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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sunspots 407

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

Humor: (or something) The BBC reports that many Swedish babies and toddlers are put outside for their mid-day naps, even in the winter.

Science:  National Public Radio reports that dolphins can, and do, use names to identify each other.

Wired tells us that at least some of the seemingly impossible things that Spider-Man does can be done, or are in development.

Sports: This is going way too far! The University of Alabama has offered an 8th grader a football scholarship, according to Sports Illustrated.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware has a list of the best apps for Windows 8 (computers or tablets).

Gizmo's also has an article on two web sites designed to help you delete on-line accounts (Facebook, etc.) quickly.

Christianity: A web page on the plant described in the parable of the mustard seed, found in Mark 4:30-32.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Prayer and a Definite Religious Standard, part 6

A Scriptural standard of religion includes a clear religious experience. Religion is nothing if not experimental. Religion appeals to the inner consciousness. It is an experience if anything at all, and an experience in addition to a religious life. There is the internal part of religion as well as the external. Not only are we to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” but “it is God that worketh in us to will and do of His good pleasure.” There is a “good work in you,” as well as a life outside to be lived. The new birth is a definite Christian experience, proved by infallible marks, appealing to the inner consciousness. The witness of the Spirit is not an indefinite, vague something, but is a definite, clear inward assurance given by the Holy Spirit that we are the children of God. In fact everything belonging to religious experience is clear and definite, bringing conscious joy, peace and love. And this is the Divine standard of religion, a standard attained by earnest, constant prayer, and a religious experience kept alive and enlarged by the same means of prayer.

An end to be gained, to which effort is to be directed, is important in every pursuit in order to give unity, energy and steadiness to it. In the Christian life, such an end is all important. Without a high standard before us to be gained, for which we are earnestly seeking, lassitude will unnerve effort, and past experience will taint or exhale into mere sentiment, or be hardened into cold, loveless principle.

We must go on. “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” The present ground we occupy must be held by making advances, and all the future must be covered and brightened by it. In religion, we must not only go on. We  must know where we are going to. This is all important. It is essential that in going on in religious experience, we have something definite in view, and strike out for that one point. To ever go on and not to know to which place we are going, is altogether too vague and indefinite, and is like a man who starts out on a journey and does not have any destination in view. It is important that we lose not sight of the starting point in a religious life, and that we measure the steps already trod. But it is likewise necessary that the end be kept in view and that the steps necessary to reach the standard be always in the eye.

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Morning-after pills may not cause abortion (in any sense)

Morning-after contraceptive pills may prevent pregnancy after intercourse, from rape or other circumstances.

Some people claim that these pills lead to an abortion. That's not true, unless loss of a fertilized egg or non-implanted embryo is part of the definition of an abortion, which it shouldn't be. However, to some people, loss of a fertilized egg, or a non-implanted embryo is loss of human life, and deliberately acting so as to cause such losses is equivalent to murder, so, whether such a loss is called an abortion or not doesn't matter to them.

A recent report by National Public Radio indicates that at least some morning-after pills do not cause such losses. A study shows that "Women who took the drug after ovulation got pregnant at the same rate as those who took nothing at all," which is strong evidence that the drug is not preventing implantation. If it were, such women would be expected to have gotten pregnant less often. Not only that, but Italy, where laws are often strongly influenced by Catholic belief, now allows one morning-after pill, and the Catholic bishops of Germany have approved the use of such medications for rape victims. According to Fox News, these bishops consulted with the Vatican before giving such approval.

So how do these medications work? Apparently, they prevent ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary. Unless you want to call that abortion, or murder, the use of such pills, at least in some cases, should not violate most people's consciences.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Letting private insurance companies run Medicaid and Medicare: Arizona's good experience

I confess that I have had grave doubts about turning our nation's healthcare "system" completely over to private companies. My Medicare works well for me, and seems to be inexpensive to run, compared to the high salaries and bloated bureaucracy of some private insurance companies, and their desire to turn a profit, no matter what, as their primary reason for existence, rather than patient care being primary. (I know -- Medicare expenses have to be brought more under control. But the increasing expenses aren't because it's a government-run program. They are because more and more people are becoming eligible for Medicare, and living longer while on it.)

National Public Radio recently reported on Arizona's experience. Based on this report, it seems that it is possible for private insurance companies, if sensibly regulated by state government, to do a better job of caring for people, and at less expense, than if the state or national government runs them. Great! I repeat -- there has to be sensible and careful regulation by the government, or we'll be back to faceless insurance bureaucrats arbitrarily turning down requests for coverage. Poorer care, at more expense.

I hope the Arizona plan can be implemented more widely, and well.

Thanks for reading. Read (or listen to) the NPR report. I have previously posted some thoughts on healthcare in the US, before the adoption of "Obamacare." A good deal of that post is still relevant, especially the part that indicates that we in the US do not have the best medical care in the world, although politicians of both parties claim that we do.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Among Others by Jo Walton

You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic. That's because it doesn't happen the way it does in books. It makes those chains of coincidence. That's what it is. It's like if you snapped your fingers and produced a rose but it was because someone on an aeroplane had dropped a rose at just the right time for it to land in your hand. There was a real person and a real aeroplane and a real rose, but that doesn't mean the reason you have the rose isn't because you did the magic. Jo Walton, Among Others. (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2010, p. 40.)

I recently read Among Others by Jo Walton. The book won several important awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and British Fantasy awards, and was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award.

The book consists entirely of the diary of Morwenna Phelps, also known as Morwenna Markova, during the period from September 1979 through February 1980, plus an initial entry from 1975. She is a teenager, in a boarding school. She has been in a terrible accident that took the life of her twin sister, Morganna, and left her with one bad leg, so bad that she isn't required to participate in sports at the school. That's all right with her, because she is a voracious reader, mostly of fantastic literature. I didn't count, but there must have been a few hundred of such books mentioned, mostly read by Morwenna. She gives her opinions of them, and occasionally discusses them with a book club, or with her father. Many of these books are well known even today, and some of the others should be, although they aren't. I suspect that this parading of the history of science-fiction/fantasy, throughout the book, was one of the reasons for the awards that it won. It's a good book, though, lest there be any doubt.
It's a quiet book, and you won't find any armies marching, swordplay, space travel, or desperate wizards going to great lengths to cast spells. The quotation at the beginning of this post describes how magic works in Walton's sub-creation. It works quietly, in the background, as it were. I won't give away any more of the plot than is necessary to discuss a couple of matters. If you are interested in the plot, I recommend these reviews: This review says that Walton's description of magic, which takes the quotation above as its theme, is the most important aspect of the book. This one says that perhaps none of the magic, nor even the accident and the dead twin, are real, but we have a case of an unreliable narrator. This one, and others, indicate that the book is partly biographical. The location and time correspond to Walton's own life. Walton was, and is, somewhat crippled, and read fantastic literature as a teenager.

The first matter to discuss is fairies. Morwenna is able to see, and communicate, with fairies, mostly Welsh fairies. Such fairies are unlike most descriptions of these folk. They come in various sizes and shapes, some of them being not obviously humanoid at all. They can communicate a little, but aren't good with words, and don't like to talk to people. Most people can't see them.

The second matter is this: the book is a coming of age novel. It isn't much of a distortion to say that it's also about Morwenna's search for God. I quote:

[Humphrey] Carpenter says in the Inklings book that [C. S.] Lewis meant Aslan to be Jesus. I can sort of see it, but all the same it feels like a betrayal. It feels like allegory. No wonder Tolkien was cross. . . . Sometimes I'm so stupid -- but Aslan was always so much himself. I don't know what I think about Jesus, but I know what I think about Aslan. (page 129. Tolkien, though a great friend of Lewis for much of their lives, was not pleased with the Narnia books.)

and

Dear God, if you are there and care and can bless people, please bless Alison Carroll with your very best blessing. (page 212. Alison Carroll is her school librarian. Libraries are very important to Morwenna, and Ms. Carroll and another librarian went out of their way to do good things for Morwenna.)

There are several other indications that she is searching for meaning in life, and hoping to find it, somehow, in God. She doesn't exactly do so, though.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read an ambiguous book about magic, coming of age, and searching for God, Among Others is for you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sunspots 406

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


(This is not humor, but I don't have a category for it.) CNN reports that there are quite a few fires on cruise ships, and that workers on cruise ships may work long hours for low pay.

Sports: Dean Smith, legendary North Carolina men's basketball coach, is losing his memory.

Sports Illustrated has posted a gallery of 100 photos of Michael Jordan, who played for Smith, and in the NBA. Jordan turns 50 this year, and is arguably the best basketball player of all time.

The Arts: Rebecca Luella Miller has written a fine piece on 21st Century idolatry. She is particularly interested in idol worship of characters such as Harry Potter, Frodo, Katniss, and whoever is in the Twilight books and movies (she knows, but I'm not sure). As she points out, one reason for idolizing fictional characters is that we know that Frodo is never going to be caught in adultery, or get so old that he can't sing or sink a putt. Idolized humans, even Christian ones, all too often disappoint us.

Christianity: Rebecca Luella Miller also has some serious thoughts about reading fiction as a discipline, not as entertainment, or at least not just as entertainment.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What is a Christian Novel?

A few years ago, during an attack of hubris, I attempted to define Christian novels. It’s a difficult thing to do, to say the least. I now believe that a description makes more sense than a definition. But a description is not much easier than a definition.

Im avoiding two fundamental issues, namely what a novel is, or what Christianity is.

Heres my description. A Christian novel should include three things. First, some sort of important choice between good and evil. Second, there should also be evidence that a character has hope, beyond despair. Third, such a work should also contain at least one of the following, as a significant part of the plot, or the theme, or as an attribute of an important character: 1) A Christ-figure 2) Belief in important orthodox Christian doctrine, on the part of a narrator or character 3) Practicing prayer to a monotheistic divine being 4) Having a relationship with such a monotheistic divine being in other significant ways, including receiving guidance from him, or being placed in his presence. (For more discussion of these points, see the post indicated in the first sentence.)

This is a broader description than some have proposed. Angela Hunt put forth a simpler one, with three characteristics, namely that the story should illustrate some aspect of Christian faith, that the writing should avoid obscenity and profanity (she didnt define these) and that it should offer hope. She was writing about what she has called faith fiction which is fiction aimed mainly at a female evangelical and fundamentalist Christian audience. Hunt has written a lot of that herself. Hunt writes Im sure youre waiting for me to say there must be a conversion scene, a moral, a sermon, prayer, the name of Jesus, Christian protagonists, angels, or something else, but thats it.” Most faith fiction does involve a conversion, and some of the other aspects that Hunt mentions, but which aren't, for her, requirements. I think most faith fiction also includes a marriage, or points toward a forthcoming marriage. Like other types of fiction, faith fiction can be too formulaic. I personally prefer not to read most such books.

I would agree with Hunt on most matters, and I think our descriptions overlap a great deal. I prefer not to read books with lots of profanity or obscenity in them, but I believe it would be possible to write a thoroughly Christian work, meeting my description, which included such language. I think shes right about hope, although it doesnt seem to me that it would have to be realized within the novel, just a driving force for the characters. I thank her for mentioning hope as a critical component. I wouldn’t have included it if I hadn't read her post.

My own interest is in what I call fantastic literature. I cannot recall reading any award-winning fantasy or science fiction works which had language that turned me off. Some of the best, and mainstream works of fantastic literature, such as those of Connie Willis, meet, or come close to meeting, the description above. Certainly, not all such novels meet that description.

Could a non-Christian write a book that meets my description, or Hunts? I suppose so. Such an author probably wouldn't.

Let me analyze three specific cases. The Narnia books, by C. S. Lewis, match the description. Aslan is a Christ-figure, dying for the sin of someone else. Characters have a relationship with Aslan. The children sometimes pray to Aslan. There are moral choices, lots of them. Perhaps the most important Christian doctrine, the Atonement, is portrayed directly, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is no wonder that the series is sometimes described as being too preachy.

Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings trilogy is not so obvious as the Narnia books. There are moral choices, such as Galadriels decision not to take the ring from Frodo, Denethors decision to put his own judgment above Gandalfs, and Sarumans decision to advance himself, rather than trying to defeat Sauron, all choices between good and evil. Gandalf dies in Moria, and returns to life, which is part of being a Christ-figure. No one seems to pray. No one seems to have a relationship with a high deity or deities, and the books dont give a clear picture of monotheism. As to belief in an orthodox Christian doctrine, the only one I can come up with is forgiveness and/or mercy. Sam, Frodo and Bilbo were all merciful toward Gollum. Boromir sought forgiveness for trying to take the ring from Frodo. There is hope, throughout the book. The books do meet the description, although not as obviously as the Narnia books.

As much as I like the work of Ursula K. Le Guins Earthsea books, they arent Christian. (Le Guin says that she is a Taoist.) There are certainly moral choices, and there is hope. But there is no evident belief in a monotheistic god, no relationship with such, and no prayer. And Ged isnt really a Christ-figure. He doesnt actually die, let alone die for someone else, although he does lose his magical abilities in saving Earthsea. Geds first archmage, Nemmerle, does die, repairing damage that Ged had done, but he really didnt die for Ged, but, rather, because of his own task as archmage, which was to preserve the equilibrium of Earthsea. And death, itself, is problematic in these books. The dead go into the Dry Land, a realm where they seem to just sort of wander around forever, although a wizard with great power can summon their spirits temporarily. (See this review, on Le Guins web site, which says a little about the Dry Land, and about Le Guins Taoism.) The Dry Land is an alternative to orthodox Christian doctrine. There is no heaven, and no hell, in Earthsea.

The Speculative Faith blog is indispensable for persons interested in the intersection of Christianity and fantastic literature. E. Stephen Burnett, one of the regular contributors to that blog, has written a post entitled Define Christian Speculative Story. Rebecca Luella Miller, from the same blog, has written on “What Makes Fantasy Work? and, in the process, described what Christian Fantasy should be.

This post is somewhat (not much) revised from a previous one on the same subject. One reason for re-doing the post is that a commenter decided to enter into a rather lengthy dialog with me about matters that werent related to the post. Another reason is that a commenter on yesterdays post on the Speculative Faith blog said this:
There is a very popular argument that it is enough to love the antrhopomorphized [sic] abstract. That seeing an aspect of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, etc. in a speculative story is enough to sanctify that speculative story. Edward is like Jesus in his absolute love for Bella, Harry is like Jesus in his calling to save the world, Samwise is like Jesus in his willingness to carry his friend. I really…don’t think so.

I must agree. Seeing a Christ-figure in a story doesnt make it the story of Christ.

Thanks for reading. 

* * * * * 

Added March 26, 2013: Rebecca Luella Miller, of the Speculative Faith blog, which should be required reading for persons interested in serious reading, or writing, of fantastic literature, argues that all fiction has a purpose, underlying assumptions, and gives examples. It is only reasonable, she says, that Christian authors also have purposes and underlying assumptions.

* * * * *
On March 17, 2014, I made some editorial changes. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Prayer and a Definite Religious Standard, part 5

The Scriptures ever set before us the one standard of full consecration to God. This is the Divine rule. This is the human side of this standard. The sacrifice acceptable to God must be a complete one, entire, a whole burnt offering. This is the measure laid down in God’s Word. Nothing less than this can be pleasing to God. Nothing half-hearted can please Him. “A living sacrifice,” holy, and perfect in all its parts, is the measurement of our service to God. A full renunciation of self, a free recognition of God’s right to us, and a sincere offering of all to Him—this is the Divine requirement. Nothing indefinite in that. Nothing is in that which is governed by the opinions of others or affected by how men live about us.

And while a life of prayer is embraced in such a full consecration, at the same time prayer leads up to the point where a complete consecration is made to God. Consecration is but the silent expression of prayer. And the highest religious standard is the measure of prayer and self-dedication to God. The prayer-life and the consecrated life are partners in religion. They are so closely allied they are never separated. The prayer life is the direct fruit of entire consecration to God, Prayer is the natural outflow of a really consecrated life. The measure of consecration is the measure of real prayer. No consecration is pleasing to God which is not perfect in all its parts, just as no burnt offering of a Jew was ever acceptable to God unless it was a “whole burnt offering.” And a consecration of this sort, after this Divine measurement, has in it as a basic principle, the business of praying. Consecration is made to God. Prayer has to do with God. Consecration is putting one’s self entirely at the disposal of God. And God wants and commands all His consecrated ones to be praying ones. This is the one definite standard at which we must aim. Lower than this we cannot afford to seek. 

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A gene change and racial differences

The New York Times reports that a change in a single gene seems to be responsible for some of the characteristics of East Asian people. These people are Han Chinese, Japanese, Thais, and others, including Native Americans, who descended from East Asian peoples. The gene is EDAR.

One thing that the researchers did was to use mice, which also have a form of the EDAR gene. Researchers produced mice with the gene altered as it is in East Asian peoples. The mice had changes in their hair, fat deposits, sweat glands, and mammary gland sizes, corresponding to how East Asian peoples differ from others.

If you are interested in more, read the New York Times article. The original reports require a paid subscription, as far as I can tell.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Spiritual Gifts: Chart

Spiritual gift lists

The above is a chart of the spiritual gifts, listed by Paul.

The lists are in Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:6-8, and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. I don't know why he presented us with three different lists. I used the English Standard Version and the King James in compiling this comparison. Other versions may differ a little in wording. I don't have a lot to say about this, but will make a few remarks:

1) These are gifts, not talents or abilities, like having special musical ability, or being a good plumber. Such qualities may also enhance God's kingdom, but they don't seem to be what Paul had in mind as gifts. See Exodus 35:30 and the following chapters for a description of the work of artisans on the Tabernacle. The Bible says that at least one of these artisans was specially called, and that two of them were also to teach others their skills. That sort of ability may enhance what God has called some Christians to do. However,
2) The church (see quotes in the chart) is the body of Christ -- the believers -- not one or more buildings.
3) Prophecy, as I understand it, was not just predicting the future. Much of what the Biblical prophets did would now be considered preaching. That's the only gift in all three lists, so it must be important.
4) Teaching is also important.
5) I think that "giving aid" and "leading" are more Christ-like than "ruling," as we now understand that word.

The chart is a hyperlink to this picture, in my Flickr photostream. From there, you may be able to see/use it in a larger size.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sunspots 405

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

Education: The New York Times reports on a school district that has found out how to make schools (and students, mostly poor, and many Hispanic) successful. No charter schools, no firing of poor teachers. Read it.

Science:  (And history) The skeleton of England's King Richard III has been found, according to the National Geographic, and many other news sources. It was identified by comparing DNA from the skeleton with that of relatives currently alive.

The LA Times reports that a thirty-year-old explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs, namely that there was a large meteor impact that altered the earth's climate, seems to be correct.

It has been known for some time that salmon find their way to their home streams by smell, but a report in the New York Times says that they also use detection of magnetic field characteristics.

The Arts:  (and computing) Gizmo's Freeware points us to a web site that posts free MP3 music for use.

Philosophy: (or marriage) "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." Author unknown. Cryptoquote, The Greenville News, February 5, 2013

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware suggests that you might want to install "Should I Remove It?" which examines the programs on your Windows computer, and may suggest some that should be removed.



Image source (public domain)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Intimacy with God



The Free Dictionary has this as one definition of intimacy: “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.” In our culture, intimacy often has a sexual connotation, but that’s not necessary. In God’s plan, a sexual relationship will be accompanied by the rest of intimacy, and the other parts will be at least as important as the sexual relationship. If they aren't, the sexual relationship won't last very long.

Intimacy is closely related to two kinds of love. In  Greek, they are phileo and agape -- love for a friend, and unselfish, Christ-like love. We can be intimate, or seek intimacy, with a spouse, prospective spouse, or with a friend.

As an example for us, The Trinity is/are intimate with each other:
John 8:29 He who sent me is with me. The Father hasn’t left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.
John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
1 Corinthians 2:10b For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11b Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. (Bible quotations from the World English Bible, public domain)

. . . There is only one God in three persons. Each person is God, whole and entire . . . The whole work of creation and grace is a single operation common to all three divine persons, who at the same time operate according to their unique properties, so that all things are from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The three persons are co-equal, [and] co-eternal . . . (From the Wikipedia)

We should be intimate with God:
John 15:4 Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you.

Based on these verses, and the whole of the Bible, which, rather than being about our search for God, is about God's search for us, God deeply desires to have an intimate relationship with us.

How to be intimate with another person? I will do these things: (add "the other." at the end of each line.)
want to associate with
share interests with
communicate with
try to please
build up the reputation of
think about
spend time alone with
treasure messages from
learn about
imitate
be grateful to
accept correction from
enjoy even repetitive gestures or verbal communications from

We can, and should, have each of these same feelings, actions, and desires toward God. God help me to feel, act, and desire such intimacy.

Thanks for reading. Here's a related post, on loving God.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Prayer and a Definite Religious Standard, part 4

The vague, indefinite, popular view of religion has no prayer in it. In its programme, prayer is entirely left out or put so low down and made so insignificant, that it hardly is worth mentioning. Man’s standard of religion has no prayer about it. It is God’s standard at which we are to aim, not man’s.

It is not the opinions of men, not what they say, but what the Scriptures say. Loose notions of religion grow out of low notions of prayer. Prayerlessness begets loose, cloudy and indefinite views of what religion is. Aimless living and prayerlessness go hand in hand. Prayer sets something definite in the mind. Prayer seeks after something specific. The more definite our views as to the nature and need of prayer, the more definite will be our views of Christian experience and right living, and the less vague our views of religion. A low standard of religion lives hard by a low standard of praying.

Everything in a religious life depends upon being definite. The definiteness of our religious experiences and of our living will depend upon the definiteness of our views of what religion is and of the things of which it consists.

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sunspots 404

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

Science:  NPR reports that sweet potatoes most likely originated in the Americas, and that some of them were taken to Asia by traffic between what is now Latin America and Polynesia, all before Columbus came from Europe.

NPR says that, instead of flu, you may have a Norovirus, which, if anything, is worse.

The Atlantic reports on using DNA to store information, such as the works of Shakespeare.

The Washington Post reports that dogs, who descended from wolves, had a change in diet preference, associated with becoming and remaining domestication.

The Arts:  A musician named James Kibble has recorded all of the organ works of J. S. Bach for free download.

Computing: A social scientist has shown that people are reluctant to wipe the memory of robots, even if they understand that these are not real people.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The best science of 2012, from Nature

One can make a good argument that Nature is the most important science periodical in the world. Among the articles published in it was the famous less than two-page article by James Watson and Francis Crick, announcing the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. That article includes this priority establishing sentence: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."

Nature has done us a service, by selecting from the developments in 2012. The journal has published several items, as follows:

The most scientifically interesting photos of 2012, including the crystal structure of caffeine, the smallest reptile ever known, and others.

Reports, in Nature, of work reported in other periodicals, but interesting, including:

A study indicating that birds line their nests with cigarette butts as a means of repelling parasites.

The construction of a jellyfish-like entity from rat muscle cells, complete with a video of the entity swimming.

The discovery of some unusual sponges in the Mediterranean, with a video.

A study, indicating that dark matter actually exists. See here for the Wikipedia's article on the subject.

How it has proved possible to communicate with people in a vegetative state.

Articles in Nature, itself, on interesting subjects, such as:

What we have learned from 50 years of studying people with the two halves of their brains separated. (Lots!)

There's a lot more. Thanks for reading. Read Nature!






Monday, February 04, 2013

Scriptural Principles that Relate to Science

Here are some scriptural principles that relate to science:

1. God is creator. There is no unassailable proof of this statement. The Bible, itself, does not attempt to prove it. It assumes it. The Bible starts out by saying that God created, in Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (All Bible quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain, and are in this color.) The Bible says that the best evidence that God is creator is our faith. (Hebrews 11:3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible.) The Bible further points out that the principal agent in creation was God the Son:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made.

Colossians 1:14 in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; 15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.

Christians have several views about the timing, and other details, of how things began. However, the most fundamental truth is that God created. Genesis 1:1 does not tell us why, when, or how God created. It does tell us that there was a Who involved in creation. There are people who believe that there is nothing but nature. They are called Naturalists. In other words, they do not believe that there is anything supernatural. To them, there is, and was, no Who. The Bible begins by assuming that that is a wrong belief. It does not attempt to prove this, except by telling us what God is like. (Some Christians mistakenly think that the idea of a Big Bang is a theory that claims that there is no God, or that claims there was no God involved in creation. That view is mistaken. A belief in the Big Bang can be compatible with belief in God as creator.)

Creation was called good, in Genesis 1. This does not necessarily mean that it was good in the sense that it is useful to humans. Goodness in Gods view is more important than usefulness to us!

Psalm 104:24 Yahweh, how many are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
There is the sea, great and wide,
in which are innumerable living things,
both small and large animals. 
In this passage, we read about the marvelous diversity of creation. Humans have never yet seen many of the organisms that are alive on earth today, let alone found uses for them. They are still important, because God made them, or allowed them to come into existence.

2. God sustains the natural world. Colossians 1:16-17 (above) and Hebrews 1:3a (His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power) indicate that God not only created, but that Christ is presently involved in holding things together, including your body and the monitor you are reading this on. Do we understand this? No, and we arent capable of understanding it. God is omnipotent and omniscient. We aren’t. But we do understand, from these passages, that God, especially God the Son, has not gone away and left the world. He is sustaining it now.

3. Humans have responsibility for the world around them. Humans were put in charge of Gods very good creation.
Genesis 1:26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Since the Fall, there have been problems with the natural world, but scripture teaches that it is still important to God, so it should be to us, as well:
Psalm 24:1 The earth is Yahweh’s, with its fullness;
the world, and those who dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10 For every animal of the forest is mine,
and the livestock on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the mountains.
The wild animals of the field are mine.
[God speaking] 



The Israelites were supposed to take care of their land by letting it lie fallow every seventh year:
Leviticus 25:3 You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and gather in its fruits; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to Yahweh. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and you shall not gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.

Their failure to obey this command was one reason for their captivity:
II Chronicles  36:20 He carried those who had escaped from the sword away to Babylon, and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill Yahweh’s word by Jeremiah’s mouth, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. As long as it lay desolate, it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. [He is the king of the Chaldeans.]

Proverbs 12:10a says A righteous man respects the life of his animal.

4. God is revealed to us through nature. Here are Bible passages that say that we ought to learn something of what God is, and how God works, through a study of nature.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork.
Day after day they pour out speech,
and night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech nor language,
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice has gone out through all the earth,
their words to the end of the world. 

Acts 14:17 Yet he didn’t leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.

Revelation of God though nature includes knowledge gained through science. Some of the greatest scientists of all time, like Johannes Kepler, have believed that God is revealed through nature:
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 to me; to the men who are going to read those demonstrations I have made manifest the glory of Thy works . . .
From The Harmonies of the World by Johannes Kepler, 1619, translated by Charles Glenn Wallis. (The Great Books, Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1952, volume 16, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, p. 1080.)

Science is not God’s only, or main, means of revelation. (Others include the Bible, our consciences, the Holy Spirit in our lives, the church -- those who believe in Christ as savior and Lord, and, most importantly, the incarnation of Jesus Christ.) But it is one means. Properly understood, scientific findings and scripture do not conflict. However, humans dont completely understand either scientific or scriptural revelation.

5. God is a God of order. The Bible begins with a portrayal of God’s orderliness in creation. Literal or not, the description in Genesis 1 describes order and sequence. The Ten Commandments, the covenants established with Abraham, and with the Israelites, and God’s promise, (Genesis 8:22) after Noah’s flood, declare that God is a God of order. Some historians of science have written that, without the Judeo-Christian concept of God as a God of order, the development of science would have been impossible. (There were other influences, including Greek and Arab thought, in the development of science, so that science is not a strictly Judeo-Christian enterprise, but it developed among countries where most of the people were at least nominally believers.) There were some technological developments in China before similar ones in Europe, but science doesn’t seem to have developed there as a discipline, perhaps because this sense of order wasn’t part of the prevailing world-view there at that time.

6. The responsibility that humans have for nature (principle 3, above) includes responsibility to learn how it works.
Psalm 111:2 Yahweh’s works are great,
pondered by all those who delight in them

There is delight in such learning (See also principle 4) and it is our responsibility, as good stewards, to learn about Gods works. Some individuals are specially gifted in the area of learning about Gods creation -- in other words, God gives some gifts that help people be scientists.

In a previous post, I listed some scientific principles that tell us about God.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Prayer and a Definite Religious Standard, part 3

The most serious damage in thus determining what religion is by what others say, is in allowing current opinion, the contagion of example, the grade of religion current among us, to shape our religious opinions and characters. Adoniram Judson once wrote to a friend, “Let me beg you, not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.”

Commonplace religion is pleasing to flesh and blood. There is no self-denial in it, no cross bearing, no self-crucifixion. It is good enough for our neighbours. Why should we be singular and straight-laced? Others are living on a low plane, on a compromising level, living as the world lives. Why should we be peculiar, zealous of good works? Why should we fight to win heaven while so many are sailing there on “flowery beds of ease”? Are the easy-going, careless, sauntering crowd, living prayerless lives, going to heaven? Is heaven a fit place for non-praying, loose living, ease loving people? That is the supreme question.

Paul gives the following caution about making for ourselves the jolly, pleasure-seeking religious company all about us the standard of our measurement:
“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.”

No standard of religion is worth a moment’s consideration which leaves prayer out of the account. No standard is worth any thought which does not make prayer the main thing in religion. So necessary is prayer, so fundamental in God’s plan, so all important to everything like a religious life, that it enters into all Bible religion. Prayer itself is a standard, definite, emphatic, Scriptural. A life of prayer is the Divine rule. This is the pattern, just as our Lord, being a man of prayer, is the one pattern for us after whom to copy. Prayer fashions the pattern of a religious life. Prayer is the measure. Prayer molds the life.

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.