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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Grandson Number two

Grandson Number two arrived on January 29th. He seems to be doing fine, but needs a little help with his breathing, so far. Here he is, with his father's hand touching him:

Grandson number 2 in neonatal intensive care unit, with his father's hand

For a 20-second video, showing much the same thing, except that his chest is moving, go here.

We thank God for this event, and the things that led up to it, and that will follow.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mozart!

Mozart was born on this date in 1756. His full name was (ready?) Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.

National Public Radio's Performance Today has put together a list of the top 50 classical CDs. Three of them are by Mozart. You can hear samples of all three here.

The movie, Amadeus, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1984. It is a biography of Mozart, and its theme is that, as the title suggests, he was beloved of God, who bestowed such great talent on him. Antonio Salieri can't understand why he didn't get some of that talent,and why Mozart did. The movie doesn't answer Salieri's question.

Thank God for enabling artists of all sorts.

Thanks for reading.

"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" by Charles Wesley

2007 was the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is still occasionally heard is "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

I was surprised that there seem to be only two verses! Wesley often went much longer.

These words were published in 1745, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Revision of my web page on Theories of Origins

I have recently published a serious revision of my web page on the strengths and weaknesses of various theories of origins. This page also attempts to pin down the several different meanings of "Evolution."

I would appreciate any suggestions or criticisms. Thanks.

Could there have been death before the Fall?

It is often said that the earth must not be very old, because death could not have occurred before the Fall of Adam and Eve, as told in Genesis 3. When this is said, it means death of non-humans, such as the many generations of animals that would have been needed for, say, the origin of birds from reptiles.

A quick search has led me to six web pages, all arguing, using the Bible, that there could have been, or even must have been, death of non-human creatures before the Fall.

Here they are:
"No Physical Death Before the Fall?" by Glen Kuban.

"No Death Before the Fall - A Young Earth Problem," by Rich Deem.

"Death Before the Fall: God Created Cellular Death Codes," by Glenn Morton.

"Creation Science Issues: Death Before the Fall of Man," by Greg Neyman.

"Animal Death Before the Fall: What Does the Bible Say?" by Lee Irons.

"Creation Essentials, Creation Non-Essentials: Part 1, Death Before the Fall," by Dave Kresta.

I have previously posted on a related matter.

None of these take the view that there couldn't have been death before the Fall, but some of them also present reasons why some people believe that there was no such death.

I have not yet taken the time to evaluate, compare, and review these pages, but have reasons of my own for posting this. I may return to the subject later. Thanks for reading.

See my posts on David Snoke's book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. Snoke argues that the Bible allows the death of animals before the Fall. Here's one such post. Click on the "David Snoke" label at the end of the post to see all of them.

*  *  *  *  *

On January 1, 2013, I checked the above links. All were still good, except for the ones I referenced in 2008 from Glenn Morton and Lee Irons. I changed the link to one that is still good, also by Morton, and changed the URL for the article by Irons.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I am preparing for some extended family-related travel, and don't expect to be posting much for a while. I may occasionally post a Sunspots, and have a few more of the hymns of Charles Wesley to post (I could use one of his a day for several years, if I had access to his entire output!).

Also, I may not be able to respond to all of your comments, or to follow other people's blogs, as much as I usually do.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sunspots 145

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

(or maybe politics) Jan is not sure that there is such a thing as a male mid-life crisis.

He Lives poses an interesting challenge for anyone who thinks that a Christian could not be a scientist.

(also science) I am not making this up: (From Wired.) A woman's seizures were triggered by her favorite music,

There is an organization for recycling rechargable batteries.

Cody Thomas on radical followership.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" pt. 5

I continue comments on Edge's "World Question" issue, which question is the same as my title. See the first part of this series, which gives some explanation, the second part and the third.

On this page of the issue, Diane Halpern, former president of the American Psychological Association, admits that she used to have a simple answer for "Why are men underrepresented in teaching, child care, and related fields and women underrepresented in engineering, physics, and related fields?" Now, after a career spent considering the matter, she doesn't.

Roger Shank no longer believes that Artificial Intelligence close to that of humans will be developed any time soon, although it has been predicted for decades. In his essay, on the same page, he writes: "How can we imitate what humans are doing when humans don't know what they are doing when they do it?" Good question.

On the same page, Sherry Turkle voices her opposition to the possibility of "love" between humans and robots. (In case you didn't know, this has been proposed. See here.)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where is God when things hurt us badly? pt. 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts. The most recent is here.

I realized, this morning during church (The pastor was speaking about Job, and while I was in that book of the Bible, I sneaked a peek at the NIV Reference Bible's introduction to the book.) that my previous posts had left out a very significant factor.

The question raised by the title of these posts is a thorny one, the question of theodicy. A person who commented on those was not convinced that I have an answer to the question that can be defended by argument. I'm not sure that I do either. I believe that I do have an answer from experience. The answer is that God's love never deserts us, not matter what.

The significant factor that I left out will not improve my chances at an argument, but, to the Christian, it's significant. That is that we and God are not the only actors in the drama. There's also Satan. Satan, although by no means as powerful as God, has some power, and wishes us no good. He has warped the world so that it contains germs, diseases, poisons, cancer, and the like. He also tempts humans to do evil, and, all too often, we succumb.

Well, doesn't the existence of Satan mean that God is not omnipotent? Why would a loving God allow the existence of such a being? I don't think I have a complete answer to that. One possibility is that God is giving Satan, himself, a chance to repent. Another is that God allows Satan to bring misery into the world in punishment for the sins of humanity. A third, illustrated by Job, is that God allows Satan to hurt good people so that their triumph over such hurt can be an inspiration to others. And, fourthly, God allows testing because that refines character. These four possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

To emphasize the last point, here's a quotation from C. S. Lewis:
When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along--illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation--he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. p. 174.

And one from James 1:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers*, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)
*There is an ESV text note, indicating that "brothers" can mean "brothers and sisters."

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Arise, My Soul, Arise" by Charles Wesley

2007 was the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is still heard is "Arise, My Soul, Arise." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

These words were published in 1742, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" pt. 4

I continue comments on Edge's "World Question" issue, which question is the same as my title. See the first part of this series, which gives some explanation, the second part and the third.

On this page of the issue, Lawrence Krauss explains why he has completely changed his views about cosmology, and why.

On the same page, Stephen Kosslyn writes about the interaction between genes and the environment:
. . . this stereo process — of computing depth on the basis of the disparities in where images strike the two retinas — depends on the distance between the eyes. And second, and this is absolutely critical, there's no way to know at the moment of conception how far apart a person's eyes are going to be, because that depends on bone growth — and bone growth depends partly on the mother's diet and partly on the infant's diet.

Also on the same page, Gary Klein has an essay on how firefighters make quick decisions about what to do.

The last essay on the page is about how Kevin Kelly, editor-at-large of Wired, has come to see that the Wikipedia is splendidly better than he had anticipated.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" pt. 3

I continue comments on Edge's "World Question" issue, which question is the same as my title. See the first part of this series, which gives some explanation, and the second part.

The first essay on this page of the issue is by Rodney Brooks, who questions the use of computational metaphors to explain the nervous system.

On the same page, Robert Trivers asks:
"And consider one of the great mysteries of mental biology. The human brain consumes about 20% of resting metabolic rate come rain or shine, whether depressed or happy, asleep or awake. Why? And why is the brain so quick to die when deprived of this energy?"
He doesn't know, of course.

Ken Ford used to think that science was practically free of unethical behavior, but has changed his mind, based, he says, on the evidence. He writes:
We do need to teach ethics as essential to the conduct of science, and we need to teach the simple lesson that in science crime doesn't pay. But above all, we need to demonstrate by example that the highest ethical standards should, and often do, come naturally.

I have found this publication to be fertile ground for thought, and expect to continue with this series.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sunspots 144

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

From Edge's annual series of questions posed to various interesting people, the question that begins the year 2008 being "What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" a response from Richard Dawkins, which begins thus:
When a politician changes his mind, he is a 'flip-flopper.' Politicians will do almost anything to disown the virtue — as some of us might see it — of flexibility. Margaret Thatcher said, "The lady is not for turning." Tony Blair said, "I don't have a reverse gear." Leading Democratic Presidential candidates, whose original decision to vote in favour of invading Iraq had been based on information believed in good faith but now known to be false, still stand by their earlier error for fear of the dread accusation: 'flip-flopper'. How very different is the world of science. Scientists actually gain kudos through changing their minds. If a scientist cannot come up with an example where he has changed his mind during his career, he is hidebound, rigid, inflexible, dogmatic! It is not really all that paradoxical, when you think about it further, that prestige in politics and science should push in opposite directions.

A proposal to end the oil addiction of the US.

Brenda Frese, coach of Maryland's women's basketball team, is due to have twins in March. This has changed the way she coaches . . .

Katherine has discovered that there is a UK version of the NIV English Bible. (Seems appropriate!)

Bonnie has, as one comment says, "opened a can of worms," on gender roles and the Fall (among other things). Read the post, and the comments which follow.

Bonnie has another post on gender roles, later.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" pt. 2

I continue comments on Edge's "World Question" issue, which question is the same as my title. See here for the first part of this series.

This page contains, as its last entry, an essay on the reality of the soul, by Todd Feinberg. Feinberg believes that there is such a thing as a soul, which is not the same thing as the brain. He indicates why he now believes as he does. Feinberg does not believe this for religious reasons -- he does not believe in the persistence of the soul after death.

On this page, the first entry, by Keith Devlin, considers one of the most fundamental questions underlying mathematics, namely, whether math is invented or discovered. He now believes the former. (Not everyone agrees!)

On the same page, David Dalrymple raises some fundamental questions about how computers are designed, using an analogy with a business.

Tor Nørretranders points out that our body isn't a stable thing. "98 percent of the atoms in the body are replaced every year," he writes.

And Helen Fisher discusses what she calls "the four-year itch" -- that is, more divorces occur after four years of marriage than at any other point. (Her data is from many societies, not just North American.) She speculates about how natural selection might have brought this about.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 14, 2008

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?"

Edge has published it's fascinating "World Question," with answers, for 2008. For this year, the "World Question" is "What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Why?"

Each year, Edge poses this question to a group of more or less influential people, scientists, computer experts, and others, and publishes their replies. The replies are mostly about something in the contributor's area of expertise, but this is not always so. There are something like 160 responses included this year. I confess that I have not read them all, and probably won't. It is also true that some of the responses weren't interesting to me, for various reasons. But some of them were very interesting. Generally, the responses are about a page each, and well-written.

This page of responses included several responses that I found interesting.

The most interesting response on the page was the shortest. Joseph Ledoux has, he says, changed his mind radically about how human memory works, and says why. If he's right, I need to change my mind, too.

Martin Seligman (there's a line or two about the accomplishments of each person, and you can click on the name to find out more about each contributor) has come to believe that there aren't any other civilizations in the galaxy, or maybe the universe.

Douglas Rushkoff says that the Internet hasn't changed people very much, if at all, and he's obviously pretty sour about the whole thing.

Howard Gardner says that psychologist Jean Piaget raised good questions, but came up with wrong answers.

Donald Hoffman believes that natural selection often has not selected for senses that bring in exact information about the world.

James O'Donnell writes about the Fall of Rome.

Colin Tudge thinks that genetic engineering of crops won't solve all the problems of agriculture, world-wide, because scientists don't understand all these problems, and that this merely illustrates that science as a whole is not as powerful an enterprise as many of us think it is.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"And Are We Yet Alive?" by Charles Wesley

Last year was the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that I have never heard is "And Are We Yet Alive." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For His almighty grace!

Preserved by power divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last!

Yet out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

These words were published in 1749, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sunspots 143b

Matthew 9:1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (ESV)

Three remarks:
First, Jesus responded to the faith of the people who brought this paralytic to Him, not to the faith of the paralytic.
Second, His first response was to forgive the person's sins, indicating that that was more important. Note that this was, again, in response to the faith of other people.
Third, He did heal the man, but as a sign of His sin-forgiving power, not as an end in itself.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Did Pasteur disprove spontaneous generation?

Louis Pasteur is often celebrated as the scientist who disproved spontaneous generation. Did he?

First, it is necessary to determine what is meant by spontaneous generation.

The Free Dictionary says:
spontaneous generation
The supposed development of living organisms from nonliving matter, as maggots from rotting meat. The theory of spontaneous generation for larger organisms was easily shown to be false, but the theory was not fully discredited until the mid-19th century with the demonstration of the existence and reproduction of microorganisms, most notably by Louis Pasteur. Also called abiogenesis.

Merriam-Webster, however, does not give a definition for spontaneous generation, but links from a search for it to abiogenesis, which is defined as follows:
the supposed spontaneous origination of living organisms directly from lifeless matter . . .

There is some disagreement, then, about the very term, spontaneous generation. For the purposes of this post, spontaneous generation and abiogenesis are the same thing.

Spontaneous generation was studied by Pasteur, in the 19th century. If it actually happened, living things would just appear, as opposed to coming from pre-existing living things. Supposed examples of spontaneous generation included the appearance of thin worms, called horsehair worms, in horse drinking troughs. Some people believed that they spontaneously generated from horse hair, fallen into the water. Another supposed example was the appearance of mold and bacteria on food.

Pasteur's research, showing that, under some conditions, it was possible to prevent the invasion, by microorganisms, of environments that would have been conducive to their growth, led to the eventual rejection of spontaneous generation by scientists, and was important in establishing the germ theory of disease. An egg, or a small worm, must have gotten into the horse trough. A spore, or an airborne bacterium, must have gotten into the spoiled food. Infectious disease must have come from exposure.

The most important case of abiogenesis would have been the appearance of the first living things.

Did Pasteur disprove spontaneous generation? Not exactly. He did contribute to the downfall of the idea, but, in the sense that he ruled out all possible spontaneous generation by experiment, he didn't.

What do I mean? Suppose you asked me to prove that witches can't fly. I would try to find someone who is supposed to be a witch, and throw her off a high building. Surely, under such conditions, a witch would fly. (Let us not worry about petty details such as my murders of reputed witches.)

After, say, a hundred such experiments, in which flight was never observed, have I proved that witches can't fly? Well, no. In the first place, how can I be sure that my hundred women were, indeed, witches? Perhaps they were just people that someone else wanted to get rid of, so the someone else's contacted me, giving me false information.

Or, as is well known, witches need a broom to fly. If I threw my witches off a building with no broom, no wonder they didn't fly. Or, if I did, I wasn't giving them the right type of broom. Or, if I did give them the right type of broom, the buildings were somehow such that witches can't fly off of them, for example if the building was blessed during construction. Or, a skeptic could say, witches can only fly on certain days, and certain hours, and I didn't perform my experiments at the right time. Or certain rituals must be performed before flight is possible, and the rituals weren't performed, or were performed in the presence of a skeptic, which makes them invalid.

I have not, and can not, rule out the possibility that witches really can fly, if the moon is in the right phase, and all other conditions are correct. I have simply not tried the experiment under the proper conditions. However, I can still doubt that witches can fly, and my experiments may convince other people of the same thing.

In a similar way, it is impossible to prove, by experiment, that spontaneous generation can't occur. It is always possible to argue, for example, that it occurred, 8 kilometers under the surface of Iceland, on February 29, 2000, when the moon was in the right position. How can I show, by experiment, that it didn't? I can't. I wasn't there at the time. However, I can still doubt that it did. Pasteur's work helped to persuade scientists that spontaneous generation didn't occur. It didn't completely rule it out.

Whether Pasteur ever considered the implications for origins, I don't know. Perhaps he did. But, clearly, if abiogenesis of all types could be ruled out, living things could not have arisen from non-living material, but must have been supernaturally produced. Naturalistic theories of origins suppose that abiogenesis of this type did, in fact, occur, and, of course, rule out supernatural origins.

Some experiments have given support to the idea that life arose by abiogenesis, although we can't be completely sure what conditions were like on earth a few billion years ago. So abiogenesis may have occurred, and caused the appearance of the first living things. In fact, if you follow my argument above, you will see that it is impossible to experimentally rule out the possibility. I can doubt it, and, in fact, do doubt very much that that's how life began, but I can't scientifically prove that it didn't. I refer you to my earlier post on Hebrews 11:3, which speaks of the connection between faith and origins.

In sum, I don't think it is correct to say that Pasteur proved that spontaneous generation hadn't occurred. It is legitimate to doubt the possibility, in the present, or in the distant past, but it can't be disproved.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sunspots 143g

A graphic I have recently spotted that may be of interest:

Christ, wearing a crown of thorns, carved into a pumpkin.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sunspots 143

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

Wired reports on a possible vaccine against cocaine.

Carl Zimmer on how migrations of animals are disappearing.

If you think you are exercising, then you get the benefits. (and the reverse) An NPR report indicates this.

Yesterday was Alfred Russel Wallace's birthday .

C. S. Lewis on Arthur C. Clarke. (He loved Childhood's End, apparently.)

Parableman on extending the human lifespan.

This week's Christian Carnival is here . For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Where is God when things hurt us badly, pt. 3

In previous posts, here and here, I considered the problem posed by the post title. One comment on the first post was as follows:

David B. Ellis said...

[quoting me here:] They both present answers. In Eifelheim, it is God's love, expressed through the unselfish love of fellow creatures, hope of heaven, and hope of ultimate redemption.

Hope? That sounds more like a coping mechanism than an actual answer to the problem of evil (or problem of unnecessary suffering, as I think its better called).

The "answer" in DOOMSDAY BOOK is even worse:

The question: why does a loving God allow terrible suffering he could easily prevent?

nonanswer: God loves us.

questioner: That doesn't address my question. If he loves us, WHY does he allow terrible suffering?

nonanswer: God loves us. 'Nuff said.

There's no answer in that. Just an unwillingness to actually face the challenge extreme suffering presents to the reasonableness of belief in a caring God.

Of course, in the passage you quoted from the book the actual question that was raised was whether one should go on struggling in the face of terrible odds.

The reasonable answer, of course, is yes. A 1% chance is better than the odds for just giving up, which is, of course, ) 0%.

One doesn't need belief in God for that. Just common sense.

I responded by agreeing that the responses I had suggested were, indeed, coping mechanisms, not answers. A relative, who is a psychiatrist, read my first post, and offered this response:

I think [Ellis] said something like "That's just a coping mechanism, not an answer." I think this is an appropriate analogy: In Psychiatry, we often admit people who have just suffered some huge crisis. Probably one of the biggest is learning that their spouse/significant other was going to leave them. In response, they impulsively overdose, slash their wrists, etc. Well, if someone's spouse is truly going to leave them, and managed care is going to pay for only 3 days (more or less) of hospitalization, we don't try to focus on solutions. We often first focus on coping mechanisms. We also focus on coping mechanisms for patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, a diagnosis characterized by impulsive behavior and labile mood. We use the term "self-soothing" sometimes. I think that in order to get to a place where you can actually work on ANSWERS, you first need to be able to cope with your current circumstances, and obviously, you need to be able to avoid killing yourself. Again, I don't know that we're necessarily providing hope, but often they do get more hopeful with time (and again, if they can keep from focusing on suicide)

In my second post, I attempted to explain (as many others have) how suffering, and a loving God, can both exist. At the moment, that's the best answer I have for that question. Coping, through hope and God's love, are the best responses.

Thanks to Ellis and my relative, and thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Added Jan 21, 2008: I have come to see that there is a serious omission in my musing on this subject, which I have attempted to repair with a fourth post on the subject.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Where is God when things hurt us badly? pt. 2

In a recent post, "Where is God when things hurt us badly?" I quoted from two important works of science fiction, which have that question as a major theme. I received more than the usual number of comments on the post (a couple of which were really about something else). Here's the last comment (so far, anyway). That comment deserves a lengthy, serious answer:
David B. Ellis said...
The whole question is WHY if God loves human beings he stands by inactive while they undergo horrible unnecessary agonies.

Such behavior is not consistent with a loving nature.

The religious skeptic is able to give a clear and credible answer to the question of why a loving God would allow such suffering:

Because he's fictional.

Theism, on the other hand, has been able to give no credible answer.

Simply restating your premise that God loves us does nothing to address this question---one of the most puzzling of issues that theism must address.
Ellis's first paragraph will do as a statement of the issue. I agree with him that this is one of the most puzzling issues that theism must address. Many others have attempted to address it, and some of them have been more successful than I expect to be. Nonetheless, I'll muse about it in this post.

The usual Christian response to the problem of pain is that given by C. S. Lewis. The theology of this question is called theodicy. I am not a theologian, nor an expert in theodicy. I have read Lewis, and some criticism of his response.

My summary of the response by Lewis is the following:

Unselfish, agape love includes a desire for independence in the objects of love.

Although God began as an all-powerful being, He chose to give up some of His power, in that some of the beings He created were given the opportunity to make choices. If they really can make choices, then one of the results is that they (and often others, even innocent others) must experience the consequences of their choices, even though God would wish that they could be protected from such consequences. If there was no possibility of bad results of their choices they wouldn't really be choices. This is similar to, say, teaching a child to drive a car. Sooner or later, such a young driver, if she has really become an autonomous driver, must drive by herself. This means that she may have an accident, injuring herself, perhaps others, and even die, or kill others. Her parent knows this, but also knows that he cannot always be there to give advice, or take the wheel. In order that the young driver be able to transport herself to work, or to college, she must be able to make her own choices while on the road. Sometimes these choices will be wrong, with terrible consequences, but not allowing her to drive would be even worse -- she would always be dependent on others. Although allowing others to make choices may lead to terrible consequences, it may also lead to wonderful consequences. The daughter may get a good job, experience a good education, and meet a good husband. The creature, created by God, may choose to follow in His steps, without being forced to do so. A God who loves very much loved enough to allow for autonomy in some of His creatures.

Humans chose to admit evil into the world. From that came sin, sickness, war, death, and all kinds of evil. God didn't want that, but He did want humans (and angels, apparently) to have the capacity to choose. These terrible consequences have come about as a result.

God's answer to human problems, caused by our bad choices, original and current, is not to remove the problems, but to offer hope, and, especially, love. The ultimate love was to take on God Himself the consequences of evil choices, paying the price for our sin by His own sacrificial death -- love in the extreme. He also offers, to those who chose to accept it, an eternal life of (apparently) unmitigated good, in His presence. Thus, His answer to the terrible problem of pain is not to take the pain away, but to impart love and hope, and, finally, Himself. As Lewis put it fictionally:

"I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?" C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 308. (Faces is not exactly about the problem of pain. It is more about the problem of being alive. But the answer stands.)

Ellis, and others, may say that this is no answer, and, in a way, it isn't one. Job wondered where God was when he was sitting in the ash heap, scraping his boils with broken pottery, with his family and possessions mostly destroyed. God didn't exactly answer him, but simply asked Job to compare himself with God. This was good enough for Job -- God is all-powerful (except where self-limited by the choices of others) good, and loving. Job repented of his doubt.

Christ, Himself, while on the cross, cried out "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" I suppose that He Himself was wondering where God's love was, at that time of greatest suffering. He personally experienced the consequences of my bad choices, and those of others. But He also cried out, as His last utterance, "Into your hands I commit my spirit." God's love is the answer. Hope, Love, and God Himself do not stop suffering. They don't even explain it. But they offer a way to cope, and final relief.

I have also posted again on this topic, responding to another of Ellis's comments. I thank him greatly for those comments, whether or not he finds my responses satisfactory.

Thanks for reading.

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Added Jan 21, 2008: I have come to see that there is a serious omission in my musing on this subject, which I have attempted to repair with a fourth post on the subject.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"I Want a Principle Within," by Charles Wesley

Last year was the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is occasionally sung, and makes a good selection for the new year, is "I Want a Principle Within." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.

Apparently there were only three verses, which is quite short for a Wesley hymn!

These words were published in 1749, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Where is God when things hurt us badly?

Theresia hugged her knees. "It hurts," she said again.
"Why has God abandoned us?" Gregor asked.
Dietrich tried to pry Theresia's arm loose so he could lance the last pustule. He did not think that it mattered. "God will never abandon us," he insisted, "but we may abandon God."
The mason swept his arm wide, relinquishing his grip on Theresia's shoulder. "Then where is He in all this?" he shouted. Theresia flinched at the bellow and he immediately took a more tender note and stroked her hair with his great stubby fingers.
Dietrich thought of all the reasoned arguments, of Aquinas and the other philosophers. He wondered how Joachim would have answered. Then he thought that Gregor did not need an answer, did not want an answer, or that the only answer was hope. Michael Flynn, Eifelheim. New York: Tor, p. 297.

"Katherine," Roche called.
. . . "What is it?" she demanded.
He looked at her solemnly. "We must not give up hope," he said.
"Why not?" she burst out. "We're up to eighty-five percent, and we haven't even got started. The clerk is dying, Rosemund's dying, you've all been exposed. Why shouldn't I give up hope?"
"God has not abandoned us utterly," he said. "Agnes is safe in His arms."
Safe, she thought bitterly. In the ground. In the cold. In the dark. She put her hands up to her face.
"She is in heaven, where the plague cannot reach her. And God's love is ever with us," he said, "and naught can separate us from it, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor things present -- "
"Nor things to come," Kivrin said.
"Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature," he said. He put his hand on her shoulder, gently, as if he were anointing her. "It was his love that sent you to help us."
She put her hand up to his where it rested on her shoulder and held it tightly. "We must help each other," she said. Connie Willis, Doomsday Book. New York: Bantam, 1992, p. 381.

These were, and are, important science-fiction novels. Eifelheim was a nominee for the Hugo Award in 2007. Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Although both are clearly legitimate science fiction works, the crisis of faith posed by the title of this post is a central part of each book, and, in both cases, one of the things that hurts badly is the black plague in Europe of the 1300s. They both present answers. In Eifelheim, it is God's love, expressed through the unselfish love of fellow creatures, hope of heaven, and hope of ultimate redemption. In Doomsday Book, it is God's love, and that love expressed through the unselfish love of fellow creatures.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * * *

January 8: I have received some comments, for which I am grateful. I have responded to one of those comments in this subsequent post (which includes the entire comment), and to another.

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Added Jan 21, 2008: I have come to see that there is a serious omission in my musing on this subject, which I have attempted to repair with a fourth post on the subject.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Proposed names for musical groups

For no particular reason, here are some proposed names for musical groups. Help yourself, if you need a name:

Fully Clothed Mole Rats

Trash Can Liners

Undersized Load


Charmless Quarks

Chartreuse Crush

Conversion Factors

Pounds per Kilometer

Abscessed Molars

Stupidity Teeth

Medium-sized Bang

Coalition of the Unwilling

Non-Garden Salad

Second Navel

Fifty Percent On

Three-way Traffic

Top-Secret Mulch

Excess Shortage

Vast Minority

Of course, being totally out of touch with popular music, one or all of these may be taken. I plead ignorance, and request that any infringement issues be directed to my lawyer.

No doubt you can come up with some better suggestions. Feel free to comment.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sunspots 142

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


Wired on the ten top genetically engineered organisms.

Wired on the ten top scientific breakthroughs of 2007.

Henry Neufeld points out that, just because someone agrees with our political (or other) opinions, they aren't necessary smart. They may just be following some demagogue or other. He has advice on balancing where we get our information.

Jan on why being grateful is good for you.

Bonnie has some important thoughts on gender-related roles in marriage.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Beginning: simple and profound

On January 1, 2008, my on-line Bible reading includes Genesis 1 and 2. This morning, I was struck by some passages that I had read many times before.

Here's how it begins:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (All quotations from the ESV, which allows such, if properly cited.) This simple statement doesn't say when, where, how, or why this happened. It does say Who. It doesn't lay out any proofs for the statement. It is to be taken on faith. (Hebrews 11:3) Simple, yet profound. Why profound? Read on:

Genesis 1:11-13: And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.


26 Then 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 livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill 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 moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 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.

That seems simple enough. Simple statements of fact. But then we come to Genesis 2, which includes this:
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

So it can't be quite so simple. Genesis 2 apparently describes the creation of a human as having occurred before the plants appeared, whereas Genesis 1 says that plants appeared on the third day, and humans on the sixth.

Much has been made of this, and related matters, by people much more equipped to discuss the possibilities than I am. See also here, here and here (and many other places). Suffice it to say that God's creative work was (and is -- see also here) not simple at all. It's profound enough that we will never achieve a full understanding of it, in this mortal life.

Thanks for reading.