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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sunspots 466

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Health: From the Guardian, an article about how homeopathy, and various other non-traditional medications, may not work, but they give patients the feeling that someone is paying attention, and cares, which they may not get from the regular medical community.
 

Science: From Science, a report on how an amoeba, or ameba, can live inside you and eat your cells.

From US News and other outlets, a report on how women who "lacked or had an underdeveloped vagina and uterus" were treated with a lab-grown replacement, cultured from their own tissue, and the resulting replacement vaginas worked normally. Amazing.


Yes, your eyes (and brain) do influence how much you eat, and National Public Radio reports on some experimental evidence for that.


Wired sets forth the case for the earth revolving around the sun, rather than the reverse. (Lest you think than no one acts like the earth is the center of the universe, how long has it been since you said that the sun "rises?" (or "sets?") That's language suggesting that the sun travels around the earth.

Sports: Sports Illustrated notes that Breanna Stewart, perhaps the best player in women's college basketball, signed her letter of intent to play at Connecticut (who just finished an undefeated season, including the national title) on the hood of her car in a parking lot. She's not one for fanfare, for sure.



Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

N. T. Wright -- Can a Scientist Believe the Resurrection?

N. T. Wright, Bible scholar and communicator of the Gospel, presented a lecture on May 15, 2007, entitled "Can a Scientist Believe the Resurrection?" I recommend it.

The lecture has several important features.

First, Wright points out that he is by no means a scientist.

Second, Wright sets forth the beliefs common to Jews, in the time of Christ, about death and resurrection.

Then, he points out several important features of early Christian belief that are radically different from current Jewish belief.

He examines the resurrection stories from the Gospels, and indicates why there are differences between them. He also says, correctly, that there is not very much about Jesus' birth in the New Testament, but that the New Testament is full of the Resurrection. (See here.)

He points out that the only sensible explanation for the behavior of the early Christians was that they believed that Christ had been raised from the dead, and was the first example of a resurrection which is to come, in the future, for believers.

Finally, Wright says that what happened to Thomas was a Gospel of Faith, to Paul a Gospel of Hope, and to Peter, a Gospel of love. It takes agape love to believe and act on the Resurrection.

Thanks for reading. Read Wright!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Some blog posts on chance versus God's omnipotence

Are there things that an omnipotent God leaves to chance? Or is every change in every particle in the universe ordered and directed by God? Clearly, the answer has to be that we do not know, but it's an interesting question. Here are some blog posts by other people on this subject:

Henry Neufeld believes that perhaps God used pure chance to get to where the universe is now, and he includes humans, and their intelligence. He isn't even sure that God directed things at the sub-atomic level. Interesting. I'll have to think about that one.

Here's one from a Christian involved in forecasting the weather, who says that it makes sense to pray for particular kinds of weather (and other things) in spite of God's omnipotence. Weather, of course, is notoriously unpredictable.

Thanks for reading. For more on what I think about these matters, click on the "randomness" or "chance" in the tags at the end of this post. Let's put it this way -- I haven't solved the problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 31

[Continuing a discussion of End Times prophecy.]



In his reference to Daniel in verse 14, Jesus was probably referring to one or all of these three sections of that book:

Daniel 9:27 He shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the middle of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the offering to cease; and on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate; and even to the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out on the desolate.

Some people get the idea of a seven-year tribulation, with a rapture at the halfway point, from this verse. (They take a week, seven days, as standing for a seven year period.) If that idea is correct, it would seem to be a second meaning, with the first one being the destruction of the temple, referred to by Christ (see above). It would also mean that a day is a symbol for a year. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Daniel 11:16 But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and no one shall stand before him; and he shall stand in the glorious land, and in his hand shall be destruction. 17 He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and with him equitable conditions; and he shall perform them: and he shall give him the daughter of women, to corrupt her; but she shall not stand, neither be for him. 18 After this shall he turn his face to the islands, and shall take many: but a prince shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; yes, moreover, he shall cause his reproach to turn on him. 19 Then he shall turn his face toward the fortresses of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found. 20 Then shall stand up in his place one who shall cause a tax collector to pass through the kingdom to maintain its glory; but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle. 21 In his place shall stand up a contemptible person, to whom they had not given the honor of the kingdom: but he shall come in time of security, and shall obtain the kingdom by flatteries. 22 The overwhelming forces shall be overwhelmed from before him, and shall be broken; yes, also the prince of the covenant. 23 After the treaty made with him he shall work deceitfully; for he shall come up, and shall become strong, with a small people. 24 In time of security shall he come even on the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them prey, and plunder, and substance: yes, he shall devise his devices against the strongholds, even for a time. 25 He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall war in battle with an exceeding great and mighty army; but he shall not stand; for they shall devise devices against him. 26 Yes, they who eat of his dainties shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow; and many shall fall down slain. 27 As for both these kings, their hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table: but it shall not prosper; for yet the end shall be at the time appointed. 28 Then he will return into his land with great substance; and his heart will be against the holy covenant; and he will take action, and return to his own land. 29 At the time appointed he shall return, and come into the south; but it shall not be in the latter time as it was in the former. 30 For ships of Kittim shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and shall return, and have indignation against the holy covenant, and shall take action: he shall even return, and have regard to those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 Forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. 32 Such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and take action. 33 Those who are wise among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, many days. 34 Now when they shall fall, they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall join themselves to them with flatteries. 35 Some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine them, and to purify, and to make them white, even to the time of the end; because it is yet for the time appointed. 36 The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done. 37 Neither shall he regard the gods of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 But in his place shall he honor the god of fortresses; and a god whom his fathers didn’t know shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. 39 He shall deal with the strongest fortresses by the help of a foreign god: whoever acknowledges him he will increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for a price. 40 At the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. 41 He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. 42 He shall stretch out his hand also on the countries; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. 44 But news out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many. 45 He shall plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and no one shall help him.

This may be about the end times, but that’s not the mostly likely meaning, since Jesus seems to have referred to this passage in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century A. D. The original meaning of Daniel was also probably as a prophecy of the destruction of the temple before the time of Christ. (See the Wikipedia article on Antiochus Epiphanes.) It is possible that God intended these prophecies to be about both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times. The prophecies about Christ’s early life, discussed above, all seem to have had at least two meanings.

There’s also this passage:
Daniel 12:7 I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by him who lives forever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when they have finished breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. 8 I heard, but I didn’t understand: then I said, my lord, what shall be the issue of these things? 9 He said, Go your way, Daniel; for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time that the continual burnt offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. 12 Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred thirty-five days. 13 But go you your way until the end; for you shall rest, and shall stand in your lot, at the end of the days.

These writings of Daniel, and the statements by Jesus in Matthew, are apocalyptic. Perhaps they are prophetic, also. We should always be careful in interpreting these kinds of Biblical literature.


The above is an excerpt from my recently self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Trees and Oxygen

A recent letter to the editor, in our local paper, complained that we should be careful not to cut down trees, because we need them to provide Oxygen for us. The author was, no doubt, well-intentioned, but wrong.

It is true that photosynthesis, carried out by trees and other green plants, releases Oxygen. But, as the Wikipedia article on the Atmosphere of Earth tells us, about one-fifth of the earth's atmosphere is Oxygen. As this article tells us, it would take about 2,000 years for us to use up all the Oxygen in the atmosphere, if no more were released by photosynthesis. (We would become extinct much sooner than that, if photosynthesis ceased, because we would run out of food.) The article also tells us that the Oxygen released by forests is almost entirely used up by those same forests. This is because, to obtain energy from stored plant material, most organisms use cellular respiration, which takes up Oxygen, and generates Carbon Dioxide. Even trees use cellular respiration to release the energy they store through photosynthesis..

The letter might much better have warned us that indiscriminate tree-cutting would be expected to mean that less Carbon Dioxide was taken up by photosynthesis, and, hence, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase. The result would be that the atmosphere would be less likely to allow heat radiation to pass through it, which would contribute to global warming. (See this Wikipedia article on Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.) Burning fossil fuels is the main culprit in the recent increases in CO2 in the atmosphere, but cutting forests is the second largest contributor.

Thanks for reading. Be glad that there is Oxygen enough to breathe, and be careful to save as many green plants as possible, so that global climate change can be slowed down.

 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Sunspots 465

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Computing: Wired has some interesting thoughts on replacing car mirrors with cameras.
Literature: A short, but excellent review of the Tales of Goldstone Wood books, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I am reading the sixth one of these at the moment.
Philosophy: A review, by a philosopher and Bible scholar, of God's Not Dead (the movie).
Politics: (sort of) The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has produced a Living Wage Calculator. It is apparently adjusted for each county in the US.
From WBUR, in Boston: A report on how increasing income inequality should not be a surprise, based, in part, on Jane Austen and Balzac.

National Public Radio reports on a retiring congressman who says that $174,000 a year is not enough for a member of Congress. He may be right.

Science: NPR on the importance of whale poop to ocean life. It's critical.
 
Image source (public domain)

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Harbinger

The Harbinger (which I have not read, and probably won't) has been getting a lot of attention lately. As I understand it, it is a book which says that the US should repent and turn to God, and also claims that there is prophecy relating to the current situation in the US.

There are plenty of Christian critics of The Harbinger, who agree with the repentance part. They disagree with the methodology, in particular the claim that the US has some sort of special covenant relationship with God, and that Isaiah 9:10 is about the US. Here's that verse, from the public domain World English Bible:
“The bricks have fallen,
but we will build with cut stone.
The sycamore fig trees have been cut down,
but we will put cedars in their place.”

As I understand it, the book claims that this is a prophecy about the fall of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.
 
Here are some such criticisms: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/harbinger-matter-critical-discernment

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=9653

http://www.biblicalintegrity.org/2012/04/26/harbinger-fact-fiction/

http://notasitlooks.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/the-harbinger-a-review/

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 30



[Continuing a chapter on End Times prophecy.]

The Tribulation

What about the evidence for a seven-year tribulation, immediately after the rapture? Not all dispensationalists hold to a seven-year tribulation, or to a tribulation right after the rapture. For more information on the different views, see the Wikipedia article on The Great Tribulation. However, belief in a seven-year tribulation, right after the rapture, seems to be most common view.

Where does the idea of a tribulation come from? Partly from the words of Christ:

Mark 13:3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign that these things are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus, answering, began to tell them, “Be careful that no one leads you astray. 6 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and will lead many astray.
7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be troubled. For those must happen, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines and troubles. These things are the beginning of birth pains. 9 But watch yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils. You will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them. 10 The Good News must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they lead you away and deliver you up, don’t be anxious beforehand, or premeditate what you will say, but say whatever will be given you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 13 You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end, the same will be saved. 14 But when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, 15 and let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter in, to take anything out of his house. 16 Let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak. 17 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babies in those days! 18 Pray that your flight won’t be in the winter. 19 For in those days there will be oppression, [The New American Standard, English Standard, Revised Standard, and American Standard versions use “tribulation,” rather than “oppression,” in Mark 13:19. The King James, the New Living Translation and the New International, respectively, use “affliction,” “anguish,” and “distress.”] such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; but for the sake of the chosen ones, whom he picked out, he shortened the days. 21 Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ don’t believe it. 22 For there will arise false christs and false prophets, and will show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, even the chosen ones. 23 But you watch.
“Behold, I have told you all things beforehand. 24 But in those days, after that oppression, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, 25 the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky.
28 “Now from the fig tree, learn this parable. When the branch has now become tender, and produces its leaves, you know that the summer is near; 29 even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know that it is near, at the doors. 30 Most certainly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don’t know when the time is.

This prophecy of Christ, like the prophecies about his early life, discussed at the beginning of this chapter, seems to have two meanings. It apparently refers to the end times, but also to another, more immediate time. I checked the StudyLight page on Mark 13:19, the verse from above where “tribulation” occurs. That web page has links to over a dozen commentaries or study helps on the verse. The majority of them indicate that the tribulation mentioned here was the destruction of Jerusalem, a relatively short time after Christ’s death and resurrection. It is possible that it also refers to a tribulation during the end times, or to both situations, but the main meaning seems to have been the destruction of Jerusalem.


The above is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.