare in today’s world. Many believe that leaving the time of one’s death in the hands of God is a necessary spiritual responsibility.

There is no question that we need to make changes in the laws and practices concerning the most difficult issues of life and death. Dealing with Alzheimers and dementia is very different from dying of cancer. Huge medical strides are making judgment difficult in all of these cases. Making a person comfortable throughout the last stages of life should be a priority for geriatric medicine. Limiting the use of medications and devices to relieve pain for a dying person is not only cruel but unnecessary. We should be able to win life’s final war with pain without resorting to terminating life.
— John N. Clayton © 2019