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Return to November/December 2014 articles.

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from Does God Exist? November/December 2014

MORALITY AND FAITH. Can you be a moral person if you are an atheist, or is faith necessary to be moral? This has been highly debated, and books have been written on this subject. When I was an atheist I would argue loud and long that I was as moral as anyone else, and I have atheist friends who are very moral. The question is more about motivation and whether there is any really compelling reason for a person to deny himself a pleasure if he has no higher power to answer to. Christianity Today added a new twist to this discussion in their June 2014 issue (page 18) by publishing a study showing the views of various nations on this issue. Ninety-nine percent of people in Indonesia said belief in God was necessary to be moral. In China only 14% said that was true and France was close behind China at 15%. In the U.S. 53% of people said belief in God was essential.

WICCAN DISINVITED FROM LEADING PRAYER. The Huntsville, Alabama, City Council invited Reverend Blake Kirk, a Wiccan priest, to give the invocation at their June 26 meeting. When that was publicized, people objected and the council told him not to come. Unfortunately today the idea of opening public programs with a prayer is a disaster waiting to happen. There are a large number of fringe religious groups that can use that platform to promote their views and/or agendas and obscene and profane prayers are always a possibility. Kirk made a valid point when he said, “The city cannot pick and choose what faiths they want to support and allow to speak and give the prayer.” Source: Dallas Morning News, June 28, 2014, page 9A.

COGNITIVE SCIENTISTS SAY FAITH IS HARD-WIRED. One of the areas of discussion between atheists and believers is the question of why do people believe in God? Atheists maintain faith is a crutch, and that religion started when people did not understand the things around them and they invented gods to do the explaining. This “god of the gaps” explanation certainly has been true in some cases. However, the prevalence of faith in western cultures does not seem to support it universally. Nury Vittachi, a cognitive scientist, maintains that our brains are hard-wired with “a metaphysical outlook … so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.” Anthropologist Pascal Boyer noted that atheists have many “religious ideas” but that they do not recognize them as such. Boyer says “we are born believers.” Source: The Week, July 18, 2014.

Two dinosaurs preparing to fight.DINOSAURS WERE MESOTHERMS. One of the ongoing debates about the dinosaurs involves whether they were warm-blooded or cold-blooded. NPR recently reported on a new study which seems to shed some light on this area. Warm-blooded animals like birds and mammals metabolize their food about ten times faster than cold-blooded animals do. Dr. John Grady at the University of New Mexico has been studying the metabolism rates of dinosaurs using growth rings, and he finds that the dinosaurs were right in the middle of these metabolic rates — about 5 times faster than reptiles. This seems to indicate that the dinosaurs may have been a unique species, perhaps not related to either warm-blooded or cold-blooded animals. Being in the middle contributed to their ability to survive in the ancient world for so long. Source: The Week, July 4, 2014, page 17.

COSMOS II. In our July/August 2014 issue we reported on a remake of the television series Cosmos. The original series with the late scientist and secular humanist Carl Sagan began with the statement that “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” That is obviously a philosophical statement rather than a scientific statement. The new Cosmos series was created by Sagan's wife Ann Druyan, along with Seth McFarlane and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. All three of these people have a very strong secular, naturalist bias to say the least. After being shown extensively on TV, the series is now available for schools to use in science classes. The program uses wonderful graphics and simulations, and Tyson is smooth and articulate in his presentations. The same weaknesses that were in the first cosmos series are present in this one. Things that are possible are presented as factual. Things that are unlikely and statistically beyond what most people would accept as reasonable, are glossed over and accepted as having happened. Naturalism is presented as the only approach to understanding, when in fact enormous faith is required to accept the explanation given. It is important to understand that this series is a defense of modern evolutionary thought with a very heavy bias. It is not a documentary of known facts.

ATHEIST CHURCHES ON THE RISE. Two years ago we mentioned in this column that an atheist church had been started in Houston called “Houston Oasis.” This movement started in London with a group called “Sunday Assembly” which claims to have 100 assemblies in 15 countries with a dozen operating in the United States. These atheist churches are functioning in Lake Charles, Louisiana; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Kansas City, Missouri; and Rochester, New York to a great enough extent that Time magazine ran a special article on them in their August 4, 2014, issue (page 52). The basic argument for these “churches” is that they offer moral and social support to people who are nonbelievers. The buzz word now is that these groups will help atheists “come out of the closet.” Sound familiar?

RAELISM AND THE SPACE AGE. Wikipedia lists 59 religions that were created between 1970 and 2007. One of the most popular was begun by Claude Vorilhon who named himself Rael, which in Hebrew is “messenger.” Vorilhon claims to have been contacted by aliens who visited the earth 25,000 years ago and called themselves “The Elohim” (the Hebrew word for God). Vorilhon's book is titled The Book Which Tells the Truth. Raelism is a strange mixture of bad science and bad theology, but it has gained quite a following. Many biblical events are referenced, including the transfiguration, the flood of Noah, and the Exodus. Vorilhon exhibits many attributes of a cult figure including a variety of sexual expressions and the solicitation of money. He says he needs 20 million dollars to build a home for the aliens when they return.

A collage of planets and moons.EXTRASOLAR PLANET CLAIM DEBUNKED. In 2007 a group of planets was found to be orbiting a star named Gliese 581. One of the planets discovered seemed capable of supporting life. In 2010 another planet named Gliese 581g was claimed by its discoverer to be inhabited. Steven Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz said, “The chances of life on this planet are 100 percent.” It has now been discovered that magnetic activity on the star Gliese 581 caused the observations that were said to be planets, and in fact, the planets do not exist. The star is 20 light years from us, and while that is not very far, astronomically speaking, it does make observations tentative at best. Certainly many of the observations of extrasolar planets are valid. However, the wild speculations by the press about how many planets exist orbiting other stars, and what percentage of them would have conditions conducive to life, need to be taken very lightly. Newer instruments will answer the questions, and the existence of life elsewhere is not an issue as far as God's existence is concerned. Jumping to conclusions misleads the public. Source: Science News, August 9, 2014, page 11.

RETHINKING HELL. One of the areas of biblical understanding that is constantly debated is the nature of hell. The notion that someone is burned eternally for not obeying a command of God he did not know about (like the person in Africa who never heard of God or the Bible), is a favorite complaint of atheists who wish to discredit Christianity. In July 2014, a conference titled “Rethinking Hell” was held at Houston's Lanier Theological Library. One of the main contributors was Edward Fudge who has written several books on the subject. Fudge rejects the traditional view of eternal torment, and the universalist view that hell reforms people. He maintains what he calls the “conditional immortality” view that those who are not saved are destroyed. Fudge's main book on this is The Fire That Consumes. It was published in 1982 and is very heavy to read. From an apologetic standpoint, his view makes sense, but it is controversial. No matter what hell is like, the main point is that we do not want to go there.

ATHEIST EXAGGERATION MAKES LAW SOUND BAD. On March 25, 1965, a law identified as “House Bill 1020” was enacted in Oregon. The law stated that interested parents could apply to have their child removed from the public school classroom for up to two hours a week for elementary school students, and five hours a week for high school students to attend weekday schools giving instruction in religion. Hemant Mehta, whose pen name is “The Friendly Atheist,” has made a widely publicized statement, “In Oregon, students are skipping math class to learn about the Bible.” What most schools in Oregon have done to comply with the law, is to allow students to leave the school one hour before the end of the school day to go to the religious classes. As a public school teacher, I can tell you that the last hour of the day frequently gets used to accommodate whatever is going on — pep assemblies, convocations, student special events, etc. If a kid happened to have math the last hour of the day, Mehta's statement would be accurate, but the actual number of kids who would miss a math class would be very, very small. Source: Austin American Statesman, May 18, 2014, page E2.

MAN-MADE EARTHQUAKES. Oklahoma has not been a state known to have large numbers of earthquakes. Prior to 2008 only one or two earthquakes were measured in Oklahoma, and they were very small in magnitude — level 1 or 2 which would not be detected by people on the surface. So far in 2014 Oklahoma has had over 200 earthquakes. In 2011 there was a 5.6 quake, the largest recorded in state history. The likely cause of this huge upswing is that oil and gas companies get rid of the brine that comes out with oil and gas when they are removed from the ground by pumping it into the ground at other sites. Pumping millions of barrels of wastewater into the ground under high pressure is likely to cause movement of whatever faults exist. Never underestimate man's ability to cause problems for himself, but this probably will not be stopped until some serious damage results. Source: Science News, August 9, 2014, page 13.

BILL NYE MAKES THE COVER OF POPULAR SCIENCE. We mentioned the debate that took place between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (the Creation Museum preacher) in our May/June 2014 issue. The debate was a farce and was bad public relations for believers in God. Even Pat Robertson said, “Let's be real, let's not make a joke of ourselves …” as he distanced himself from the debate. Atheists on the other hand, have used it to promote the idea that you have to be ignorant and opposed to science and progress to be a Christian. The September 2014 issue of Popular Science has a picture of Bill Nye wearing prize fight wraps along with two full page pictures inside saying, “Bill Nye will save science in America.” Nye has become the new poster child for atheism by lumping all believers in the camp of dispensationalists like Ken Ham. We continue to make our plea that science and faith are friends, not enemies and you do not have to put your brain in park to be a Christian.

WHERE DOES OUTER SPACE BEGIN? The sun's influence goes far out into space to a region called the heliosphere. When Voyager 1 reached this area on August 25, 2012, it was predicted that the magnetic field of outer space would be detected and that it would be the opposite in polarity of the sun's magnetic field. This outer space area was predicted to be made of interstellar particles repelled by the sun's field. So far none of these predictions has turned out to be true, meaning that the sun's influence goes much further than predicted. Many scientific theories are based on assumptions about our solar system. As we gain more knowledge those assumptions are being shown to be incorrect. One scientist said, “This whole region is a lot messier than anyone dreamed of.” The complexity of the creation continues to amaze us. Source: Science News, August 23, 2014, page 6.

Picture credits:
© Elenarts. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© maxmitzu. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.