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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two thoughts on the story of Moses

Exodus 2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (ESV)

A familiar story. My two thoughts are these:
First, Miriam must have been quick-witted, and God-directed, when she suggested that she would find a wet-nurse for Pharaoh's daughter. I have trouble believing that her mother foresaw this turn of events, and told her what to say in advance, if it happened. I have no trouble believing that God guided Miriam in this case.

Second, the Bible here reads as if Moses was an Egyptian name. I checked, and, apparently, that is true. (See link at the beginning of this paragraph.) So the most important of the descendants of Abraham (until Christ) had an Egyptian name? Remarkable!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sunspots 245

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



Science:
Wired has posted satellite photos of icy parts of the world.

Wired also reports that a map of the Tokyo train system looks very much like a slime mold.

You can hear the sounds of Saturn's rings, here, courtesy of Universe Today.

Politics:
(or something) The Strange Maps blogger has posted graphical evidence that Australia is large.

The Washington Post says that Scott Brown's victory in Massachussets was not necessarily about the Democratic health plans in Congress.

Computing: 
The New York Times advises Facebook users to check their privacy settings.



Image source (public domain)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mozart

The great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on this date, in 1756.

Happy Birthday!

Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier

I have read Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. Although Heart's Blood is said to be the first book in a series, it stands alone quite well. Heart's Blood is an herb with important properties. The book is set in rural Ireland, in medieval times, and is told from the viewpoint of the main character, Caitrin, apparently a teen-aged girl. As the book begins, her father has died, and evil relatives have claimed the family's house, and claimed Caitrin as wife. She runs away, with a few clothes and her small kit of scribe's tools -- she is an accomplished manuscript preparer and copyist.

I have previously posted about Marillier's work. Her books are romances, with characters that are well drawn and that the reader easily sympathizes with. I have found her religious viewpoint of particular interest. Although Marillier is a self-acknowledged Druid, several of her books have important Christian characters, often unselfish, hard-working people, and she occasionally includes understanding of key Christian doctrine. In this book, there is a clear case of repentance and faith.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Metagenomics

The National Academy of Sciences of the United States has published a free, downloadable booklet, available here, entitled "Understanding our Microbial Planet: The New Science of Metagenomics." The booklet is illustrated, and the average intelligent high school student should understand it.

What is metagenomics? Basically, it involves collecting a sample of the living organisms in an area, such as a body of water, soil, or the human gut, and determining what genes are present there, without attempting to separate the individual organisms or species. Thus, after doing a metagenomic analysis, a scientist could report that genes A, P, and Q were present in some member or members of the biological community, but that genes B, R, and S were not found in the sample.

It is possible to screen the community for antibiotic or vitamin production, and for other functions. The report says that new antibiotics have been found in this way.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan

I recently read The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan. (I posted on another book by Jordan, earlier this year.)

Although Jordan is known as a writer of fantastic literature, I didn't find anything particularly fantastic about the book. It is set in a time when people were too eager to believe in witches, and that is a prominent feature, but there is no episode of real witchcraft in The Raging Quiet.

I won't give away the plot -- you can find out more about it by using the first link in this post, I believe. I do want to muse briefly about a couple of items in the book.

Much of the book is about deafness. The leading character discovers that another character is deaf, and not an idiot -- which the local villagers, even the good priest who has helped the boy, have believed. The leading character, Marnie, a teenager, works with Raven, as she calls this boy, developing a sophisticated sign language. That causes her to be accused of witchcraft.

There is, as I said, a good priest. Priests, and Christians in general, are often portrayed as evil, stupid, or both, and, of course, we often are, or at least people who claim to be Christians are often evil. It is refreshing to read a book where a character who claims to be a Christian is kind, generous, tolerant, understanding, hardworking, and stands up against evil and ignorance. Father Brannan is such a character. It is hard to imagine a more selfless one. He does have flaws -- he gets angry when he shouldn't. But he sees, in Marnie, an intelligent person, one with some deep spiritual insight, in spite of the fact that she can't read or write.

A warning, for those who care about such matters -- although the book is written for young adults, whoever they are, Jordan has included some sexual activity -- not explicit. It is handled tastefully, and without explicitness or salaciousness. Some of it is between married people, but one such episode isn't. Father Brannan doesn't rebuke the couple -- he marries them. I guess Jesus might have handled the situation in the same way.

Jordan is a good writer. I confess that I went to the end before I got half through, and found out how it came out. Then I eagerly finished the book in the more linear way.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Oswald Chambers, artist, pianist, and general all-round intellectual

I have heard of Oswald Chambers, and especially of, and occasionally from, My Utmost for His Highest, for many years. Kerry, of Beautiful Feet (a good blog -- a quick read -- down to here would be an average post for Kerry) suggested, a few times, during a seminar series that he was giving, that it would also be good to read a biography of Chambers.

I have now read My Utmost, and also the biography. Thanks, Kerry!

The biography is by David McCasland. It is Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God. The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1993. I expected to read of Chambers' devotional life, and about the writing of My Utmost. I did read that. But I didn't expect to read that Chambers was a bona fide intellectual, and believed in the importance of art, music, philosophy and literature as ways of reaching others, and of improving himself.

Chambers influenced a woman who turned out to be a staunch colleague by his piano playing.

Here's something Chambers said about the matter of using the intellect:
The kingdom of the aesthetics lies in a groveling quagmire, half fine, half impure; there is a crying need for a fearless preacher of Christ in the midst of that kingdom, for a fearless writer, writing with the blood of Christ, proclaiming His claims in the midst of that kingdom, for a fearless lecturer above pandering to popular taste, to warn and exhort that all the kingdoms of this world are to become Christ's -- that artists, poets and musicians be good and fearless Christians. (p. 41-42 of McCasland. from a letter written by Chambers in 1895.)

Chambers was a thinker, and read philosophy. The biography closes with a number of poems by Chambers, on a number of subjects. I am not qualified to assess them, but they seem good to me.

Thanks, Kerry! You were right, Oswald Chambers.

Thanks for reading. Read Chambers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More on homosexuality

A post of a few months ago, entitled "Homosexuality: Questions and Answers," is still generating occasional comments.

Anyone reading this blog who is interested in that subject might want to check out that post, and the comments, some mine, and some by other people.

Thanks. It's a privilege to be read by anyone, let alone by anyone after several months.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sunspots 244

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



Science:
Carl Zimmer writes about an important human protein that started out as a virus. There are probably a lot of these.

NPR has a report on the Arctic Oscillation, which explains why Europe has recently had a bad cold spell.

Politics:
NPR reports an organization that is monitoring the matter of how well President Obama is doing at keeping his campaign promises.

Christianity:
A blogger is not happy about Pat Robertson, and his claim that the recent earthquake was because Haiti made a pact with Satan. The blogger quotes scripture to back up his unhappiness.

Kerry i am has posted eight "I can'ts" of ministry.


Image source (public domain)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Christopher Robin and time travel

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing." A. A. Milne, Chapter Ten, "In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There," from The House at Pooh Corner.

Thanks for reading! Read Milne. Today would have been his 118th birthday.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kepler's world view

Johannes Kepler was one of the greatest scientists of all time. He rose from humble beginnings, and had a hard time getting financial support throughout his career, but, probably more than any other person, even Galileo, was responsible for our current view of the arrangement of the solar system. I recently read Tycho and Kepler - The Unlikely Partnership That Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens, by Kitty Ferguson. (New York: Walker and Company, 2002.) It was a longish book, with a lot of history, but I found it well worth the reading.

The first part of the book was mostly about Tycho Brahe. I won't add much to the one-sentence (if that much) that he gets in science courses, namely "he made very accurate observations of the movement of the planets, which were useful in overthrowing the geocentric view of the solar system," or something like that. I will say that Ferguson makes clear that these accurate observations were obtained purposefully, and that Brahe had to develop his own astronomical instruments in order to get them. She also discusses the difficulty of getting along with Brahe, who became, at least in his own mind, an astronomer equal in status to the rulers of his day. Kepler eventually became an employee, or associate, of Brahe's. (Kepler, unlike Brahe, was not born to a fortune, and his status, and where his support was coming from, were often unclear.)

Ferguson indicates clearly that Kepler's view of the solar system, and the universe at large, as a divinely ordered system, which was there to be understood, became the driving force behind his life's work. The one-phrase summary of Kepler's work is something like "he developed three laws of planetary motion." That is true, as far as it goes, and that alone would have been enough to assure him of scientific immortality, but Kepler did more.

Kepler has been called, with justification, "the world's first astro-physicist."

His story, Somnium, has been called the first work of science fiction ever written.

The Wikipedia article on Kepler, and Ferguson, agree that he was a pioneer in the science of optics, introducing the use of diagrams of light rays. Ferguson (292) also says that he discovered that the image on the retina is upside down and backwards. He was the first to believe that the intensity of light varies inversely as the square of the distance from the source.

Ferguson says that he was probably the first to incorporate logarithms into his astronomical tables. He almost discovered that gravity was a force. He didn't get so far as applying the inverse square relationship to gravity, as Newton came to do.

When Kepler was dying, a pastor asked him the basis of his hope for salvation. He responded, "Solely on the merit of our Savior Jesus Christ, in whom is found all refuge, solace, and salvation." (p. 356 of Ferguson)

He wrote his own epitaph, which said:
I measured the heavens, Now the earth's shadows I measure,
Skybound, my mind. Earthbound, my body rests. (p. 357)

In his most important book, he included this prayer:
It now remains that at last, with my eyes and hands removed from the tablet of demonstrations and lifted up towards the heavens, I should pray, devout and supplicating, to the Father of lights: O Thou Who dost by the light of nature promote in us the desire for the light of grace, that by its means Thou mayest transport us into the light of glory, I give thanks to Thee, O Lord Creator, Who hast delighted me with Thy makings and in the works of Thy hands have I exulted. Behold! now, I have completed the work of my profession, having employed as much power of mind as Thou didst give to me; to the men who are going to read those demonstrations I have made manifest the glory of Thy works, as much of its infinity as the narrows of my intellect could apprehend. My mind has been given over to philosophizing most correctly: if there is anything unworthy of Thy designs brought forth by me—a worm born and nourished in a wallowing place of sins—breathe into me also that which Thou dost wish men to know, that I may make the correction: If I have been allured into rashness by the wonderful beauty of Thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while I am advancing in the work destined for Thy glory, be gentle and merciful and pardon me; and finally deign graciously to effect that these demonstrations give way to Thy glory and the salvation of souls and nowhere be an obstacle to that. Same prayer as above, from Harmonies of the World, by Johannes Kepler, tr. Charles Glenn Wallis [1939], at sacred-texts.com, which, as best I can determine, is copyright-free. The emphasis is in the original.This is from the end of the ninth section, or chapter, of Kepler's book.

Thanks for reading. Especially if you are a scientist, pray Kepler's prayer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sunday work, etc.

The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20*, and also in Deuteronomy 5 (which is nearly identical). The third of these commandments required the Israelites to observe the Sabbath Day. Does this command still apply? What are its ramifications, if it does still apply? I wish to muse about this matter.

Does the Third Commandment Apply to Christians?
I quote my post on "What the Bible Says about tattoos," which covered some of the same ground:
. . . we can divide the commandments in the Old Testament (OT) into three types:
Cultural and Civic -- commandments for the OT Israelite culture, like commands on how to divide the land among the tribes.
Ceremonial -- commandments concerning the worship of the Israelites, like commands about feasts. Most of the OT commands are of this type.
Moral -- commandments for all cultures, at all times, like the commandment that husbands stay with their wives (Genesis 2:24, repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19:5). Moral commandments, though they may be stated first in the OT, are also found in the New Testament.

We can't always tell which type of command was meant. They are not identified as such in the Bible. The church generally does not hold that the first two types of commandments are binding on Christians. At the Jerusalem conference, the leaders wrote as follows, when Jews felt that gentile Christians must obey the ceremonial law: Acts 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29a that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Even some of the prohibitions in Acts 15:28-9 are not taken as binding by most Christians anymore. 1 Corinthians 8:8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. The Acts 15 statement was about the ceremonial law. It does not undo God's moral laws.

So, the first question requires an answer to another, namely, "are the Ten Commandments moral law, binding on Christians in the present?"
Historically, the Ten Commandments have been considered to be moral law, so the answer seems to be, generally, yes. At least some of them were reinforced in the New Testament. Jesus, Himself, said this:
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

However, apparent exceptions to the Third Commandment, which we are considering, have been made often, including, apparently, in the New Testament. What does the New Testament say about this commandment?

In Matthew 12, Jesus, Himself, seems to modify the Third Commandment:
12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Paul also seems to declare the Third Commandment as non-binding:
Romans 14:One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;

Paul also wrote:

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

What's going on here?

I believe that there are two things going on. The first one is that, as I said, Christ was dealing with important principles, rather than the literal interpretation of the Commandments. Why do I say that? In Matthew 5, He spoke about the Sixth and Seventh Commandments, which, respectively, deal with murder and adultery. Christ made it clear that it wasn't the act of murder, or the act of adultery, but the thought, the motive. To illustrate: Have I ever had sexual intercourse with a woman who wasn't my wife, since I have been married? (This would have been adultery, which is a violation of the marriage covenant.) No. Have I ever violated the Seventh Commandment, as Jesus interpreted it? I'm afraid so. I have lusted after women. God forgive me. The principle of the Seventh Commandment is that marriage vows be honored, and not just in outward action, but in the thought life and attitude.

It seems to me that the principles behind the Third Commandment are these:
The Third Commandment is about honoring God, not about not doing certain things for a period of time. God should be honored by regular worship, including, if possible, worshiping with other people. There are other important ways to honor God, too, such as loving other people in a Christ-like way, and following Christ's commands.
Helping other people is one way to honor God, and it is more important than not doing things for a period of time.
People need rest. I will not define rest, except to say that it seems to me that it should involve time away from work, whatever that work might be. For a person spending a lot of time in one spot in an office, rest might involve some exercise. For one who does a lot of physical labor, reading a good book or taking a nap might be best.


Jesus alluded to the first two of these principles in the passage from Matthew 12 quoted above. The third principle was mentioned in Hebrews 4, and, there, linked to the Third Commandment. Jesus also told his listeners that He was the source of rest (Matthew 11:25-31) and told the disciples to rest (Mark 6:31) although He didn't link either of these to the Third Commandment.

The second thing going on has to do with the Sabbath, itself.

The original Jewish Sabbath began at sundown on what we call Friday, and lasted until sundown on Saturday. That is why those who buried Jesus on Good Friday wanted to get this done before sundown (Matthew 27, John 19). But Jesus rose from the dead on what we call Sunday, and, during even the time of the New Testament, Christians had begun to celebrate that event on that day. Today, most Christians celebrate together on Sunday, not Saturday. 1 Corinthians 16:2 refers to this: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. So does Revelation 1:10: I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet. So one of the reasons that Paul said what he did about honoring, or not honoring, a particular day probably referred to the fact that some Christians were honoring one day of the week, and some another (and, apparently, some were not honoring a particular day).

So, I submit, there are four principles that Christians need to consider, in relation to the Third Commandment. The first three are given above. The fourth is this: My attitude must be one of love. Here's part of Mark 12, on the most important commandments: 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34a And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

I need to have a loving attitude toward those who disagree with me, including those who call Sunday the Sabbath, those who worship on Saturday, rather than Sunday, those who try to avoid doing work or purchasing on Sunday, and those whose convictions about honoring God and Sunday allow them to do things that my own convictions won't let me do. Paul referred to that in the passages quoted above.

So, let me close with some questions.
1)    Is it wrong to eat at a restaurant, get gas or groceries on Sunday? It is wrong if I am avoiding corporate worship. It is wrong if I am blatantly and arrogantly ignoring the convictions of other people. Some would say, but I wouldn't go that far, that it is wrong because it keeps those who work at restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores from church. Most of these could go to other services, and get extended periods of rest, at other times on Sunday, or on other days of the week, if they chose. Many of them wouldn't go to church in any case. Eating at home on Sunday may mean a good bit of Sunday work for my own family. That would be wrong if I am not observing any rest period during my week.
2)    Is it wrong to cut the grass, weed the garden, wash clothes, fix the car, do yard work, do homework, or prepare and clean up after a meal on Sunday? I would answer this as I answered the first question. For myself, I generally avoid the activities listed in the question which can be seen by others, like mowing the grass, because some of my neighbors have convictions against doing such things, and there is no compelling reason to flaunt my own liberty in this area. But I would clean up after meals, perhaps put on a washer of clothes, and do homework on Sunday, as long as this didn't interfere with group worship or rest.
3)    Is it wrong to engage in vigorous physical activity on Sunday? I answer this as for the first question, and also say that, for some people, vigorous physical activity would be rest from their work.
4)    How should a pastor observe Sunday? By performing his or her duties as well as possible, with God's help. This often means that a pastor (and many lay persons) don't get a lot of rest on Sunday, because they are involved in church activities. Perhaps there is too much activity for the sake of activity, and that should be examined, for both pastor and parishioners. But, assuming that the activity is legitimate, a pastor, or another Christian who cannot get some rest time because of activity for the Kingdom, on Sunday, should be sure to get such rest on other days.

*All scripture links are to the English Standard Version, which allows such use, with proper attribution.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley's Spindle's End (2000) is a book infused through and through with magic. (See here for an essay on magic in the book, and here for the so-far brief Wikipedia article on Spindle's End.) The book is McKinley's take on "Sleeping Beauty."

Another aspect of the book is the connection between Katriona, a seeming teen-age girl, who, on impulse, spirits the baby princess away to a long hiding place in her simple village, and animals. Katriona can, while she is traveling with the Princess, speak to the animals, and they to her, and the princess is fed by milk from all sorts of mammals. Later, Katriona loses the ability to understand animal speech, but the princess has it. In the end, various animals help the princess defeat the evil fairy who has laid a curse on her, with one, a large captive raptor, finally destroying the evil Pernicia.

McKinley considers the relationship between magic and the church of the time. There are some tensions, but Katriona decides that paying the local priest to pray for the growing princess is worth the money.

I won't give away the plot, but I wished that McKinley had shortened the ending. The final conflict between the princess and the evil fairy, Pernicia, goes on too long, it seemed to me.

I have previously posted about a book by this author.

Nonetheless, the book is well worth reading.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sunspots 243

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



Science:
Wired reports on an analysis that indicates that the decline of bee colonies has several causes, rather than a single one.

Wired also reports (with a photograph) on a newly discovered, very large species of spider.

A small asteroid will come pretty close to the earth today, according to Wired.

Christianity:
Henry Neufeld objects to the notion that Christianity is a "deal."



Image source (public domain)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some advice on teaching science in home schools

A post, by a scientist who is also home schools his children, touches on a very important issue, namely teaching science in home schools in Christian homes. As the author points out, all too often, such instruction presents young-earth creationism as if it is the only Christian alternative, and as if it has no serious weaknesses as a view of origins, when neither of these is true. (See here for my chart, indicating that all views of origins have some serious weaknesses.)

If home-schooled Christian children are not given a broader view, and a fairer one, of origins, these kids will probably become the majority of the conservative Christian leaders of the next generation. That will almost guarantee that most of their followers will be unable to present reasonable answers on origins to honest, seeking, unbelievers, and many of these unbelievers will remain in that state, because well-meaning Christians have nothing better to present on origins but gibberish. (See this post for St. Augustine's view of this sort of thing.)

The author, Douglas Hayworth, gives advice on selection of textbooks, and on other practical and important matters.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A hymn of repentance, by Charles Wesley

Weary of wandering from my God,
And now made willing to return
I hear and bow me to the rod
For thee, not without hope, I mourn:
I have an Advocate above
A Friend before the throne of love.

O Jesus, full of truth and grace
More full of grace than I of sin
Yet once again I seek Thy face:
Open Thine arms and take me in
And freely my backslidings heal
And love the faithless sinner still.

Thou know’st the way to bring me back
My fallen spirit to restore
O for Thy truth and mercy’s sake,
Forgive, and bid me sin no more:
The ruins of my soul repair
And make my heart a house of prayer.

The stone to flesh again convert,
The veil of sin again remove;
Sprinkle Thy blood upon my heart,
And melt it by Thy dying love;
This rebel heart by love subdue,
And make it soft, and make it new.

Give to mine eyes refreshing tears,
And kindle my relentings now;
Fill my whole soul with filial fears,
To Thy sweet yoke my spirit bow;
Bend by Thy grace, O bend or break,
The iron sinew in my neck!

Ah! give me, Lord, the tender heart
That trembles at the approach of sin;
A godly fear of sin impart,
Implant, and root it deep within,
That I may dread Thy gracious power,
And never dare to offend Thee more.

This hymn of repentance is one of over 250 found on the Charles Wesley page of NetHymnal.org. I have never heard it sung, but music which has accompanied the text may be found at the hymn's own page. The last stanza, I hope, speaks for me.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

I recently read Elantris, a fantasy* novel by Brandon Sanderson.

The first link in this post is to the Wikipedia article on the novel. Although it isn't long, it does hit the important points. It also has several links to reviews of the work, and to a page of annotations by the author.

The reviews say, correctly, that Sanderson created some memorable characters in this, his first novel. The first is Raoden, prince of Arelon, a small country near a now ruined city, Elantris, which was once, both city and inhabitants, the wonder of the world. The Elantrians had healing powers, lived for a long time, and performed various wonders. As the novel begins, Elantris is decaying rapidly, the result of some sudden disaster. The Elantrians are zombie-like creatures, original inhabitants, or exiles from Arelon, sent there because they have suddenly taken on the zombie-like aspects of the other Elantrians. Raoden himself is taken by this transformation.

Sarene, princess of a nearby country, is the second character. As her part begins, she has decided to marry Raoden, although they have never met in person. (There is video-phone-like communication possible, using intelligent servant beings who can communicate with each other over long distances.) She arrives, to be told that Raoden is dead. (He is legally dead, and his father seems to have forgotten him -- typical treatment for those who undergo the transformation to being an Elantrian, and the exile.) However, she is still part of the royal family of Arelon, by law. She begins to adjust, and tries to help the common people of Arelon, and eventually even those of near-by Elantris.

I will deal primarily with the religious aspects of the book. In large part, it is a religious novel, although mostly for the third of the three main characters. Hrathen, a high-ranking priest of the Shu-Dereth religion, sent to "convert" Arelon, by whatever means necessary, struggles with his own faith. Does he really believe anymore? Is his religion merely a means of achieving political and military power? What should be done with those who are adherents of other religions? Should they be killed? There are two main religions, but others are mentioned, one involving human sacrifice.

Hrathen finally comes to this position:
Sarene whispered. "You have turned against your own religion. Why?"
Hrathen walked in silence for a moment "I . . . I don't know, woman. I have followed Shu-Dereth since I was a child -- the structure and formality of it have always called to me. I joined the priesthood. I . . . thought I had faith. It turned out, however, that the thing I grew to believe was not Shu-Dereth after all. I don't know what it is."
"Shu-Korath?"
Hrathen shook his head. "That is too simple. Belief is not simply Korathi or Derethi, one or the other. I still believe Dereth's teachings. My problem is with Wyrn, not God." (p. 471. Shu-Korath is a rival religion, apparently related to Shu-Dereth. Inhabitants of Arelon, including Sarene, follow that religion, which is much less militant than Shu-Dereth. Wyrn is the head of Hrathen's Shu-Dereth religion, powerful politically and militarily, and with absolute power over all adherents.)

Right after this, Hrathen dies. The final words in the book are these:
"No," Sarene said. "When you speak of this man, let it be known that he died in our defense. Let it be said that after all else, Hrathen, gyorn of Shu-Dereth, was not our enemy. He was our savior." (p. 487)

It could be argued that this is somewhat exaggerated. Even Sanderson qualifies "savior" with "after a manner." The work of Sarene, herself, and the intense effort by Raoden to learn the secret of the Aons, are perhaps even more the saviors of Arelon, and Elantris. (The Aons are rune-like symbols, which were traced in the air with the finger, or on any surface, or could be sculpted into a surface, and were the means through which the pre-transformation Elantrians could perform various marvelous acts, such as healing and instantly transporting themselves to distant locations. Raoden finally discovers the reason why they stopped working, which I won't give away. He is able to make them work by the end of the novel.)

In summary, a great fantasy novel, with fine characterization, and considerable attention to moral and religious questions. I would by no means call it a Christian novel, but it does take questions of belief, and right behavior, so seriously that they are the core of the book.

I have previously posted on another book by this author, and will post again on another of his works in the near future, God willing.

*I label this "fantasy" because it is not based on extrapolation of some scientific phenomenon into the future, but depends on magic, that is, ". . . the power to use supernatural forces to make impossible things happen, such as making people disappear or controlling events in nature." (From the Google definition.) Most of the most important fantasy literature is "sword and sorcery" fantasy.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sunspots 242

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


Science: The Panda's Thumb presents some photos of skulls, and asks us if they are of apes, or humans.

The New York Times has an article on "How to Train the Aging Brain."

Music:
(The arts, really) heard, by way of CNN, that Patrick Stewart, who played Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard, among many other roles, was to have been knighted on January 1st.


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lurulu, by Jack Vance

I have read what Jack Vance has said is his final work of fiction (he has been a published author since about 1950, mostly fantastic literature). That book is Lurulu, which was published in 2004 by Tor. (See here for a review, which includes a summary of the plot.)

I have previously posted on Vance, including some discussion of his religious beliefs. It is dangerous to assume that a character is speaking for an author, but here's a quotation from the book, which indicates that he doesn't take religion, of any kind, very seriously:
Wingo was greatly interested in comparative metaphysics. He paid more than casual attention to the sects, superstitions, religions, and transcendental philosophies which he encountered as the Glicca travelled from world to world and, whenever he wandered strange places, gave careful attention to local spiritual doctrines -- a practice which incurred Schwatzendale's disapproval.
"You are wasting your time! There are a hundred thousand of these creeds; they all talk the same nonsense, and all want your money. Why bother? Religious cant is the greatest nonsense of all!"
"There is much in what you say," Wingo admitted. "Still, is it not possible, that by some odd chance one of these hundred thousand doctrines is correct and precisely defines the Cosmic Way? If we passed it by, we might never encounter Truth again!"
"In theory, yes," grumbled Schwatzendale. "But in practice, your chances are next to nil." (p. 23. Wingo and Schwatzendale are two of the four man crew of the Glicca. The other two are Captain Maloof and Myron Tany, the bookkeeper, who are the main characters.)

Most of Vance's books feature a young man, finding himself. Myron plays that role here. Women don't play a major role in Vance's fiction, and that is true of Lurulu. There is plenty of eating, with menus described, and plenty of dialog, often featuring unusual words taken from Vance's splendid vocabulary. It's a typical Vance novel.

So what is lurulu? As far as I can tell, this is a word made up by Vance for this book. Lurulu, as I understand it, is happiness, or very close to it. The characters occasionally discuss it, but don't define it. While I was reading the book, I was reminded of sehnsucht, a term from C. S. Lewis. Vance, however, wrote about a state that could never really be achieved -- near the end, the four characters find themselves in luxury, but decide, after a short time in that state, that they prefer to be traveling around space as a freighter crew. Lewis believed that humans were subject to a longing that couldn't be satisfied outside of a relationship with God.

Vance was still entertaining in 2004, but, as usual, lacked depth. He never wrote about interesting scientific possibilities in his science fiction. His characters were usually not very deep. His novels were mostly novels of setting, dashing through many different types of societies, with bizarre customs and behavior. The books are worth reading, but generally not emotionally or intellectually gripping.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Do Your best for us!

I frequently pray, over all kinds of situations, "Do Your best for us," or "Do Your best for them," according to the situation.

One of my brothers challenged me on that recently. He asked, more or less, "Doesn't God always do His best? Why should we have to ask Him to do that?"

He had a point. But, on reflection, I think I meant something different, certainly after that conversation, and perhaps before it. Yes, God does His best. But what I hope I am, and was, trying to say is that we don't know what is best, and that I am asking God to do His best, no matter what I want Him to do, because I could be wrong about what is really best for the situation. In other words, for me, asking God to do His best is very close to asking that His will be done, which, of course, has scriptural precendent.

God, of course, is perfectly capable of understanding what I say, or think, and also understanding what I mean. Do Your best for me, please, O Lord!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Communion Hymn by Charles Wesley

With solemn faith we offer up
And spread, O God, before Thine eyes
That only ground of all our hope,
That precious, once-made Sacrifice,
Which brings Thy grace on sinners down,
And perfects all our souls in one.

Acceptance through His holy Name,
Forgiveness in His blood we have;
But more abundant life we claim
Through Him Who died our souls to save,
To sanctify us by His blood
And fill with all the life of God.

As it were slain behold Thy Son,
And hear His blood that speaks above;
Oh let us all Thy grace be shown,
Peace, righteousness, and joy, and love:
Thy kingdom come to every heart,
And all Thou hast, and all Thou art.

This hymn, evidently intended to be used for Communion services, is one of over 250 on the Charles Wesley page of NetHymnal.org. I have never heard it sung. You can hear music designed for this hymn on its own page, here.

Thanks for reading. God bless you!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is an important writer, with solid scientific credentials. He is the author of a number of books (see the link in the previous sentence). He happens to be an outspoken atheist. One of his books is The God Delusion. The title apparently describes Dawkins' belief and message. (I haven't read the book, although I have read some other books by Dawkins, and found them worthwhile.)

The first book I finished reading in 2010 was The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Alister McGrath, with some assistance from his wife, Joan McGrath. It is a short book (96 pages plus additional scholarly apparatus), easy to read, and focused, from InterVarsity Press. The focus is to show that Dawkins, a scientist, is an atheist fundamentalist, relying not on evidence, but on his own beliefs, in his passion to show that there is no God. McGrath has a doctorate in science from Oxford University, so knows a little something about that field.

Dawkins, says McGrath, has confused his presuppositions with his conclusions, and is acting much like, say, Muslim fundamentalists, who are not willing to even listen to any doctrine that does not agree with their own. Based on McGrath's evidence, and my previous knowledge of Dawkins, I agree. The most damaging item cited by McGrath is Dawkins' reaction to Rocks of Ages, by the late Stephen Jay Gould, a well-credentialed scientist who was also a splendid popularizer of science. In Rocks of Ages, Gould proposed that science and Christianity did not need to be in conflict -- they examine phenomena that don't interact. (I think Gould was wrong about the non-interacting part, but correct that science and Christianity do not need to be in conflict, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.) But Dawkins says, according to McGrath: "I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages." (p. 34 of McGrath, quoting p. 57 of The God Delusion.) I can just imagine Dawkins' reaction to, say, Billy Graham writing that he simply does not believe that Dawkins could possibly meant it when he said that God didn't exist.

McGrath has also written Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. It is a longer book, with the same purpose. Currently, I have no plans to read it, nor The God Delusion. I will quote from the Wikipedia article on the book, which gives part of Dawkins' response to it, in particular to the charge that Dawkins doesn't know very much about Christianity:
Yes, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christian theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content. I imagine that McGrath would join me in expressing disbelief in fairies, astrology and Thor's hammer. How would he respond if a fairyologist, astrologer or Viking accused him of ignorance of their respective subjects?

In The Dawkins Delusion, McGrath has met that criticism, saying, approximately, that, for example, you may believe astrology to be totally false, but that if you were writing a 400+ page book denouncing it, you should have most of your facts right.

McGrath is not totally anti-Dawkins, by any means. He says that he considers Dawkins' The Selfish Gene to be a fine book. (I agree.)

God cannot be proved, or disproved, in anybody's laboratory. He is apprehended by faith (See Hebrews 11:3) and then, as a result of this faith, we can see Him, or at least His work, in molecules and mountains, gnats and galaxies.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year Hymn by Charles Wesley

Sing to the great Jehovah’s praise!
All praise to Him belongs:
Who kindly lengthens out our days
Demands our choicest songs.

His providence hath brought us through
Another various year:
We all with vows and anthems new
Before our God appear.

Father, Thy mercies past we own;
Thy still continued care;
To Thee presenting, through Thy Son,
Whate’er we have or own.

Our lips and lives shall gladly show
The wonders of Thy love,
While on in Jesu’s steps we go
To see Thy face above.

Our residue of days or hours
Thine, wholly Thine, shall be;
And all our consecrated powers
A sacrifice to be:

Till Jesus in the clouds appear
To saints on earth forgiven,
And bring the grand Sabbatic year,
The jubilee of Heaven.

This is one of over 250 hymns on the Charles Wesley page of NetHymnal.org. Here is the page for this particular hymn, which I have never heard sung.

Happy New Year! God bless you. Thanks for reading.