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Saturday, March 31, 2007

News I wish I had seen

Lest there be any doubt, this is a pre-April Fools' Day post. (I try to reserve Sunday for more devotional items) It's also a post-Van Gogh's birthday post.

You read it here first (and probably won't read it anywhere else, ever):

1) Wal-Mart, Macy's, J. C. Penney, Sears, Lands' End, and other prominent makers and suppliers of women's clothing have agreed that, since a 28 inch waist is a 28 inch waist, no matter whose belt you are wearing, that they will work toward making womens' clothing sizes uniform. If you wear a 10 from Ross's, a 10 from Talbot's will fit, they say.

2) Richard Dawkins has announced that he believes that there is credible evidence for a God.

3) Taking a page from Northern Ireland, Sunnis and Shiites have come to an amicable agreement on sharing oil revenues in Iraq, and Israelis and Palestinians have agreed on a just and amicable settlement of their differences. Most people expect to see a viable democracy in Iraq, with representation from Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, within six months, and also expect to see an independent Palestinian state, which has full diplomatic recognition of Israel, within the same time.

4) A consortium of health insurance companies have announced that they will work with Congress and the President on a smooth transition to universal health coverage in the U. S.

5) President Bush announced that he was sorry for the time and effort spent in the "War on Terror" in Iraq, while Osama Bin Laden, the stated original motivation for the attack, has been largely ignored. The President announced that there would be a renewed search for Bin Laden. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards made a joint statement saying that they accepted the apology, and promised to back the President in this renewed venture.

What news do you wish you had seen?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Christian aspects of fantastic literature

Fantastic literature, let us say, is literature with settings or characters that cannot be real. Science fiction, more or less, is about events that might take place in the future, or events that could have taken place in the past, if things had been different (this type is sometimes called alternate history). Fantasy literature is about things that never could have been, at least not in this universe.

Fantastic literature is, in my opinion, no more, or no less, likely to present a Christian world-view than any other kind of fiction, except for fiction that is specifically produced for sale to Christians, mostly through Christian bookstores. (Let's call such material faith fiction.) I know little about faith fiction, even faith fiction which is fantastic literature. (Also, I know little about fiction in languages other than English.)

Prominent authors, such as John Bunyan, have chosen allegory, a type of fantasy, to make their case for Christianity. I am not dealing with such works in this post, either.

There are a number of authors of fantastic literature who have written with a Christian world-view, who have been widely read by the general public, and, therefore, made an impact on literature. The most prominent was J. R. R. Tolkien, but there have been others, including Gene Wolfe, who is still writing, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. It is possible that J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series will turn out to have such a world-view. Some authors (see here and here) have claimed this even before the series is finished. (Other authors have vehemently rejected even the possibility of Christianity in the Potter novels, or in fantastic literature by anyone else, for that matter. I shall ignore such nonsense here.)

Here's a list, from a few years ago, of the denominational affiliations of prominent writers of fantastic fiction. The web page has some links to other pages related to this subject. At least one author has been omitted, mistakenly, in my opinion. Although I enjoyed the work of Zenna Henderson, I believe that Patricia A. McKillip's body of work is much more substantial than Henderson's, but Henderson is listed, and McKillip is not.

What makes a novel a Christian novel? This is what I think, condensed from a previous pair of posts, here and here. In these posts, I wrote that one or more of these elements, intentionally included, must be present:
1) A Christ-figure
2) Belief, by central characters, in important Christian doctrines, such as a belief in the Trinity, or the resurrection
3) Monotheistic prayer or other worship
4) Expression of a relationship with God as Lord, by a main character
5) Consciousness of supernatural guidance
6) Explicit rejection of evil, by a main character

What makes a character a Christ-figure? I would say that redemptive sacrifice is the most important aspect of this. Gandalf, in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, might be said to be a Christ-figure, in that he died in Moria so that the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring could survive. Besides that, he also did what Christ did, namely reappear in a resurrected body. (I don't think it is reasonable to expect most fictional Christ-figures to do that!)

I have some trouble with my own list, illustrated by Susan Palwick's* The Necessary Beggar. It would take some real obtuseness to overlook the obvious, namely that Palwick is writing with a Christian world-view. Yet, I am not sure that the book really qualifies as a Christian novel, if, to do so, it must meet my criteria above. Hence, I add another item to the previous list:
7) Christian world-view

This is probably another way of saying that, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on pornography, I know Christian-oriented fantastic literature when I see it, but I really can't manufacture a good definition of it.

Juliet Marillier is an avowed pagan, but she has written some books that do include at least element 2, but not by a main character.

Claw of the Conciliator has published a good short annotated list of important writers who were/are Christians.

Mirtika has produced a longer list of what makes "speculative fiction" Christian. A helpful feature of her list is that it consists of alternatives. Here's a sample:
7. I believe it should offer hope.
8. I do not believe that it must be chipper and relentlessly optimistic in tone. Many suffer lives of endless struggle and torment, and it may not get better with time. However, there must be a sense that suffering, though normal, is not the only thing to look forward to. That there is something else, something beyond. Ecclesiastes is a dark book, a pessimistic one, that ultimately offers some hope. That might be a good guideline for those of us attracted to the darker corners of human experience.

For those with further interest in this subject, I recommend two blogs, The Lost Genre Guild, which covers authors less widely known -- faith fiction fantastic literature writers -- than those I listed in the fourth paragraph above, and occasionally includes posts by such authors, and Speculative Faith, which is more likely to look somewhat askance at faith fiction, even if it is fantastic, and may cover more theoretical aspects of fantastic literature written from a Christian worldview.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your criticism.

I expect to post soon about Christian themes in Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy, and also about the question of whether fantastic literature is a specially good medium for considering Christian themes.

* * * * *

*Note added March 31, 2007. Susan Palwick, herself, has made a comment on this post, and I recommend that you read it.

April 2, 2007: Made two editorial changes. I thank my wife for reading this post.

November 22, 2007: In a shameless attempt to pick up more Google search hits, I am adding these terms: novel, book, aspects, characteristics, attributes, properties, Christian, literature.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Language of God, Chapter 3, by Francis Collins

A previous post gives the contents of Chapter 1, and the bibliographic and author information for The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, and another post describes Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 is entitled "The Origins of the Universe." In it, Collins describes the history of our knowledge of cosmology, and the evidence for the Big Bang. He believes that science has no explanation for (or knowledge of) what came before the Big Bang. He describes current scientific thinking on the origin of the sun, and of the earth. Then he takes up the Anthropic Principle, which, more or less, is the idea that the universe is particularly hospitable to human, and other, life. (Here's the Wikipedia article on that important subject. There is also a web domain dedicated to the subject.)

One of his most remarkable statements is the following:
Altogether, there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal. And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe. In sum, our universe is wildly improbable. (p. 74) Collins, of course, is not the first person to point this out, but he does a good job of doing it again, and it is worth frequent reminders. It is, of course, possible that some theory will come along that explains why the velocity of light, or other of these constants, is what it is now.

He goes on to argue that cosmology points strongly toward a supernatural origin of the universe, and would say that such a position is academically defensible.

As the last topic of the chapter, Collins tackles the status of the first part of Genesis. He does not believe that it was meant to be taken literally, and says why. He quotes St. Augustine on the subject: In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. (p. 83 of Collins)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sunspots 101


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

Humor:
(Not exactly, but it doesn't fit anywhere else) A news report, with photo, of the marriage of the world's tallest man.

Science: A report and essay on giving mice (which, like most mammals, cannot see in color) color vision.

A photo, and description, of Hyperion, one of the moons of Saturn, which is definitely not spherical, and shows clear evidence of impacts by other bodies.

Computing: Mike, on how most people read only blogs that they already agree with (he could have said "receive e-mails only from organizations that they agree with) and how it shouldn't be that way.

Christianity: Pastor Perry Noble's church has been called a cult. He has some thoughts on what a cult is really like.

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 these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Seeing Jesus in others: The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick, was published by Tor Books (2005). Tor publishes a lot of fantastic literature, including some of the best such. The book was a 2006 Alex Awards winner.

You can read reviews of The Necessary Beggar here, here, and here, and elsewhere. The first one is by Claw of the Conciliator, and I thank Eliot, its blogger, for introducing me to this book, and to Susan Palwick (who also blogs). The other two links are to sites that commonly review fantastic literature. Palwick, in other words, although writing with a Christian world-view, has made some impact on the community-at-large that is interested in fantastic literature. (Eliot begins his review with a quotation from the Bible.)

Part of the plot (by no means all, and Palwick probably didn't intend it as the main point) is what happens to Stan Buttle throughout the book. We are introduced to him as a fundamentalist preacher, full of fire and brimstone, rather too quick to consign others to eternal damnation. As the book progresses, he loses much of his fire, and, he says, his faith. Then, near the end, he regains it.

How does he regain it? From an alien, who has come to earth with his family, and committed suicide (it's a long story, and I won't tell most of it -- read the book, or the reviews may help some) and become a ghost. After a miserable existence just existing in the place where his family lives, the ghost, Darroti, decides that he needs to act. He knows that he can appear in the dreams of others, and now he decides to do it with a purpose. One of the dreamers he picks is Stan. Stan thinks he has seen a vision of Jesus, and his faith is renewed.

This is how his wife, Lisa, describes the matter to Timbor, the alien elder:
"But if Stan found out," I said, "his faith would be broken again. And we must not let that happen."
Lisa shook her head and put her hand over mine. "Timbor, you know what? If he found out, it wouldn't make any difference. It doesn't make any difference. Jesus comes to us in other people, always. That's the way it works. Stan always knew that with his head: he just couldn't wrap his heart around it. The trick is learning to see Jesus everyplace, learning to see Christ in whatever poor schlub is walking down the street. Stan can talk about that to beat the band, but he was never very good at doing it. Because he was too afraid, you know, afraid of the other people he knew it was his job to love. Afraid that he'd get hurt, or that he'd go to hell for loving somebody who'd done something wrong, even though that's the entire point, that's what we're supposed to do, because everybody does things wrong. So if Stan learned to see Jesus in a ghost, well then, that's fine. Because now he's learning to see Jesus in the checkout kids at the supermarket, too, even when they shortchange him or break the eggs or take too long loading the cart because they're gossiping with their friends." (p. 312)

Indeed! This is an amazing passage in literature sold by a secular publisher. I am reminded of Matthew 25:31-40, and I am also reminded that, although I can't redeem anyone, I need to be Jesus to other people, on-line and in the real world.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Added April 1, 2007. I have been honored, in that Susan Palwick has commented on another post of mine. Part of her comment relates to this post.

* * * * *

Added July 31, 2007. I have now posted on Palwick's Flying in Place.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Owen Gingerich on Copernicus

Owen Gingerich has written The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolas Copernicus. New York: Walker & Company, 2004. The title comes from Arthur Koestler's book, The Sleepwalkers, which was a popular book about early astronomy. According to Gingerich, Koestler claimed that nobody, or at least no important astronomers, read Copernicus' work, De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, 1543). Gingerich found most, or all, of the existing copies, and shows, from evidence such as annotations in the books by important astronomers, such as Kepler, that Koestler's claim was false. Gingerich is a professor of astronomy and the history of astronomy.

He writes: Today we admire Copernicus for having the audacity to introduce the heliocentric cosmology into Western culture, essentially triggering the Scientific Revolution. The Copernican cosmology did not just provide the modern blueprint for the solar system. It was a compelling unification of the disparate elements of the heavenly spheres. The greatest of scientists have been unifiers, men who found connections that had never before been perceived. Isaac Newton destroyed the dichotomy between celestial and terrestrial motions, forging a common set of laws that applied to the Earth and sky alike. James Clerk Maxwell connected electricity and magnetism, and showed that light was electromagnetic radiation. Charles Darwin envisioned how all living organisms were related through common descent. Albert Einstein tore asunder the separation between matter and energy, linking them through his famous E = mc2 equation.
Copernicus, too, was nothing if not a unifier. In the Ptolemaic astronomy each planet was a separate entity. True, they could be stacked one after another, producing a system of sorts, but their motions were each independent. The result, Copernicus wrote, was like a monster composed of spare parts, a head from here, the feet from there, the arms from yet another creature. Each planet in Ptolemy's system had a main circle and a subsidiary circle, the so-called epicycle. Mars with its epicycle was a prototype for each of the other planets, but because the frequency and size of the retrograde was different for each planet, an epicycle with an individual size and period was required for each planet. Copernicus discovered that he could eliminate one circle from each set by combining them all into a unified system. Owen Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolas Copernicus. New York: Walker & Company, 2004. pp. 53-4.


He presents evidence that ". . . neither Copernicus nor his predecessors were interested in adding extra circles just to make the predictions work a little better. Nevertheless, the legend of epicycles on epicycles has become so pervasive that barely a year passes without some author in the Physical Review or the Astronomical Journal remarking, apologetically, 'Maybe my theory has too many epicycles.'" Clearly, I haven't stamped out the myth. pp. 59-60.

And writes about Kepler:
In the Ptolemaic system, the Sun moved around its circle at a constant speed -- it just looked as if it moved at different speeds because it wasn't at the center of the Earth's circle.

And this, Kepler believed, had to be wrong. If Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, moved fastest, and Saturn, the most distant planet, moved slowest, then this was because Mercury, being closer, soaked up more of the Sun's motive power and thus naturally moved faster. But in winter the Earth wasn't closer to the Sun than in summer, and Kepler reasoned that it should actually be going faster in its orbit in winter. That was physics, and Kepler, as the world's first astro-physicist, worked out the consequences. p. 168.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

John Bunyan on why we should seek to get to Heaven

{124} PRUD. And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

CHR. Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me; there, they say, there is no death; and there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. [Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4] For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"

PRUDENCE is one of the spiritual guides at the house of the Interpreter (see my post of March 11). The scripture references are part of the original.

This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Language of God, Chapter 2, by Francis Collins

A previous post gives the contents of Chapter 1, and the bibliographic and author information for The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Chapter Two considers four common arguments against faith in God (and against the validity of religion in general) with rebuttals.

The first argument is that religion is just wish fulfillment. Collins, following C. S. Lewis on this topic, says that, if religion were really wish fulfillment, the god we imagine would be much more indulgent than the God of the Bible. He also says that just because we may wish for a god, that does not prove that there isn't one.

The second argument is that there is a lot of harm done in the name of religion. Collins does not deny that, but points out that there is also a lot of good done in the name of religion, for example the story told in the film "Amazing Grace." He also points out that great evil was done by a supposedly atheist society, the Soviet Union. Finally, he says that it is not reasonable to judge the truth of religion solely by its human adherents. He asks "would you judge Mozart's The Magic Flute on the basis of a poorly rehearsed performance by fifth-graders?" (p. 42)

The third argument is the evil that exists. How could God allow it? Collins has a personal story of great evil done to an innocent person. I'll let readers of the book discover that story for themselves. He follows Lewis (and many others) in pointing out that much evil is the result of God's allowing humans free moral choice, and our choices being bad. He also says: . . . if the most important relationship we are to develop on this earth is a relationship with God, and if our existence as spiritual creatures is not limited to what we can know and observe during our earthly lifetime, then human sufferings take on a wholly new context. We may never fully understand the reasons for these painful experiences, but we can begin to accept the idea that there may be such reasons. (p. 46)

The fourth argument is about miracles. How can a rational person, a scientist, believe in them? Let's put it this way. Collins is a scientist's scientist, and he believes in them. He does say that we use "miracle" much too often, and that we should not assume that everything we can't explain is due to divine intervention, but he sees no reason that a scientist cannot believe in miracles. Nothing in science can disprove them, as they are outside the purview of science.

Collins won't convince a reader who refuses to be convinced, but he makes a good case.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is your church ready to have a child molester attend?

A church in San Diego County, California, has gotten a lot of media attention (if this link doesn't work any more, and you want to know more about this particular situation, try a search for "Mark Pliska," the man in question, or for "Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Carlsbad, California," or for "Madison Shockley," the pastor) recently, because a convicted (and released) sex offender has attended Pilgrim Church of Christ, and apparently wished to do so with the congregation being aware of his past.

I heard an interview with the pastor, and another pastor who has worked with several congregations on such matters. You can listen to that interview, and read some explanatory material here. Currently, the church is working on policies to cover the situation.

There are two major questions for churches:

1) How willing is the church to accept repentant criminals and other "outsiders?" It might be well for a church congregation, board, pastoral staff, or all of these, to consider this. What would happen if someone with AIDS, or, in churches with ethnic or language homogeneity, if someone from another ethnic group wanted to attend? What would Jesus do? What should we do? If we/I are reluctant to accept such people, why, and what should we do about it? This would probably be a healthy discussion best held before such an event occurred.

2) Does the church have policies or understandings in place to protect children? Most child molestation is done by family members, but too much of it happens from teachers, pastors, children and youth workers, and the like. Are there rules such that adults are never alone with children? This protects children, and also would protect the adult from false accusations.

I don't like to even think about such things, but I think I should.

Thanks for reading.

(Some editorial changes were made on March 26, 2007)

* * * * * *

On May 6, 2007, this church adopted a policy on safety, which would allow a sex offender who met certain requirements to attend, and should also go far to protect children against offenses committed by church workers and others, while they are attending a church function.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sunspots 100


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

Science: (also Literature, and Christianity) my own post on Green, from March 17, 2005, part of a series on the colors of the rainbow. (St. Patrick's Day occurred since the last Sunspots.)

The Conservapedia's article on Baramin (the equivalent, the article says, of "kind," which is used in the King James Version of the Bible.)

Politics: (sort of) American Women Through Time

Christianity Today says that the National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed a statement condemning torture.

Article claiming that, even if there were no moral reason not to torture, torture is counterproductive, anyway -- first, because information obtained that way is suspect, and second, because it encourages torture of our own troops.

Music: Today is the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably the greatest composer of all time. According to The Writer's Almanac, he said (in German, no doubt): "There's nothing remarkable about [making music]. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." (Thanks to one of our daughters for the links.)

Computing: Zotero is a Firefox extension (free, of course) for capturing bibliographic information.


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 these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, March 19, 2007

John C. Polkinghorne on physics and free will

I reject a compatibilist account of human agency since I do not believe that the mere impression of choice can be the foundation of moral being. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 188.

Those who have appealed to (an assumed indeterministic) quantum theory . . . have to recognize how ill-defined and problematic is the concept of "indeterminate quantum events." The only events that we might feel reasonably free to invoke with some degree of confidence (assuming we have espoused the appropriate interpretative proposal) are measurement events. Their strictly episodic nature does not obviously fit them to describe agency which must surely be assumed to have a more free-flowing character. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 188-9.

Those who have appealed to chaos theory, ontologically reinterpreted as reflecting openness and not mere ignorance, and potentially affording a desirably continuous account of active process . . . do so partly because the exploration of a strange attractor seems to have a much wider and more flowing character than is afforded by a discrete series of measurement events. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 189

Those who appeal to quantum theory are supposing that its widely held (but poorly understood) indeterminism is the appropriate place at which to begin. Those of us who appeal to chaos theory are supposing that its direct connection with macroscopic phenomena, where human and divine agency are both expected to manifest themselves, makes it the more promising zero-order approximation. Both groups surely know that there is much more work to be done.
This might seem to be a disappointingly modest conclusion to the discussion, but problems of the exercise of agency are of immense difficulty and are unlikely to yield, after centuries of effort, to a contemporary quick fix. We can nevertheless be affirmed in the value of continuing the enterprise by our belief in our direct experience of human agency, and by our religious intuition of divine providence, both of which assure us that these fundamental experiences must be capable of being accommodated within an adequate worldview. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 190.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

{84} Now, said Christian, let me go hence. Nay, stay, said the Interpreter, till I have shewed thee a little more, and after that thou shalt go on thy way. So he took him by the hand again, and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage.

Now the man, to look on, seemed very sad; he sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart. Then said Christian, What means this? At which the Interpreter bid him talk with the man.

Then said Christian to the man, What art thou? The man answered, I am what I was not once.

{85} CHR. What wast thou once?

MAN. The man said, I was once a fair and flourishing professor, both in mine own eyes, and also in the eyes of others; I once was, as I thought, fair for the Celestial City, and had then even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither. [Luke 8:13]

CHR. Well, but what art thou now?

MAN. I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out. Oh, now I cannot!

CHR. But how camest thou in this condition?

MAN. I left off to watch and be sober. I laid the reins, upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the Word and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me: I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent.

{86} Then said Christian to the Interpreter, But is there no hope for such a man as this? Ask him, said the Interpreter. Nay, said Christian, pray, Sir, do you.

INTER. Then said the Interpreter, Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?

MAN. No, none at all.

INTER. Why, the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful.

MAN. I have crucified him to myself afresh [Heb. 6:6]; I have despised his person [Luke 19:14]; I have despised his righteousness; I have "counted his blood an unholy thing"; I have "done despite to the Spirit of grace". [Heb. 10:28-29] Therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings, of certain judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary.

{87} INTER. For what did you bring yourself into this condition?

MAN. For the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world; in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight; but now every one of those things also bite me, and gnaw me like a burning worm.

INTER. But canst thou not now repent and turn?

{88} MAN. God hath denied me repentance. His Word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, himself hath shut me up in this iron cage; nor can all the men in the world let me out. O eternity, eternity! how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity!

INTER. Then said the Interpreter to Christian, Let this man's misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.

CHR. Well, said Christian, this is fearful! God help me to watch and be sober, and to pray that I may shun the cause of this man's misery! Sir, is it not time for me to go on my way now?

(CHR. is Christian, the main character of Pilgrim's Progress. INTER. is the Interpreter, who edifies pilgrims on the Christian way toward the Heavenly City by showing them various scenes, and interpreting them, or, as in this case, seeing that they are understood.)

This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What I believe about origins

Some time ago, someone asked me what I believed about origins. What the individual wanted was to see which of several categories of belief I fell into. I didn't exactly answer him on that, and I'm sure I told him more than he wanted to hear, but here's part of my answer.

Then, yesterday, a commenter was surprised that I didn't think purposeless chance was the main creative agent.

So I'm posting this on St. Patrick's Day, even though it's not particularly green.

What do I believe?
1) I believe that God was involved in the planning and execution of the origin of matter, the universe, and life.
2) I believe that the Son had the most important role in this (John 1, and other scriptures, teach this), but the Father and the Holy Spirit must have also been involved.
3) I believe that the Son not only created, but that He somehow is maintaining things. (Colossians 1:14-17)
4) I believe that things changed, due to a deliberate sin by human beings, such that God's original plan is not now completely expressed. How much the Fall has changed things, I'm not sure. Probably a lot. Christ came to redeem us, and the rest of creation, from the effects of that sin.
5) I believe that God's design allowed for emergent properties, that is, for example, Carbon was created so that life, as we know it, could be based on it, when life appeared.
6) I believe that God's design for life was comprehensive enough that He allowed what appear to us to be chance processes to work in carrying it out. However, He may also be actually selecting and directing which sperms succeed, which spores germinate, etc.
7) I believe that God somehow created humans specially. We are especially in His image, we have dominion over other living things, and Christ appeared on earth in human form.

* * * * *
Added July 23, 2007: See here for more on the topic of item 7.
8) I'm not sure exactly what the "image of God" means. I believe that all of God's creation, such as a stone, has some of the image of the creator in it. We have more of it than stones, of course. Presumably the image includes things like the capacity to love, to reason, to communicate, and to create (on a much smaller scale). Perhaps the soul (whatever that is) is God's image in us.
9) I don't know if there are living things on other planets or not. The Bible is silent on the subject, and proving that there are such living things wouldn't bother me. (It is impossible to scientifically prove that there aren't living things on some other planet.) The same holds true for alternate universes. God is big enough to be the God of all the universes, however many there are. We only know of one for sure, though, and of one place in it where there is life.
10) I believe that God used the Big Bang to begin the universe as we know it, and that the Bible does not rule this out. Furthermore, I believe that science has no good explanation for what caused the Big Bang, or came before it, while Christianity and Judaism do have such an explanation -- God planned and created the Big Bang.
11) I believe that I don't have all the answers on this subject, and don't think anyone else does, either.
12) I believe that the most commonly held theories, or at least the ones that are heard about most, namely young-earth creationism (YEC) and intelligent design (ID), are not the same. There are serious differences between them.
13) I believe that God has revealed Himself to us in several ways, including through the Bible, the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and that of our own consciousness, in our lives, and also through nature. (Psalm 19, Acts 14:17, Romans 1:20) I believe that we, fallen beings that we are, can and do make mistakes in our interpretation of all of these revelations, but that, nonetheless, they are all legitimate.
14) I believe that God did deliberately design the natural world. (He included the capacity for chance processes, such as natural selection, as part of the design, so that they influence the way living things appear.) However, I don't believe that it is possible to prove (or disprove) God's creative activity in the past (or in the present, for that matter) scientifically. Hebrews 11:3 seems to indicate this.
15) I believe that demanding that the public schools teach that science has proved that YEC, or ID, are true, is a serious mistake, not least because there is no such proof.
16) I believe that science has not, and can not, rule out God's creative activity, in at least the following: the origin of the universe, the origin of living things, the origin of human beings. Scientists (and others) may sincerely doubt that God did any or all of these things, but they have no right to claim that science has ruled them out. It hasn't. No public school or university class, or textbook, should make such claims, and, if such claims are made, they should be strongly fought.
17) I believe that some people, perhaps well-meaning, perhaps not, have screamed loud and long about some view of origins, (usually YEC, but, lately, also ID) and gotten many Christians, or the world at large, to believe that all Christians believe as they do. This is most unfortunate. I believe that some intelligent people have been lost to the kingdom because of militant YEC views.
18) I believe that Christians can legitimately hold any of several views on origins, including YEC or ID, but also others, and should respect the right of other Christians to hold differing views, and welcome them into fellowship. There are a number of views, all held by Christians, and all of them have strengths, and all of them have weaknesses. The only view that all Christians must reject is the naturalistic view, namely that we are here solely because of purposeless chance. If the Bible means anything, this view is false.
19) I believe that many students who are home-schooled, or who attend private Christian schools, are being seriously short-changed, because they are taught that YEC, or ID, is what the Bible teaches, or even what science has proved. They should also be presented with a fair view of other interpretations. Not only are they being short-changed, but future generations of Christian leaders are being misled, and, in turn, misleading others.

Addendum, July 19, 2007: As this post indicates, the Bible tells us that God created because of His love.

Addendum, January 27, 2012: I added some labels/tags, and one bible verse.

Addendum, December 20, 2012: Here's a link to a post from BioLogos on the impossibility of disproving the existence of God. (We can't prove it scientifically, either.)

Addendum, January 29, 2013: I added point 10, above, and modified point 15.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Remarkable statement from The Panda's Thumb

"The Panda's Thumb" is a vociferously anti-Intelligent Design blog, and, it usually seems, anti-theistic. However, sometimes, at least some of the authors (there are several) back off a little bit. Here's part of a post from two days ago:

Random heritable variation and natural selection may very well be responsible for all of biological complexity, but I doubt any scientist - even an atheist - would attest to that particular phrasing. (You don’t know what you don’t know and it is entirely possible that something else
amenable to scientific investigation is responsible.) Further, there exist people who fully support evolution and yet also think that some non-natural agent is involved somehow, whether through a mechanism scrutable to science or not. Arguing in favor of the idea that all biological complexity arose only due to random heritable variation and natural selection would needlessly alienate those theists who also support evolution and would make statements that would be potentially rebutted by whatever is discovered to create complexity that isn’t evolution. (The data don’t demand it, it would be needlessly divisive: who else but a creationist would suggest that such language be used?) "Hey Dr. Egnor: At Least Galen Dissected Animals, Not Straw Men" March 14, 2007. A "bhumburg" is given as the author.

The post is in response to a statement by a Dr. Egnor (the reference is given in the original post, if you are interested) who, probably, did set up a straw man in a pro-ID argument (I didn't read his post). There are a couple of remarks that I'd like to make about the quotation above.

First, Amen and Hallelujah! Such a statement doesn't mock or negate the possibility of God's creative activity, and it was a pleasure to read it.

Second, regardless of this statement, I would expect most readers who read "The Panda's Thumb" on a regular basis to come away with the impression that the authors do, indeed, believe that "Random heritable variation and natural selection" are the only agents involved in the existence of "all biological complexity," and even in the existence of life itself. I wonder what other authors of "The Panda's Thumb" think of this part of this post. Such a belief, as bhumburg says, is not a scientific belief, but a faith statement, but anti-theists don't always understand that.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Language of God, by Francis Collins

Francis Collins is the long-time head of the U. S. Human Genome Project. (Here's the Wikipedia article on him, and here is his page at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Here is a statement by Collins to CNN, with some responses from readers.) I knew that Collins was a Christian, and an important scientist, but, based on the first two chapters, and a later one, I discovered that he is also an important author for the general public. His The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006) is currently among the 300 best-sellers, according to Amazon. It was in the top 10, I believe, when it first appeared. I've read a lot of books related to science and Christianity, and this one has to be in the top five of all of those, perhaps the best. Why? Because Collins is writing for a reasonably intelligent reader, on a simple, but very important topic, namely, "is science compatible with Christianity?" His answer may be summarized in a single word, and it begins with y, and ends with s. (He defends his answer at some length!) The book is also excellent because Collins is aware of contrary arguments, and deals with them, and writes well.

The first chapter of this splendid book describes some of Collins' journey to faith. He was an atheist, but, like many intelligent readers of his generation, found Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. This book, he says, demolished all his arguments as to why there was not a God. I will not rehearse all these arguments here, or re-hash some probably valid criticism of Lewis. Suffice it to say that reading Lewis was a major contributor to the conversion of a great scientist, and he is doing his part toward defending the faith (and science) in this book.

I hope to post more on this splendid volume in the future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunspots 99


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




Science:
Fairy rings are made by mushrooms. The Botany Photo of the Day has posted a satellite photo of fairy rings in London.

A complaint about the "Jesus Tomb" video from Scientific American, no less.

Also from Scientific American: a beaver has taken up residence in the Bronx.

Astronomy Online is a good general source.

Music:
The Chicago Symphony has changed its summer schedule to avoid an anticipated outbreak of 17-year Cicadas. Really.

Sports:
My team, the Southern Wesleyan University Lady Warriors, won the National Christian College Championship. This is also, mostly, the team that went to Europe on a mission trip. I was privileged to be present for the chapel where they reported, and to see a few games, before we went West.

Computing:
A Slate article on Zoho, a web-based, but nearly free, alternative to Office.

Christianity:
Henry Neufeld on why everybody needs help from experts in studying the Bible (even after taking Greek and Hebrew classes).
Henry Neufeld, in a different blog, on the ESV Bible. (He finds both good and bad in it.)

A position paper from Stanton F. Jones, of Wheaton College, on homosexuality. (Warning -- this is a .PDF file)

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 these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Life of Pi: Ecumenism on a grand scale

Today is 3/14, which inspires some people to celebrate pi day on this date. Pi, the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle, begins with 3.14. It goes on from there forever, because it is an irrational number, meaning that it can't be expressed as a ratio between two numbers. The Wikipedia article on Pi, or π, is the only such article I remember that has an animated graphic.



Life of Pi
, Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel, is only slightly about mathematics. I'll spoil the plot, because the book's cover gives it away, anyway. A 16-year-old Indian boy, Pi Patel, survives a shipwreck. So does a large tiger. The two of them coexist on a lifeboat for several months.

Patel claims to be a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim, all at the same time, which, besides giving most readers some pause, is upsetting to his three spiritual guides. I can't speak for the Hindu or Muslim beliefs and practices presented, but Patel and Martel seem to comprehend Christianity, and faith in general:
I'll be honest about it. It's not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while.We must all pass through the Garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. p. 28.

And about the beginning of Pi's conversion to Christianity:
He . . . told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, a Story.

And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it's God's Son who pays the price? p. 53.

Martel also has some definite statements to make about animal behavior. Interesting statements. For example:
Whatever the reason for wanting to escape, sane or insane, zoo detractors should realize that animals don't escape to somewhere but from something. Something within their territory has frightened them -- the intrusion of an enemy, the assault of a dominant animal, a startling noise -- and set off a flight reaction. The animal flees, or tries to. p. 41.

I won't give away any more of the plot than I did in the first paragraph, other than to say that I think the period on the lifeboat lasted too long for my taste.

A good read. I'm not sorry I read the book.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Coyotes in the San Diego area

Monday morning, I was sitting at the computer desk, in our daughter and son-in-law's home, quietly typing away, when the sensor floodlight came on, illuminating the driveway. It comes on a lot, especially when it's windy, so I didn't think much about it. Then I glanced out, and there was a coyote in the driveway. It wandered over near the trashcans (which were almost empty) as if it owned the place.

We are staying in one of San Diego's many suburbs. It is a thickly populated suburban area. We can throw a rock and easily hit at least a half dozen houses from our daughter and son-in-law's property, and we can see hundreds of buildings from a front window. Here's a typical view.

Our son-in-law had already gone to work, and had let out Jamba, the gray male cat, as he usually does. I saw the cat with his fur extended, and his tail up, so I went to the door. By that time, the coyote had apparently gone elsewhere, and Jamba expressed no interest in coming back in, so I let him stay out. (Our daughter and son-in-law previously had a house in San Diego, itself, and believe that one of their cats, which disappeared, was eaten by a coyote.)

I guess the coyote didn't get the message about Daylight Saving Time, which had changed the day before.

I thought it best to approach any neighbors I saw about the matter. One across the street, and one next door, expressed surprise. However, two other neighbors, on the next street over, were not surprised. Both of them had seen coyotes in the area, and one told us that he had heard them howling.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

John Bunyan on the necessity of sanctification

{75} CHR. Then said Christian, What means this?

INTER. The Interpreter answered, This parlour is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel; the dust is his original sin and inward corruptions, that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the Law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now, whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to shew thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it, for it doth not give power to subdue. [Rom. 7:6; 1 Cor. 15:56; Rom. 5:20]

{76} Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure; this is to show thee, that when the gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean through the faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit. [John 15:3; Eph. 5:26; Acts 15:9; Rom. 16:25,26; John 15:13]

This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Another Anti-Dembski blog post

David Heddle, over at the He Lives blog, has written yet another cogent criticism of William Dembski and the Intelligent Design (ID) political movement. He points out, as others have, the ID has both political, religious, and scientific aspects. It is all too easy to confuse these. I have no problem with ID as a religious stance, and I don't think Heddle does, either. But Dembski and others have gone way beyond that, attempting to have ID taught as part of the science curriculum in the public schools, and enlisting Young-Earth Creationists (YEC) as foot soldiers in this cause.

There are real tragedies in all this including:
A) Thousands, maybe millions of conscientious Christians are being taught:
1) that YEC and ID are the same thing, when they are not
2) that ID is good science, and therefore deserves a place in the public school curricula
3) that no Bible-believing and Bible-understanding Christian disagrees with points 1 and 2

B) Honest, genuinely seeking non-Christians may evaluate Christianity based on the stances I listed above, and believe, based on scientific or political ID nonsense (and/or YEC nonsense), that Christianity, the Bible, and Christ's redemptive work are also nonsense, and be eternally lost.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

The remarks above are slightly modified from a comment I made on the post on the He Lives blog. Less than two days later, there are 26 comments on this post, some of which are challenges to my comment, by apparent atheists.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Five Ways to Look at Death

Eric Cohen, writing in The New Atlantis, describes five ways of looking at death. He relates the five following persons to them: Jacob from the Bible, Socrates, Christ, Benjamin Franklin, and the Sisyphus of Albert Camus.

Jacob, he says, died knowing that he was going to, but accepting it. He didn't ask anyone for an organ transplant, or to clone him and harvest the clone for needed parts. Of course, he couldn't have, those procedures not having been dreamed of yet. Cohen knows this, of course. But he says that Jacob's death looks to the future -- he commanded that he be buried in his homeland, and prophesied about the doings of his sons. He writes: "Our medical machinery makes Jacob’s version of the good human death ever more unlikely." That is, of course, because of the frequency of prolonged poor health, or other incapacitation, at the end, even though we are living longer than we used to.

Cohen describes the suicide/punishment of Socrates, and they says this about the death of Christ: Unlike Socrates and Jacob, Jesus confronts us with the horror of death endured in all its horribleness: not sought as an exit, yet not escaped at the cost of betraying one’s given purpose. In Jesus, we learn what it means to forgo all control and retain all control simultaneously—what it means, passively and actively, to die as an act of surrender.

Franklin, says Cohen, guessed that there might come a future time when death would be postponed by technological means, and wished that he might have lived in such a time.

Cohen is describing the state of medical ethics, both as a profession, and in society's application of it. He says, correctly, that the largest debates over these matters recently have been over death at both ends of life -- the Schiavo case, and the possibility of destroying human embryos as a means of prolonging the lives of others.

A readable and well written essay, on an important subject. I recommend that you read it in the original.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sunspots 98


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


Science:
The US Department of Agriculture has given approval for the inclusion of human genes that may boost human immunity in rice plants. So we may be eating human gene products in rice.

Computing:
This blog (so far) is available in China. Not every web site is.

Literature:
E. Stephen Burnett on Harry Potter.

Philosophy:
The Philosopher's Magazine Online has listed eight of the best philosophy blogs.

Christianity:
Mark, on Britney Spears, Anna Nicole, and Noah.

Ben Witherington, on the so-called tomb of Jesus (Where, supposedly, Jesus' bones have been found). (He's an expert, and doesn't believe there is such a thing.)

Carl Zimmer, science writer -- I'm almost certain he is Jewish, and he may be an atheist -- also has some choice criticisms of this supposed discovery.

Bonnie has posted the third part of a series on language, sexual fidelity, and the like.

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 these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn has not often been proclaimed as one of the greatest writers of fantastic literature in English. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading her novels. They almost always involve romance. (In the sense of a man and a woman gradually finding that they love each other.)

I first found Shinn's work in a bookstore, by accident, if there are such. (In The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis said that there weren't any.) The title was Archangel (1997), which intrigued me. I suppose that Shinn is best known for the series of novels with the same setting -- a future world of humans, who have fled from Earth, and live on another planet, which vaguely resembles the Middle East in several features. Shinn's work often involves religion, in some form. She was asked about that in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2, 2006. Her response was that she is not an adherent of any faith, but is "still looking." She also said that "For me, to a certain extent, religion is part of the world building, because so many societies are defined by their religion." She's certainly right about that, and some fantastic fiction is poorer because that fact has been ignored by its authors.

I think I'm going to like the world of Mystic and Rider (New York: Ace, 2005) better than the world of Archangel. It seems more believable than the world of Archangel, which included a giant spaceship, circling and protecting the world, without the inhabitants understanding its nature -- that didn't ring quite true, although it was an interesting device. I know I'm going to like the characters. Much of the book is about the adventures of the heroine, a mystic (with some magical powers) and those traveling with her, who include humans, some mystic and some not, and a large dangerous animal. The development of understanding between the characters took some good work on Shinn's part. Their interactions, trust and mistrust, settling into roles, are believable. I like that in a book.

Religion comes up in this book, too:
There are converts up in the northern parts, too, but they only get a handful of applicants. My father has supported one for years, because he says that all people need some form of faith in their lives, even if it's something they choose not to follow. Just to know it's there. Just to know there's a power somewhere stronger than you and willing to knock you down if you don't behave. Sharon Shinn, Mystic and Rider. (p. 47)

I'm looking forward to at least one sequel, with the further adventures of at least some of the same characters.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Added April 10, 2007. Shinn has a short story, "When Winter Comes," in The Queen in Winter (New York: Berkeley, 2006) that is based on this book. She has developed one incident in Mystic and Rider into a fine story, and I suspect that at least one of the characters, Kinnon, a baby with mystical powers (but otherwise, a baby) will show up in another book in this series, a little older. She has, as usual, some nice sentences, such as these, which begin the story:
People always say they're willing to die for the ones they love, as if nothing else they could do would be so hard. But it is harder to keep living for someone else, doing everything in your power to keep that person safe and breathing. I know. (p. 85)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

From Pilgrim's Progress: Using fiction to impart truth

{5} 'Well, yet I am not fully satisfied, That this your book will stand, when soundly tried.' Why, what's the matter? 'It is dark.' What though? 'But it is feigned.' What of that? I trow? Some men, by feigned words, as dark as mine, Make truth to spangle and its rays to shine.

'But they want solidness.' Speak, man, thy mind. 'They drown the weak; metaphors make us blind.'

Solidity, indeed, becomes the pen Of him that writeth things divine to men; But must I needs want solidness, because By metaphors I speak? Were not God's laws, His gospel laws, in olden times held forth By types, shadows, and metaphors? Yet loth Will any sober man be to find fault With them, lest he be found for to assault The highest wisdom. No, he rather stoops, And seeks to find out what by pins and loops, By calves and sheep, by heifers and by rams, By birds and herbs, and by the blood of lambs, God speaketh to him; and happy is he That finds the light and grace that in them be. John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Here Bunyan is answering possible objections to the way he has written, in "The Author's Apology for His Book." As the Wikipedia article on Bunyan says, the book is "arguably the most famous published Christian allegory."

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Amazing Grace"

May I add my small voice to those praising the film, "Amazing Grace," now showing in theaters?

The film is a biography of William Wilberforce, servant of God and politician, who led the fight to overthrow the slave trade in the British empire. He was, in the film, and in reality, inspired partly by John Newton, who wrote "Amazing Grace." Newton had been a slave trader himself, but had a spiritual awakening. All of us are wretches, without the grace of God, but Newton apparently felt himself more so because of his past.

In the film, Wilberforce must decide whether to serve God by withdrawing from society, or by trying to change society as a Member of Parliament. Wise Christians urge him to stay in the public arena.

The film has excellent acting, and is well done, and, above all, inspiring. I'd call it a must-see.

Thanks for reading.

Update, March 3, 2006. I just saw the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, Eric Metaxas, interviewed on C-SPAN2. This is the book that the movie was based on. The most remarkable thing that Metaxas said was that Wilberforce loved his enemies -- and he had some who wanted, not just to defeat him, but to kill him.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hydrogen is NOT a practical source of energy

Hydrogen is not, repeat, not, a practical source of energy. The reason is plainly laid out in a recent article in The New Atlantis.

As the author says, almost all of the Hydrogen on earth is combined with some other element, and the only way Hydrogen can serve as a source of energy is if it is not so combined. In order to free it, it is necessary to apply energy, and, because of the second law of thermodynamics, it takes more energy to separate the Hydrogen from, say, Oxygen, than we would get back by re-combining the two in, say, an automobile.

The chemistry in what follows is simplified greatly.

Hydrogen + Oxygen gives off energy. Lots of it. But you have to have the reactants to carry out this equation.

Just in case anyone hasn't thought of it, it also takes energy to obtain energy from petroleum -- it must be found, tapped, shipped, refined, and stored. But we get more energy from petroleum than it takes us to do all of this. The reason is because the Hydrogen in hydrocarbons does not need to be free in order to serve as a fuel. It's the same Hydrogen, but combining Oxygen with the Hydrogen in hydrocarbons gives off energy. Not as much as if free Hydrogen were combined with Oxygen, but, with hydrocarbons, we don't have to free it. The fuel + Oxygen reaction gives off energy. Hydrogen in hydrocarbons is in a form that can combine with Oxygen without being freed first. Photosynthesis, done freely for us by plants, using the energy of the sun's light, combines Hydrogen with Carbon to make organic matter, which was the source of hydrocarbons and other fossil fuels.

Hydrogen, like gasoline, can be a carrier of energy -- stored until needed. But the article claims that it isn't even very good at that. (See also the Wikipedia article on the Hydrogen Economy.)

There are probably some uses of Hydrogen fuel cells that would be practical. But they won't solve our energy problems.

Hydrogen, used another way, might solve our fuel problems. That would be in a fusion reactor, a tamed Hydrogen bomb. We don't seem to be very close to making that practical yet, and, so far, we aren't using ordinary Hydrogen, but a heavy isotope thereof, in such reactors (and also in Hydrogen bombs.)

Thanks for reading.