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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Speaking of parasitism

In my previous post, I made a brief reference to a parasitic relationship. There are some really amazing, or perhaps strange, such. Here's a YouTube video, of a parasitized snail. The video is about 90 seconds in length. The parasite has changed the behavior of the snail, to the detriment of the host, but to the advantage of the parasite.

Note that if a parasite is too harmful, it will destroy it's own ecological niche -- parasites need hosts.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 6: Death before the Fall? (part 2)

In Genesis 2, God warns Adam:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (All Bible quotation from the ESV. The creation of Eve is described later in the same chapter.)

If there was no animal death until after the Fall, would it have been possible for Adam to fully understand this warning? Perhaps not. It would seem that, if Adam had seen a dead animal, for example one killed by a predator, he would have comprehended the idea of death more fully.

David Snoke, in his A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), uses this argument in favor of death before the Fall. He also raise other arguments. (See here for my most recent post on this topic.)

Snoke does raise other arguments. One of them is from Romans 1. In that chapter, Paul writes:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Note the emphasized phrase. Snoke points out, correctly, that Paul didn't say "ever since the Fall." He said since the creation.

Snoke claims, with good reason, I believe, after reading his book, that part of God's attributes are, and have always been, his wrath, leading to righteous judgement. If God's wrath was perceivable before the Fall, then some of the effects of God's wrath, or at least animal death, and perhaps similar things (tripping over rocks, seeing tree branches break, and the like) must have been known to Adam and Eve. Says Snoke:
If Adam had obeyed God, this "very good" creation still would have testified to Adam of the power of God and the wrath he had escaped. (95)

Snoke also writes:
We must marvel at the shark, even while fearing it. It is well designed, frighteningly so. So also are many parasites. It is hard to believe that such well-designed weapons could arise by chance --they are good designs. . . . the main reason why many people want Darwinism to be true is that they just cannot accept the idea of God being glorified by violence. Darwin used the example of a wasp-eating larva as an example of something he just could not imagine God making in a good world. . . . If it would have been bad for God to have made wasp-eating larvae before the fall, how is it now justified? If we say that the only merit in making natural evil is to punish humans, then how are we punished by the death of a wasp? If we say, on the other hand, that the death of a wasp serves as a reminder to us of the wrath of God, why could not that have been the case before the Fall? God's wrath did not suddenly spring into existence when Adam and Eve sinned, and God had no desire to hide this side of his nature. (pp. 96-7. I pointed out, in an earlier post, that I do not agree fully with Snoke on the question of intelligent design, but his argument doesn't depend on direct supernatural design of the shark's body, or lack thereof.)

Thanks for reading. I hope to post more on Snoke's book later.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Isaiah: some thoughts on origins

Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. (ESV)

Isaiah is speaking for God here, of course. There are two very interesting ideas here. First, the passage speaks as if God created darkness, not as if darkness is merely the absence of light. Is this poetry, or is this a description of how and what God created? I don't know.

Second, God speaks as if he created calamity, or problems. Interesting, to be sure.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stem Cell breakthrough - iPS cells from adult skin cells

Wired reports that Science will publish an article on a breakthrough in stem cell research.

iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells can be made from adult mouse cells, using viruses to insert genes that are characteristic of embryonic cells. The breakthrough is that the virus carriers do not persist, which would be a serious potential danger.

Here is an abstract of the forthcoming paper, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science web site.

Science is the most important scientific journal published in the US. All of the authors of the article are affiliated with Harvard. These facts, and the fact that this research builds on previous cutting-edge research by scientists at prominent institutions, should put to rest any complaints that stem cell research is ignoring the possibility of using cells which do not come from embryos. Stem cell researchers have been exploring that possibility, but, understandably, research with embryo-derived cells is further along.

Note that it is possible that this technique won't work in human cells, for some reason.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 5: Death before the Fall?

I have been occasionally posting about David Snoke's A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). For the most recent post, see here, or click on "David Snoke" among the tags at the end of this post.

Snoke, in his third chapter, says that the main reasons that many Christians believe that the earth is not very old are beliefs that the days of Genesis 1 were 24-hour days, and that the Bible says that there was no death before the Fall. Snoke says that the second belief is the more important objection, and chooses to deal with it first.

Why do many Christians believe that there was no death before the Fall? One reason is Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (all Bible quotes are from the ESV)

A second reason is Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. God told Noah this, and it seems to imply that humans didn't eat animals before the Flood, which, of course, came after the Fall. Eating meat is one of the main reasons for killing animals.

To quote Snoke:

Proponents of the young-earth view, however, would say that the statements of Genesis 1:29-30 rule out meat-eating before the fall. In so saying, however, they are arguing from a positive command to a negative one. They take the statement, "I give you x for food," to mean, "You are forbidden to eat anything else." This does not necessarily follow. The parallelism of Genesis 1:28-30 and Genesis 9:1-3 may be taken to imply the opposite, that is, that Genesis 9:1-3 is simply a repetition of the same charge given in Genesis 1:28-30, and that the expansion that includes eating animals is the same as other expansions of parallel passages in Scripture, such as the different versions of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 or the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-26. The later version dos not negate the earlier version; rather, it is taken as simply saying the same thing with slightly more information. . . .
If eating animals was not forbidden, then why would God single out green plants as food in the charge of Genesis 1:28-30? There are several plausible reasons. The best reason, in my opinion, is that God was establishing the hierarchy of his creation: green plants are the basis of the food chain. (pp. 65-66) Genesis 1:28-30 is here.

If animals didn't die before the Fall, then significant changes in animal types couldn't have been brought about by natural selection. Also, fossils, indicating that significant changes have occurred, wouldn't have been laid down a long time ago if animals didn't die before the Fall.

What does Snoke say about this? He argues that the death referred to in Romans 5:12 and other passages about the effects of the Fall is spiritual death, not physical. Adam, after all, did not die immediately when he and Eve first sinned, but, says Snoke, he did die spiritually, immediately. Since his death was spiritual only, it didn't affect the animals directly.

I will not reproduce all of Snoke's arguments here, but will mention one more such. Job 38 mentions, in the last verses of the chapter, predators and prey. Predators, of course, kill other animals. The context of the chapter is about God's creation. This strongly suggests that there was predation before the Fall. (An article by Snoke, about dangerous animals and the Bible, may be found here.)

I believe that Snoke makes a good case. I hope to post more on his book later. Thanks for reading.

(Note that Snoke, nor the Bible, say very little about the death of plants, so I haven't either.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sunspots 178

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

Wired reminds us that 325 years ago, Sept. 17, 1683, van Leeuwenhoek announced microscopic discoveries, and the world has not been the same since.

Wired also tells us about the origin of emoticons, such as :-)

NASA has a splendid NASA images site, with lots of photos of space exploration.

(Or something) Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize-winner in economics, tells CNN how to prevent the next crisis in Wall Street.

He Lives on the meaning of the Hebrew word yôm (day).

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Politics and the truth

Leonard Pitts, with his usual economical elegance, has put into words something that seems to be true. That is, all too many US citizens have a very mushy working definition of truth -- truth is, for so many of us, what I want to be true. (The candidates haven't helped.)

Pitts starts off with various rumors about Obama and Palin, rumors that are just that, and that have no basis in fact. But "red" citizens want to believe that Obama doesn't salute the flag, and "blue" citizens want to believe that Palin banned books in the local library when she was mayor. Anyone who says that Obama salutes the flag, or that Palin didn't throw library books into the incinerator, is a liar, un-American, and probably unChristian.

What are the consequences? Well, one consequence is that citizens aren't asking questions that they should be, especially about the qualifications of these relatively inexperienced candidates. "Red" citizens need to ask if a candidate who had no passport until about the time she became governor about two years ago is really qualified to be one heartbeat away from the presidency, especially when the presidential candidate is so old. "Blue" citizens need to ask if a person with so little concrete legislative accomplishment really is the leader that he claims to be.

There is a much more important consequence. Christians, above all others, should be zealous in their defense of objective truth. Jesus did die. He was resurrected. The only solution to the sin problem is Christ's sacrifice. If the truth is only what I want to believe, then I won't believe this awesome and fundamental truth. I'll believe that I can solve the sin problem myself, or that I don't have such a problem, in spite of common experience and what the Bible says.

As Pitts put it:
All things are up in the air, all things open to interpretation. Indeed, truth hardly seems to be the point anymore. Lies serve just as well. As a result, we are no longer grounded in the same shared body of facts and in a very real sense, have no basis upon which to reason together, no basis for shared mission, purpose or identity.

Please, God, if it isn't too late, help the citizens of our country to wake up to the fact that there are some things that are true, no matter who says them, and some things that are false, no matter who says them, and that knowing this makes eternal differences.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bujold's The Curse of Chalion: The Story

Some weeks ago, having read all the fantastic literature that I really wanted to, and not having any books that I really wanted to re-read, I looked for guidance as to something new to read. Going over the winners of various yearly prizes in fantastic literature, I found, rather to my amazement, the following in the Wikipedia: "This is not only a novel about self-sacrifice and redemption, but also a piece of speculative theological fiction which closely examines the relationship between free will, fate and divine intervention."

The article was on The Curse of Chalion, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001) by Lois McMaster Bujold. I decided that I would read that novel, and I am glad that I did. I have already quoted the novel in two posts, one on the effects of war.

I plan to consider the question of whether the book is a Christian novel in a future post. First, I need to summarize the plot.

Cazaril is the main character. When we first meet him, he is clearly poor, and in bad physical shape. Two events begin to change his fortune, and, eventually, his health. First, a soldier mistakenly gives him a valuable coin, enabling him to go to Vallenda, the nearest city, and pay for new clothes and a haircut, so that he may present himself to the castle of the local royalty. Secondly, he finds a man who has died, and is able to honorably obtain his clothes (the body is burned). He also finds out that the man has died as a result of what is called death magic.

As the book progresses, we learn that Cazaril used to be a page in Vallenda, that he rose to a responsible position in the army of Chalion, the country, and that Dondo dy Jironal, a man evil in almost every possible way, saw to it, with his brother, Martou dy Jironal, that Cazaril was turned over to Chalion's enemies as a galley slave, which accounts for his poverty and his physical condition. At one point, he was beaten nearly to death, because he defended a young galley slave from the slavemasters. His back carries the scars of that beating.

We also learn that death magic isn't exactly magic. It is possible, in this sub-creation, to pray to one of the five gods of Chalion that someone else die, and, as part of the answer to that prayer, you will die, too. Cazaril learns more about this from a notebook left in the dead man's clothes -- the dead man died after praying that an evil man would die. Not just anyone can be killed by this sort of prayer. Only evil people may be.

For more on the religion of Bujold's fictional universe, see this article.

Cazaril presents himself at court, and is given the position of tutor and secretary to Iselle, a teenaged girl who is half-sister to the current Roya, or king, by Iselle's grandmother, who is the ruler of Vallenda. Betriz, Iselle's companion, also becomes his pupil.

After a time, Cazaril and his charges are called to the capital city, where Cazaril is responsible for them. Iselle's younger brother is also required to go, but he is not Cazaril's charge. The court is tainted by evil. The Roya is under a curse, and has ceded almost all authority to Martou dy Jironal, his chancellor. Cazaril conducts himself wisely. There is no decision he makes, in the entire book, to advance himself at the expense of others, or to choose evil over good. He does everything he can to promote Iselle's well-being. Iselle and Betriz learn from him, and they, too, are wise and good, which is difficult, under the circumstances of living in an evil court. Betriz queries Cazaril about what is wrong, and he tells her that a royal court needs a moral center.

The chancellor persuades the king to have Iselle marry his brother Dondo. In addition to being a drunkard, cruel, a womanizer, and evil in other ways, he is also over twice Iselle's age. She does not want to marry him. Finally, in desperation, Cazaril decides that the only thing that he can do to stop the wedding is to pray that Dondo will die, and that he, Cazaril, will die simultaneously. In other words, he prays for death magic. Dondo does die, but, Cazaril does not, an unprecedented event. However, Dondo's soul, and the demon that took his life, are encapsulated in a tumor in Cazaril's abdomen. Somehow, this event gives Cazaril spiritual discernment found only in a few, and he sees that not only is the Roya cursed, but Iselle and other members of her family are, too.

Iselle decides, correctly, that she must take action to forestall any other evil marriages arranged by the chancellor. Her younger brother dies, as a result of an evil action suggested to him by Dondo, before Dondo's death. Iselle takes the body to Vallenda for burial, and sends Cazaril to Ibran, a nearby kingdom, to try to arrange a marriage with the heir of that kingdom. Cazaril succeeds in persuading the young man's father that this would be a good marriage, in part because it turns out that the prospective groom was the young slave that Cazaril tried to protect. Cazaril didn't know of the young man's position -- he was incognito at the time.

Cazaril is told that the only way that the curse can be lifted is if someone is willing to die three times to lift it.

Martou dy Jironal, seeing Iselle escaping from his influence, is enraged, and tries to kill Cazaril. When his sword enters his body, Cazaril has a vision of one of the gods of Chalion. But the sword thrust releases Dondo's soul, and the demon, and the demon kills chancellor Martou dy Jironal.

Cazaril has died three times, and been brought back to life by a supernatural intervention each time -- once as a galley slave, once when he prayed that Dondo would die, and once when Martou stabbed him. The curse is lifted, Iselle and her new husband begin what appears to be a just and good reign (her brother's action has led to the Roya's death) and Betriz insists that she wants to marry Cazaril (who has wanted to do this). A storybook ending.

A question that occurs, to Cazaril, or to his friends, at various points in the story, is the question of his free will. Has he been chosen to lift the curse, and start Iselle's reign, or did he do this on his own initiative? Did he have any choice in the matter? The question is not completely resolved, but it is clear that serving the gods has its costs, as well as its rewards.

The book is well written, with interesting characters and situations. I found it especially interesting because of its religious nature. In other words, I found the quotation from the Wikipedia article on the book, given above, to be accurate.

Thanks for reading.

Susanna Wesley on sin

Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.
from Susanna Wesley: The Complete Writings, by Susanna Annesley Wesley, Susanna Wesley, and Charles Wallace, Oxford University Press US, 1997, p. 109. Susanna Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cazaril, from Bujold's The Curse of Chalion, on a proper royal court

"Does this court . . ." Betriz frowned, clearly trying to frame unfamiliar thoughts, "Does this court have a center?"
Cazaril vented a wary sigh. "A well-conducted court always has someone in moral authority. . . . (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion, New York: HarperCollins, 2001, page 137.)

By "court," here, Cazaril means the people around the ruler, not a court with a judge.

Thanks for reading.

*   *   *   *   *

I have gotten several spam comments on this post, so I'm no longer allowing comments on it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cazaril, from Bujold's The Curse of Chalion, on war

"Chalion lost more than dy Jironal gained on that ill-conceived venture."
Iselle's eyebrows bent. "Was it not a victory?"
"By what definition? We and the Roknari princedoms have been pushing shoving over that border area for decades -- it's now a waste. Orchards and olive groves and vineyards burned, farms abandoned, animals turned loose to go wild or starve -- it's peace, not war,that makes wealth for a country. War just transfers posession of the residue from the weaker to the stronger. Worse, what is bought with blood is sold for coin, and then stolen back again." He brooded, and added bitterly, "Your grandfather Roya Fonsa bought Gotorget with the lives of his sons. It was sold by March dy Jironal for three hundred thousand royals. It's a wondrous transmutation, where the blood of one man is turned into the money of another. Lead into gold is nothing to it." (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion, New York: HarperCollins, 2001, pp. 131-2) Cazaril is in Roya (king) Orico's menagerie with Iselle, now 16, the Roya's half-sister, and Betriz, her companion, a little older. He is tutoring them. Umegat, who runs the menagerie, is also present. The conversation starts with a discussion of a rare bird brought to the menagerie by dy Jironal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sunspots 177

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

CNN reports that the Large Hadron Collider was successfully started up. Google memorialized the event with an icon for the day.

Unfortunately, one of our local TV stations turned this event into an "either God created or the Big Bang," news report, when, of course, God could have used the Big Bang. The news report had other serious flaws, such as pronouncing collider incorrectly, but maybe I'm the only one who really watched it. I hope so.

Wired reports that iPhone users are unknowningly creating continuous, hacker-accessible photos of their activity on the device.

Ray Boltz, Contemporary Christian Musician ("I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb," "Watch the Lamb") has "come out" as a homosexual, according to a Christianity Today blog.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How truthful are the four major candidates? Not very.

PolitiFact (which is nonpartisan) rates the truthfulness of the major candidates for public office.

Go here for the page on Sarah Palin -- there are easy links to the others from that page.

Palin (who has been running for the shortest time) has made fewer statements to check. 10% of her public statements, which were checked by PolitiFact, were either "Barely True," "False," or "Pants-on-Fire" lies, as of September 16, 5 AM EDT. That makes her, I am sorry to say, the most truthful (so far, at least) of the four. Obama's rating is next best, at 26%. Biden's is 37%, McCain's is an awful 43%. Biden has told 2 "Pants-on-fire" lies, McCain 6. Obama and Palin aren't currently charged with any. Maybe those two really are unqualified for high political office!

I haven't included statements which are half-true as lies. All of the candidates have made some of them, of course.

God help us all.

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 4, Eden, Revelation, and the present

On pages 52-3, of his A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) David Snoke discusses two views of the relationship between the world before the Fall, the present world, and that which is to come.
He says that there are two views about this relationship. One holds that the pre-Fall world and the world described in Revelation 21-22 are the same world, restored to the way it was in the beginning, at the end. Snoke does not hold that view. Says he:
In the second view, the original world of creation and our world are essentially the same, and the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21-22 is utterly different from these. This view is supported by several key differences between the world of Revelations 21-22 and the world of Genesis 1-3. . . . First, Revelation 21:1 (NIV) makes clear that "there was no longer any sea," while Genesis 1 emphasizes the creation of the sea. Also, Revelation 21:23 and 22:4-5 emphasize that there shall no longer be "night" or "the sun and the moon," while Genesis 1 emphasizes the existence of darkness, held back by the lights form the sun and moon,and the balance of morning with evening, that is, nightfall. (p. 53)

Snoke also points out, on page 55, that the serpent, Satan, was present in the garden, while Revelation 20 and 21 state that nothing evil will enter the heavenly city. So, he makes a good case that the present earth is more like the world before the Fall than like the world at the end.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The sea as a symbol of evil in the Bible, from Snoke

In the third chapter of his book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), David Snoke includes evidence that the ancient Hebrews saw the sea as symbolic of evil. Most of us do not, but see the ocean as a symbol of calm, rest, vacation, and the like. (See my post, sort of on this subject, which is not nearly as thorough as Snoke's book. See also the most recent previous post on this book.)

Snoke, in his Table 2 (pp. 60-61) quotes 21 Bible references, from Exodus, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Jonah, Zechariah, Luke, Acts, Jude, and Revelation as evidence. Some of these are not obvious, but the preponderance of the evidence makes the author's case.

Here are a few of the more obvious cases, using Snoke's table, and the ESV Bible:

Exodus 15:19: For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

Isaiah 57:20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

Jeremiah 5:22 Do you not fear me? declares the Lord.
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail;
though they roar, they cannot pass over it.

Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,

Jude 1:11-13 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs* at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
*or blemishes
(Snoke didn't include verses 11 and 12)

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 3, starlight

This is my 3rd post on A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by David Snoke. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) See here for the 2nd post.

As I mentioned before, Snoke is not a biologist, which means that he does not discuss some issues that I wish he would have, but his background as a physicist is a plus, as well as a minus. On pages 25-30, he considers the question of light from apparently distant stars. As he says, a person who believes that the universe is no more than a few thousand years old has a problem with evidence that some stars are very far away. Such a person has three alternatives:
1) The distance measurements are wrong, and there are no stars more than a few thousand light-years away.
2) The speed of light used to be much faster, so that, say, a star which is really 5,555 light-years away seems to be much further away.
3) The light which seems to be from stars that are far away was actually created in place, giving an appearance of age.

Snoke says that there are serious problems with all of these alternatives.

All of the observed stars can't really be relatively close to us, because if they were, there would be serious gravitational and heat effects, which we don't see.

Snoke writes: Even a slight change in the speed of light over time would imply major changes in the calculations of electric and magnetic fields . . . . The speed of light is not independent of other physical effects. Many phenomena, including radio, light, magnetic and electric fields, X-rays, and friction, are all described by one set of elegant and simple equations, known as Maxwell's equations. These equations were created by James Maxwell, a Scottish Presbyterian believer with a strong faith in the beauty and simplicity of God's creation. The unification of all these effects into one set of equations means that one cannot propose a change in the speed of light without also proposing changes in everything from the structure of atoms to the color of the sun to the cost of computer circuits. (p. 28)

As to the "appearance of age" explanation, in the first place, this raises questions about God deceiving us. In the second, says Snoke, young-earth creationists, like almost everybody else, don't really argue for an appearance of age. They argue that the earth, and the universe, really are only a few thousand years old.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A. A. Milne writes about a little boy growing up

. . . Pooh!"
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Never again?"
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
-A. A. Milne, The World of Pooh, New York: Dutton, 1957, p. 312. Originally in The House at Pooh Corner, 1928, Chapter 10, "In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There." (Public Domain)

Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
Nobody knows.
But he is going --
I mean he goes
(to rhyme with "knows")
Do we care?
(to rhyme with "where")
We do
Very much.
(I haven't got a rhyme for that "is" in the second line yet. Bother.)
(Now I haven't got a rhyme for bother. Bother.)
Those two bothers will have to rhyme with each other Buther.
The fact is this is more difficult than I thought,
I ought --
(Very good indeed)
I ought
To begin again,
But it is easier
To stop.
Christopher Robin, good-bye,
And all your friends
Sends --
I mean all you friend
Send --
(Very awkward this, it keeps going wrong)
Well, anyhow, we send
Our love
A. A. Milne, The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, pp. 329-330. (New York: Dutton, 2001) Originally in The House at Pooh Corner, 1928, Chapter 10, "In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There." Public Domain. See here for more on Winnie-the-Pooh.

God bless all little boys (and girls) as they grow up.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sunspots 176

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

Wired reports that the newest version of Picasa, a free photo program, can recognize faces.

From Slate: Buying great eyeglasses cheaply on-line.

An article in Slate that discusses what's happened to the marital practices of evangelicals, using the Palin family as a springboard. What has happened is not good.

Henry Neufeld argues that "The Bible Does Not Contain Science ."

Image source (public domain)

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 2: View of Scripture

To part 1 of this series, on A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) by David Snoke.

Does Snoke take the Bible seriously? Let's put it this way. There is a Scripture Index in the back of the book, which shows that Snoke has referred to 37 of the 66 books of the Bible, using more than 300 different passages.

Snoke devotes his first chapter to an important issue, namely "is it legitimate for non-Biblical experience, such as scientific evidence, to influence our interpretation of the Bible?" His answer is a carefully qualified "yes." The most important qualification is this: It is illegitimate to place anything generated by human beings in a position of unquestioned authority over the Bible." (13) He also states, on the same page, that it is illegitimate to change our view because our original view did not conform to popular opinion.

So why does Snoke say that extra-Biblical experience, including scientific findings, can legitimately influence our interpretation of the Bible?

He argues for this by using examples. Some of these have no direct relationship to science. Snoke, for instance, says that most Christians do not believe that there are any Apostles now living on earth, in spite of such verses as Ephesians 4:11. The reason that we don't think there are any Apostles now is that we don't have evidence of contemporary Apostles.

Snoke also considers the statement by Christ that some who were alive would not see death until he returned (Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34-9:1, Luke 9:23-27). Here, again, he says, we do not interpret that as having the apparent literal meaning, because of our experience -- Christ has not returned yet.

The author uses other examples, scientific and non-scientific. The science-related example he gives is the matter of the motion of the earth. There are passages in the Bible which seem to teach that the earth does not move, such as Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 104:5. But, because of the scientific evidence that it does move, we have altered our beliefs about what the Bible is really saying about the subject.

I agree with Snoke, and, clearly, other Christians who take the Bible very seriously also do -- we do interpret what God said in the Bible in the light of our experience, including scientific findings.

Thanks for reading. I expect to publish more posts about this book.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Job on the source of wisdom (Hint: it isn't in human accomplishment)

From Job 28:

“Man puts his hand to the flinty rock
and overturns mountains by the roots.
10 He cuts out channels in the rocks,
and his eye sees every precious thing.
11 He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle,
and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light.

12 “But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’
and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 It cannot be bought for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed as its price.

20 “From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?

23 “God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.

28 And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (ESV)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The sciences: unshakable knowledge?

Descartes, who instituted a quite reasonable and modest search for new standards of certainty in science, also had the vision of something much grander that might lie beyond them -- of an absolute, invulnerable certainty, an ideal form of knowledge which nothing could ever shake. This unreal vision has given endless trouble. It is not only excessive; it gives priority to the wrong sort of ambition. The kind of perfection at which the Cartesian project aims is the perfection of epistemic safety. It concentrates on knowledge, not because of any special view (such as Plato had) about what we need to know and why we need to know it, but because knowledge means security from error. By assuming that the possibility of error is the evil that must above all be avoided, it distracts (among other things) from asking about the various reasons why knowledge can be important. And . . . it systematically directs us away from interesting and important questions that possibly cannot be completely settled, and towards less interesting ones where the risk of error seems easier to control.
All this might not matter so much if the demand for unshakable certainty could be satisfied and then put aside. But it cannot. Its ideal is unattainable, going far beyond anything the sciences have ever delivered or could deliver. In all of them since Descartes's time, beliefs which were thought to be unshakable have been first shaken and then abandoned. Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information, and Wonder: What Is Knowledge for? New York: Routledge, 1995, p.36.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Losing and finding

I lost something today -- a flash drive -- and eventually found it, right where I had placed it, in a pocket I had never used to store it before. Thank God, who answered prayer in this matter.

If I hadn't done a fairly thorough search, I would not have found another item that was lost 2 or 3 years ago. Thank God for that, too.

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by Snoke, part 1

I intend, God helping me, to present a critique of A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by David Snoke. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), in several posts. In the past, I have treated two other important books relating to both science and religious issues in this way. For the last post on The Language of God, by Francis Collins, go here. For the last post on Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator, go here.

May I say at the outset that I have two problems with Snoke's book. First, he doesn't seem to understand evolution (by which I mean change over time, due to selective processes), or at least he doesn't write very much about it. This is not surprising, since Snoke is a physicist, I guess. The second problem is related. Snoke is a believer in Intelligent Design. So am I, depending on how you define it. (See the second paragraph of this post.) However, I have serious problems with the Intelligent Design movement, and I'm not alone in this. A number of Christians with scientific training have expressed similar concerns. Snoke doesn't seem to have these problems. I wish he did.

In spite of my reservations, Snoke has written an excellent book. He is a good writer, and a careful one. He examines scripture carefully, knows it well, and takes it seriously. He deals with possible arguments against his position, gently demolishing most of them, in my view.

Snoke's book is best summarized by its title. Snoke recognizes that many Christians have serious reservations about his thesis, in particular, they believe that there was no death before the Fall, and that the days of Genesis 1 were literal days. Snoke discusses these reservations carefully. He makes, I believe, a compelling case that the Bible does not teach that there was no animal death before the Fall, and a compelling case that the Bible does not teach that the days of Genesis 1 were consecutive literal 24-hour days.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Blood Clotting in humans isn't irreducibly complex

The Panda's Thumb is an anti-Intelligent Design blog. Although the authors are sometimes rather tranquil, the posts are often strident. A recent post isn't especially strident, I guess, but it undercuts (not for the first time) the central claim of Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, with scientific evidence.

Behe's central claim was that some processes, including blood clotting, are irreducibly complex -- they require several separate parts, and wouldn't work if any one of the parts were missing. Thus, these processes couldn't have developed from simpler ones through natural selection. (Behe is not a young earth creationist. He has a doctorate in biochemistry.)

The post indicated shows that blood clotting does work in lampreys (simple fish) without some of the molecules required for blood clotting in humans. It predicts that even simpler animals, thought to be similar to the ancestors of vertebrates, will have a clotting system that works, even though such a clotting system would not have all the molecules of the lamprey clotting system.

We'll see if that prediction holds up. Behe's prediction hasn't.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sunspots 175

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

Quintessence of Dust is in the process of critiquing Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution. Here's one part of his critique, and here's another.

Rebecca Blood's blog ethics , which apply to blogs that attempt to impart information that might be of interest to readers unknown to the blogger.

Wired says that Google is working on its own browser, and it's close to being released.

E. Stephen Burnett has written the first part of an essay on "purity," and Christ-honoring art, discussing such matters as whether Christians can produce, see, and be edified by such art as movies which aren't G-rated. Among other things, he considers Philippians 4:8.

Image source (public domain)