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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Science as Recipe thinking

I was once asked to give a talk on science to our Children's Church. Here, with slight modifications, is what I told them:

Do you like hamburgers? I do, usually.

If someone makes a hamburger, what do they need? A recipe. Well, they probably don’t look on a piece of paper to see what to do, but they have a recipe in their head, or somewhere. And a recipe for hamburger probably works well. Besides how to make a hamburger, there may be other questions on the mind of the cook. For example, she might worry about not having enough money to buy hamburger meat. She might worry about whether it is wrong to kill cows to make hamburger meat. She might worry about a person in their family who is allergic to wheat flour, so can’t eat a hamburger bun. She might worry about what a hamburger means. None of those thoughts are in the recipe, whether in the head, or written down.

Science is a lot like recipe thinking. It is about what things are made of, how they work, and how they are put together. Scientists can try out things, like trying out new stuff in a recipe. But there is a kind of non-recipe thinking, about higher stuff. There are two big words for this kind of thinking—theology and philosophy. Theology is thinking about God, and philosophy is thinking about what is true, and how we know things. Science can tell us what a rock is made of, and maybe where it came from, but it can’t tell us why there are rocks in the world.

Your pastor asked me here to talk about creation. Creation is about how the world came to be here, how living things came to be here, and how people came to be here. Science can give us recipe thinking about how the world is put together, how living things work, and how humans work. But this recipe thinking can’t tell us why, or what it means. I need higher, non-recipe thinking.

The most important question about how the world, living things, and humans came to be is this one: Are we here by chance, or on purpose? This question isn’t recipe thinking. It is higher thinking. If your school science books say that they can tell you about whether the world, living things, or humans are here by chance or not, they are wrong. They can’t do it. You need higher thinking for that.

Before I discuss this further, I want to point out a danger: thinking that the Bible says things that it doesn’t really say. For instance, a man named Galileo said that the earth goes around the sun. Others said that the Bible says that the sun goes around the earth. It seems to, because it was written by people who believed that, and God allowed them to put their thoughts in the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t really say that the earth goes around the sun, or that the sun goes around the earth.

Some people think that the Bible says that the world is only a few thousand years old. The earth may be only a few thousand years old, but the Bible doesn’t say so—people do. Some people think that the flood in Noah’s time caused almost all the rock formations and mountains all over the world. Maybe, maybe not. The Bible isn’t really clear on that. But to argue that the Bible is clear on this, or other ideas that it is not clear on, is dangerous.

Back to the difference between recipe thinking and higher thinking.

Recipe Thinking (Science)
Take hamburger meat, made into patties, lettuce, tomato and cheese slices, mayonnaise, ketchup, and hamburger buns made from wheat flour.
Fry patties until done, then place in buns with other ingredients.

Higher Thinking (Theology & Philosophy)
Can I afford hamburger meat?
Is it wrong to kill cows?
Is my child allergic to wheat flour?
What does a hamburger mean?
These questions are important, but not part of a recipe.

Let us compare chance and purpose:

Chance: 1) Your underwear is on your foot, there's a blue sock on your left hand, a handkerchief on your head, your pants are on your right arm, and there's a brown sock on your right ear.
2) The world is just here. It has no purpose or meaning. The same is true of living things and human beings.

Purpose: 1)Underwear, socks, handkerchief, pants, in the usual places, because someone thought about it and planned it that way.
2) The world is here because God planned it. So are living things and human beings.

Are thoughts about whether we are here because of chance or purpose recipe thoughts or higher thoughts?

They are higher thoughts. Scientists can think about them, but so can you or I, or a truck driver. Scientists’ thoughts about these things are no more likely to be right than anyone else’s.

Two dangers:
1) I repeat one I discussed above: don’t claim that the Bible says something that it doesn’t say. (The Bible doesn’t say how old the earth is, or what the first people looked like, or how long ago the first people lived.) There's another danger.
2) Don’t claim that science’s recipe thinking can answer questions needing higher thinking. Science can't prove that there was a purpose to creation, or disprove it.

We need both recipe thinking and higher thinking, but we need to be careful to distinguish the two kinds.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Similarities in organisms: designed or evolved?

Different organisms have similar properties, including appearance, and less obvious similarities, such as similarities between their DNA and proteins. The mainstream scientific explanation for such similarities is that the organisms are related by descent. Those who doubt that organisms which belong to different large taxonomic groupings, such as families -- humans and chimpanzees belong to the family Hominidae, but gibbons to the family Hylobatidae -- could have descended from a common ancestor argue that the similarities are there because the chemicals were designed to perform similar functions.

A recent post on the Panda's Thumb blog points out some weaknesses in the design explanation.

The post points out that marsupial organisms have biochemical similarities which seem to be based on common descent and relationship, rather than on their ecological niche. Thus, marsupial predators have molecules that resemble other marsupials far more than they resemble those of other predators.

The post also points out that non-functional, or "broken" genes show similarities which indicate common descent. Since they don't function, it's hard to believe that their resemblances are due to design to carry out a similar function.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unintentional sins

I have been under the impression that sin has to be intentional. Maybe so, but there is a whole chapter in the Old Testament about unintentional sin, namely Leviticus 4. (The ESV -- see previous link -- and the NIV use unintentional as their translation. The KJV uses "through ignorance." I don't see that that is a significant difference.)

This chapter commands a specific penalty for a priest, for a leader, for an ordinary member of the Israeli congregation, and for the congregation as a whole, if an unintentional sin is committed. As would be expected, the smallest penalty is for an ordinary member, and is a goat. The penalties for the others are larger, and would have been more expensive.

I'm not sure that the Bible explicitly defines sin at any point. The Wikipedia article on sin says that sin is the violation of some moral rule, usually a rule set forth by a deity. It also says that one of the frequent questions about sin is the matter of whether or not an unintentional act is a sin. The article says that there were three words for sin in Hebrew, cheit, pesha, and avon. Although the article claims that cheit is the word for unintentional sin, I checked in the Blueletter Bible, and found that a lot of sins that I would consider intentional were cheit, or a variant of it. This includes David's plan to have Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, murdered. In 2 Samuel 12:13, after Nathan the prophet details David's sins, David confesses, using chata, which I take to be a variant of cheit. Strong's Hebrew concordance says chata is used:

to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness

Here's how Strong's concordance defines avon:

1) perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt or punishment of iniquity

a) iniquity

b) guilt of iniquity, guilt (as great), guilt (of condition)

c) consequence of or punishment for iniquity

Pesha. It is most often translated as transgression in the KJV. Strong's concordance says that the definition is:

1) transgression, rebellion

a) transgression (against individuals)

b) transgression (nation against nation)

c) transgression (against God)

1) in general

2) as recognised by sinner

3) as God deals with it

4) as God forgives

d) guilt of transgression

e) punishment for transgression

f) offering for transgression

This same Wikipedia article says that, to a Christian, sin is "not following God's moral guidance." It also says that there is a Greek word, hamartia, which means "missing the mark," which is used in the New Testament for sin.

Whatever the definition of sin, it's not good, I shouldn't do it, and, if I find that I have, I should ask forgiveness. As John put it: 1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (ESV)

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The 90% rule for marriage

You probably like about 90% of what your spouse is and does.

(If you figure out how to quantify this, let me know.)

Otherwise you probably wouldn't have married her/him in the first place. So, here's a rule to follow.

Be sure to praise, thank, or tell her/him about her dimple, his pleasing tone of voice, how well he fixes bouquets, how conscientiously she mows the grass, how carefully he keeps the checkbook, how well she fixed the bathroom leak, etc. -- in other words, something from the 90%, at least nine times, sincerely -- mean it -- for every complaint.

Try it. I'm going to try it, too. In fact, it's a life-long commitment.

That's probably part of 1 Corinthians 13 in action.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sunspots 216

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

(or Mathematics, or Computing) A new Mersenne Prime number has been discovered, says NPR.

Slate on places to travel to for really good sleep .

Robert Samuelson, economist, says that the healthcare plans being put forth by the Obama administration won't really cut costs.

"The political establishment's hubristic refusal to consider how other countries manage health care is encapsulated in the cliché 'uniquely American,' which is what Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the lead legislator on health care reform, says he wishes his bill to be. . . . the finance committee Baucus chairs could find no place in this year's exhaustive health care hearings for a single expert on how other countries achieve better health outcomes for their populations while typically spending, on a per capita basis, half what we do." From Slate.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Foster fatherhood -- and stepfatherhood

I don't believe that I had a foster father or a stepfather, although there is, I suppose, such a possibility. I share some characteristics with my father, and I never heard anything to suggest that he wasn't my "real," (meaning biological) father.

The Free Dictionary has this for its first entry for "father:"
1. A man who begets or raises or nurtures a child.

So, to the dictionary, a father is not only a biological father, but, possibly, a stepfather or foster father who has helped to raise or nurture a child, or, perhaps, even done it himself, with little or no help.

As far as I am aware, there is only one example of foster father- or stepfatherhood in the Bible, but it is a very important one, namely Joseph, Mary's husband, and the earthly father of Jesus.

Joseph did a remarkable thing. He married Mary, even though he knew she was pregnant, and he also knew that he wasn't the biological father of the baby she would bear. (See Matthew 1, which describes the manner in which Joseph discovered this fact.) As the Wikipedia puts it, Joseph is not mentioned much in the gospels, "in which he never speaks." Mary speaks, Jesus speaks to his parents, Joseph is given visions, but the Wikipedia is correct -- he never speaks. We have to infer his reaction.

God entrusted Joseph with important aspects of the care of His own Son. Matthew 2 tells us that it was Joseph, not Mary, who was divinely warned to flee to Egypt, and was told to return from Egypt.

Joseph is a great example of an apparently humble man, who did what he needed to do for his foster son, even, apparently, not telling others that Jesus wasn't his son. (Luke 3:23)

In this day and time, a lot of stepfathers, and foster fathers, have stepped up, as it were. They are doing a good, humble, patient job of raising and nurturing daughters and sons that aren't their biological offspring. God bless them, and help them.

Sunspots: A Google search for the words wicked stepmother returns about 169,000 web pages. A similar search for the words wicked stepfather returns less than 92,000. I can't think of a single fairy tale that has a wicked stepfather as a character, but there are several with wicked stepmothers. Why? I don't really know.

I work a little with elementary school children. I ran into a case in which a boy, about 10 years of age, was downright obsessive about his biological father. He told me that his stepfather was a good father, good to him. From what I could gather, his biological father was not -- he had not contacted the boy for months, including at Christmas and his birthday. Yet he was somehow longing for his "real" father, almost all the time. God help him, and others like him, and help fathers (and mothers) to be better at carrying out their responsibilities.

The Wikipedia article on Joseph says that the word τεκτων (Anglicized as tekton, which is probably related to the modern technician.) is used to describe his occupation. (Matthew 13:55). This word, it says, "cannot be translated narrowly; it evokes an artisan with wood in general, or an artisan in iron or stone." That same word is used to describe Jesus, Himself, in Mark 6:3.

Thanks for reading. If any fathers read this, be a good father, God helping you (and me). If any children of stepfathers or foster fathers read this, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them.


Keetha Broyles said...

Greg was the inventor of our improvised grill and he said to tell you it was amazing - - - we were just sitting around and that grill evolved all by itself!!!


Martin LaBar said...

No intelligent design?

Note: This post got published, by mistake, on June 15th. I deleted it, and re-published, including a comment, and my response, this time, I hope, on the 21st, Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Close-up or red lily, showing reproductive parts

Anthers and stigma of red lily flower

This is an unretouched close-up of a lily flower. The six weiner-shaped objects are the anthers. As you can see, they were producing pollen when the photo was taken. They are, of course, held up by filaments. Together, the two parts make up stamens. The three-lobed object on the right, about halfway up, is a stigma. It is held up by a style, which connects the stigma to the ovary. (You can't see that in this photo.) The stigma is where pollen lands, and, if all goes well, fertilization will take place, resulting in an embryo in a seed, in the ovary.

The background consists of three petals, with three sepals, which look just like the petals in this flower, being outside the petals. You can see a sepal or two showing through. Isn't God a great artist? (Larger sizes should be available by clicking on the photo, if you wish to see more detail.)

I expect to be doing some family travel. I've got some posts scheduled to go out on the next two Sundays, and will probably be able to do a Sunspots on Wednesday, but, otherwise, I'm out of the blogging business for over a week.

Thanks for reading and/or looking. God's best to all of you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Moral robots?

A recent book review is evidence that there are people (so far, not computers!) who are thinking about how to build a moral sense into robots, or teach them one.

Primatologist Frans de Waal has presented evidence, here and elsewhere, that non-human primates have at least a rudimentary moral sense.

See also this post, on the question of moral agency, which is the ability to make moral decisions.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Christ Church, Philadelphia

Christ Church, steeple

The photo above shows the steeple of Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, arguably the most important church in the history of the US. The congregation, originally part of the Anglican Church, which became a congregation in 1695, built their first building on this site in 1696. From 1727-1744, a new building, the one shown, was constructed around the first one. The steeple you see contains building materials from the first church, which was torn down when it was possible to use the larger building for worship.

Fifteen signers of the Declaration of Independence attended this church, including Benjamin Franklin. Betsy Ross and George Washington also attended the church. There is a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the church, with candles. We were told, when we visited the place, that the chandelier was lit for the wedding of Sarah Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's daughter, and that it was lit in May, 2009, for a current wedding. An active congregation meets in the building.

In 1785, the Episcopal church began in this building. We were told that the first African-American pastor of a major denomination was ordained to the ministry in this church.

The beautiful object above is the baptismal font of Christ Church. (You can see the rope, to keep tourists from touching it, in the foreground.) We were told that it is about 600 years old, and was sent from England in the early years of the church, for "as long as needed," when the church was still an Anglican one. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was baptized in the font as a baby, in England. (Penn was not an Episcopalian in later life, but a Quaker. He was born in 1644.)

We enjoyed our travel to, and in, the Philadelphia area last month.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sunspots 215

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

"The little editor in your mind is no longer returning your calls, is he, Nona?" Sally Forth, syndicated comic strip, June 11, 2009.

Wired has a video on cleaning skulls, using flesh-eating beetles.

Slate on the long time for validation of the discovery of element 112 (which has not yet received its final name).

William Saletan, of Slate, has some suggestions for pro-life and pro-choice advocates that might help them to come to agreement, on some topics related to abortion.

With the NBA finals over, men's basketball on TV is on hiatus until November or so. I note that, of the ten normal starters of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic, only four are products of college basketball. The others were drafted out of high school, or from Europe. I also note that, in spite of the preponderance of African-Americans among the players, and quite a few among the coaches (an African-American was coach of last year's champions) both the coaches were white. (Both had African-Americans among their assistants.) The Women's NBA schedule is here. They will continue to play during the summer.

CNet has an article on identity theft, including a link to a web site that assesses the likelihood that your identity is at risk.

Weekend Fisher has some fresh insight into Matthew 24:13 (which says that those who endure to the end will be saved.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia A. McKillip

For anyone new to this blog, I read a lot of fantastic literature, and occasionally post on it, often about the religious aspects of such literature.

I have posted several times on the work of Patricia A. McKillip, a fine craftsperson of fantastic literature. McKillip has won more Mythopoeic Awards than any other author. One such post is here. I recently read her The Bell at Sealey Head. (New York: Ace, 2008)

The setting of the book is a community on an un-named ocean, where there is an old hotel on a headland, and other people and buildings, within a mile or so, especially Aislinn House, a decaying mansion. A bell rings every evening, just at sunset. Most people don't pay it much attention. Even those who do do not know where the bell is located, or who rings it.

For a good review of this book, including the plot, see here. The reviewer argues, with reason, that the book is partly about women's roles. I suspect that it was partly inspired by McKillip's residence, which, is now, or has been, on the Oregon coast. McKillip, after all, writes fantasy. She always, for me, at least, leaves major questions unanswered, characters not fully explained. That is part of the appeal for some people, I suppose. She is masterful at descriptions and setting moods, and at placing lots of interesting minor characters in her works. All of these tendencies are found in The Bell at Sealey Head.

Two thoughts on the book:
1) Opening and closing are a major theme. There are doors in Aislinn House which sometimes lead to a parallel world, and sometimes don't. It is dangerous to cross their thresholds. In the end, the villain is trapped by being closed up, in a way that I won't reveal.
2) I read the book twice (I usually do, for McKillip, and learn things that I missed the first time, in the second reading.) and found little or nothing about religion, of any kind. Her characters don't seem to worship, or pray, at all. (Nonetheless, some of her novels explore a theme compatible with Christianity, namely not taking vengeance.)

I liked this passage: . . . following the same impulse the sea has had toward land since tides began, they longed to conquer it, to claim and to possess it, beginning with the rugged rocky shore and crag of stone that was Sealey Head. (162) This is from part of a fictional story within the main one, about selkies, seal-people.

Thanks for reading. Read McKillip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Are you just hearing and reading yourself?

A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times (free log-in required) confirmed something I was pretty sure of already: ". . . there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices."

I don't expect many, if any, atheists to read this blog. I have occasionally had comments from self-professed atheists, most of which were pretty nasty. Conversely, I don't read any blogs that advocate atheism, at least not as the main emphasis. I'm pretty sure that I frequently read items written by atheists, but they aren't all about atheism.

I get e-mail, and read Facebook posts, by people who don't agree with me politically. Usually I ignore such twaddle (although I still love these individuals) but occasionally I try to convince someone of the error of their ways. It doesn't work.

How about you? Do you expose yourself to viewpoints you don't agree with? I should, so that I can be prepared to give an answer to non-believers. As 1 Peter 3:15 puts it: 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (ESV)

Note that this doesn't command us to defend our political positions, or the peculiarities of our own particular theology, but to give a reason for our hope, which is Christ.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Meditation on Beethoven's "Hallelujah Chorus"

A number of years ago, I was asked to prepare a devotional to go along with some music that our university's choir was going to be singing on tour. That music was the "Hallelujah Chorus," from the oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, by Beethoven. With minor modifications, this is the result:

I am not a Beethoven scholar or music historian. I’m not sure of the purpose of Beethoven’s Christ on the Mount of Olives oratorio, or of the source of the original text. There may be errors of fact or interpretation in this devotional. Regardless, it will remain, I hope, devotional. The words, and the music, are an exhortation to “bright angel choirs,” and to us, to “Praise the Lord in songs of joy,” and to shout “Hallelujah!” Hallelujah is from a Hebrew word meaning “praise the Lord.” It is usually an interjection, a word suddenly exclaimed when the speaker is surprised or cannot repress her emotions, as in “Wow!” or “Yesss!”

This Hallelujah Chorus is certainly a triumphant celebration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Luke 22:39-46 describes Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. Shortly thereafter, He was arrested. Why write triumphal music about such a disaster?

Consider sound. What is it? Vibrations of air, pushing on our ears, which send little electrical impulses to our brains. How marvelous that we can interpret these simple vibrations, that they can communicate the simplest and most profound thoughts, that they can express great emotion and beauty. God surely didn’t have to make the world this way. Why did He make sound and music? Because He is great, because He loves rhythm, melody and harmony. Because He loves us, because He Himself wants to communicate with us.

Consider heroes and heroines. What are they? Ordinary people, who achieve God-enabled deeds against great odds—Rahab, deciding to follow God when no one else in her city would, David, going up against Goliath, Elijah taking God’s side against hundreds of prophets of Baal. These were heroes. Not perfect people, but heroes. So was Beethoven. A strange man, a difficult man, yet one who overcame all this, and wrote great music. His music doesn’t reflect his troubles, not even the deafness that deprived him of hearing the music he wrote in the last part of his life. At the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around so that he could see the audience clapping, because he couldn’t hear them. He couldn’t pick up those vibrations in the air. Those vibrations are triumphant, testimony to the human greatness that God allows us to have, whether others recognize this greatness or not, and, often, testimony to God’s greatness. No wonder that the East and West Germans got together to perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony when the Berlin Wall came down. Why did God make heroes like Beethoven possible? To show that He loves us, that He loves great achievements, that He wants to communicate with us, that He wants to be our Hero.

Consider Jesus. Who is He? The Son of God. He was Himself the main creative agent in the creation of sound, and in the creation of creatures in the image of God. Without Him, there would be no possibility of music, or of heroes and heroines. The Son of God went to the Mount of Olives to pray. He probably prayed aloud, making vibrations in the air. He prayed for me and for you. He prayed for Himself. He prayed that He would be able to do the hardest thing anyone has ever done. Then He did that hard thing. He separated Himself from His Father, and joined Himself to your sin, and mine, so that He might be our sacrifice, when we couldn’t be our own. Well might the angel choirs sing “Hallelujah unto God’s Almighty Son!” Hallelujah! He loves us, He wants to communicate with us, He is our hero, and wants us to acknowledge it. Listen to vibrations in the air. Listen to music written by a hero, performed by heroes and heroines, about the greatest Hero.

Here is a performance of the work, on YouTube. I have been unable to locate the English text being sung. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Homosexuality: Questions and Answers

Christians often make one of two mistakes about homosexuality. Some say that there is nothing wrong with homosexual activity, and some say that it is the worst (or the only) sin. Neither of these is consistent with the Bible. The most important question related to homosexuality is the authority of the Bible.There are only a few direct scriptural references to homosexuality: Genesis 19:1-5, 12; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:24-27; I Corinthians 6:9-20; I Timothy 1:10; Jude 1:7. (Deuteronomy 23:17-18 probably refers to homosexual prostitution.) Some, who mostly fall into the first error above, say that Genesis 19 is about gang rape, not homosexuality (Ezekiel 16:48-50, Isaiah 1:10-17, Jeremiah 23:14 and Matthew 10:11-15 indicate that homosexuality was not the primary sin of the inhabitants of Sodom -it was lack of justice, lack of hospitality, and rejection of God - but see Jude 1:7, which says something about sexual sin.); that the passages in Leviticus and Romans aren't relevant for today's practices, because they condemn unnatural acts by heterosexuals, while today's homosexuals are doing what is natural for them; that I Corinthians and I Timothy are against pederasty, not the homosexuality of today.

These arguments may have some validity, but there is a strong biblical argument against homosexual activity. It is not from the texts cited above (although they are part of the evidence) but from the scriptural portrayal of heterosexual fidelity as God's ideal for humans, from the earliest parts of Genesis to the portrayal of the church as the bride of Christ in Revelation. (See Genesis 2:18-24, Exodus 20:14, Proverbs 5, The Song of Solomon, Ezekiel 16, Hosea 1-3, Matthew 19:4-6, John 2:1-11, Revelation 19:6-8, and elsewhere.)

1. Is homosexuality wrong? Yes and no. Based on scripture, homosexual activity is wrong. Homosexual tendencies are not wrong, any more than heterosexual ones, unless those tendencies are due to wrong choices. If I am attracted to someone other than my wife, because I have heterosexual tendencies, and act on it, that's wrong. Having the tendencies isn't wrong. (Acting on it doesn't mean just adultery or fornication--deliberately exposing myself to pornography, or lusting after movie stars, etc., are ways of acting on heterosexual tendency, and acting sinfully.) It isn't wrong to have heterosexual tendencies, unless those tendencies are due to wrong choices, so why should it be wrong to have homosexual tendencies?

2. Is homosexual tendency built in? In some cases. Recent evidence indicates that pre-natal hormonal exposure is important. There is probably some genetic influence. But some people choose homosexuality over heterosexuality. (James Dobson believes that homosexuality is due to how a child was raised, which is probably part of the story. If it were all of the story, the cause would be neither a choice by the person or some built-in factor.)

3. Isn't having homosexual tendencies, but not being able to act on them without sinning, unfair? God is not ever unfair. He may demand more of some than others, in certain aspects of their lives. All of us are born with tendencies that we must control in order to live Christian lives. It isn't just homosexuals that are called to life-long celibacy -- some heterosexuals are. All heterosexuals are, until they are married.

4. Can homosexuals form long-lasting same-sex relationships? Apparently. However, especially with males, this often doesn't happen. (It often doesn't happen with heterosexual marriage relationships, either, but that's another sad story.) Are such relationships identical to stable Christian heterosexual marriages, in God's sight? No. They aren't God's plan. You could have a long-lasting sexual relationship with a prostitute, or even a dog, but the fact that it's long-lasting doesn't make it right. 

5. Can homosexuals become happy heterosexuals? At least some of the time. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.) Probably not all of the time.

6. What should be the Christian attitude toward homosexuals? Practicing homosexuals, like practicing gossips, gluttons or thieves, are sinners. We should love them, but not love their sin. Overt sinners should not be leaders in churches, and certainly not pastors.

7. Is homosexuality the worst threat to marriage in North America?
No. If there were no homosexuals at all, marriage would still be under continuing and violent attack from its real worst enemy, namely that a woman and a man don't make Jesus Christ Lord of their relationship.

8. Is homosexual activity the worst sin? No. See what Jesus said in comparing Sodom to the people of his day, in Matthew 11:20-24, and Luke 10:1-12. Romans 1 indicates that homosexual behavior is a symptom of a worse sin, idolatry or unbelief.

Homosexual activity is not even the worst sexual sin -- it's not part of the 10 commandments. There's a list of curses for sinful activity in Deuteronomy 27:15-26. Four such were curses for sexual misconduct, and they didn't include homosexual activity. (That does not, of course, make homosexual activity acceptable for Christians.)

The above is a re-do of a previous post, done, I believe, in 2009. On January 24, 2013, I added the reference to Deuteronomy 23, and made an editorial change to the statement in bold at the beginning of this post. On March 6, 2013, I edited the post, cleaning up some errors.

There are some other topics that I wish to mention briefly.

Intersexuality, or ambiguous anatomical sexual anatomy
(See Wikipedia article.) There is controversy over classification issues, but it seems that from 0.05% to as many as 1.7% of babies born have genital anatomy that is not normal. What does that have to do with homosexuality? This -- not everyone is born "normal." People do not choose to be born with ambiguous external genitals, nor do they become this way because of the way that their parents raised them, which relates, at least somewhat, to the questions of how people become homosexual, and God's fairness to them. So far as I know, Christian thinkers have not considered this phenomenon at all, let alone in depth.

Civil Unions
Should Christians oppose civil unions? A civil union would give homosexual couples some legal rights, such as joint ownership of property, and hospital visitation rights, but would not have the same type of recognition as a marriage. This is a difficult question, and I haven't resolved it in my own mind. If I am offered the chance to vote on the issue, I will try to make up my mind, God helping me. On the one hand, it seems unfair to deny a person, who has been a caregiver, hospital visitation rights for the person he or she has cared for, regardless of their sexual preferences. On the other hand, this might be a step toward full recognition of marriage between homosexuals, on the same basis as between heterosexuals, and, as indicated above, I do not believe that a homosexual couple can have God-approved marriage.

A church-approved marriage does not need to be the same as a state-approved marriage, although, often, it is. Couples, even totally unchurched couples, often seem to believe that they have a right to a church wedding, and churches often comply, sometimes even without any pre-marital counseling. Probably many churches, including my own, have, occasionally, had marriage ceremonies between a man and a woman performed within them that united couples that God really didn't want together.

Should Homosexuals be allowed to join churches?
I would draw upon the example of the early church, except that I am not clear as to whether the early church had membership in the same way that many churches do today. Let me stipulate that a church member is someone that the congregation, or its leaders, believes is a converted Christian, who is in agreement with basic Bible doctrine, and Christian practice, as understood by that church.

I don't see any reason to deny membership to a person with homosexual tendencies, as indicated above. Based on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, persons engaged in homosexual activity should not be taken into membership, any more than greedy people, or swindlers, should be. They are mentioned in the same list as homosexuals. The good news is that the same passage states that some of the current members of the Corinthian church used to do some of these things, but had been redeemed from such activities, presumably including homosexuality.

Thanks for reading.

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Added Jan 26, 2013: Here's a later post, on adultery and fornication

Added July 29, 2014: Here's a later post, on the idea that Jesus referred to homosexuality without condemning it. 

Added January 8, 2015: Here's my post on what's wrong with the political left/right in the US

Added January 18, 2015: One of the possible dangers, for the near future, for Christians, is that merely saying that the Bible says that homosexual activity is sinful may be called illegal hate speech, no matter what the motivation or tone of the statement. In other words, even answering a question: "Does the Bible say that homosexual activity is sinful?" with a "Yes, I believe that it does" may lead to legal action.

Added May 27, 2016: Benjamin L. Corey writes that some Christians are changing their attitude toward homosexuals, and indicates why this is so. (He thinks it's a good thing, by the way.)

On June 8, 2016, I added scriptural references to the first paragraph. I recommend this post on scripture and homosexuality by Ken Schenck.

On June 9, 2017, I found this post from Sojourners, which gives 10 Bible passages which, according to the article, indicate that the church should not condemn persons who are practicing homosexual behavior.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is homosexuality innate or acquired?

I recently read two articles in Slate on homosexuality, which I had somehow missed. Both are by William Saletan.

In one of the articles, Saletan discusses evidence that human sexual preference is influenced by exposure to hormones in the womb. The article points out that there are physical differences between the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals, in "overall symmetry and amygdala activity." There are abundant links in the article, but only an abstract, not the complete original research article, is available, unless you have full access to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (This would be true of all articles in that journal, whatever the topic.)

Saletan considers the implications, and suspects that, in time, many parents will ask for pre-natal diagnosis, and intervention to prevent hormone exposure that would make homosexuality likely in their offspring. He says that at least some conservative Christian groups would favor such treatment.

In the other article, Saletan discusses evidence that some male sheep (less than 10%) are attracted to other male sheep. Once again, the abstract, not the primary research article, is available to most readers. Again, there are differences in brain structure and activity, between "homosexual" sheep and "heterosexual" sheep.

I don't expect this research to change anyone's mind about homosexuality, but it is part of the data.

See this post for a reasonably thorough discussion of Christianity and homosexuality.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Interaction between Christianity and other religions in a juvenile novel

Nancy Farmer is a prominent writer of fantasy literature for young people. She is a good writer, and, among other things, takes religion seriously:
Anyone who studies psychology, as I did, knows that psychology is pretty close to magic. I'd also studied religions, and so I also knew that religion gets into questions that science can't pin down, and that have their own validity. Nancy Farmer, interviewed by Leonard S. Marcus, in Marcus's The Wand in the Wind: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy. (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2006) Interview is on pages 49-61. Quote is from page 56.

In Farmer's The Sea of Trolls (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004) there are three religions. They are Catholic Christianity (The book is set in eighth century Europe), the religion of the Northmen, and druidism. Jack, an Irish peasant boy who has been raised by a Catholic father and a Druid mother, is kidnapped by Northmen, and, eventually, becomes a hero in their eyes and returns to his home and parents. He comes to see Olaf Onebrow, a war leader, as truly brave, honest, and generous, but cannot condone Olaf's treatment of slaves, or the Norse custom of killing a wife and putting her on the funeral boat to be burned when a warrior dies. Jack especially dislikes the Norse notion of reckless abandon in battle (and taking other risks) as a way to achieve glory in the after-life.

Here's one conversation:
". . . When Odin wanted the lore that would make him leader of the gods, he had to pay for it with suffering. He was stabbed with a spear and hanged for nine days and nights on the tree Yggdrassil."
"That's just plain stupid," Jack said.
"Your god was nailed to a cross. It's the same thing."
"No, it's not." (p. 301)
The conversation is with Thorgrim, a shieldmaiden who is about Jack's age. There are other conversations contrasting Christianity and the Norse religion, for example on pages 126 and 186. I have to agree with Jack here. Christ already had all the wisdom that He needed. He died for us.

I found no such discussions comparing Christianity and the Druid religion in the book.

There was also this great statement:
"I have lived long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. Such joy as Olaf's will sooner or later attract its destruction. But I also know that to ignore joy while it lasts, in favor of lamenting one's fate, is a great crime." (199) The speaker is Rune, a Norse Bard, to Jack.

I won't give the plot away further, except to say that it was a good one, and not only in plot, but in characterization and setting. Farmer claims to have done considerable research for this book, and it shows. She well deserves the honors she has achieved as a writer.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sunspots 214

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

(sort of) Slate has an essay praising the nutritional qualities of lard. That's right, lard.

Wired reports that animals may have adapted to global warming in the past, based on a study of fossil teeth.

NPR reports that there is evidence that great apes may laugh when tickled.

Slate on how many balloons it would take to lift a house .

Slate, in a compilation of statements on the Supreme Court confirmation process, points out that John Paul Stevens, nominated in 1975, 3 years after Roe v. Wade, was not asked a single question about abortion. Apparently it hadn't become such an important issue back then.

Perry Noble on how thinking of ourselves takes our thoughts off the really important person -- Jesus.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

God is not bothered by honest doubt

Gideon is a classic example. He saw an angel, and knew it was one. He asked for two miracles, wherein a sheepskin, on the grass, was wet when the grass was dry, and the reverse. God was not upset by this, apparently. Then Gideon still doubted, and was told to go into the enemy camp, where he overheard an enemy soldier predicting that he, Gideon would defeat the enemy. (See Judges 6-7)

Thomas, of course, is also a classic example:

John 20:24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (All Bible quotations from the ESV)

And Jude has a warning to leaders, that they should ". . . have mercy on those who doubt." (1:24)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sunspots 213

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

Wired reports that genetic modification has not only produced marmosets with skin that glows green in the dark, but that one such animal sired offspring with the same trait.

Wired also has a report on how scientists are looking for planets in other solar systems that might support life.

(or something) Slate has an essay on whether or not fish feel pain.

Christianity Today has a book review of a book that considers the nature of spiritual experiences -- what is happening in our brain when we have one?

Image source (public domain)