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Saturday, April 30, 2005

What is teaching?

I like to cut the grass. It's a good thing, because ours has looked better after cutting for a month or so already this year.

Straight man (you youngsters probably need to look up that term): "Why do you like to cut the grass?"

Me: "Because when I finish it, I feel as if I have accomplished something."

I know when I have cut the grass, but I never know when I have taught. I haven't taught if no one has learned anything, and it's often hard to know if they have. No matter how good a job I may think I have done in teaching, I seldom know what the real results were. (I'm musing about teaching college undergraduates. I don't know much about teaching at "lower," or "higher," levels.)

Straight man: "But don't you know when you give a test?"

Me: "Not really. I may know how many points they got on a test, but I usually don't know how good a measure the test was. I also don't know how many points they might get on the same test in two weeks, or ten years. Lots of people cram stuff into their brains, take a test, and forget much of the material, seemingly before they get through the classroom door on the way out after taking the test. They didn't really learn it, so I didn't really teach it."

Sm: "Well, what about the course evaluations? Don't they tell you something?"

M: "Sure. But maybe what they tell me is how much I have pandered to undergraduate sensibilities, not how good a job I have done in teaching. Besides, how are students in, say, physics, supposed to know what a good (or bad) teaching job looks and feels like? I'm the only college physics teacher they have ever had."

My friend Fred, a retired pastor, says the same sort of thing about mowing the grass, in relation to pastoring.

Teaching should be measured by the impact the teacher, and the course experience, have on the future life of the student. In some cases, finding out how students did on qualifying exams would be a valid measurement of this. Did she get into medical school? Is he qualified to teach? The trouble with that is that some people would have probably qualified even without my course. And, I hope, many of them will have done some serious review on their own before taking the test, so that if they do well, it's because of their own work, not just the teacher's. There are other measures of impact. Do students come to class unsure of their vocation, and have a revelation, while in my class, that they want to enter some field related to the subject? That won't happen often, but, if it does, it often may be because of some good teaching.

Some students probably don't need good teachers. They are going to do well, almost no matter what. They are intelligent, hard working, organized, and know what they want to accomplish. They may succeed in spite of the teacher, not because of her. The real test is the have-nots, or, rather, the have-littles. Can a good teacher take someone who doesn't know how to study, who doesn't really want to be in college, and turn him into a student? Sometimes. Not often. And, if it doesn't happen, is it really the teacher's fault?

I could talk about other measurements. Did their lives change while in my classes? Did they start thinking, studying, and creating on their own, as a result of taking my class? Did they suddenly see possibilities they hadn't seen before? Perhaps such things happen, but, if they do, they are rare, even for the best of teachers, and the teacher would seldom or ever know if they had happened when evaluating her teaching at the end of the day, often not even at the end of the year. If I had been Jesus, I wouldn't have been very optimistic about the future of the church when I went to the cross. Had they learned anything?

Trying to teach is like throwing bread on the water. (Ecclesiastes 11:1) Sometimes you'll find it after many days. Sometimes, someone else will find it. Sometimes, the fish eat it, or it just gets soggy and sinks to the bottom, to decompose slowly.

Don't get me wrong. I have loved teaching. I have come to know a lot of people who are worth knowing, some for a short time, some for almost a lifetime. I have been praised and loved. I have been, in large part, my own boss. I have tried to teach material I really cared about. I have seen what I really believe were flashes of insight, changes of direction, realizations of potential, sudden desires to find out something not required. And, when I didn't see those things, they may have been there, but I just didn't notice, or they may have started there, but become noticeable years later, when she was in her own classroom, teaching 4th grade science. Yes, teaching has great rewards. The greatest reward, though, is that Someone, a great teacher, asked me to do it, and I tried to answer by doing.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Teaching off the subject

My theology, and my calendar, tell me that I'm not going to get another shot at teaching at a Christian college for 41 years. I've had my only chance, and I'm so glad I did.

One of the many things that I wish I could do go back and do differently would be to occasionally address issues that aren’t directly related to the course. I don’t believe, for example, that I ever said anything about the Viet Nam War (some of you don’t remember that) or the Watergate scandal (again, a long time ago) in class, because I was teaching botany, or animal behavior, or something, that didn’t relate to these issues. We had a faculty member, a long time ago, who was famous for teaching every course, whatever its supposed topic, as if it was a course on anti-communism, and that colored my thinking on this matter—I certainly didn’t want that kind of reputation.

Well, I stand corrected, at least partly corrected, and too late.

There are dangers, serious ones, in getting off the subject. If she does that, a teacher may not be teaching students what they are supposed to learn, or what she is paid for.

There are dangers in trying to present our opinions on controversial issues, even if they relate to the course subject. Our opinions may be wrong, or someone will turn us off or get angry if our opinions don't match theirs.

There are serious dangers if we try to impose our personal opinions on controversial subjects on a captive audience. That's especially true if we aren't experts in the area. But some opinions aren't just personal, they're factual, or scriptural. There was a holocaust, people of all ethnic backgrounds should be treated fairly, and God did create the universe. Too bad we can't always tell a factual, scriptural, correct opinion from a personal one, or know just how expert we aren't.

But, if there are dangers in getting off the subject, there are also dangers in not ever considering subjects that matter more to some of our students than the course topics do. If teachers don't deal with some of these subjects, at least a little bit, students may not pay attention to what they are supposed to learn, and the teacher has passed up an opportunity. A Christian teacher should be able to present a biblical perspective, as a reasonably mature Christian. A teacher should present an example of how to act, and how to think. I wish I had done that more.

Do I regret not being more "off-subject" sometimes? Sure, a little. Was I always right when I expressed my opinion on subject? No. But, like parenting, if I did have another chance to do it, I'd mess up in different ways than I did the first time. And, like most of my students, my kids, thank God, have turned out pretty well.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Christian Carnival

Even this brief post is probably in violation of Guideline 2.

This week's Christian Carnival (about 60 posts, selected from their week's work, by the bloggers themselves) is here. I haven't read any of it yet, so have no recommendations to make, but there are usually some gems in these Carnivals.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

RSS Feeds that may be of interest

Picture from The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. Public Domain, obtained through Project Gutenberg.

You may have wandered here by mistake. You may be here because you check on this page every so often. You may be subscribing to it. I recommend the latter, and I recommend Bloglines as the subscription mechanism. It is free, and provides links to all your feeds on one page. That page, showing your subscriptions, is available from any computer connected to the Internet. I confess-I can see five different comic strips at once on my page, with no ads. I can also see if there's been any recent activity in any of the personal blogs I subscribe to, perhaps including yours, all at once. Bloglines also lets you install a tool that works through Internet Explorer or Firefox, so that if you get to a page, such as a blog, that has an RSS feed (which most blogs do) you can subscribe to it easily.(There are other means of subscribing.)

So where do you get feeds? There are lots of them. The New York Times offers 28 RSS feeds. (See this page.) They include Automobiles, Business, Editorials, and Science. I subscribe to the Science feed, which gives me access to a half dozen or so posts each day. Other news organizations also have feeds. I have tried CBS and the CBC, and I suspect that CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Reuters, and the BBC all do, but I haven't tried those. This page has about 50 National Public Radio feeds, including programs, topics, and some local stations. Most of these are links to audio, but some, like the "This I Believe" series, include the essay in text form, as well. Never miss a "Morning Edition" news story again!

RSS Compendium has a list of a few hundred sources of feeds, categorized by type, and with links. This is the best overall source I have found. has feeds on a lot of topics. Click on one of the Channels at the left, and keep clicking on sub-categories till you find something you want (I hope). If you don’t find anything under the channels, try the alphabetical list below the Channel list. There is actually a feed on Cholesterol.

Some of the channels don’t have RSS feeds, but most of them do, and you may find interesting articles even if there are no feeds. The quality is spotty. Some of their Guides post every day, and do it well, some not so often, or not so well. Even if the quality is good, clicking on the Bloglines entry doesn’t get you to the page you want, but to a page that links to the article, but you can get there eventually. I personally subscribe to a few of their feeds, including the one on Christianity, which is not evangelical, but often has some good ideas. (There are also pages on Christian Teens and Christian Music. I haven’t checked them.) As I say, there are lots, probably hundreds, of feeds, on many subjects.

Tapestry provides feeds for over a dozen popular comic strips. Other comics can be obtained in other ways.

The Window in the Garden Wall--A C. S. Lewis Blog, posts quotations from Lewis every day, and, occasionally, interesting facts about Lewis, or a link to another site.

The ESV Bible has feeds for reading the Bible through in a year and for Verse of the Day. The Bible Gateway has daily Bible verses, but doesn't feature a feed for reading the Bible through in a year.

The World History Blog has a daily feed on some aspect of history, with a link to a good article on that subject. Factmonster has a Today in History page. InfoPlease has a This Day in History page. There is a Words: Today in Literature page.

There are plenty of political blogs out there, of all types. They are the main reason that "blog" has become an important word.

Arts & Letters Daily is a gateway to serious articles, including book reviews, mostly in the humanities and current affairs. The Subscribe Favorite will yield feeds in several categories. One category is SciTech Daily, a related on-line gateway. Arts Journal is another gateway with feeds.

Blogging about Incredible Blogs does brief reviews of all sorts of blogs. The Librarian's Index to the Internet has a weekly feed of new reviewed web sites. So does Neat New Stuff.

Sports Illustrated has an RSS feed, and, no, the feed doesn't include pictures from the swimsuit issue. ESPN also has RSS feeds. Time has feeds. So does Newsweek/MSNBC. The New Yorker and The Atlantic do. Harper's does, and, yes, it includes Harper's Index, one month behind. US News doesn't. Christianity Today doesn't seem to furnish a feed at the present time.

RSS Weather has feeds for many cities in North America. For my taste, there are too many posts, but if you want the weather, that's one way to get it, without the ads from the Weather Channel.

All Recipes has daily feeds of different categories of recipes. These can be printed out in various sizes.

CowPi Quotes has a daily quote feed. Infoplease offers a feed with today in history, notable birthdays, and other goodies.

blogwithoutalibrary lists RSS feeds relating to libraries.

If you use Blogger, you should subscribe to the Blogger Status feed. It alerts you to problems, or times when Blogger won't be available, due to maintenance, and to fixes.

Index to some previous posts

This is an index to most of my previous posts. Posts on trees and leaves are indicated by green.

Posts on Blogging
Why this title? Jan 28, 05 (Where does the name, "Sun and Shield" come from?)

On Evangelical Blogging, Jan 29, 05 (This post has received more comments than any other, probably because it is mostly a quote from C. S. Lewis.)

"Further In" with the arts, Apr 6, 05

Posts on Science and Faith
Christ Came as an Embryo, Dec 24, 04

Is scientific knowledge reliable? Jan 19, 05

C. S. Lewis on Space Travel, Jan 20, 05

Thoughts on Hebrews 11:3, Jan 25, 05

Science and the Bible, Jan 28, 05

Leaves, Part I, Feb 1, 05

Leaves: on uniformity and diversity, Feb 2, 05

Will animals go to heaven? Feb 22, 05

The Fall and the Immune System, Feb 26, 05

Technology: Some Biblical Basics, Mar 9, 05

Cal Thomas on Global Warming, Mar 17, 05

Blood Sacrifices, Mar 23, 05

Mrs. Cain? Inbreeding in the Old Testament, Apr 4, 05

Scriptural Principles that Relate to Science, Apr 12, 05

Einstein and Christ's Sacrifice, Apr 16, 05

Posts on Science
How Trees Grow (Hint: not like us), Feb 8, 05

How do you understand a tree? (or under stand it), Feb 9, 05

Riftia and Black Smokers: Review of Aliens of the Deep, Feb 13, 05

Another undersea community discovered, Feb 18, 05

Social and writing skills of scientists; more, Feb 24, 05

Embryonic Stem Cells Without Embryos? Mar 18, 05

Living wills, advanced directives, Mar 31, 05

Mutated azalea, Apr 5, 05

Maple seeds everywhere, Apr 17, 05

colors series
Red, Feb 14, 05

Orange, Feb 16, 05

Colors: Some scientific background, Feb 18, 05

Yellow, Feb 17, 05

Green, Feb 20, 05

Blue, Feb 21, 05

Indigo, Feb 23, 05

Violet, Feb 25, 05

Brown, Feb 28, 05

Gray, or is it Grey?, Mar 1, 05

Gray, Mar 2, 05

Purple, Scarlet, & Crimson, Mar 6, 05

Gold and Silver, Mar 11, 05

White, Mar 16, 05

Black, Mar 25, 05

Posts on Fantastic Literature
Sharon Shinn, Dec 30, 2004

Ursula Le Guin's Complaint, Jan 5, 05

Is Harry Potter a Bad Influence? Part I, Jan 11, 05

Is Harry Potter a Bad Influence? Part II, Jan 13, 05

Jack Vance, Jan 28, 05

Trees as a major theme in fantastic literature, Feb 6, 05

Some quotations about trees, Feb 7, 05

Kiln People by David Brin, Mar 30, 05

Frodo, Ged and Hazel, Introduction, Apr 11, 05

That's Odd!, Apr 14, 05

Frodo, Ged and Hazel: Movies and Gender, Apr 18, 05

Old Hymns, and Devotional Thoughts
C. S. Lewis on faith and surgery, Jan 22, 05

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, Jan 29, 05

Trees and Seasons, Jan 31, 05

Leaves, Part II: Leafless and Leafy in the Bible, Feb 3, 05

Trees as a major theme in the Bible, Feb 4, 05

Is Not This the Land of Beulah? Feb 11, 05

Hathach: Lessons from a Eunuch, Feb 12, 05

Abishag: Beauty contestant and bedwarmer, Feb 27, 05

Gray, (or is it grey?) Mar 1, 05

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, Mar 21, 05

Low In The Grave He Lay, Mar 29, 05

Sun, Shield; some thoughts, Apr 9, 05

It Is Well With My Soul, Apr 10, 05

Posts on women in the Bible
Abishag: Beauty contestant and bedwarmer, Feb 27, 05

Women in the Old Testament: 1 Apr 20, 05

Old Woodcuts, Public Domain
Triumphal Entry, March 20, 05

Last Supper Woodcut, Mar 26, 05

Angel at Empty Tomb, Mar 27, 05

Honoring two people, Feb 27, 05

Living wills, advanced directives, Mar 31, 05

Happy Birthday, younger child!, Apr 8, 05

Exalted, not flattered, Apr 15, 05

Temptations in the Narnia Books by C. S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mar 3, 05

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, Mar 5, 05

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Mar 28, 05

The Silver Chair, Mar 8, 05

The Horse and His Boy, Mar 14, 05

The Magician's Nephew, Mar 22, 05

The Last Battle, Mar 24, 05

Greenwood to North Augusta on US Hwy 25, Apr 7, 05

Mutated azalea, Apr 5, 05 (photo by my wife)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sunspots 6

"Blogs are like personal telephone calls crossed with newspapers."

You may be interested in the article where I found this quote, "How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else)," by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It's on how to keep your privacy while blogging. It's too late for me--I used my real name with Blogger. Oh, well.

* * * * *

If you use Blogger, you should be subscribing to the Blogger Status feed. It had a fix that worked for me recently. It posts alerts of down time for maintenance.

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The Cliff's Notes commentary on Henry David Thoreau's Walden is available on-line, to my surprise.

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"Nobody who says 'I told you so' has ever been, or will ever be, a hero." Ursula K. Le Guin, "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," in Susan Wood, ed., The Language of the Night (New York: Putnam, 1979). First appeared in From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, Pendragon Press, 1973. Quote is from p. 87.

* * * * *

A great one-page summary of what fantasy literature is, and some of the major categories, is here.

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Bacteria may have a rudimentary form of intelligence.

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I recommend this post, by Ken Brown, on what the image of God means.

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"The Infinite Library" is about Google's effort to digitize books held by university libraries. It considers legal issues, the role of libraries, and some of the implications.

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Heart-wrenching post on going to the funeral of a baby.

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A claim has been made that the new pope is on record, from when he was in his previous position, as saying that adult stem cells may be out of bounds, because they have properties like embryonic cells.

* * * * *

Caution: On-line testing follows:

(I'm wondering what the symbol on the line above looks like when viewed with a browser, as opposed to what it looks like in FrontPage. If anyone out there sees something other than a dark green filled circle, I'd appreciate a comment, describing what you do see. Thanks.)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Guidelines for this blog

personal guidelines for this blog

1) I hope to glorify God with this blog. After that, my main purpose is my own enjoyment. I enjoy finding and organizing information, and researching new things. I enjoy (usually) setting myself the goal of producing something halfway sensible every day, and meeting that goal. I enjoy thinking that someone else occasionally reads what I write. I enjoy interaction with other people on-line.

2) I will try not to let blogging, or reading feeds, interfere with my relationship with God, or with my family, or my job (so long as I have one).

3) I will not embarrass any living human by posting personal information about him or her.
(This doesn't apply to public figures, or to persons, such as other bloggers, who have already provided access to some of their information. It may not apply to people who give explicit permission for personal information, or their images, to be posted, or request that it be.)

4) I will not violate copyright*. Quotations will be brief, and will be attributed accurately. A link to a live web page will be included, if the source is the Internet. If I got it from printed material, I will try to give the publication details, including page number(s), accurately. Public domain material will be used, if possible. I will not quote from modern versions of the Bible, except for occasional brief excerpts, because modern versions are copyrighted. (Parenthesis added May 25, 2009 -- The English Standard Version does allow use in a blog, if properly attributed. I now use it a lot.) Photos and graphics will be my own, or public domain.

5) I will try to post only accurate information. I will welcome comments pointing out errors of fact, English usage errors, and significant omissions.

6) I will respect the views of others, even if we disagree. I will be grateful for any feedback, even if it seems negative or ignorant (Matthew 18), and encourage comments that criticize anything I have said, or show that I haven't made it clear enough. I will try to acknowledge the contributions of others, subject to guideline 3.

7) I will try not to post anything principally for the purpose of attracting attention.

8) I will try to remember that much of what is posted on this blog probably is of little interest to anyone. (I wouldn't have read some of it myself, if I hadn't written it!) However, if others find anything of value, they are welcome to use material posted, so long as they do not try to prevent others from also doing so. In other words, I don't want any one else copyrighting my material--other people should always be able to use it if they want to.

Normally, I won't expect others to ask permission to use my material, but do expect a link to the original, if the use is on-line. If it's in printed media, the URL would be expected. If the use is more than incidental, for example, an extended comment on something I have done, or reproduction of most or all of a post**, I expect a comment or other communication, informing me of this use.

I intend to follow this guideline myself, if using or commenting extensively on something someone else has posted. I will not assume what others have written is there for my use, without some sort of permission, such as that indicated for my material in this post, or explicit permission by e-mail or exchange of comments.

9) I will try to encourage other bloggers, by a positive comment and/or a link.

When there is an opportunity, and I actually know something useful, I will try to help others with technical questions.

Added November 18, 2006: Another person's take on guidelines for a blog, better put than mine (and by a more important blogger) is here.

Creative Commons License

The material above is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The purpose is stated in guideline 8, above.

*I may have violated guideline 4 in yesterday's post. I don't know if that was a copyrighted picture of my grandparents-in-law. I hope not.

**Compare my post with this one (which was done with my permission, and I appreciate having been asked).

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Green Reunion

J.  R. and Ethel Green 50th anniversary

J. R. and Ethel McCall Green
50th Anniversary

I never knew these people. They were my wife's maternal grandparents, and both of them had passed away by around 1960.

J. R. Green was a Wesleyan pastor. He pastored in a lot of places. I think the average tenure in those days was about 3 years. One of the churches he founded was way out in the country, miles from even a place to buy bread. It still is isolated. A small congregation, not Wesleyans, worships there now.

Mrs. Green worked, as a mother, and, like most people in upstate South Carolina at that time, in the cotton mills. My mother-in-law used to tell how her mother would visit homes where someone had died in the flu epidemic of 1918, and would make shrouds for the dead. We have the sewing machine she used for that.

In 1987, my mother-in-law decided that it was time to have a reunion of as many of her parents' descendants as she could get together. She worked, and so did a lot of the rest of us, to send out invitations, make calls, and plan. She planned for the reunion to be on a Sunday, in the church mentioned above, Village Creek church in Oconee County, SC. The congregation vacated the church for the day for us. Since the Greens had lots of children (I knew seven of them, one still alive) and their children all had their own children (one had seven I have known), it's a large family.

My mother-in-law asked me, and several others, to speak. I did my best, I guess, pointing out some of the things the Bible said about families. We had a good time, and a lot to eat. Some of us camped or rented cabins in Oconee State Park, which is nearby. There was some singing, and some testimonies of what God had done for some of the family.

The reunion has been held every year since, with various people in charge, and various people speaking, singing, and the like. We have had a relative, not a direct descendant, who is a pastor, speak. We have had a granddaughter of the Greens report on a short-term mission trip to Russia. Various people have done various inspiring things.

The church is in an area with only one house nearby. There is a woods behind it, which may go for a mile or more. When our own kids were with us, I would take them, and whoever else wanted to go, on walks in the woods. One year, a young man, who had married into the family, went with me, taking a child or two of his own. He was a remarkable Christian, obviously transformed. In a few years, he was dead, of AIDS, which he had caught before his marriage, perhaps from a contaminated needle. I didn't attend his funeral, which was in another state, but we were told that it was a glorious celebration. Other attendees have passed on, too, including my parents-in-law. Two will be mentioned this year, having died since we last met.

Last year, one of my brother-in-laws agreed to be in charge for this year, and he asked if the group could meet on Saturday, rather than Sunday, as some of us didn't want to miss our own church services. So we are, this year, meeting today.

Anyone should ask themselves what sort of heritage they will leave for their children, even if they don't have any yet. Even those of us who will never have any ought to think about the heritage we are leaving younger relatives and colleagues. I don't know what, if anything, will be remembered of me some 40 or more years after I'm gone. Most of the people who will attend this year, even their descendants, never knew the Greens. Nonetheless, we honor their memory. I suppose they would be pleased. I hope, and believe, that God is pleased.

Earth Day, part 2

Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22nd, in 1970.

In yesterday's post, I showed that the Bible teaches that God is creator and sustainer, that humans have responsibility to care for the earth, that God's creation is diverse, and that God will create a new earth. I would add, to the last point, that the present creation is no longer "very good," as God put it during creation, because of the effects of the Fall.

Some Christians deny these truths. They have acted like the most important word in Genesis 1:26 and 28 is dominion. They have ignored replenish. There are reports that some Christians have claimed that Christ is coming back so soon that we don't need to worry about caring for the earth. (Apparently, James Watt, Secretary of the Interior during the Reagan administration, did not believe this, although he has been accused of such a belief.) I have no evidence that any Christian leader has claimed this, although it is possible that some have.

Here are two different statements by groups of Christians, on the current environmental situation in the earth. The first is "An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation." The emphasis is on human sin as the root cause of environmental problems. The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship was signed by Jewish, Catholic, and non-evangelical protestants, as well as some evangelicals. The emphasis is on humans as the solution to evangelical problems. There are some good points about both of these Declarations, but the second strikes me as less humble in tone. The National Association of Evangelicals has produced "For the Health of the Nation," a document on civic responsibility, which has a section on the environment. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, himself an evangelical, reacting to that statement, claimed that trying to clean up the environment, and, in particular, concern about global warming, is a distraction from what Christians ought to be doing, which is evangelizing. I tried to point out that Thomas was being inconsistent, as he has argued strongly for other social issues that don't have anything to do with evangelism. For some reason, the very phrase, "global warming," seems to set off alarm bells in the minds of many Christians--not because they believe that it is a problem, but because they believe that there is no such thing. Most scientists who have studied in this area are convinced that there is such a thing, and that it is a real problem.

The environmental movement has made some mistakes. Environmentalists have cried "wolf", claiming imminent disaster when the disaster isn't quite so near, or when there isn't a disaster. Some environmentalists have been pantheists, or otherwise denied the deity of Christ. However, even if these things are true, that doesn't alter the responsibility of Christians to take care of the environment.

The current administration (like all administrations going back to the time of the first Earth Day, at least) claims that it is conscious of the enviroment, and trying to improve things. Many people, including some Republicans, are not convinced. The National Resources Defense Council says:

This administration, in catering to industries that put America's health and natural heritage at risk, threatens to do more damage to our environmental protections than any other in U.S. history.

The NRDC goes on to elaborate, claiming that environmental regulations have been weakened, that the panels of scientists that review various proposals have been stacked with those who want to weaken environmental regulation, and that scientific reports that have not advanced the administrations pro-industry agenda have been modified to suit that agenda. (Other organizations and individuals have made the same claims.) I am not expert enough to support, or deny, any of these charges, which are denied by the White House. Since, rightly or wrongly, the U. S. is often looked to as a Christian nation, and there are unquestionable ties between the Bush administration and evangelical Christians, I hope that these charges are not correct.

The House of Representatives voted, on April 20th, to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Opponents claim, with considerable justification, in my view, that doing so will do little or nothing to help with current high gas prices, will harm a unique habitat, and will especially benefit the oil companies. From its beginning, the Bush administration's view of energy policy seems to have been to ask oil companies what they want, and give it to them. Vice-President Cheney led a task force to draw up energy policy, and apparently didn't invite any environmental advocates, only representatives of energy companies. More could have been done to encourage conservation, and development of energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Industry (including farmers) usually claim to have little or no bad effects on the environment. Many of their claims may be true. However, we have had spectacular environmental disasters of various kinds, such as the Bhopal disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and others not so spectacular, which were directly caused by mistakes by various industries.

We are imperfect in our knowledge, and even sometimes in our motives, but, I believe, God calls us to environmental stewardship, taking care of His earth as best we can.

I don't have all the answers. No human does. For further reading, I suggest the evangelical ecologist, a blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Earth Day, part 1

(I know, Earth Day is April 22nd, not 21st, but let's get ahead of things, for once.)

The word, "earth," occurs in scripture nearly 1000 times.

Using the ASV, which is public domain, I have listed some of those occurrences, categorized. I have also quoted some verses which I believe are related to environmental stewardship. (Bold added)

God, including God the Son, is creator:
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Gen 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Isa 45:12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens; and all their host have I commanded.

Jhn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jhn 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God. Jhn 1:3 All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.

Col 1:16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; 17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.

God is not only creator, but also sustainer:
Psa 65:9 Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it, Thou greatly enrichest it; The river of God is full of water: Thou providest them grain, when thou hast so prepared the earth. 10 Thou waterest its furrows abundantly; Thou settlest the ridges thereof: Thou makest it soft with showers; Thou blessest the springing thereof.

Psa 104:10 He sendeth forth springs into the valleys; They run among the mountains; 11 They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild asses quench their thirst. 12 By them the birds of the heavens have their habitation; They sing among the branches. 13 He watereth the mountains from his chambers: The earth is filled with the fruit of thy works. 14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, And herb for the service of man; That he may bring forth food out of the earth, 15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, [And] oil to make his face to shine, And bread that strengtheneth man's heart. 16 The trees of Jehovah are filled [with moisture], The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: As for the stork, the fir-trees are her house.

Col 1:17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.

The earth is God's, not ours:
Job 38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.

Psa 24:1 The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein. 2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the floods.

Psa 89:11 The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: The world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.

Psa 95:4 In his hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, and he made it; And his hands formed the dry land.

1Cr 10:26 for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.

Humans have responsibility to care for the earth:
Gen 1:26 And 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 heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 28 And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Isa 45:18 For thus saith Jehovah that created the heavens, the God that formed the earth and made it, that established it and created it not a waste, that formed it to be inhabited: I am Jehovah; and there is none else.

Jer 27:5 I have made the earth, the men and the beasts that are upon the face of the earth, by my great power and by my outstretched arm; and I give it unto whom it seemeth right unto me.

God's creation is unimaginably diverse:
Psa 104:24 O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. 25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts.

God will create a new earth:
Isa 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

Rom 8:21 that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. Rom 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Women in the Old Testament, 1

In case you haven't thought of it before, you read it here first. Women were apparently not considered to be as important as men in the culture of the patriarchs.
Why do I say that? Well, for one thing, Genesis 5 gives a genealogy, beginning with Adam, and going through Noah's sons. In all that list, no woman is listed, only men.
Here's another piece of evidence. Genesis 46 says there were 66 people who went with Jacob into Egypt, and lists them, but there is only one of Jacob's daughters, and one granddaughter, who are listed. It seems unlikely that all of Jacob’s descendants, save these two, were male, especially since verse 5 says that there were daughters and granddaughters, both plural. No wives are mentioned by name at all, except Rachel, Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah, who were the mothers of Jacob's twelve sons and one daughter, all four of whom were presumably dead by this time. (verse 5 says that Jacob's sons did take their wives.) So men are listed, but not women.

I expect to post more about this topic later. (Addendum, Jan 17, 2006: I now have done so, here.)

Addendum, Jan 26, 2007: There are now more posts about women in the Old Testament, including some about specific women. Click on the "Women of the bible" tag at the end of this post to see these.

The latest Christian Carnival (links to about sixty posts) is here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sunspots 5

That great philosopher, Ted Forth: "There is no downside to hope, Sal," in Sally Forth, syndicated cartoon, April 17th, 2005, written by Francesco Marciuliano.

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Divine instructions to not go to war against trees:

Deuteronomy 20:19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee? 20:20 Only the trees of which thou knowest that they are not trees for food, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it fall. (ASV, which is public domain)

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A Swedish diplomat of the day expected steam navigation in the United States and Russia to "act most powerfully in drawing men together and in binding the inhabitants of the most distant regions into fraternal union," but new technologies are always predicted to unite and to pacify when they more commonly fracture and arouse . . . --the same virtues would be claimed in a later decade of the nineteenth century of the telegraph and of radio in the twentieth. Richard Rhodes, in John James Audubon: The Making of an American, New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 136.

Rhodes was writing about the 1810's. He does not mention the Internet or cell phones, but he might have. Do these technologies unite and pacify?

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Matt Doherty, who was head coach when most of the most important North Carolina Men's basketball national champions were recruited, but was ousted, has found another head coaching position.

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Jeremy Pierce, at Parableman, has one of his many thought-provoking posts, this time on Christians and politics.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Frodo, Ged and Hazel: Movies & Gender

This is the second installment of a series on three works of fantastic literature. The first is here.

I was going to say something like "The fact that all three of these stories were made into movies proves their greatness," but, on reflection, it doesn't. Some pretty dumb stuff gets made into movies, and, unfortunately, some pretty good stuff gets made into dumb movies.

I don't think I have anything intelligent to add to all that has been said about the Lord of the Rings movies, directed by Peter Jackson.

The Earthsea trilogy was made into a miniseries for the SciFi TV Channel, which aired a few months ago. Ursula K. Le Guin, the author, complained about the treatment of race in this production, and about the production in general. I posted some gripes myself, after watching the series.

There have been cartoon treatments of of Watership Down. One was a movie feature. There was also a TV series. I saw the feature. It was about as well made as you would expect a cartoon about lots of rabbits would have been made. Not great, but OK. A web site, here, is supposed to have information on the movie, but there is something wrong with the URL currently. Since the page is dated April 18th, 2005, I'm guessing it will be repaired shortly.

I haven't read The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker, but a review explicitly puts The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down into one of the seven plots, namely The Quest.

All three of these characters are male. Hazel, at least, was almost required to be male, as Adams is attempting to portray animal behavior realistically (aside from the intelligence, and ability to communicate). In many species of mammals, females generally remain with the parental territory, but males emigrate. The same is not true of Frodo and Ged. With Tolkien, no doubt he was following most medieval literature--the heroes were male, and Tolkien was an expert in medieval literature, and, in a sense, was trying to create his own. Le Guin's choice of a gender for wizards, including Ged, was not so constrained, as she was writing fantasy not about animals with known behavior patterns, or in a genre already in existence, unless fantasy about other worlds is such. Le Guin certainly was no stranger to exploring gender. Perhaps her most influential work, besides the Earthsea books, is the Left Hand of Darkness. In that book, the humanoids on Gethen can take on either sex, more or less at random, each reproductive cycle, which, of course, has profound consequences, and makes for some interesting sentences, such as "The King was pregnant." In writings set in Earthsea, written after the trilogy, she does introduce a female wizard.

There are strong female characters in all three stories, especially Arha/Tenar in the second Earthsea book, where she is the main character, with Ged secondary to her.

The third installment in this series is here, and the final one is here.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Maple seeds everywhere

Maples have lots of seeds. Each year, I have asked my botany students to guess how many of the thousands of seeds produced by an average single maple, during its lifetime, will grow into a mature tree. They usually give some small number. I point out that the answer is one. If a maple, on the average, produced more than that, even such a small number reaching adulthood as 1.03, say, maple trees would be increasing in number, and would eventually cover the earth's surface. On the other hand, if the average number of surviving adult offspring per tree were less than 1, say 0.984, maples would be declining in numbers, and eventually become extinct.

Every movement, every ethnic group, faces the same challenge. Reproduce at at least the replacement rate, or disappear. In 2001, there were only seven Shakers left.

Apples and oranges aren't the only trees that have fruit. To a botanist, a fruit is a ripened ovary. Fruits are of many shapes and sizes. Most of them contain one or more seeds. The maple tree has a fruit. The official name for this fruit is a samara. (Linked page includes a color photo.) Many people call it a "helicopter," a propeller, or a "whirlybird." Each fruit is mostly a single seed, so people aren't far wrong when they refer to these structures, roughly an inch or so in length, as maple seeds.

A page from NASA (!) mentions the aerodynamic properties of these helicopters.

What happens to all these fruits that don't become adult trees? Many of them are eaten by animals, including squirrels and birds.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Einstein and Christ's Sacrifice

This is the centennial of the year in which Albert Einstein began to publish a handful of articles that changed the way we look at the world around us. He is, of course, best known for his theory of relativity.

Einstein's special theory of relativity had two postulates:

"The laws of physics are the same and can be stated in their simplest form in all inertial frames of reference." and "The speed of light c is a constant, independent of the relative motion of the source and the observer." Peter Paul Urone, College Physics, Second Edition. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth Group, 2001. (p. 693)

(The moving earth, or a moving airplane, are examples of inertial frames of reference.)

The Wikipedia says that a postulate is another term for a non-logical axiom, and that such statements "constitute a starting point in a logical system." That's what Einstein did. He started with two assumptions, and went on, assuming their truth, to his theories of relativity. He followed, where the logic took him.

Christianity also has two postulates. They form a starting point in a logical system. (I understand that people do not usually become Christians because of Christianity's logical appeal.) The postulates are:

There is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and holy God, who abhors evil.

Humans are evil by nature, and only a perfect sacrifice can keep them from eternal destruction.

From these, Christian doctrine and practice should follow.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Exalted, not flattered

My University, Southern Wesleyan, has found a number of ways to honor me, as my full-time employment there draws to a close.

Ravi Zacharias once noted that God knows how to exalt us without flattering us, and to humble us without humiliating us. Jill Carattini, "Like Water Spilled," A Slice of Infinity (Ravi Zacharias Ministries Blog) April 5, 2005

Tuesday, as the first chapel announcement, the yearbook's editor told us that the current issue was ready, and that it was dedicated to me, and I received a copy. Someone (probably her) had arranged for some alumni to write words of appreciation. Someone had gone back through forty years of previous yearbooks and found a few shots of me when I had more hair, and darker. There were a couple of pictures from this year, each taken by a student I have had--I remember when they took them, and I knew they were for the annual, but I didn't know they would end up in the dedication--thanks, ladies. The editor, herself, had written an appreciation, which is especially meaningful, as she is as good a student as I have had in my time here, and I have had her in several classes.

Last Friday, when I asked my wife where she wanted us to eat (she makes these decisions) she named a restaurant where we have eaten only twice, and named a time later than we usually eat. I thought nothing of these strange choices. We went to Anderson, SC, and I sat in the car and graded papers while she shopped, then we went to the restaurant. When I went to the receptionist to check in, my Division Chair appeared and informed me that we were already part of a group. My eight colleagues, and their spouses, treated us to a meal, a card, and a check which will go a long way toward purchasing either a digital camera or a camcorder. They also said some very nice things.

In December, I was asked to give one of our commencement addresses, and given an honorary degree. My wife, a brother and his wife, my wife's two brothers, a sister-in-law, and two nephews took the time to sit through a long ceremony for people they didn't know, because I was being honored. Last month, I was asked to speak in chapel, a rare invitation for an instructor--usually we feature our President, our chaplain, invited guests, or ministerial students. (The previous links are what I consider to have been the most important parts of these addresses.)

(I would like to name all these people, but have decided that it is better not to embarrass anyone, or give out personal information on living people, in this blog. If any of you mentioned above read this, thanks!)

I understand that, in a sense, I am taking it out of context, but one of my favorite Bible phrases is part of Esther 6:6, which says "What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?" (ASV, which is public domain)

I am grateful to my University for the honors bestowed on me, and any further honors that may come. I am grateful to the people who have worked and paid for the honors. I am grateful to God for giving me this long opportunity, and sorry that I haven't used it better. Psalm 84:11, the verse that inspired the title of this blog, says that God does not withhold any good thing from those who are righteous, and that He gives glory. I don't think I feel flattered by any of this, but exalted.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

That's Odd!

In a previous post, I asked "Would we really consider any book great if someone didn't strive against great odds? I doubt it."

That's too simple, if not downright mistaken. In the first place, some great non-fiction books may not be about striving of this sort. Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology is one such that I remember. Darwin's On the Origin of Species, or Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, aren't about striving, either, unless you count the struggle for existence. This doesn't detract from their importance. (I recognize that there was, and is, controversy over the ideas in all three of these texts. Nonetheless, they are, or were, all important.) Non-fiction books may, of course, have striving against all odds as a central feature. Many biographies are about striving. I recently finished John James Audubon, by Richard Rhodes. Audubon and his faithful wife struggled mightily against great odds nearly all their lives.

In the second place, some of the fictional books I remember had little or no striving against great odds. A.A. Milne's Pooh books don't. Some important science fiction works don't seem to have had much striving against great odds, either. I don't remember much of that in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, for example. The book was mostly about theme and setting, with plot secondary. Jan Karon's Mitford series emphasizes characters and setting, not plot.

There are fictional works which don't feature striving against great odds, but moral choices. Perhaps that is striving against great odds, striving againstyourself.

The Bible is a great book, and it does have a lot of striving, against great odds, to redeem fallen humanity. It also has a great deal about moral choices, of course.

Given the choice, I would usually choose a book which features striving against great odds.

Sunday, in church, we were directed to sing the odd verses of a song. I suddenly wondered why verses 1, 3, and 5 were called "odd." So I looked it up.

They are called odd because odd numbers of objects cannot be matched in pairs. One object out of, say, seven, is odd. Six of the objects can be matched in pairs, but not the seventh one.

Why are seemingly hopeless struggles called "against great odds?" Odds has to do with the difference between one side and the other. Not an equal match, in other words.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sunspots 4

The Washington Post has an article listing various free or inexpensive resources for preparing advanced directives and/or living wills.

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An article, "Flew's Flawed Science," argues that philosopher Anthony Flew's recent conversion from atheism to deism was based, in part, on ignorance of science on Flew's part. I checked what the author said about The Science of God, by Gerald L. Schroeder, a book which is said to have influenced Flew, and found that at least some of the criticisms seemed justified.

* * * * *

An article in MSN Money, citing a book by Amory Lovins, and an accompanying government-funded study, claims that it would be possible to eliminate our use of petroleum as a fuel in a generation, and that doing so would create jobs, not lose them.

* * * * *

Don King, English professor at Montreat College, has written an article on "Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins." I wasn't aware of the article when I posted on Temptations in Narnia.

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I have just discovered, an extensive resource about fantastic literature and religions. This is their page on Religions in Literature, but, in spite of the title, it is about fantastic literature and religions. This is their Religious Science Fiction Books and Links page. This quote is from "Futures for Sale," an article that the previous URL has a link for:

When fundamentalism committed itself to a no-future future, the humanists were glad to claim the discarded trifle for their own. For a while, writers populated their Darwinian futures with characters who were motivated by derivative religious values. That moral capital has been consumed. The bleakness of the current weltanschuung opens the door again for people who have a vision, who have a passion, who believe that they and their grandchildren truly have a future.

God gave Christianity a thousand years to develop its distinctive civilization in Europe, before giving His people a whole new world to occupy for His glory. God gave us another 500 years to carry the ball forward in this part of the world. Has He also hung the next step before our eyes? The first meal taken on the moon was the Lord's Supper. I ask God to let the day come when I'll be able to look up into the sky at night, and pray for descendents pursuing their callings on the moon. Or even, perhaps, on Mars. In the meantime, I ask for grace to present the heros [sic] of the future with a future as big as the promises of God.

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The current Christian Carnival is here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Scriptural Principles that Relate to Science

In a previous post, I list some scientific principles that tell us about God.
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 just starts out by saying that God created. Genesis 1:1 doesn’t say how, or why, or when, just who. The Bible, itself, says that the best evidence that God is creator is our faith (Hebrews 11:3). The Bible further points out that the principal agent in creation was God the Son (John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:16-17.)
Christians have several views about the timing, and other details, of how things began. However, the most fundamental truth is that God created.
Creation was called good as it was, not good as a tool for humans. Psalm 104:24-5 speaks of 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.
2. God sustains the natural world. Colossians 1:16-17 and Hebrews 1:3 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 aren't capable of understanding it. God is omnipotent and omniscient. We aren’t.
3. Humans have some responsibility for the world around them. Humans were put in charge of God's "very good" creation. (Genesis 1:26, 28). Since the Fall, there have been problems with the natural world, but scripture teaches that it is still important to God, (Psalm 24:1, Psalm 50:10-11) so it should be to us, as well. The Israelites were supposed to take care of their land by letting it lie fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 25:4-7), and their failure to obey this command was one reason for their captivity (II Chronicles 36:21). Proverbs 12:10 says that a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.
4. God is revealed to us through nature. Psalm 19:1-4, Acts 14:17, and Romans 1:20 say that we can learn something of what God is, and how God works, through a study of nature. In other words, through science. Some of the greatest scientists of all time, like Johannes Kepler, have believed this:
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, and, most importantly, the incarnation of Jesus Christ.) But it is one means. Properly understood, scientific findings and scripture do not conflict. However, humans don't 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 describes order and sequence. The Ten Commandments, the covenants established with Abraham, and with the Israelites, and God’s promise, in 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.) 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 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them. (ESV)
There is delight in such learning (See also principle 4) and it is our responsibility, as good stewards. Some individuals are specially gifted in the area of learning about God's creation -- in other words, God gives some gifts that help people be scientists.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. My purpose is not to restrict use, but to prevent anyone else from restricting the use of this material by copyrighting it. Other uses are welcome!

* * * * *

On April 15, 2005, I fixed a link in this post (I hope). Thanks, John Dekker!

On May 15, 2007, I added principle 6.

On January 27, 2012, I added a scripture reference, and some tags.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Frodo, Ged and Hazel, Introduction

For a couple of days, I have been mulling over posting on the 3 greatest works of fantastic literature. Greatest by what criterion, you may ask? My desire to read them. When I decided to take the plunge, and actually post, I discovered, as I typed, that the names of the main characters begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet.

Note that I didn't include the work of C. S. Lewis here. Anyone who has read more than about two posts on this blog knows that I appreciate his work. I suppose that, more than any other human author, he has influenced me (and a lot of other people) for the good. His Narnia books are great reads. If I could find my copy of Till We Have Faces, I would probably start over, and include Orual in the title of this series. However, I don't consider the Narnia books to have quite the depth of the items selected, perhaps because they were written for a younger audience.

I hope to comment on some of the things that J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, and Richard Adam's Watership Down have in common.

First, a thing they don't have in common--setting. Middle-Earth seems to be an alternate Western Europe, perhaps a long time ago. Earthsea is some world that's mostly water, with no indication of the time. Watership Down is set in a few square miles of England, apparently a real section of it, in the twentieth century. Second--characters. A hobbit, a young man growing up, and a rabbit. Third--world view. Tolkien was a Catholic Christian. Le Guin is a Taoist. I don't know enough about Adams to characterize him.

Now to plot summaries:
A hobbit reluctantly agrees to try to destroy the most powerful object in existence, and succeeds, against great odds.
A boy becomes a man, in the process bringing healing to himself, after a terrible choice almost ruins him; to his world, by repairing the most powerful object in it; and to his world, by closing a gap between the worlds of the dead and the living. (Against great odds, of course)
A rabbit leads other rabbits to found a warren based on freedom for all. (Against great odds, again. Would we really consider any book great if someone didn't strive against great odds? I doubt it.)

I know that all three of these authors have written more about their sub-created worlds, and, in Le Guin's case, about her central character, but will concentrate on the two trilogies, and the single book.

The second of these posts is here, the third is here, and the final post is here.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

It Is Well With My Soul

A few days ago, an employee of the Christian University where I work was investigating a new sinkhole in a county road passing through the campus. Somehow, he fell into the hole, and died shortly thereafter, probably of suffocation--investigators said that the Oxygen level was only 3%. He was only 35, and had been working for us since his graduation. He left a wife, and grieving family, colleagues and students. Two days later, our chapel became a memorial service for him. I have never seen that many people in the chapel before. We sung this song as part of the service:

IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL (public domain)

Words: Horatio G. Spafford, 1873. Music: Philip P. Bliss, 1876

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


I've never heard a couple of those verses, and another word or two has probably been changed in some hymnals.

According to the CyberHymnal entry on this song, which is where I got the text, Spafford lost his business in the Chicago fire, and then lost all four of his daughters at sea. He wrote this when his own ship passed over the spot where they drowned. Obviously, he had a hope beyond the temporal. I trust that I do, too. May God comfort those who mourn David Summey's passing.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Sun, Shield; Some Thoughts

The title of this blog is Sun and Shield. In case anyone wonders, it's from my life verse, Psalm 84:11. I posted on that verse previously. Since that post, I have discovered that the ASV version of the Bible is public domain:

Psalm 84:11 For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield: Jehovah will give grace and glory; No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. (ASV)

I understand that Jehovah is an outmoded word, but I'll use it, since the translators did.

Jehovah God is a sun.

The sun is an enormous energy source. The sun converts about 4 million metric tons of mass into energy per second. Why is that important? It is important because we get light from the sun. It is important because we are heated by the sun. It is important because we get our food from the sun. Green plants turn the sun's light energy into food.

God is a source of energy. He is responsible for the Sun being there in the first place, but He is also our source of spiritual energy, of light that lets us figure out what to do, of heat that keeps us from growing spiritually cold, of food that sustains us on a regular basis. The Lord God is our spiritual sun. Without Him, we couldn't see what to do, we'd grow cold, and we'd starve.

God is a source of energy. He provides. I won't list all of God's provisions for me. I couldn't, because I don't remember them all, and I wasn't smart enough to see God's hand in some of the things he provided. He did provide for me, and He is providing for me now. To state the obvious, I've got a computer, a phone connection, and enough sense to type this. God provided for me by allowing me to find Tolkien while working in a college library as an undergraduate, to find C. S. Lewis in the children's books section of the University of Wisconsin library, by allowing me to be accepted for attendance at a National Endowment for the Humanities summer program on bioethics (the only scientist), and in so many other ways.

Some of the sun's energy is light. The word, "light," often means guidance in the Bible. God provides, and he guides. I can't prove it, but I believe that I was guided divinely, in answer to prayer, to my current job, and to my only wife. I believe I was guided, in answer to the prayers of some of my ancestors, and others, to salvation.

Jehovah God is a sun--He provides, He guides.

The psalmist also described God as a shield. Now, even though shields are a thing of the past, we know what shields were for. They were for protection, for keeping the weapons of an enemy from injuring or killing the bearer.

The sun pours energy into space in all directions, and some of that hits us, and it's a good thing it does. But that energy is not an unmixed blessing. Every day, I apply sunblock to my head, and other exposed parts of my body. I need a shield from ultraviolet radiation, which is there even though I don't see it or feel it. There is a spiritual enemy, who is insidious, trying to affect us. We need a constant shield from the attacks of that enemy. Probably the greatest temptation for me is pride, thinking that I am important, and self-sufficient. That attack is subtle, often unrecognized, but almost constant.

People chose to wear a shield. Not only did they choose to wear a shield, but they also chose not to do some other things. Choosing to wear a shield is a choice with consequences. You can't play the piano and wear a shield. You can't play volleyball and wear a shield. In Old Testament times, you probably couldn't shoot a bow and arrow and use a shield at the same time, or play a harp and use one. Following God is a choice, and like all choices, it means we are also not choosing something. But it's a choice that is worth it.

The subject of the verse is "Jehovah God." Taking God as our God is a choice. We say "I'll do what you want, not what I want." We are choosing not to be our own god. But it's the right choice, and it's worth it.

For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Happy Birthday, younger child!

Today's post is dedicated to our younger daughter. I am not going to embarrass any family members with my postings on this blog (unless they are embarrassed by the content) so I won't give her name, her age, her address, or her picture. She knows who she is.

We are proud of you. You have grown up in ways we never anticipated. You have chosen to serve people who have real needs, in some cases desperate needs, as a social worker, an occupation that doesn't get much recognition or pay. You are also trying to serve God.

There are things we could have done better as parents. A few of them occur to you, no doubt. Some of them, probably mostly different, occur to us. God probably has a different list. We are sorry for where we have failed, but believe that we did well enough, and thank Him for it.
You are loyal to your friends, and to your family, including your husband. You are loyal to your church. We are proud of you, we hope in right ways. We love you!

Happy Birthday from your parents.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Greenwood to North Augusta on US Hwy 25

My wife and I like to travel. We don't feel that we have to see something exciting, or something that attracts lots of other people. We do like to see things that interest us, but it doesn't necessarily take much--a hawk on a tree will do it.

On March 4th of this year, we spent the night in Augusta, GA. Part of our trip was on US 25, from Greenwood, SC, to North Augusta, SC. A few years ago, I taught some Saturday morning classes in North Augusta, and we had traveled this route several times before. There are no big tourist attractions. Our highway map using shows no cities, towns, or villages at all. Nonetheless, let me tell you some of what we saw.

Not too far out of Greenwood is a small farm. The house is brick veneer. That's not unusual. The outbuildings are also all brick veneer, too. That is unusual.

Upstate South Carolina, where we live, is a rapidly growing area. My wife grew up there, and traveling roads that she used to take, she often remarks that she remembers when there were no houses, or no shops, along this route. Now there are. Well, this area isn't growing visibly. There are still lots of pastures. There are still lots of wood lots, some being harvested. Fire ants infest most of the pastures, and their hills sprout up along the road like the waste earth from little strip mines. There are occasional ponds. Once in a while we have seen a great blue heron in one.

A few miles further on, there is a brick wall on either side of the road, perpendicular to the roadway, as if the road is entering an estate. Then, a mile or so further on, there is another pair. Apparently, someone started to develop this land, and wanted to advertise the development with these brick gates. For whatever reason, nothing seems to have come of this, as there are no buildings or driveways at all between the boundaries.

Our trip was made more interesting by "Walter Edgar's Journal," a weekly radio program from the State public radio network. This week, it was on growing rice like that grown in South Carolina many years ago.

Edgefield, SC, is about two-thirds of the way to Augusta. The town advertises itself as having been home to ten governors. Clearly, its sons have made their mark on the state, and even the nation. The last governor to come from Edgefield, we believe, was J. Strom Thurmond, who went on to become the Dixiecrat candidate for President, and was in the US Senate for longer than anyone else in the history of the country. He finally retired, to the Edgefield hospital, where they had a special room for him. He didn't live there long, dying a few months later. He wasn't the last politician from Edgefield to go to Washington. Butler Derrick, US Congressman for 10 years, during the last quarter of the previous century, was from Edgefield.

There is something called the National Wild Turkey Federation a little South of Edgefield. We do have wild turkeys in South Carolina, and there must be some near Edgefield.

Greer, South Carolina, and the surrounding area, near the Northern part of I-85, is known as the peach capital of the South. There is even a water tower with a giant peach, appropriately colored, and with a stem and one leaf, near Gaffney. However, there is also a peach industry between Edgefield and North Augusta.

The closer you get to Augusta, the more sand is found in the soil.

US 25 turns right at a little hamlet named Trenton. Right after the turn, there is a section of the road lined with pecan trees on both sides. Pecan trees are quite common in the South, but this is the only place I know of where they are planted along the road on both sides. (I was unable to find a good picture of leafless pecan trees. Like most trees, they have a characteristic shape. I should have taken one myself.)

After that, there is a large flower wholesaler on the right.

Just outside of North Augusta, perhaps two miles from the intersection with I-20, there is an amazing community. One travels along, seeing occasional small homes or businesses. Then, all at once, you are in a housing development. On each side of the road, there are nice brick houses (someone else was struck by these). Interspersed among them are roughly equal numbers of mobile homes, a strange juxtaposition. Once we drove among these homes, and asked a woman, who was out walking, about this practice. She told us that the people simply lived in mobile homes until they could afford to build. There's a Catholic church in the development. Although there are Catholics in South Carolina, they are a minority, but there are Catholic symbols in front of almost every house in this area. Another interesting thing about these houses is that the windows are darkened. You can't see anything but blinds, or sheets. All the windows seem to be covered from the inside. This area is known as Murphy Village.

The most interesting thing about these houses, however, is that most or all of the people living in this group of houses are Irish Travellers. (Word doesn't like the spelling with 2 l's, but that seems to be the way this particular term is spelled.) (See links in the previous paragraph for a little more information on these people. There are some of them still in Ireland, apparently, and they probably live in other places in North America.)

* * * *

On April 12th, 2005, an editorial in the Greenville News (SC) complained about wasteful government spending, listing nearly $500,000 spent on the National Wild Turkey Foundation as one such example.

Thanks for reading.