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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunspots 281

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

Science: (or Christianity) An excellent, and brief, article on the relationship between science and religion, from the BioLogos Foundation.

Sports: George Blanda, who retired as the oldest pro football player ever, and had an amazing series of clutch wins in 1970, as kicker and quarterback, when he was about 43, passed away.

Computing: Heard that Matthew Carter, who  designed the Verdana, Georgia  and Tahoma typefaces, (and others) was one of several recipients of a MacArthur Foundation grant (aka  genius grants).
The BioLogos Foundation begins a series on the question of whether God's existence can be proved or disproved.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

joy poster

joy poster

Some quotes, from some of my favorite authors, relating to the idea of joy. Larger sizes are available -- the photo is a live link to my Flickr photostream, where it originated.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ruse: Questions that science can't answer

Michael Ruse is not a Christian. He is a much better philosopher than I am, or, for that matter, than almost anyone else is. He knows science well.

In a recent article, he argues two significant things:
First, science and Christianity (and other religions) should be able to co-exist, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and others notwithstanding.

Second, as it is currently usually understood, science cannot answer the following:
Today's mechanical science does even set out to ask or answer certain questions, and hence if the religious want to have a crack at answering them, they can. Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ultimate foundation of morality? What does it all mean? Perhaps, what is consciousness that sets animals, humans particularly, apart?

I agree with Ruse on these points. I have been very slow to continue my series on the book by Kitty Ferguson. I intend to continue, and conclude that, God helping me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunspots 280

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

Science:  In case you want to know, CNN tells us what to do if  body parts become detached.

I wish this was in the humor category, but it isn't. There's to be a conference on geocentrism -- the view that the earth is the center of the universe. The headline on the main page says "Galileo was Wrong."

NPR reports on the largest, strongest spider web known. (There's a photo.)

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How does God reveal Himself to humans?

God’s revelation is of two types: Special and General. Special Revelation is through Christ. General Revelation, through other means, does not necessarily tell us about the necessity for salvation. General Revelation may reveal various attributes of God, such as His power, majesty, omniscience, omnipresence, and eternal existence.

God reveals many things, including His attributes, His love, His holiness, how He wants us to act, and guidance in specific situations. How does He do this? Here is a partial list:

  1. Through Christ (Hebrews 1:2)
  2. Through the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16)
  3. By the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-15)
  4. Through nature (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-4, and also Psalm 97:6, Acts 14:17)
  5. By our conscience (Romans 2:15)
  6. Through history (1 Corinthians 10:6-13)
  7. In answer to prayer (1 Kings 18:36-39)
  8. By angels, and in visions and dreams (Matthew 2:19-21)
  9. Through miracles and providence (Exodus 4:1-5)
  10. Through the church (Acts 15:22-29)
  11. Through human creations (“I know three ex-atheists who say, ‘There is the music of Bach, therefore there must be a God.’” - Peter Kreeft; “To him, art was God’s gift to make the earth bearable. Poetry and music were not luxuries, but necessities.” McCasland, David. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God. The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1993, p. 39; Jeremiah 22:6; Philippians 4:8)

Sources include Wikipedia articles on Revelation of God, and on Revelation. See also Peter Kreeft, “12 Ways to Know God.”

Please note that no single verse, or a few verses, should be taken as a firm basis for any doctrine. I have expanded item 11 more than the others, because the Biblical evidence is less direct.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The sun does NOT revolve around the earth!

You may have thought that the title statement was unnecessary. So did I. But not so, I'm afraid.

It has come to my attention that there is a conference, planned for November of this year, which conference has an on-line flyer that begins thus: "Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right." Oh?

There are some scriptures that can be taken to indicate that the earth does not move in space, and everything moves around it. These include the story of Joshua's long day, and also Psalm 93:1 and 96:10, which say that the earth cannot be moved. (However, Psalm 99:1 says that it can be moved.) For a more complete list of Bible passages which have been taken to support Geocentrism, the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, see the Wikipedia article on Modern Geocentrism.

The Bible was written for people who believed that the earth was the center of the universe. It would have been strange, in the days when it was written, to proclaim that it wasn't, in the Psalms, or in other places. Many of the verses that say that the earth is fixed are poetic, and, hence, should be taken as literal only with great care. The rest of them can be taken to mean that the earth is fixed in its orbit around the sun, or as being written to be compatible with the scientific views of the day. When Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, God knew what Joshua wanted, and, somehow, made it happen. Joshua would never have said "Earth, please stop rotating!" He didn't know that it does rotate. (I don't claim to know what actually happened when Joshua prayed as he did. Something miraculous must have occurred.) Galileo, and, since his time, many other astronomers, have shown, by many kinds of evidence, that the earth is not the center of the solar system (or of the universe). The Catholic church, which, at one time, officially disagreed with Galileo, has come to accept that he was right about this. (See the Wikipedia on Galileo, and also here.)

One of the ways God reveals Himself to us is through nature. (See Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20). Much of what we know about nature is through the findings of science. If scientific findings tell us that the earth is not the center of the solar system, we'd better take that seriously, even if the Bible seems not to agree. In this case, most Christians have come to see that there is not a real disagreement. Unfortunately, not all of them have.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunspots 279

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

Science: Wired has photos of galaxies eating other galaxies.

Wired also reports that extracts from the brains of cockroaches and other insects contain substances that may protect humans against dangerous infections, such as MRSA.

Peter Kreeft's web page "12 Ways to Know God."

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Photosynthesis: What it does

Photosynthesis equations and descriptions

The above is a graphical depiction of two equations for photosynthesis, which, arguably, is the most important chemical process on earth. The importance has to do with the production of food. It is true that photosynthesis also releases Oxygen, but there's plenty of Oxygen already available in the atmosphere -- if photosynthesis stopped today, we would starve soon. We wouldn't run out of Oxygen for hundreds of years.

The second equation is balanced. (In case you are wondering why there is water on both sides, it's because radioactive tracing has shown that this is what actually happens. The six waters on the right are newly made in the process.)

As you can discover, if you don't already know it, photosynthesis is a complex process. Check the link. I just wanted to produce a chart of the basics. You should be able to access larger sizes of the chart by using it as a link.

Thank God for photosynthesis!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One word on giving to the needy

This will be brief. I'll let the Bible speak for itself.

Matthew 6:2
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (ESV)

I have emphasized one word, twice. Enough said.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson

I have previously posted on the first two novels in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. The post on the first one is here, and the post on the second one is here.

I am giving away large chunks of plot in this post, for anyone who tries to avoid that.

I began reading the third novel, The Hero of Ages (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2008) and I had no idea where Sanderson was going with these books. I have now read all three of them twice, and I'm not sure I have a firm grasp of his aim and destination yet. Perhaps that's partly my fault.

But here's the bottom line: the kingdom (or rather, the entire planet) is saved from environmental destruction. The volcanoes that have been pumping ash all over are finally vanquished, the sun can shine through, and green vegetation is restored. But at what cost? Many people die. The central character, Vin, and her husband, Emperor Elend Venture, die, or at any rate are transformed into some other type of being.

In the process of restoring the planet, the characters come to realize that there have been two powerful supernatural beings, Ruin and Preservation, at war. Preservation had bound Ruin to the Well of Ascension, and in going there, and saving Elend, Vin had released Ruin. One of the things that Ruin had been doing was to plant various thoughts, leading to ruin, in people's minds. One of the characters, so far a minor one, Spook, has been hearing what he thought was Kelsier, the hero of the first novel, who died near the end of that book. Preservation, although powerful, gives up his power to fight Ruin, and finally disappears. Atium, one of the magical metals used by the various kinds of practitioners of magic, has the potential to become Ruin's body, but Elend comes to understand that, and Ruin, too, is destroyed.

There is another god, or something, more powerful than Ruin or Preservation, and Elend and Vin become god-like beings themselves, and, although killed, don't really die, because their existence continues.

Another story, which has been going on throughout the three novels, also is resolved. Sazed, the student of all kinds of religion, has never found a religion that is completely satisfactory -- that can be proved logically.
He is told, by the oldest of the kandra, a race of beings derived originally from humans, that:
"Faith isn't about logic . . ." (p. 623)

His knowledge of the old dead religions turns out to be helpful, even necessary, in restoring the planet, and he finally finds faith. At the end, the survivors of the eucatastrophic climax of the novels emerge from hiding and begin to live a new life in a restored world.

Thanks for reading. A complex trilogy, and long enough that it requires considerable investment of time to read, but I found the books entertaining, with excellent characterization.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension is the second book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. For my post on the first of these novels, which includes links to information on the author, and on the trilogy, see here.

As in most trilogies, the second book is the least exciting. The first one usually lets you know about where you are, and who the main characters are. The third, ideally, ties up all the loose ends. In the second, you don't yet know exactly where you are, and you don't know where you are going. You, with the characters, have to sort of slog through an entire volume. That's true of this book, although Sanderson has provided a good read.

As usual, rather than try for a complete re-cap of the plot, I'm mostly going to muse on some themes.

First, I will consider metals, as used in this series. A mistborn person is one who is able to utilize metals, ingested in a suspension, in various ways. A misting is able to use only one of these metals. Sanders provides a "Metals Quick-Reference Chart" at the end of the book, which lists 12 such metals. (Actually, there are two more metals introduced in the third book, and a strong hint that there are two more.) These include elements: iron, tin, zinc, copper, and gold. They include common alloys: steel, pewter, electrum, brass, and bronze. They include two elements, or possibly alloys, which Sanderson made up for this series, namely atium and malatium. Why these? Why not nickel or manganese? Why not silver?

Then there's the question of just how these are utilized. Is there a special organ in the digestive system that somehow oxidizes these metals? The mistborns don't seem to know, and we don't, either. How, except, of course, by magic, could the ingestion of steel make it possible to exert some sort of repulsive force (a Push) on an appropriate metal, and propel yourself rapidly into the sky, or for a block or more horizontally? (And, provided there are more metals to Push on, keep going for miles.) Where does this energy come from? How could the reactions, be they chemical or nuclear, be contained in an otherwise normal body?

Another thing to consider is that there are a lot of different sentient creatures in these books. There are humans. But the humans seem to be divided into nobility and skaa, and, although the two can produce offspring, there seem to be differences. Apparently, only persons with a noble ancestor can become mistings, or mistborn. Then there are the Terris people. Did Sanderson mean for us to associate these with Terra? I don't know. If he didn't, perhaps he should have chosen a different name. The Terris have their own traditions and governance, and seem to be somehow distinguishable on sight. They often serve as stewards to nobles of other groups. They use metals in ways similar to the ways they are used by the mistborn. But their uses are not identical. They use copper to store memories, and mistborn have no such power. I suppose you could call the Terris a distinct race. There are obligators. An obligator is a combination priest, spy, and notary public. There are inquisitors. Inquisitors have steel spikes through their heads at the eye sockets, replacing the eyes. They can detect metals well enough that they don't need eyes. They have the powers of a mistborn. And that's only the humans. There are also kandra. A kandra is able to take the shape of a human (or an animal), and they are such good actors that they can fool other people into believing that they are the person they resemble. There are koloss, ugly human-shaped brutes, who seem to want nothing, save to fight. They have blue colored skin, and can grow to at least twelve feet in height. There are no koloss babies. Where do they come from? There may be mistwraiths, strange creatures floating around in the air, generally at night. Do they really exist, and, if they do, are they intelligent? Benevolent?

Then there are the quotations at the beginning of each chapter. There are a lot of chapters, 59 in Well, as well as 38 in Mistborn, and 82 in The Hero of Ages, the last book. Each chapter has from a sentence to a paragraph, in italics, so it is not confused with the main text, at its beginning. Who is supposed to have written these? When? Why? Did the same person write the quotations in all three books? Are all the quotations in any one of the books from the same source? These issues aren't clarified. After reading the trilogy a second time, I think I know some of the answers. But I'm not sure.

Now to character. Elend Venture is the son of the most important nobleman (other than the Lord Ruler) in Luthadel, the main city. But his interests are academic. He likes to study government, and how it should be operated, so as to benefit the people as much as possible. His father, Straff Venture, is an egotist, but one who knows enough about how to control people that he keeps his army, his servants, and his skaa mistresses under control.

In the first book, Vin disguised herself as a noble woman, and attended balls as a way of gathering information about vulnerabilities among the nobles. She met Elend, who came to balls because it was expected of him, but usually read a book, rather than dancing or socializing. The two of them began to fall in love. In the second book, Elend, as a high noble surviving the chaos following Vin's killing of the Lord Ruler, takes over the kingdom. He wants to be a good ruler, but doesn't always know how. Tindwyl, a Terris woman, shows up, and takes over Elend's training, teaching him how to conduct himself so that he will be respected and paid attention to. Her training is not quite on time, it seems, because the council that Elend set up when he wrote Luthadel's constitution decides to overthrow him, and he feels bound by the constitution he has written. Sanderson's political theory is interesting, but it doesn't get in the way of the action.

The continuing development of Vin, and of Elend, is well done. Sazed, too, continues to develop throughout this book. (Sazed is a Terris eunuch who has taken, as his life's work, the study of the religions that the Lord Ruler stamped out, about a thousand years ago.) Sazed helps Kelsier's crew, including Vin and Elend, who becomes part of the crew after Kelsier's death, and he finds meaning to his life in that, but he is seeking a religion that will give meaning to his life, and he can't find one.

I must write a little about plot, because there are some events at the end of the book that are crucial. The Well of Ascension is a magical entity. Vin opens it. In the process, she releases some sort of spirit being. Elend is injured badly, and it seems that he will die. But another spirit signals to Vin without speaking, and tells her to feed Elend a nugget of metal, found near the well. He becomes fully Mistborn, and begins a healing process.

More can, and probably should, be said, but I will stop here, and attempt to post about the third volume, in the near future.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sunspots 278

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

Science: From an article in The New York Times, discussing the state of research on Alzheimer's: "So far, nothing has been found to prevent or delay this devastating disease . . ."
Wired reports that we may be able to detect oceans on planets in other solar systems, by observing reflections from their surfaces.
Politics: NPR reports on some of the rumors about the recently enacted health care bill.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware mentions programs that make it easier to distinguish between memory devices, like flash drives.

Christianity: From Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength: ". . . craftsmen and skilled artists are worthy role models because they increase the objective amount of good in this world that is worthy of loving."

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ahab and the contest on Mount Carmel

The story of the contest between God and Baal, on Mount Carmel, is one of the most interesting in the Old Testament. It is found in 1 Kings 18. That story makes up part of the oratio, Elijah, by Felix Mendelssohn. (For a video of one part of the oratorio, see here.)

The usual summary of the story tells how hundreds of priests of Baal tried to get their god to set fire to wood on an altar, and failed, but the God of Elijah did respond. It's a good summary. But there's another character that doesn't usually get mentioned, and that is Ahab. The Bible says, in 1 Kings 16:30-33 and 21:25 that he was the worst king of the Northern kingdom, at least up to his time.

But, in spite of his evil ways, he wasn't completely evil, or, perhaps, God mitigated the evil in Ahab's heart. Why do I say that?

1 Kings 18 indicates that, when Elijah proposed a contest between the god of Ahab's wife, Jezebel, and Elijah's God, it was Ahab who summoned the people to Mount Carmel (18:20). (Ahab seems to have followed Jezebel in worshiping Baal.) Chapter 18 also indicates that Ahab was present for this contest. There is no indication that Ahab tried to stop Elijah and the Israelites who were present from killing the false prophets.

1 Kings 20 tells about Ahab's wars with Syria. Ahab at least listened to prophets of God, on two different occasions during that chapter. (He also displeased God at one point.)

I Kings 21 tells the terrible story of the murder of Naboth, engineered by Jezebel, Ahab's wife, so that Ahab could claim Naboth's property. But that story indicates that Ahab repented, sincerely enough that God lessened the punishment. (verses 27-29)

And, lastly, there is 1 Kings 22, which tells another story of a battle against the Syrians. When Micaiah the prophet deliberately gave false information, Ahab reproved him, and told him that he should only speak what God told him to. (verse 16)

Ahab was not a good man himself, and Jezebel apparently led him to do even worse things than he would have done on his own, but there was even some good in Ahab, it appears.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Healing Homiletic by Kathy Black

One of my daughters lent me A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability by Kathy Black (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996). The central thesis of the book is that preaching about many of the familiar stories of the Bible, especially the ones about miraculous healing, can contribute to unfortunate perceptions of the disabled. For example, sin is often compared to blindness, so that being blind may be equated with sinfulness. (Black is deaf, and is ordained herself.)

Black takes the Bible seriously, and analyzes each story of healing that she uses, verse by verse, and in some cases, word by word.

I'm not sure what I would do about this, if I were a preacher, other than to read the book, and consider Black's suggestions on several common texts. I'm currently a Sunday School, and occasional children's church co-leader, and I need to be careful in this area while in those capacities. Her suggestions on how to use Bible stories are rather sparse. For example, in Chapter Four, on Mark 7:31-37, she suggests a number of things not to do in using this story. For one, she warns against assuming that members of the Deaf culture want to hear. Her suggestions as to what to do are just two: Don't reject people because they are different, and be willing to offer healing where there is no faith.

Black's book is also useful in that it points out the most likely explanations for human suffering/disability:
(1) it is punishment for their sin or the sin of their parents, (2) it is a test of their faith and character, (3) it is an opportunity for personal development or for the development of those in relationship to persons with disabilities, (4) it presents an opportunity for the power of God to be made manifest, (5) suffering is redemptive, and (6) the mysterious omnipotence of God simply makes it impossible to know why it is God's will. (p. 23)

None of these explanations are completely satisfactory to us. I guess that they don't need to be.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sunspots 277

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

 NPR tells us that the original Kermit the Frog has been donated to the Smithsonian.

Science: Humans and Neanderthals apparently interbred at one time, according to a report in The Guardian.

An article in the Huffington Post on why "Social Darwinism" should be called something else.

Wired reports that a huge crater on Mars is not round in shape. (Photo included.)

The Arts: An unusual wedding photo, from Flickr.

Image source (public domain)