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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sunspots 567

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

Christianity: BioLogos reports that almost 100% of scientists believe that humans evolved over time. However, about 50% of white self-reported evangelical Christians who say that they attend church regularly believe that scientists are deeply divided over that question, when they clearly are not so divided.

Computing: From National Public Radio: a wide-ranging interview on cyber-privacy and the government's right to know. It includes a discussion about President Reagan seeing a scary movie.

Politics: (sort of) The New York Times discusses the effects of growing up in a bad neighborhood, and of leaving such a place fairly early in life.

Science: NPR on the unfortunate confusion about the word, theory, in science and elsewhere.

NPR also reports on what non-human primates are thinking.

NPR also reports on a new sort of artificial organism, manufactured from a previous one in nature, by removing genes, one by one, to get to those genes that the organism absolutely has to have, in order to grow and reproduce. We don't know what several dozen of those necessary genes do.

Listverse reports on 10 interesting strategies in the "war" between plants and bugs.

Sports: FiveThirtyEight backs up my guess that Breanna Stewart may be the best player ever, in women's college basketball, with statistics. (She's had lots of help, from Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and others.)

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

He is risen!

Empty tomb 2 

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the resurrection! He is risen!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sunspots 566

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

Christianity: (and politics, I guess) Christianity Today reports on how World Relief has re-settled many thousands of refugees into the US.

And Christianity Today has an article on how becoming a Christian is like getting a bone marrow transplant. Really.

Computing: Christianity Today interviews an expert on the "pornification" of social media, especially by teen-aged girls.

Wired says that closing your apps doesn't save battery life, and explains why.

Science: Listverse on some recent findings in ant behavior. Example: in at least some species, some of the time, some of the worker ants don't seem to do anything productive.

Listverse has also posted about some commonly believed "facts" about some animals, that are not true. Example: praying mantis females always eat the head of the male who is mating with them.

And Listverse reports on 10 animals that can clone themselves. Some of these are vertebrates -- no mammals or birds, though.

Wired reports that microbes are beginning to replace chemical insecticides in agriculture.

Wired also reports on a strange finding about prime numbers.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why should we worship together?

Why should we worship together? The Bible gives many reasons.

1. Christ commanded it: 1 Corinthians 11:6 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (He assumed that Christians would meet together to take communion.)
2. The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to do this: Hebrews 10:24 Let’s consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
3. Peter assumes that we are part of a body of believers: 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 In the past, you were not a people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
4. Important things happened in Acts, when the church was together:
Acts 2:1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place;
Acts 6 - the selection of the first deacons was apparently mostly done through a group meeting.
Acts 13:1 Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.”
5. Jesus worshiped in the synagogues regularly, setting us an example.
6. The early church met daily at the Temple.
7. The majority of the books of the New Testament were written to churches (like Revelation), or to groups or categories of people. Most of those addressed to individuals, not churches, were to pastors,
giving advice on how to shepherd the churches they were responsible for.

There are, of course, a few people, in extraordinary circumstances, who are unable to worship jointly with other people. But the rest of us should join others frequently for worship. Thanks for reading!

See also "Why I Go to Church."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, 65

I take in order the next instance offered: the idea that Christianity belongs to the Dark Ages. Here I did not satisfy myself with reading modern generalizations; I read a little history. And in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations. If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery the answer is simple: it didn’t. It arose in the Mediterranean civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire. The world was swarming with skeptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun, when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast. It is perfectly true that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that the ship came up again: repainted and glittering, with the cross still at the top. This is the amazing thing the religion did: it turned a sunken ship into a submarine. The ark lived under the load of waters; after being buried under the debris of dynasties and clans, we arose and remembered Rome. If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.

I came back to the same conclusion: the sceptic was quite right to go by the facts, only he had not looked at the facts. The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers or even in encyclopedias. Again the three questions left me with three very antagonistic questions. The average sceptic wanted to know how I explained the namby-pamby note in the Gospel, the connection of the creed with medieval darkness and the political impracticability of the Celtic Christians. But I wanted to ask, and to ask with an earnestness amounting to urgency, “What is this incomparable energy which appears first in one walking the earth like a living judgment and this energy which can die with a dying civilization and yet force it to a resurrection from the dead; this energy which last of all can inflame a bankrupt peasantry with so fixed a faith in justice that they get what they ask, while others go empty away; so that the most helpless island of the Empire can actually help itself?” There is an answer: it is an answer to say that the energy is truly from outside the world; that it is psychic, or at least one of the results of a real psychical disturbance. The highest gratitude and respect are due to the great human civilizations such as the old Egyptian or the existing Chinese. Nevertheless it is no injustice for them to say that only modern Europe has exhibited incessantly a power of self-renewal recurring often at the shortest intervals and descending to the smallest facts of building or costume. All other societies die finally and with dignity. We die daily. We are always being born again with almost indecent obstetrics. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that there is in historic Christendom a sort of unnatural life: it could be explained as a supernatural life. It could be explained as an awful galvanic life working in what would have been a corpse. For our civilization ought to have died, by all parallels, by all sociological probability, in the Ragnorak of the end of Rome. That is the weird inspiration of our estate: you and I have no business to be here at all. We are all revenants; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about. Just as Europe was about to be gathered in silence to Assyria and Babylon, something entered into its body. And Europe has had a strange life—it is not too much to say that it has had the jumps—ever since.

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

*  *  *  *  *

Note, April 7, 2016. It has come to my attention that this post has been viewed over 800 times. I have no idea of the reason for this popularity, but am grateful for it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jesus didn't use political action as a way to fix things.

I don't know why some of us, including me, sometimes, think that the way to fix the world is through politics. Jesus didn't try that. There were lots of poor people, but He didn't campaign for higher taxes on the rich to help them. The illegal aliens were running the country, but He didn't try to get rid of them. There weren't any Muslims yet, but there were Samaritans, and He got one of them to be an evangelist to her village, and told a story about the goodness of another Samaritan. The Romans had open carry, but the Jews didn't. There was slavery, and women were second-class citizens. He didn't try a political solution for any of these things. He helped individuals that He came across, lived a sinless life, and died and rose for our sins. That, plus training the disciples, was His way of attacking the problems around Him.

Thanks for reading. For more on how politics is deeply flawed, see here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sunspots 565

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

The Arts: Listverse reports on 10 non-European languages that have provided words which are common in English.

Christianity: Reaction to a poll of Israelis, from Christianity Today and Relevant. Israeli Christians (mostly Catholic and Orthodox) are much less likely than US Christians to believe that Israel should be controlled by Jews.

Relevant wonders when conservative Christians will start to take global climate change seriously. (Some already do, of course.)

Ken Schenck argues that sex should be kept within a marriage.

In BioLogos, a discussion on the meaning of death in the Bible, and whether there could have been death before the Fall.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware points out that you can use wildcards in Google searches.

From the same source: A freeware replacement for the Windows 8 or 10 start menu.

Wired reports that changing passwords frequently doesn't really make you more secure. (Provided, of course, that the password you are continuing to use is hard enough for the bad guys to figure out.)

Humor (and Food): A four minute YouTube video of a Kit Kat candy bar being surgically implanted into a Three Musketeers candy bar.

A writer for Sojourners says that he is a one-issue voter -- he's looking for a candidate with integrity. He doesn't seem to have found one.

The Washington Post reports on proposed US Constitutional amendments, lots of them. (Like 11,000+)

Fivethirtyeight counted up the phrases most often used, in the Republican Presidential debates, by Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Trump.

Science: The Christian Science Monitor reports that ravens may have at least a rudimentary theory of mind. (The article tells you what that is.)

Fivethirtyeight tells us why most of us are right-handed.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, 64

I have given an imaginary triad of such ordinary anti-Christian arguments; if that be too narrow a basis I will give on the spur of the moment another. These are the kind of thoughts which in combination create the impression that Christianity is something weak and diseased.

First, for instance, that Jesus was a gentle creature, sheepish and unworldly, a mere ineffectual appeal to the world; second, that Christianity arose and flourished in the dark ages of ignorance, and that to these the Church would drag us back; third, that the people still strongly religious or (if you will) superstitious—such people as the Irish—are weak, unpractical, and behind the times.

I only mention these ideas to affirm the same thing: that when I looked into them independently I found, not that the conclusions were unphilosophical, but simply that the facts were not facts. Instead of looking at books and pictures about the New Testament I looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god—and always like a god. Christ had even a literary style of his own, not to be found, I think, elsewhere; it consists of an almost furious use of the a fortiori. His “how much more” is piled one upon another like castle upon castle in the clouds. The diction used about Christ has been, and perhaps wisely, sweet and submissive. But the diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea. Morally it is equally terrific; he called himself a sword of slaughter, and told men to buy swords if they sold their coats for them. That he used other even wilder words on the side of non-resistance greatly increases the mystery; but it also, if anything, rather increases the violence.

We cannot even explain it by calling such a being insane; for insanity is usually along one consistent channel. The maniac is generally a monomaniac. Here we must remember the difficult definition of Christianity already given; Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other. The one explanation of the Gospel language that does explain it, is that it is the survey of one who from some supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis. 

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Sunspots 564

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

Christianity: Christianity Today has an article on how the author learned to love her menstrual period.

Relevant tells us a number of things that the Church is not, such as a political institution, a stronghold against the world, or a building.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware provides an annotated list of the best free games for Windows computers. (Many of these games are also available for iOs and Android information appliances.)

Gizmo's also tells us about a site which offers 600 different free music streams.

The Environment: Climate change denial is alive and well, according to this report on beliefs about global climate change in the states that voted on March 1, Super Tuesday.

Health: National Public Radio reports on why we are more likely to snack if we haven't had enough sleep.

Humor: (and politics) There is a web site, encouraging US citizens to move to Cape Breton Island if Donald Trump wins the US Presidency. There are details on how to go about this. That's in Nova Scotia, by the way.

(or something) FiveThirtyEight reports that many parents don't want their children to be born on February 29th.

Politics: NPR analyzes why Republicans have won so many Congressional seats, but have had trouble winning the Presidency. (And the reverse.)

First Things looks at the Super Tuesday exit polls, and finds that Donald Trump really didn't do well among evangelical voters. The article also points out that not all evangelicals are Republican. Indeed.

Science: (and music) Christianity Today (!) discusses perfect pitch.

Listverse suggests that we need 10 major advances in technology before we send anyone to Mars.

Listverse also comments on 10 ways that playing video games affects the brain.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, 63

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man today is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences.

I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it. For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way. Let us take cases. Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these: first, that men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge. The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue.

If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation.

That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes. Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours. They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization. Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants? Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old? No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm. We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk. So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything, a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that all religion begins.
It would be the same if I examined the second of the three chance rationalist arguments; the argument that all that we call divine began in some darkness and terror. When I did attempt to examine the foundations of this modern idea I simply found that there were none. Science knows nothing whatever about prehistoric man; for the excellent reason that he is prehistoric. A few professors choose to conjecture that such things as human sacrifice were once innocent and general and that they gradually dwindled; but there is no direct evidence of it, and the small amount of indirect evidence is very much the other way. In the earliest legends we have, such as the tales of Isaac and of Iphigenia, human sacrifice is not introduced as something old, but rather as something new; as a strange and frightful exception darkly demanded by the gods. History says nothing; and legends all say that the earth was kinder in its earliest time. There is no tradition of progress; but the whole human race has a tradition of the Fall.

And if we took the third chance instance, it would be same; the view that priests darken and embitter the world. I look at the world and simply discover that they don’t. Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.

Thus these three facts of experience, such facts as go to make an agnostic, are, in this view, turned totally round. I am left saying, “Give me an explanation, first, of the towering eccentricity of man among the brutes; second, of the vast human tradition of some ancient happiness; third, of the partial perpetuation of such pagan joy in the countries of the Catholic Church.” One explanation, at any rate, covers all three: the theory that twice was the natural order interrupted by some explosion or revelation such as people now call “psychic.” Once Heaven came upon the earth with a power or seal called the image of God, whereby man took command of Nature; and once again (when in empire after empire men had been found wanting) Heaven came to save mankind in the awful shape of a man. This would explain why the mass of men always look backwards; and why the only corner where they in any sense look forwards is the little continent where Christ has His Church.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Sunspots 563

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

Christianity: Ken Schenck on what the Bible says (or doesn't) about headship in marriage.

Christianity Today has an essay on masturbation. Really.

Relevant says that, even though Hollywood is a worldly establishment (mostly, anyway), Christians should care about the recent all-white Academy Awards nominees.

And Relevant tells us that Christians can ruin dating (for others).

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware discusses freeware file-based backup programs.

Food: (or drink) National Public Radio reports on the processes that extract caffeine from coffee beans.

Humor: (or something) Wired reports that a messy office/room/car dashboard/whatever may help the person using it to be more, not less, productive.

Politics: Relevant on what the Bible really says about politics.

Science: A reflection, in Christianity Today, (!) on the writer's returned DNA analysis, which shows that we humans are much more closely related to each other than you might think.

Image source (public domain)