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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sunspots 62


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


An editorial in First Things on the Dover, PA, Intelligent Design case. The author concludes that ID is not science, but isn't religion, either, but, rather, metaphysics.

An article in Christianity Today about Dallas Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson, and about NBA basketball and world evangelism.

In Slate, a report on an experiment to see whether either bribery, or taking driver's training, helped speed up getting a driver's license in New Delhi.

The National Academy of Science says that global warming is real.

Elliot has posted a review of a "Christian fantasy" book that I haven't read yet.

There is now a research wikipedia (or something like that) for Intelligent Design.

An article on research by mathematicians on the best strategy for winning auctions on eBay.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, June 25 - July 1

25. Oh, make my anger pure--let no worst wrong
Rouse in me the old niggard selfishness.
Give me thine indignation--which is love
Turned on the evil that would part love's throng;
Thy anger scathes because it needs must bless,
Gathering into union calm and strong
All things on earth, and under, and above.

26. Make my forgiveness downright--such as I
Should perish if I did not have from thee;
I let the wrong go, withered up and dry,
Cursed with divine forgetfulness in me.
'Tis but self-pity, pleasant, mean, and sly,
Low whispering bids the paltry memory live:--
What am I brother for, but to forgive!

27. "Thou art my father's child--come to my heart:"
Thus must I say, or Thou must say, "Depart;"
Thus I would say--I would be as thou art;
Thus I must say, or still I work athwart
The absolute necessity and law
That dwells in me, and will me asunder draw,
If in obedience I leave any flaw.

28. Lord, I forgive--and step in unto thee.
If I have enemies, Christ deal with them:
He hath forgiven me and Jerusalem.
Lord, set me from self-inspiration free,
And let me live and think from thee, not me--
Rather, from deepest me then think and feel,
At centre of thought's swift-revolving wheel.

29. I sit o'ercanopied with Beauty's tent,
Through which flies many a golden-winged dove,
Well watched of Fancy's tender eyes up bent;
A hundred Powers wait on me, ministering;
A thousand treasures Art and Knowledge bring;
Will, Conscience, Reason tower the rest above;
But in the midst, alone, I gladness am and love.

30. 'Tis but a vision, Lord; I do not mean
That thus I am, or have one moment been--
'Tis but a picture hung upon my wall,
To measure dull contentment therewithal,
And know behind the human how I fall;--
A vision true, of what one day shall be,
When thou hast had thy very will with me.

July. 1. Alas, my tent! see through it a whirlwind sweep!
Moaning, poor Fancy's doves are swept away.
I sit alone, a sorrow half asleep,
My consciousness the blackness all astir.
No pilgrim I, a homeless wanderer--
For how canst Thou be in the darkness deep,
Who dwellest only in the living day?

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from June 25 - July 1.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

In my continued zeal to fill up my corner of cyberspace, I frequently summarize books here. (I do read some summaries by others, and they are sometimes very helpful.) I try to avoid giving away essential surprises in plots.

Revelation Space (New York:Ace, 2000), by Alastair Reynolds, has been called "space opera." As I understand the term, I agree. It is also "hard" science fiction, in that it deals with astrophysics to some degree, and has some passages where Reynolds uses dialog to explain some physical phenomenon. It is Reynolds' first novel. My edition is a serious read, 585 pages.

The book is set in the 2500's. The science of the time has progressed to the point that it is possible to download a personality to a computer, and such a personality has at least most of the characteristics associated with real flesh-and-blood people. It is also possible to download a personality to another person, or at least to a person who is partly a human-artificial hybrid. One of the interesting things about the book is that the characters, nor the reader, can always be sure about who really is whom, because of this aspect. (I have written an extensive web page on the topic of uploading one's soul, in which I discuss several misgivings about the possibility of doing so.) Space travel is still only at sub-light speeds, so not all of the barriers we feel ourselves have been surmounted in 4 centuries or so.

The book held my interest. Although the review that the "called" link above goes to didn't think much of Reynolds' character development, I thought it was at least adequate. Other aspects of science are explored, not just personality transfer. In fact, that is more or less a given, something accepted without exploring much of how it happens. Some of the astrophysics is explored in at least a semi-scientific fashion.

Two or three alien species play significant roles in the book.

Although it is not, by my lights, a Christian novel, it isn't anti-Christian, either, and there is at least a little mention of prayer. (See here for my last post on the topic of what makes a novel Christian.)

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 23, 2006

On how fast you can buy a car/get married

We are in the process of purchasing a used car -- sorry, pre-owned vehicle. One of the terrors this holds for us is going to see the finance person, submitting our life history in triplicate, signing a half dozen or so inexplicable forms, and hearing how much the car will really cost, after adding in all the fees. Then there's getting the license plate, and insurance coverage. All in all, we can count on about two or three hours, at the best, and often more than that. Why? I can understand most of this, if I work at it. You should be able to prove that you own a car, rather than having stolen it, for example. The state needs tax money to build roads, pay police and teachers, and other state employees. (To win a political office in South Carolina, you must campaign on a platform of zero taxes. And then we wonder why our roads are so bad, our school busses/buses are the oldest in the country, and we don't have enough policemen. But don't get me started . . .) But it's still a painful process, and it seems to take too long.

Getting married can be much quicker. It usually isn't, if you count all the preliminaries, and the reception, but the actual ceremony doesn't usually take more than a half hour, even with a couple of songs and prayers, and it can be a lot less time than that.

You'd think that owning an auto was more important than acquiring a spouse. For some people, I guess it is. But a car usually starts depreciating in value from the time you put the key in it, and eventually will have to be junked. (We got $50 for a 1988 Ford Taurus with a cracked block and a non-functioning heater coil this week.) A marriage should be more valuable as time proceeds, becoming the most important of earthly relationships.

I was reminded of some words from "Heaven Came Down," by John W. Peterson, who wrote about how quickly a transaction was made, namely having our sins paid for by the sacrifice of Christ. That, of course, is the most important transaction, and Peterson was saying that it's instantaneous. Well, it is and it isn't, but that's another story.

I wouldn't say that there is an inverse relationship between how long a transaction takes, and how important it is, because there isn't. But I wonder what would happen to the divorce rate if those desiring to marry had to give their credit history, wait for others to check on things and finalize deals, and go to three different places to transact necessary business before getting married.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How can an intelligent person believe the Bible?

I got an e-mail from someone who asked me, in all honesty, I think, the question of the title, in nearly those words. I am flattered, because he was referring to me. Here's part of my answer, almost verbatim:

The short answer is that it seems to me that there are only two possibilities:
1) The universe, and us, are here as a result of purposeless chance
2) The universe was planned, at least in some aspects, and is not here totally as a result of chance. (I'm not proposing "Intelligent Design" here, at least not in the way it's most often presented.) If it was, then there must have been a Planner.

I don't see how any scientific experiment can distinguish between these alternatives. Which one is chosen depends on various things, such as how one was brought up, including how the two alternatives were presented. If, for example, one was told that no one but ignorant yahoos believe that God created the universe, or that everyone who believes this also believes that the earth is no more than, say, 10,000 years old, then he or she might reasonably be expected not to believe the claims of those who believe that the universe is here because of a plan.

I find that there are symptoms of a world that should be better than it is, generally, and personally. This implies that the world has been spoiled, and my own life has (mostly by my own errors). This indicates that there must be some remedy for these problems, and I find such a remedy in what the Bible tells me that Jesus Christ, God's Son, has done. I cannot prove this to anyone beyond all doubt, but I believe this. As a result, I take the rest of what the Bible says seriously.

I don't claim to understand all that the Bible says. I believe that it was not written as a textbook of science, and had to be written in language that people of the time could understand, so couldn't have, for example, said much, or anything, about the heliocentric theory of the solar system, or relativity. Nonetheless, the Bible, like the findings of science, is one way God reveals Himself to humans, and, if we understood the Bible perfectly, and understood the findings of science perfectly, the two would not conflict, in my opinion. Believing this, I take it seriously.

If you are interested, I refer you to an article by Probe Ministries for more on the authenticity of the Bible.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sunspots 61


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

Bacteria have probably evolved so as to live in yogurt.

A huge new National Monument has been created, in the Hawaiian Pacific Ocean.

There is now a SciFiPedia. I need to check it out.

Elliot on two science fiction authors who are Christians. I haven't read either one.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Charles Sherlock on the image of God

Charles Sherlock provides an example of current thinking on the meaning of the image of God, and he also considers what theologians of the past had to say on this topic. He wrote The Doctrine of Humanity. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1996. His Chapter 3 is "The Image of God in Christian Thought." (pp. 73-91.)

He writes: The Scriptures speak of what it means to be human in terms of being made 'in the image of God'. What this means precisely is nowhere told us, but it involves relationships with God, one another, and the creation; each of these relations has been inverted and distorted through sin. The New Testament speaks of the image renewed in Christ, but this is more than a past reality restored. Its fullness is known in Jesus Christ, the 'image of God', and, as we await his return, so we look to the full revelation of what being human entails. In short, Christian perspectives on being human centre in Christ, on what we are made to be. They have a future, expectant dimension, as well as a past and present sense of realism about mortality and sin. (p. 73.)

Sherlock has several interesting and important things to say. He points out that "There is always the danger of making God in the image of humanity. This is perhaps the most subtle idolatry -- projecting our highest ideals on to God for our own purposes. . . ." (p. 75)

He also points out that the incarnation of Christ reveals not only God's nature, but ours, and in bodily form. He believes that the image of God, therefore, has something to do with our physical nature.

Sherlock writes that ancient theologians thought that the capacity for creative thought, imagination, was the essence of the image of God. Augustine, he says, comes to the "conclusion . . . that the image of God within us is the structure of the mind as memory, understanding and will." (p. 80.) He says that Irenaus believed that the image of God is present in all humans, and is both physical and spiritual.

John Calvin, says Sherlock, thought that there was a difference in the images of God present in the elect, as opposed to the non-elect. He says Calvin believed that the elect had part of the image lost in the Fall restored to them.

Sherlock thinks that the image of God is not a purely personal attribute, and not something I possess that belongs just to me, like my appendix, but is relational.

Here's what Sherlock says about Karl Barth on the image of God:

Barth made three key contributions. His first is negative, but clears away a great deal of unhelpful ground: we are nowhere told in the Scriptures what the image of God actually is. Moreover, given the commandment about not making images (Ex. 20:4), we are in danger of committing idolatry if we seek to find rather than live out our status as those already made in the image of God. Secondly, Barth (following Augustine) keeps in mind at all times the truth that God is triune; the image is thus relational, involving our living as covenant partners with God and each other. In particular, as God lives in self-relationship, so do we; an analogy is drawn between the mutual life of the distinct diving Persons, and the mutual life of humankind as male and female. Thirdly, all is to be seen in and through Jesus Christ, the true covenant partner with both us and God. It is thus the community of those 'in Christ' which reveals today what it means to be made in the divine image. In this way Barth brings the doctrine of the church into close relationship with the doctrines of both God and humanity. This perspective offers an impressive account of how individual and corporate sides of being human maybe integrated in a community of persons. (p. 89)

I hope to continue this series. (See here for the most recent post.) Thanks for reading.


Added Nov 16, 2006: I haven't continued the topic, and perhaps should. Kevin Wright (a theologian -- I'm not) has posted on the image of God as seen by John Calvin and John Wesley.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Philip Gulley

I bought a book for my wife by Philip Gulley some time ago, because Amazon indicated that people interested in the works of Jan Karon might be interested in his books. She liked his books. So do I.

Karon's Mitford series is about an Episcopal priest in a small town. Gulley's Harmony series is about a Quaker minister in a small town. Both of them feature some memorable characters, and both of them use the small town locales well, telling about things that wouldn't be expected to happen in a big city, like Gulley's ambulance driver who does double duty as the mortician, hence, as Gulley puts it, doesn't have much motivation to hurry when driving the ambulance. I would say (others have, too) that Gulley's world, at least, has similarities to that of Garrison Keillor.

Both books raise some issues about faith. Both are humorous. Karon is a little more positive. There are some characters in the Harmony books that pastor Sam Gardner doesn't like very much, and I don't think Gulley does, either. Karon's message is that God is good, and people are, too. Gulley dwells less on God, and his people aren't always very good. He considers political/religious issues more. One of his books is includes some advocacy for acceptance of homosexuals (as part of his stories). He is co-author of If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person. I haven't read this book, and don't plan to, but, according to the title, and the reviews, it argues for Christian universalism -- as the subtitle says. I think Gulley is too hard on fundamentalism in the Harmony series.

Whatever his theological views, Gulley is a good writer. Fiction, after all, is not the place where you should get your theological views. His Harmony books have some good character studies, some can't-keep-it-to-yourself humor, and are good reads.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, June 18 - June 24

18. To some a mocking demon, that doth set
The poor foiled will to scoff at the ideal,
But loathsome makes to them their life of jar.
The messengers of Satan think to mar,
But make--driving the soul from false to feal--
To thee, the reconciler, the one real,
In whom alone the would be and the is are met.

19. Me thou hast given an infinite unrest,
A hunger--not at first after known good,
But something vague I knew not, and yet would--
The veiled Isis, thy will not understood;
A conscience tossing ever in my breast;
And something deeper, that will not be expressed,
Save as the Spirit thinking in the Spirit's brood.

20. But now the Spirit and I are one in this--
My hunger now is after righteousness;
My spirit hopes in God to set me free
From the low self loathed of the higher me.
Great elder brother of my second birth,
Dear o'er all names but one, in heaven or earth,
Teach me all day to love eternally.

21. Lo, Lord, thou know'st, I would not anything
That in the heart of God holds not its root;
Nor falsely deem there is any life at all
That doth in him nor sleep nor shine nor sing;
I know the plants that bear the noisome fruit
Of burning and of ashes and of gall--
From God's heart torn, rootless to man's they cling.

22. Life-giving love rots to devouring fire;
Justice corrupts to despicable revenge;
Motherhood chokes in the dam's jealous mire;
Hunger for growth turns fluctuating change;
Love's anger grand grows spiteful human wrath,
Hunting men out of conscience' holy path;
And human kindness takes the tattler's range.

23. Nothing can draw the heart of man but good;
Low good it is that draws him from the higher--
So evil--poison uncreate from food.
Never a foul thing, with temptation dire,
Tempts hellward force created to aspire,
But walks in wronged strength of imprisoned Truth,
Whose mantle also oft the Shame indu'th.

24. Love in the prime not yet I understand--
Scarce know the love that loveth at first hand:
Help me my selfishness to scatter and scout;
Blow on me till my love loves burningly;
Then the great love will burn the mean self out,
And I, in glorious simplicity,
Living by love, shall love unspeakably.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from June 18 through June 24. MacDonald was a father himself, so happy Father's Day to all to whom this is appropriate.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ahab's arrow

I recently began a series (don't know how long it will be -- I'll leave that up to chance) on whether anything really really really is due to chance, as opposed to directed by God. I'm not expecting to give a definitive answer to this question. Better minds than mine have failed to do this. Here's the first post. In it, I pointed out two uses of the word chance in the Bible.

There is only one occurrence of the word, random, in the Bible, or, rather, it occurs twice, in two places, as the same story is told in two of the historical books of the Old Testament. Here's one of them:

1 Kings 22:34 But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” (ESV -- the wording of 2 Chronicles 18:33 is identical.) There is a note at random, which says that the original Hebrew literally says "drew his bow in his innocence." The NIV also uses random here, in both books, but without a text note.

The story is this. Micaiah, God's prophet, told wicked King Ahab that he would die in battle. Ahab disguised himself so that he wouldn't be recognized. The man mentioned in the verse shot Ahab. He was propped up in his chariot for some time, and the battle continued, but he died of the wound.

Did the bowman have a choice in this matter? Was what he did really random? At least two versions of the Bible use the word, random, here, as I have pointed out, which implies that there is at least a weak case that the bowman did, indeed, act on his own. Here are the possibilities, as I see them. (I'm excluding another possibility, namely that this event never happened.)

1) The bowman had no real choice in the matter. God directed him, presumably without the bowman being aware of it.
2) The bowman had a choice. God is outside of time, so knew in advance that the bowman would choose to fire, and would hit Ahab, but didn't make him do it.
3) The bowman had a choice, and God, if you please, just got lucky in predicting that Ahab would die. I don't seriously believe this one, but listed it for completeness.

Now, if 1) is true, random wouldn't seem to be the right word in scripture. I know, maybe it isn't the right word, but over and over again, people in the Bible seem to have had real choices, so why not this bowman? Joshua told the Israelites to choose whom they would serve, for example. Solomon seems to have chosen to stray from worshipping God. The inhabitants of Nineveh seem to have chosen to repent, when they didn't have to. Ananias and Sapphira chose to lie to the church, or at least it sounds like they did.

If 2) is true, what would God have done if the bowman chose not to fire? Did He have a backup plan? The Bible says that Bezalel and Oholiab were given skill so that they could work on the tabernacle. It even says that Pharaoh was raised up so that God's glory could be shown when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, which doesn't sound like he had a choice in the matter.

I am, of course, musing on predestination and foreknowledge, which are knotty ideas. I don't have an answer to my own questions on this. Some people do, but they don't agree with each other. God knows.

Thanks for reading. Did you just happen to read this? Were you predestined to? Did you choose to? Let me know.

Friday, June 16, 2006

From Perez to Solomon, how many years?

I've got a question about one of the genealogies in the Bible. Here it is:

1 Chronicles 2:5 The sons of Perez: Hezron and Hamul. 6 The sons of Zerah: Zimri, Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara, five in all. 7 The son . . . of Carmi: Achan, the troubler of Israel, who broke faith in the matter of the devoted thing; 8 and Ethan's son was Azariah.

9 The sons of Hezron that were born to him: Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. 10 Ram fathered Amminadab, and Amminadab fathered Nahshon, prince of the sons of Judah. 11 Nahshon fathered Salmon, . . . Salmon fathered Boaz, 12 Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse. (ESV) (The ellipses represent references to footnotes that don't affect this discussion.)

Let me list the generations in the line I'm concerned about: Perez, Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse. Jesse was the father of David, who was the father of Solomon. That's eleven generations, including Perez, one of Judah's sons, and Solomon.

So what's the question?

Here it is: Is this list complete?

Why do I ask? Here's why. In 1 Kings 6:1, we are told that Solomon began to build the temple in the 480th year after the Israelites returned from Egypt. Exodus 12:40-41 tells us that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. This means that one or more of these 11 people were alive for a span of more than 910 years. (Perez must have been born in Canaan, before the departure for Egypt, according to Genesis 38. Clearly Solomon was born before he assumed the kingship, and before he started having the temple built. He lived for a number of years after the building of the temple started, as he reigned for 40 years.) Let's say that one or more of these 11 were alive for at least 946 years, and probably several years longer than that. That's 946 divided by 11, or 86 years, per generation, not per life. Generation length, of course, doesn't consider the overlap between, say, Jesse and David. In other words, these 11 men either must have lived a century or more each, or the genealogy given is not complete. There are scholars who know the Bible, and take it very seriously, as the Word of God, and believe that at least some of the genealogies are not meant to be used for chronological purposes, but were meant to show the main characters in lines of descent, with some names being omitted. There is scriptural evidence that names were omitted in some genealogies. It seems that this part of the genealogy in the Bible probably is one of those that has names omitted.

Any thoughts? Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What was in the ark? Contradiction?

Not Noah's ark, but the ark of the covenant, that is.

Can anyone help me here?

Here's what the Old Testament says was in the ark: 1 Kings 8:9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. (ESV)

Here's what the New Testament says was in it: Hebrews 9:4 . . . having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. (ESV)

A. R. Faussett wrote this:

In 1Ki 8:9 2Ch 5:10 , it is said there was nothing in the ark of Solomon's temple save the two stone tables of the law put in by Moses. But the expression that there was nothing THEN therein save the two tables, leaves the inference to be drawn that formerly there were the other things mentioned by the Rabbis and by Paul here, the pot of manna (the memorial of God's providential care of Israel) and the rod of Aaron, the memorial of the lawful priesthood . . .

I suppose he was right. Any thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sunspots 60


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

How to observe the sun for yourself.

Honda has created a robot that can act in response to the brain activity of a person, whose brain is read by an MRI. It's not ready for prime time yet.

Are RFID chips, implanted in humans, the mark of the Beast?

Article on MSNBC (therefore more or less for the general public) on extra dimensions, and possible proof that they exist. (Also shows that physicists aren't just old Caucasian males in white lab coats -- see the photos of the scientists interviewed.)

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is there such a thing as chance?

A couple of months ago, I posted on "Origins 101." Julana, one of my faithful readers and commenters, commented as follows:

I think it's hard to argue for the existence of chance, in a purposeful universe, when you posit an all-powerful, all-knowing God.
It may be more difficult to argue against determinism.

I heard a friend use the terms "God's permissive will" and "God's active will" once. I understand the intuitive concept, but wonder how they could be logically worked out.

That's a most interesting, and important, idea, Julana. If there is an omnipotent, omniscient God, then how can there be any chance? As C. S. Lewis put it in The Silver Chair, "There are no accidents."

To begin my further consideration of this topic, I went to the Bible. I found just two references to chance:

Ecclesiastes 9:11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. (ESV).

Our Lord, Himself, spoke of chance: Luke 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. (ESV)

This is in a story, namely that of the Good Samaritan. I think it would be dangerous to take it as a proof text for the existence of chance in the world, especially in inanimate objects, since it is about a choice made by a (possibly fictional -- perhaps Jesus made up the story to illustrate His point) human being, but it seems to me that it would be dangerous to ignore the use of that word completely, either. As to the verse in Ecclesiastes, I'm not sure that that can serve as a proof text for the existence of chance, in the sense of events that God doesn't control, either.

Here's a post that considers chance and creation seriously.

I hope to consider this matter further in the future. I'm not sure that I will come to any definitive conclusions. Note that this blog advertises itself as "musings . . ." on various topics.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for your comment, Julana.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Not Seeing God in Nature

They will not, therefore cannot, do not know him.
Nothing they could know, could be God. In sooth,
Unto the true alone exists the truth.
They say well, saying Nature doth not show him:
Truly she shows not what she cannot show;
And they deny the thing they cannot know.
Who sees a glory, towards it will go.
- George MacDonald, A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880) entry for June 12.

I have previously posted on this topic, pointing out that the Bible says, in Psalm 19:1-2 and in Romans 1:20, that God has revealed Himself in nature. The latter verse says "20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (ESV) Paul implied, as MacDonald does, that seeing God in nature is only possible to those who believe in His existence, or at least who are willing to have an open mind on the issue of His existence. Nature cannot show God to those who will not look. As Hebrews 11:3 puts it: "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (ESV)

The dwarves, in C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle, could not see the glory that was around them, because they wouldn't, and Aslan himself couldn't make it visible to them.

I am posting weekly excerpts from MacDonald's Diary (Click on the George MacDonald label below, or see the sidebar, and look for Diary of an Old Soul) and thought this section was worth re-emphasizing. Other portions of it are, too.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, June 11 - June 17

11. Henceforth all things thy dealings are with me
For out of thee is nothing, or can be,
And all things are to draw us home to thee.
What matter that the knowers scoffing say,
"This is old folly, plain to the new day"?--
If thou be such as thou, and they as they,
Unto thy Let there be, they still must answer Nay.

12. They will not, therefore cannot, do not know him.
Nothing they could know, could be God. In sooth,
Unto the true alone exists the truth.
They say well, saying Nature doth not show him:
Truly she shows not what she cannot show;
And they deny the thing they cannot know.
Who sees a glory, towards it will go. (more on this entry here)

13. Faster no step moves God because the fool
Shouts to the universe God there is none;
The blindest man will not preach out the sun,
Though on his darkness he should found a school.
It may be, when he finds he is not dead,
Though world and body, sight and sound are fled,
Some eyes may open in his foolish head.

14. When I am very weary with hard thought,
And yet the question burns and is not quenched,
My heart grows cool when to remembrance wrought
That thou who know'st the light-born answer sought
Know'st too the dark where the doubt lies entrenched--
Know'st with what seemings I am sore perplexed,
And that with thee I wait, nor needs my soul be vexed.

15. Who sets himself not sternly to be good,
Is but a fool, who judgment of true things
Has none, however oft the claim renewed.
And he who thinks, in his great plenitude,
To right himself, and set his spirit free,
Without the might of higher communings,
Is foolish also--save he willed himself to be.

16. How many helps thou giv'st to those would learn!
To some sore pain, to others a sinking heart;
To some a weariness worse than any smart;
To some a haunting, fearing, blind concern;
Madness to some; to some the shaking dart
Of hideous death still following as they turn;
To some a hunger that will not depart.

17. To some thou giv'st a deep unrest--a scorn
Of all they are or see upon the earth;
A gaze, at dusky night and clearing morn,
As on a land of emptiness and dearth;
To some a bitter sorrow; to some the sting
Of love misprized**--of sick abandoning;
To some a frozen heart, oh, worse than anything!

*I think this comes from misprision, which has to do with bad administration or neglect of a duty. MacDonald was a poet, and he wrote this over a century ago. Vocabularies have changed since then.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from June 11 through June 17.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I've been reading some Ursula K. Le Guin

For not the first time, I've been reading some Ursula K. Le Guin. See here, here, here, here, and, perhaps most importantly, here for some of my previous posts on her work. In the last post mentioned, I refer to Le Guin as "arguably, the most important U. S. fantastic writer of the twentieth century." I'm not the only person with that opinion. She is still writing. She says that she is a Taoist. Her work is well crafted, imaginative, and often deals with fundamental social issues.

One of her most important works was The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) one of the few books to win both the Hugo (voted on by science fiction fans) and Nebula (voted on by science fiction writers) awards. It is a great read, and one of the reasons is the biology Le Guin invented for the Gethenians. They look human, but differ in a most fundamental way -- they are neuter (somer) most of the time, and when they become sexual (kemmer) they may become either sex, and there's no way to predict which one. One of the most memorable phrases in the book is "The King was pregnant." There are few permanent monogamous relationships on Gethen. Most people visit the kemmerhouse when in kemmer, there to meet someone who is the opposite sex in this cycle.

I recently read "Coming of Age in Karhide: Sov Thade Tage em Ereb of Rer in Karhide, on Gethen," pp. 284 - 308, in Year's Best SF (New York:Harper Collins Eos, 2002) edited by David G. Hartwell. (Original copyright 1995, in New Legends.) The story, published over a quarter of a century after Left Hand, explains some aspects of their biology that weren't explained in Left Hand, namely how the Gethenians go through puberty and menopause (?). They can end up as externally either male or female, after their sexual cycles are through. She explains a little of how the kemmerhouse works. There is a doorkeeper, who is someone in permanent kemmer. The family escorts the adolescent to the kemmerhouse for the first experience. Accounts a little of the initial sexual experience.

I also read Le Guin's Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (New York: HarperPerennial, 1997) which I had never heard of, probably because it is, ostensibly, not fantastic literature. The book is an anthology of 18 of Le Guin's short fiction, published originally in a variety of locations, including Harper's and The New Yorker. I used the best quote from the book in yesterday's post. That passage came from "Ether, OR," a story about a small town in Le Guin's home state, Oregon, which changes location unpredictably, within the state. As the title suggests, it's an a story about ambiguity, and not just that of location. It is also told from several points of view, showing how the same events and situations can appear differently to different people. Le Guin is good at changing point of view. She did that brilliantly in Left Hand.

Here's perhaps the second best quotation from the book.

There are other stories. She goes back to the Krasnoy of Malafrena, a fictional city in a fictional country in Eastern Europe, in one of them. In another, she describes a unique twist on the story of Sleeping Beauty. In another, a girl grows to over forty feet tall. All in all, it's vintage Le Guin.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

On growing old

Growing old isn't always so great. Even in a society that, unlike ours, honored the aged, the psalmist said this:
Psalm 71:1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!

9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
forsake me not when my strength is spent. (ESV)

Apparently he saw that his "time of old age" might be a time of trouble, when he would need God more and more.

As one of Ursula K. Le Guin's fictional characters put it:
But now I have my own question. I never asked questions, I was so busy answering them, but am sixty years old this winter and think I should have time for a question. But it's hard to ask. Here it is. It's like all the time I was working keeping house and raising the kids and making love and earning our keep I thought there was going to come a time or there would be some place where all of it came together. Like it was words I was saying, all my life, all the kinds of work, just a word here and a word there, but finally all the words would make a sentence, and I could read the sentence. I would have made my soul and know what it was for.
But I have made my soul and I don't know what to do with it. Who wants it? I have lived sixty years. All I'll do from now on is the same as what I have done only less of it, while I get weaker and sicker and smaller all the time, shrinking and shrinking around myself, and die. No matter what I did, or made, or know. "Ether, OR," pp. 95-123, in Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (New York: Harper Perennial, 1997). Quote is from p. 108. Originally published in Asimov's, 1995.

To put it more succinctly, but less elegantly, "What has my life been worth?"

James tells us that our lives will be short, and the effect of our life will be temporary:
James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (ESV)

No one, no matter what her age, is guaranteed tomorrow. So how shall we live? James tells us, at least partly, in the above passage: Do what is right. That's the best way to live a life worth living, a life that will make a difference, a life that doesn't get smaller and smaller all the time.

* * * * *

(Added after original post) C. S. Lewis wrote, in The Silver Chair, that there are no accidents. My on-line Bible reading for today, June 10, 2006, included the following:

Proverbs 16:31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life. (ESV)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Living in two dimensions

I read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (New York: Penguin, 1998. Originally London: Seeley & Co., 1884, by Edwin Abbott Abbott) a few decades ago, but had mostly forgotten the content. One of my daughters recently gave me a copy, which I read and enjoyed.

The premise is that the author, who describes himself as A. Square, is living in a universe of only two dimensions. He describes various aspects of such a world, such as gravitation, how you would be able to tell a circle from a square, if you were looking at what, to us, would be the edge of two silhouettes, and so on. Quite imaginative work. Although the subtitle includes "Romance," there's no real love in the book.

Here's definition 3 of romance, from the Free Online Dictionary: a. A long medieval narrative in prose or verse that tells of the adventures and heroic exploits of chivalric heroes: an Arthurian romance. b. A long fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary or mysterious events, usually set in a distant time or place. c. The class of literature constituted by such tales.

This book is a romance in the second sense.

Perhaps the best part of the book is an experience of a three-dimensional world, after which the protagonist tries, and fails, to convince his fellow Flatlanders that such a thing is possible. (He also tries, and fails, to persuade his three-dimensional mentor, clearly an intelligent being, that a four-dimensional world might be possible.) Although Abbott almost certainly couldn't have known it, Einstein's physics considered time to be a fourth dimension, and string theory suggests that the universe may have 10 or more dimensions.

This edition had a good introduction by Alan Lightman. Lightman compared Abbott to Lewis Carroll, who, like Abbott, wrote about mathematics. (Carroll is, of course, famous for his fantastic writing.) Lightman suggests, plausibly, that Abbott was writing some social satire, especially about the sexes in Flatland. (Women were straight lines, men geometric shapes.) Lightman also said that Abbott was a pioneer in thinking, and probably the book has been important in the development of scientific thought. A 1920 article on Einstein's physics referred to the book, he says.

Writes Lightman:

For me, the importance of the second part of Flatland lies not in its literal geometrical and dimensional discussion, but in its more shrouded warning of too much complacency in the scientific enterprise -- and, by extension, all of life. (p. xii)

Scientists, around the time Abbott wrote Flatland, and for a number of years afterward, thought that science knew about everything there was to know. They were wrong. They are now, if they think such.

Thanks for reading! Live in as many dimensions as you can.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sunspots 59


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

The Japanese sent a space probe to an asteroid. Here's an article on the results, including photos. (See 2nd and 3rd pages for photos)

A mathematical estimate of how many transitional fossils are missing.

Why we want to take a nap after lunch.

Coffee-drinking makes you more open to persuasion.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, June 4 - June 10

4. But, like a virtuous medicine, self-diffused
Through all men's hearts thy love shall sink and float;
Till every feeling false, and thought unwise,
Selfish, and seeking, shall, sternly disused,
Wither, and die, and shrivel up to nought;
And Christ, whom they did hang 'twixt earth and skies,
Up in the inner world of men arise.

5. Make me a fellow worker with thee, Christ;
Nought else befits a God-born energy;
Of all that's lovely, only lives the highest,
Lifing the rest that it shall never die.
Up I would be to help thee--for thou liest
Not, linen-swathed in Joseph's garden-tomb,
But walkest crowned, creation's heart and bloom.

6. My God, when I would lift my heart to thee,
Imagination instantly doth set
A cloudy something, thin, and vast, and vague,
To stand for him who is the fact of me;
Then up the Will, and doth her weakness plague
To pay the heart her duty and her debt,
Showing the face that hearkeneth to the plea.

7. And hence it comes that thou at times dost seem
To fade into an image of my mind;
I, dreamer, cover, hide thee up with dream,--
Thee, primal, individual entity!--
No likeness will I seek to frame or find,
But cry to that which thou dost choose to be,
To that which is my sight, therefore I cannot see.

8. No likeness? Lo, the Christ! Oh, large Enough!
I see, yet fathom not the face he wore.
He is--and out of him there is no stuff
To make a man. Let fail me every spark
Of blissful vision on my pathway rough,
I have seen much, and trust the perfect more,
While to his feet my faith crosses the wayless dark.

9. Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night--
To be--to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

10. I am lost before thee, Father! yet I will
Claim of thee my birthright ineffable.
Thou lay'st it on me, son, to claim thee, sire;
To that which thou hast made me, I aspire;
To thee, the sun, upflames thy kindled fire.
No man presumes in that to which he was born;
Less than the gift to claim, would be the giver to scorn.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. These are the entries for/from June 4 through June 10.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sunspots 58

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

An art gallery based on math, from the American Mathematical Society.

Joe Carter on how quality isn't rewarded by those who read blogs.

Apparently, Poison Ivy will be worse as global warming occurs.

A report of experiments on the development of an invisibility cloak, no less.

Article in The New Atlantis on "Biotechnology and the Spirit of Capitalism."

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)