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Sunday, July 31, 2011

David's prayer concerning the Temple offerings

1 Chronicles 29:10 Therefore David blessed Yahweh before all the assembly; and David said, “You are blessed, Yahweh, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, Yahweh, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty! For all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, Yahweh, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all; and in your hand is power and might; and it is in your hand to make great, and to give strength to all. 13 Now therefore, our God, we thank you, and praise your glorious name. 14 But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. (World English Bible)

David didn't get to build the Temple himself. Solomon was in charge of that. But David did a lot towards the building of the Temple. Somehow, I don't believe I had ever focused on one thing that he did, namely offer a prayer of adoration to God for the ability to give toward God's work. A powerful prayer!

This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post, also related to David and the Temple, is here. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is Intelligent Design falsifiable? Matheson says "no."

Steve Matheson has posted a discussion on the question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) is falsifiable. Most people who have thought about it say that a theory is not a valid scientific theory unless it could be somehow disproved. Matheson makes a good case that ID is not falsifiable. This, as he says, does not prove that ID is not true, but it means that it cannot be taken as a valid scientific theory.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Taxes create jobs!

"Taxes kill jobs" - Speaker of the House John Boehner, at least once a day for the last few weeks. (At least it seems like it.)

That statement is an oversimplification, at best, and tends to be deceptive.

Why is it an oversimplification? How are Speaker Boehner and his staff paid? By the tooth fairy? No. By taxes.* And, of course, they have jobs, supported by US taxpayers.

The Speaker is partly right. Consider a hypothetical state or city where all income, business or personal, was completely taxed, all of it went to the government. Businesses would have little motivation to establish themselves in such an area, and, thus, there would be few or no jobs available. People looking for work wouldn't live there, if they could help it. Even the job of tax collector would be non-existent, because there would be too little tax money coming in to pay for such people. So, in that case, taxes would kill jobs.

However, consider the opposite situation, a state or city where there were no taxes. With no income, government would be unable to provide infrastructure, police and fire protection, a justice system, schools and hospitals, or regulatory apparatus, and, again, there would be few businesses, or people, who would want to locate in such a place. So no taxes would also kill jobs. A situation where there are tax revenues sufficient for the government to do its job would make job creation possible, rather than preventing job creation. So the Speaker is only partly right, and seriously wrong.

The Federal Aviation Administration has recently had to furlough about 70,000 workers, mostly construction workers, because Congress can't agree on funding the agency.

The ideal, then, must be somewhere between 100% and zero taxation. What rate is ideal? That's certainly a matter for legitimate debate, but to say that taxes kill jobs is not stating the full truth. Taxes can help create jobs.

There's another reason why taxes don't kill, but can create jobs. Private businesses do not generally engage in research into new areas of science. For example, most of the initial development of the laser, both theoretical and initial construction and assembly, was done by scientists in academic, or military laboratories, funded by taxes. Without the laser, CDs, DVDs, computer hard disks, and many other devices that we now take for granted, all of them requiring the employment of skilled labor to produce and repair, and all of them providing employment for salespeople, would not be possible. Although some fundamental research and development is carried out in industry labs, much of it is not, and it is usually the most radical research that is carried out in academic labs, and the most radical research often makes whole new categories of employment possible. Countries, or local areas, that develop these new categories will probably become more competitive. They will be adding new jobs. Much of our present position as the world's largest economy has been possible because of research and development done in the past, much of it funded by tax money.

The Internet, exploration of the solar system, large telescopes and similar devices, high-energy physics, and the human genome project, to name a few rather spectacular items, were developed largely with money from governments, that is, from tax money. At least the first of these has led to a great many jobs, and the others have or probably will also do so. To be sure, there have been major research endeavors funded privately, such as PARC, the Carnegie Laboratories, and Bell labs.

The United States didn't become an economic powerhouse by lowering taxes. It became so, at least partly, because of costly efforts, governmental or private, to carry out and implement scientific research.

Thanks for reading. Pay your taxes.

*I have been reminded that governments can get revenue in other ways than through taxes, such as through usage fees (like sewage fees, or license fees). But I'm describing them all as taxes, as the politicians in Washington generally do.

On August 1, 2011, I'm adding the following:
There are frequent assertions as to the effect of tax policy on job creation, by politicians of various persuasions. I saw part of a debate on this matter between Senators Durbin and McCain on this issue yesterday, on the Senate floor. My take is that there are too many variables. So many, in fact, that it's impossible to know for sure, for example, whether the so-called Bush tax cuts helped to create jobs, or didn't. Connection of tax policy to jobs has never been done as a controlled experiment, with a single independent variable (tax rate, or some other tweaking of tax regulations), accompanying the measurement of the dependent variable (number of jobs). It is impossible to perform such an experiment, with only one variable. Variables include fluctuations in world markets, changes in the number of people seeking employment, the prices of raw materials that we depend on (such as oil), tariffs on our goods, the values of other currencies and ours, and other variables. So politicians pretty much draw whatever conclusion they want from the data.

*  *  *  *  *

On December 20, 2011, I came across a posting by Politifact, a non-partisan entity, that discusses the matter of taxes and small businesses. It's a complicated subject, as they point out, but increasing taxes on the wealthiest persons would have much less impact on small businesses than Speaker Boehner has said.

*  *  *  *  *

November 10, 2012: I should have known about the Wikipedia article on the Laffer curve, which repeats much of what I said above, more authoritatively, and also says, that an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office studied the probable effects of cutting taxes: [In the] paper's most generous estimated growth scenario, only 28% of the projected lost revenue from the lower tax rate would be recouped over a 10-year period after a 10% across-the-board reduction in all individual income tax rates. In other words, deficits would increase by nearly the same amount as the tax cut in the first five years, with limited feedback revenue thereafter.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bible reading related to controlling anger

The Summer, 2011, issue of the American Bible Society Record has a question and answer column, with answers given by a Dr. Liana Lupas. One of the questions was a request for bible reading for someone who has trouble controlling anger. Dr. Lupas' response was to give the following scripture references. I have used the public domain World English Bible, and given the texts of all of these passages below:

Psalm 37:7 Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for him.
Don’t fret because of him who prospers in his way,
because of the man who makes wicked plots happen.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath.
Don’t fret, it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for Yahweh shall inherit the land. 

Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for Yahweh.
He turned to me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of a horrible pit,
out of the miry clay.
He set my feet on a rock,
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God.
Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Yahweh.
4 Blessed is the man who makes Yahweh his trust,
and doesn’t respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5 Many, Yahweh, my God, are the wonderful works which you have done,
and your thoughts which are toward us. 

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouth of fools gush out folly.
3 Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but deceit in it crushes the spirit. 

Proverbs 25:28 Like a city that is broken down and without walls
is a man whose spirit is without restraint.

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause* shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca§!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.**
23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him on the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny.
*"without a cause" may not have been in the original.
§or "Fool!"
**or hell.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
(The last verse should be taken in context. The context is that we love those who have harmed us -- we can be as perfect as God in our attitude towards them, with God's help.)

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. 19 Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 neither give place to the devil. . . . 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.

James 1:19 So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to the American Bible Society and to Lupas.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sunspots 324

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

Science: An interesting Wired article on facial recognition.

Wired also has a report indicating that we are sometimes better off to get information that is vague, than to have received the same information in precise detail.

Politics: National Pubic Radio reports on a thorough study of school discipline in Texas. A sobering report.

Computing: From Gizmo's Freeware, a list of the best free PC games.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Unity of the Church, under Her Lord

Oneness of the Church Poster

I did this poster, in an attempt to illustrate Ephesians 4:4-6. I hope that it may be of use to someone. The graphic, itself, should serve as a link to a larger version.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Can homosexuality be genetic, and selected for?

The title of this post is too simple-minded, but I didn't see any way to create a title that more accurately reflected the post, itself.

Can homosexual tendency be at least partly genetic? It would be amazing if it weren't. Most, or all, important behavioral traits have some genetic components, so it would be expected that homosexuality would also have such. The Wikipedia puts it this way "No simple, single cause for sexual orientation has been conclusively demonstrated, but research suggests that it is by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences . . ."

If homosexuality is influenced by genetic factors, then why aren't those genes selected against, and why haven't they been eliminated from the population? A recent post by Quintessence of Dust answers that question, and relates it to Cystic Fibrosis, which, in addition to making people very sick, usually renders them unable to have biological children. CF is inherited, and, of course, it has not been removed from the human population by selection. Heterozygote advantage is well known, and has been, in some genetic systems, like sickle-cell anemia, for decades. Sickle-cell anemia remains in populations in spite of the severity of the homozygous recessive condition. The inheritance of sexual orientation is apparently much more complex than that of CF or sickle cell anemia, but similar mechanisms may be active in maintaining genes for homosexual behavior in the human population.

In sum, genetic causation of homosexuality is possible, even assuming that homosexuals never had offspring to pass on their genes (which is an unrealistic assumption).

A couple of related matters: 1) Homosexual-type behavior has been observed in many animal species.

2) In this post, one of mine that has been most frequently read, I attempt to discuss the matter of homosexuality in general, as related to what the Bible says.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: David doesn't get what he wants

1 Chronicles 17:1  It happened, when David lived in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of Yahweh is under curtains.”
2  Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart; for God is with you.”
3  It happened the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, 4  “Go and tell David my servant, ‘Thus says Yahweh, “You shall not build me a house to dwell in; 5  for I have not lived in a house since the day that I brought up Israel, to this day, but have gone from tent to tent, and from one tent to another. 6  In all places in which I have walked with all Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”’
7  “Now therefore, you shall tell my servant David, ‘Thus says Yahweh of Armies, “I took you from the sheep pen, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 8  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you. I will make you a name, like the name of the great ones who are in the earth. 9  I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness waste them any more, as at the first, 10  and from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel; and I will subdue all your enemies. Moreover I tell you that Yahweh will build you a house. 11  It shall happen, when your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12  He shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13  I will be his father, and he shall be my son. I will not take my loving kindness away from him, as I took it from him that was before you; 14  but I will settle him in my house and in my kingdom forever. His throne shall be established forever.”’” 15  According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.
16  Then David the king went in, and sat before Yahweh; and he said, “Who am I, Yahweh God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 17  This was a small thing in your eyes, God; but you have spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have respected me according to the estate of a man of high degree, Yahweh God. 18  What can David say yet more to you concerning the honor which is done to your servant? For you know your servant. 19  Yahweh, for your servant’s sake, and according to your own heart, you have worked all this greatness, to make known all these great things. 20  Yahweh, there is none like you, neither is there any God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 21  What one nation in the earth is like your people Israel, whom God went to redeem to himself for a people, to make you a name by great and awesome things, in driving out nations from before your people, whom you redeem out of Egypt? 22  For your people Israel you made your own people forever; and you, Yahweh, became their God. 23  Now, Yahweh, let the word that you have spoken concerning your servant, and concerning his house, be established forever, and do as you have spoken. 24  Let your name be established and magnified forever, saying, ‘Yahweh of Armies is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel. The house of David your servant is established before you.’ 25  For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build him a house. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you. 26  Now, Yahweh, you are God, and have promised this good thing to your servant. 27  Now it has pleased you to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you; for you, Yahweh, have blessed, and it is blessed forever.” (World English Bible, public domain)

David wanted to do something to honor God. But God had other plans. Better plans. May this be the story of my life, and yours -- we want to honor God, but God has other, and even better, plans.

Thanks for reading. This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post in the series is here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grace, teacher

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,12 instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; (World English Bible, public domain).

I was reading this passage in the New International Version, in preparation for my Sunday School class, when it hit me that, according to this passage, Grace is not simply some mushy goody stuff, but is also a teacher! I checked several other translations, and found that, except for the NLT, they read as if Grace, itself, teaches us.

I shouldn't have been surprised by this. For one thing, I had often sung:

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd! John Newton, Amazing Grace (public domain).

So, Grace, God's gift to us through Christ, is a teacher.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunspots 323

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

Science: Fox News reports on a nasty weed that's increasing its range.

And, speaking of weeds, the wide use of "Roundup Ready" crops, and spraying them generously with Roundup, has led (surprise!) to selection for Roundup resistant weeds, according to Wired.

Politics: (or something) NPR reports that adding more lanes, and widening roads, leads to more traffic.

Computing: How green is Cloud Computing? Not as green as it ought to be, according to Greenpeace. Twitter is particularly non-green.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Debt and taxes

I don't have the answers for all that's going on (or not) with the Congress and the President right now. But I think I know some Biblical principles.

1) Pay your debts. And, not only should they be paid, but paid when the creditor is expecting to receive them. The Golden Rule relates to that. So does a specific command in the Bible. (Leviticus 19:13b The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.) It is possible that failing to raise the debt ceiling will not result in economic disaster, although most economists say that it would. I don't know. But failing to raise the debt ceiling, which, unfortunately (see principle 2) is necessary in order to pay our obligations, would be a moral disaster.

2) Don't take on debts that you shouldn't. I don't have a specific verse in mind for this, but I think it's a sound principle, supported by scripture.

If we hadn't had trouble with principle 2, we wouldn't be worrying about principle 1, and, it seems to me, we need to do something about cutting down on our spending now. We should have done it before, but now is the best time we have. Let's do it. The deficit also needs to be addressed. We are spending too much. Let's do something about it, for now and for the future.

3) Don't deceive others. Speaker Boehner, and others, have said "taxes kill jobs." Perhaps that was just a sound bite, and taken out of context, but, as it stands, that's deceit, and surely the Speaker knows it. (He's not the only deceiver in politics, of course.) There are two obvious extremes on taxes. All income, of business or individuals, could be taken. Or none of it could be. In the first instance, there would be little incentive to work, or to develop business which might hire others. In that sense, the Speaker is right. But the second instance also would have terrible consequences. What legitimate business would want to establish in a location where there is no police or fire protection, no system of justice, no military protection, where infrastructure is not repaired or developed, where there are no schools or hospitals? What family would want to locate there, in the 21st Century? Taxes pay for these things, and, thus, some taxes are necessary. And, taxes do create some jobs, like, say, firemen or soldiers, or, for that matter, the job of Speaker of the House! Having these things, paid for by taxes, means that jobs may be created by the private sector, too. Too many taxes can kill jobs. So can not enough taxes.

Calling some things taxes is also deceptive. How a reasonable person can say that taking away subsidies for the production of ethanol from corn is a tax escapes me. The same thing goes for taking away special accounting treatment for hedge fund managers, or taking away tax breaks for oil companies.

Claiming that there would be no consequences for not paying our debts on time is also deceptive, because there would be moral consequences. (So, of course, would claiming worse consequences than we know to be true.)

4) Don't be selfish. Politicians should have the good of the country, not re-election, in mind. Seniors (I'm one of them) should have the good of the country, not expectation of social security income rising faster than inflation, in mind. Businesses should not be greedy. Neither should labor unions, and workers in general.

I am not particularly fussing at Speaker Boehner, just using him as an example. Apparently he has been making a good-faith effort to get us out of this current mess.

God help us all!

*   *   *   *    *

On July 22, 2011, I added the next to last paragraph, and made some additional changes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Romans 1

In his letters to churches, Paul often has words like this, near the beginning of the message:

Romans 1:7b Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. (World English Bible)

The request that God send grace and peace is supplication, and verse 8 is thanksgiving. There is no confession or adoration, two other types of prayer, in this part of Romans 1. I don't use those types of prayer enough. (I'm not saying that Paul didn't use them enough!)

Grace and peace to you, whoever may read this, and I thank God for you, whoever you might be.

Thanks for reading. This is one in a series of posts on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter"

There's a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter." It's by an on-line editor for Christianity Today.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Baby parrots have unique "names" which function like human names

I was amazed to read some reports on research by a Karl Berg, and his group, from Cornell University, that indicates that baby parrots are given names by their parents, and modify these slightly, so that each parrot has a unique sound sequence that identifies the animal, much like "John Jones, Jr." might identify a human individual.

Here is the report in Science Now, and here in Nature News blog. The reports are readable, and interesting, and both of them include a short video. Science and Nature are the two most important scientific periodicals in English.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sunspots 322

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

Science: Wired reports on a small water insect that makes a very loud noise -- by rubbing its penis against the abdomen.

Politics: (or something) National Public Radio reports that a seemingly ordinary house in Wyoming is the legal address of about 2,000 shell companies.

Henry Neufeld on why he would have difficulty praying at a governmental function.

Computing: You can put jigsaw puzzles together on-line, free.

Gizmo's Freeware highlights two sandbox games -- games with no set rules. You can just do what you want with the game objects. 

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thurber, Bunyan, Tolkien and MacDonald on odors

From The White Deer, by James Thurber (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945):
You'll know the woods when you are still a long way off by virtue of a fragrance you can never quite forget and never quite remember. (3)

From all the trees a sticky thickish liquid dripped and oozed and gave or rather lent the air a heavy sweetish fragrance, for the sweetish heavy fragrance died and rose and died again and rose and died and rose again. (50)

Yet hints come to me from the realm unknown;
Airs drift across the twilight border land,
Odoured with life; and as from some far strand
Sea-murmured, whispers to my heart are blown
That fill me with a joy I cannot speak,
Yea, from whose shadow words drop faint and weak:
Thee, God, I shadow in that region grand.
A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, by George MacDonald (public domain, entry for May 29.)

Ned's eyes were white with wonder. "May I look at it, Dad?" he said. He took it with careful fingers and peered into the flowers. "The work is a marvel!" he said. "And, Dad, there is a scent in the bells: a scent that reminds me of, reminds me, well, of something I've forgotten." J. R. R. Tolkien, Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham (New York: Ballantine, 1972), p. 49. Smith, the Dad, has brought home a marvelous flowering head from fairyland.

Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter from the Land Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The Celestial City is full in my view. Its glories have been upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the River of Death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. Included in the on-line version, here, of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (public domain). This was not written by Bunyan, but in a letter from a Dr. Payson, near his death.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Activity of the Holy Spirit, according to John 14-16

In John, chapters 14, 15, 16, Jesus described the activity of the promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Using the World English Bible, which is public domain, here is what Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would do:

“[live] with you, and will be in you.” 14:16
“teach you all things” 14:26
“remind you of all that I [Jesus] said to you” 14:26
“testify about me [Jesus]” 15:25
convict the world about sin . . . because they don’t believe in me” 16:8-9
“convict the world . . . about righteousness, because I am going to my Father, and you won’t see me any more” 16:8, 10
“convict the world . . . about judgment . . . because the prince of this world has been judged.” 16:8, 11
guide you into all truth” 16:13
“declare to you things that are coming” 16:13
“glorify me [Jesus] 16:14

Thanks for reading. Read John.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Psalm 4

Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness.
Give me relief from my distress.
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. (World English Bible, public domain)

This, I believe, is the first prayer in the Psalms. It is one all of us could pray, sometimes, or often.

This post is part of a series on prayers in the Bible. For the previous post, see here. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 08, 2011

A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists, by David G. Myers

I recently read A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good, and Faith Isn't Evil, by David G. Myers. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008). Myers is a psychologist.

I have read a few books by atheists, and apparently Myers has, too. I don't know if most atheists have bothered to read good books by Christians. I doubt if many, or even any, have read Myers. From my perspective, that's unfortunate. Myers, from my perspective, understands atheism well, and although he makes no arguments that demolish such a point of view completely, he does show that intelligent, bible-believing Christianity, which is respectful of science, can hold its own in a discussion with atheism.

Myers quotes liberally from Richard Dawkins. He discusses some of the misconceptions of Christianity held by atheists, or -- let's be fair -- some of the eccentricities of some Christians. To Myers, the Bible does not require that Christians deny descent of organisms with modification, that they be prejudiced against people of other faiths, that they believe that the soul is separate from the body, or, even, that they oppose same-sex unions, provided that these relationships are between individuals who have a long-term exclusive commitment to each other. Some Christians are going to disagree with Myers on some things, I am sure. I'm not sure that I agree on the last point myself. (He says, correctly, that the Bible doesn't deal with such relationships when it mentions homosexuality, but it doesn't necessarily follow that such relationships are approved by God.) But most of Myers' ideas should be no problem for most educated Christians.

His main thrust is that a lot of atheistic attacks are on positions that Christians don't hold, or that they don't need to hold. I believe that he is correct in that.

I found the book to be well written, and easy to read. (It's only 152 pages long, and that includes an index and notes.) I recommend it to any Christian who is dealing with atheism. I also recommend it to any atheists who may read this.

Thanks for reading. I have posted previously on some of the writing of Richard Dawkins. Here's one such post.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I try to read all of the Newbery Award winners. The most recent of these enjoyable trips into reading was When  You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. (There is a Wikipedia article on the book. You can read that article for more on the plot of the book.)

One aspect of the book is time travel plays a central role. The main characters don't engage in it, and the book does not attempt to give much of a description of how time travel works, or what a time traveler might experience, but without one character, who does do time travel, the plot would have fallen apart.

Is time travel possible? We don't know, according to the Wikipedia article on the subject. Even if it is possible, would a human being be able to experience it? If so, would a human be able to return? Obviously, we don't know the answers to those questions, either.

Why the fascination with Time Travel? (Not everyone is fascinated by it, of course, but clearly some writers of fiction, and their readers, are. The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells, The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis, a series of award-winning books by Connie Willis, and The Time Traveler's Wife come to mind.) I suppose that one reason is that we would like to know what really happened in the past. For example, does Exodus describe the travels of the Israelites realistically? When did humans enter North America, and what were they like? Was Franklin Roosevelt surprised by Pearl Harbor? What were dinosaurs really like? What happened during the last hours of Julius Caesar? Most people probably have questions about their family, or their own early life, that aren't considered in history books, or covered by contemporary news media. Another reason is that most of us have experienced occasions where, it would seem, we might have acted differently than we did, and, we guess, we and others might now be better off if we had.

Lastly, there is a moral question, and Stead brings it up, although she doesn't make a big deal out of it. Should we go back in time to make things right, or perhaps to unselfishly protect someone else, even at the cost of our own lives?

Interesting questions. I don't have much in the way of answers. However, one way of looking at the life of Christ is that He came into time, from some sort of existence outside of time, to unselfishly make all of our protection possible. And it cost Him something to do that.

Finally, I note that Stead was influenced by Madeleine L'Engle's work, and especially by A Wrinkle in Time. Wrinkle is referred to in the book.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sunspots 321

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

Humor: (or something) A cake in the form of a green dragon, with wings, horns, scales, and flames coming out of its mouth.

Science: Wired reports that seeing the photo of a loved one can make some pain diminish.

Listen to a video of a distant star, and the noises it emits.

Sports: Wired reports on the advantage of a superstar -- Tiger Woods in his prime, for example. Other competitors did worse when a superstar was in the competition.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Paul and Silas, and the jailer

Acts 16:25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were loosened. 27 The jailer, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here!”

29 He called for lights and sprang in, and, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, 30 and brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.

33 He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. 34 He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God. (World English Bible)

The events described above took place after Paul and Silas had been unjustly thrown into jail. Apparently, the stocks were not comfortable, and they were praying and singing. What about? We don't know. Perhaps they were praying for release from prison, or that they could sleep. But their prayer was powerfully answered -- they were released the next morning, released from the stocks right away, but, probably, didn't get any sleep.

The jailer had a simple prayer. Was he praying to be saved from sin? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Maybe he was praying to be saved from the earthquake, or from losing his job, or that his life would be spared. But Paul and Silas knew what the man really needed, and his prayer for salvation was answered.

God doesn't always answer spectacularly, or right away. But He did on this occasion.

Thanks for reading. This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post in the series is here.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Ethics of Global Climate Change, edited by Denis G. Arnold

I recently read The Ethics of Global Climate Change, edited by Denis G. Arnold (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). I have a few thoughts on the book.

First, the authors all accept that the global climate is changing, and that humans are playing a significant role in such change. Unfortunately, some of our political leaders, or potential leaders, don't seem to believe this. The editor compares the fossil fuel industry's tactics on obfuscating the reality of climate change to the tobacco industry's campaign to discredit the link between smoking and cancer. Although adding Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere is not the only thing we do that plays a role in climate change, it is probably the most important, and the authors didn't consider other actions in any depth.

Second, the topic given the most space in the book is the ethics of what happens to future generations as a result of decisions made, or not made, in the present. Most likely, our descendants will suffer in significant ways because of current inaction, or slow action, on our part.

Third, there seems to be general agreement, among people thinking about the issues, that regulating what countries do is not the only important thing that should be done. There are individuals, in all countries, who have a disproportionate effect on future climate, because of their life style is contributing more Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere than most people. (There are also individuals in all countries, including the US, such as, I suppose, the Amish, and homeless people, who are making little such contribution.) So regulating the United States, and not, say, Bangladesh, may mean that a few of the inhabitants of Bangladesh will be affecting the atmosphere considerably more than the average citizen of the US, but their actions will remain unregulated.

Fourth, there was little discussion of the effect of global climate change on non-human organisms, apparently because there has been little study of the issues.

I close with a quotation from the book: "Every state is a 'failed state' as far as climate is concerned." Henry Shue, "Human rights, climate change, and the trillionth ton," pp. 292-314. Quote is from p. 297.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Republican Presidential Candidates on Global Climate Change

According to this source, Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John Huntsman believe that the climate is changing globally, and that humans are influencing that. The same source indicates that candidates Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum do not believe either of these statements. I do not know the position, if one has been taken, of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and any other Republican candidates for President. (During the 2008 campaign, Sarah Palin argued that there is no Global Climate Change, even though the Republican platform acknowledged it.)

It's easy to find one thing Bachmann has said (see video), namely, that Carbon Dioxide is a naturally-occurring gas that plants benefit from, with the implication that we don't need to worry about it. Bachmann either didn't know, or chose not to tell, the whole story. Water is also a naturally occurring substance that we have to have to sustain life. But that doesn't mean that we can't get too much of it. Just try breathing water! Carbon Dioxide is a natural gas, and one that plants need for photosynthesis, but it is also a greenhouse gas -- one that is transparent to light coming in from the sun, but not so transparent to heat radiated from the earth.

In the same speech, Bachmann missed the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere by a factor of about 100-fold, which means that her dismissal of the addition of Carbon Dioxide due to human activity was also off by about 100 times.

It is unfortunate that anyone seeking high office is either misinformed, or resorts to deception.  Mrs. Bachmann, however, doesn't seem to have changed her views on this subject.

Global Climate Change is by no means the only important issue in the upcoming election, but it is an important one, and at least some of the Republican candidates seem to be either uninformed about it, or engaging in deliberate deception. It is also true that positions on the matter may change, or develop over time.

Thanks for reading.