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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

I recently read (finally) a book by Diana Wynne Jones. Jones has a long career of writing, mostly fantastic literature for young people, including Howl's Moving Castle and others. (Thanks to a daughter, I have seen the film based on Howl's Moving Castle, which was pretty good.)

The book I read was The Homeward Bounders. See Wikipedia article for plot and other information.

I'll actually say little about the book, except for this:

1) The book is about wandering, mostly involuntary wandering. It includes The Wandering Jew and The Flying Dutchman, both legendary wanderers, as minor characters.
2) Prometheus, although not named, is also a character. From these two items, we see that Wynne Jones writes large, as it were.
3) The premise of the book, travel from world to world, trying to get home, uses the Many Worlds idea of current physics (which has not been proved, or disproved, experimentally). That, alone, would make it interesting to me, provided that the book was at least decently written. It was. (The His Dark Materials books, by Philip Pullman, also use this idea.) Besides the notion of going from world to world, war gaming also permeates the setting of the book.
4) There is little overt religion, of any kind, in the book.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sunspots 209

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

10 top reasons why men should not be ordained.

Finally! The cow genome has been sequenced, according to NPR.

According to The Curious Mister Catesby, a documentary film aired on South Carolina Public TV on April 23rd, Mark Catesby, an early naturalist who wrote about, and painted, the wildlife and flora of South Carolina (and other places, but less so) was probably the first modern writer to write about habitat degradation, and also the first to suggest that birds migrate for long distances.

(or something) A stop-action video of a pig and a wolf, a little less than 4 minutes, on YouTube. It's had over a million hits.

There's a possible danger, if you use GMail. Here's the way to, at least partly, fix it.

(or something, probably several things) Wired on the Georgia Guidestones, which is, as they say, the strangest monument in the US, perhaps the world. They are near Elberton, Georgia. I have seen them from the nearby road a couple of times, but never close-up.

olsuit has begun posting a series of excellent sermons on the Ten Commandments. Here's the first one.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twelve curses - Mount Ebal

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses instructed the people about a particular mass worship service, affirming their covenant with God, that they were to carry out after they crossed the Jordan River. As part of this service, the Levites were to intone twelve wrongs, that, if done, would lead to being cursed:
15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’
16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor's landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (ESV)
This is a very interesting list. Although it was given for the Israelites, this list seems quite compatible with Christianity. It does not include, except by implication in the last curse, any of the Jewish dietary laws, or tabernacle/temple ritual, such as the yearly feasts and sacrifices. Five of the curses were about justice. Five of the Ten Commandments, those about making a graven image, theft, false witness, murder, and adultery are at least partly covered.
Four of the curses were about sexual misconduct, and none of those were about homosexuality. That, of course, does not mean the God approves of homosexual conduct. But it seems to mean that it wasn't an important issue, at least for the Israelites at that time, and it may mean that some of us have blown its importance way up in our time. I don't know.
Surely, these aren't the only types of behavior that God didn't want the Israelites to take part in. For example, there's nothing about coveting or Sabbath-breaking in this list. But surely these 12 bad behaviors were of considerable importance.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Nehemiah 3:5 And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord. (All references ESV, which allows such use, if properly acknowledged.)

Mark 1:
7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

We went to see my neurosurgeon yesterday morning, and he has cleared me to resume normal activity. I was not so cleared, since my surgery on March 16. I have not been supposed to lift anything weighing over five pounds, or climb stairways of more than a few steps, or bend over to pick up things -- not supposed to stoop, in other words.

My wife has had to do a lot of things for me, or for us, that I have done for a long time, such as take out the garbage, carry in shopping bags, empty the clothes hamper and the bottom rack of the dishwasher, and a lot more, and I appreciate it a lot. She has been doing a lot of stooping (and carrying). I'll be glad to be able to bend down, and lift, for me, for her, and for us.

In the verses above, stooping has to do with humility, putting yourself in a place of service. The rich folk thought that helping out physically with the building was beneath them. They were wrong, and were the worse for it. John thought that he wasn't good enough to even stoop down to tie Christ's sandals. He was right. We aren't worthy, either, but we should serve, even though we aren't.

Thank God for the good report, and thanks to my wife for all the stooping she has done. I'll take over now, for a while, at least.

Thanks for reading. I expect to be posting less than usual for a few days.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sunspots 208

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

I note, with gratitude, that this is the fourth year's worth of Sunspots I have been privileged to publish. (52 * 4 = 208)
They are usually published on Wednesdays, but I posted something else in observance of Earth Day yesterday.

Slate tells us that YouTube, like many newspapers, is in big financial trouble.

Wired reports that a Federal Appeals Court has upheld the legality of using previous college student papers to check for re-submission by other students in a subsequent class.

In case you haven't heard, some of the most rabid naturalists/atheists/etc., including Richard Dawkins, are using the term "bright" to describe themselves , as people who don't believe in God. Here's an article, apparently by an atheist, arguing that that isn't a, er, bright idea. (His pun, not mine.)

(or maybe not) A blogger had been criticizing the pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL. The pastor receives a $300,000 annual salary, has received land worth that much as a gift from members, and his wife is on the church payroll. The church obtained a subpeona, and compelled Google to divulge the name of the blogger, who is a former member of the church.

(sort of) Bonnie reports that Chuck Colson has discussed the matter of physical abuse by church members. She says that Colson presented statistics that indicate that about half of all pastors, if told of abuse by a husband who is a church member, will either tell the wife to submit, or that it is her fault. Sad, sad.

Image source (public domain)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Holmes Rolston, III

Holmes Rolston, III, (See also his web pages at Colorado State University, which are extensive, and include course syllabi, many of his publications, and some video of lectures that he has given.) is arguably the most important figure in the development of environmental ethics, the study of what we should and should not do with the organisms, landscape, communities, bodies of water, geological features, and atmosphere around us. I recently had the privilege of reviewing Saving Creation: Nature and Faith in the Life of Holmes Rolston, III, by Christopher J. Preston. (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2009) The book told Rolston's story quite well, covering his professional life, and his personal life, where it fit. (Rolston is still alive.)

I knew of Rolston as an environmental ethicist. He wrote the first paper in the first issue of the journal, Environmental Ethics, which said, in part:
We need wild nature in much the same way that we need the other things in life which we appreciate for their intrinsic rather than their instrumental worth, somewhat like we need music or art, philosophy or religion, literature or drama. But these are human activities, and our encounter with nature has the additional feature of being our sole contact with worth and beauty independent of human activity. We need friends not merely as our instruments, but for what they are in themselves, and, moving one order beyond this, we need wild nature precisely because it is a realm of values which are independent of us. Wild nature has a kind of integrity, and we are the poorer if we do not recognize it and enjoy it. Holmes Rolston III, "Can and Ought We to Follow Nature," Environmental Ethics 1:7-30, Spring, 1979. Quote is from pages 22-23. This paper was the first one in the initial issue of this journal. (Also found here)

I went to a conference on environmental ethics with a philosophy professor from my university, at the University of Georgia, in 1981. Rolston was there. We spoke with him. My friend, more perceptive than I, guessed that Rolston had been a Presbyterian pastor. He was exactly right. Rolston's first professional post was as a pastor in a Presbyterian church in Virginia. He had an undergraduate degree in physics from Davidson College (and once saw Albert Einstein close up, although he didn't speak to him), and a seminary degree from Union Theological Seminary, followed by a doctorate from New College, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Preston's book reminded me of something that I had forgotten. I had read Rolston's Science and Religion: A Critical Survey (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987) about twenty years ago. I had forgotten that it is a powerful plea for a cooperative relationship between science and Christianity. Like Ian G. Barbour's When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), Rolston believes that science and Christianity should be compatible. Rolston argued for a view of God as being involved in the suffering that goes along with the struggles of life, including for non-human creatures. Clearly a believer, he wrote:
When one is caught in the anguish of the struggle, as in a fight against disease, insanity, infertility, or moral evil, one may still cry out for strength and meaning to the strong son of God, beyond all recourse to biochemistry, beyond all description of the evolutionary struggle. (p. 145)

Preston's biography describes how Rolston found that he wasn't connecting as well with his parishioners as he might have wished. He perhaps, showed too much of his intellect and education to them. At any rate, he pursued an academic career, eventually ending up at Colorado State University in the Department of Philosophy, where he has been based since 1968.

Preston's subtitle indicates what the author believes, namely that Rolston has integrated his study of nature (he is an accomplished naturalist, as well as a philosopher) with his faith. He says that Rolston early saw, however, that he would need to put forth ideas that would be acceptable in a secular world, and he did that, achieving such prominence that he was asked to author that first article in Environmental Ethics.

Rolston had influence outside of academic circles. He participated, with his writing, in acting to preserve the environment in certain conflicts in Virginia, and also in the West.

The answers in environmental ethics are not always obvious, or are controversial. How important is it to preserve a species from extinction? Can feeding human beings from the land used by that species override our stewardship responsibilities? How important is it to preserve wilderness in close to its pristine state? Can we do so? Why should we? Rolston has made important contributions to our thinking about environmental stewardship, and other areas.

One of Rolston's most lyrical works is his essay, "The Pasqueflower," in Natural History, April 1979, pages 6-16. (Also available here.) Rolston has often seen pasqueflowers blooming through the snow in the mountain west. Natural History is a secular publication, not a religious one. But Rolston included this statement:
Perhaps it may not be so fanciful but rather entirely realistic that this pasqueflower should in its limited and natural way come to serve as a symbol for what Jesus in his unlimited, supernatural way represents to the Christian mind, a hint of the release of life from the powers that would suppress it. The pasqueflower is of a piece with the rose of Sharon, which blooms in the desert, and the shoot budding out of the stump of Jesse, for here we have an earthen gesture of the powers of resurgent life. (p. 14)

He deserves the honors that he has received.

Thanks for reading. Read Rolston.

This being Earth Day, you may wish to read my own post, from 2006, on "Environmental Stewardship in the Bible."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

King James only?

I owe a great deal to the people who made it possible for me to read and study the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. I came to believe on Christ as savior because of preaching and teaching mostly based on that version. I was encouraged to memorize passages from that version, and I'm glad I did. Many of those verses have stuck with me for five or six decades. (One reason is the strangeness of the language. That makes it easier to understand.) The KJV has had a strong influence on English and American literature.

However, the KJV is not perfect. Why do I say that?

1) The main problem is that it was published in 1611, nearly 400 years ago. That was before the Pilgrims came to North America. So what? Language has changed. Let me give you four examples:
A) The most familiar verse in the Bible is probably John 3:16, which, in the KJV, is: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
What's the problem with that? The most glaring problem is that many verb forms have changed since 1611. Have you ever heard "believeth" on TV or the radio (except some Christian broadcasting) or read it in the newspaper? I didn't think so. How is an untrained person, unfamiliar with the KJV language, going to know that we would now say "believes?" Many KJV verbs end in "th," when almost no current ones do. There are at least two other words in that passage that a 21st century reader may have difficulty with, namely "begotten" and "whosoever." Why put an unnecessary barrier to understanding in the way of someone who desperately needs God's love?

B) One of the most familiar chapters of the Bible, and one of the most important, is 1 Corinthians 13. This is verse 1 in the KJV:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
The problem is not the brackets -- why are they there? -- but "charity." Charity, to us, has associations with dropping some change in the Salvation Army buckets around Christmastime, which is a good thing, but is by no means all that Paul is talking about. He's challenging us to aspire to, and strive for, unselfish, God-like love, not to give our spare change. The KJV uses a word, charity, that has had its meaning changed. (There are at least three different words for love in the Greek, which makes it difficult to capture the meaning of that concept in any translation, since we have only one.)

C) There's 2 Thessalonians 2:7: For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [will let], until he be taken out of the way.
(The brackets indicate an insertion. That is, the translators put those two words in so that the passage would make better sense, but, since the KJV attempted to be a word-for-word translation, they indicated this. Some KJV Bibles use italics for such insertions.)
Besides the uncertainty of the subject, that is, what will happen, and when, and in what sequence, in the end times, there's a word that keeps us from understanding this verse correctly, namely "letteth." Can we do the same thing with that that we did with "believeth," above? That is, change it to "lets?" You might think so. In other words, it would seem to mean "he who allows will allow . . ." Not so. The Blueletter Bible gives us access to 11 different English versions of that verse. They, including the New King James, are unanimous in translating that word as the opposite of "allow." Most of them use "restrain." The very meaning of English words has changed in nearly 400 years. The KJV can occasionally mislead, because of that fact. (In fairness, this is an extreme example.)

D) OK, what about the Thees and Thous? Are they necessary, or useful? Many people seem to think that they should be used, as expressing worship, awe, or honor, although some of the same people don't always know whether to use a thee or a thou in a particular case. These words can express worship, awe, or honor, of course. But so can "you!" The KJV has an interesting verse, Mark 8:33 (and similar verses in other gospels): But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. [Emphasis added.]
Either Satan, Peter, or both are addressed with a "thee," in the KJV. It can hardly be a term of worship, awe, or honor, in this case! Thees and thous were just the second person pronouns that people had in the time of the KJV. They aren't special terms for God. Again, language has changed.

So the KJV may cause people to have difficulty comprehending. For full comprehension, the Bible should be in the same language that people think in. The English of 1611 (actually 1769 -- see below) is not that language.

2) There is now knowledge which was not available when the KJV was translated, such as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"To us, it looks like the KJV is old and modern translations are new.  But in reality, the KJV was based on a small number of late medieval manuscripts, most of which dated after the year 1000. Modern translations are based on manuscripts that go back to the 100s and 200s." - Ken Schenck, "2.2 Manuscripts, Manuscripts."

* * * * * * *

What about the argument that the King James is especially God-breathed? Some even say that other versions aren't really the Bible. (A recent convert in our church, who was having trouble with understanding the KJV, was recently told exactly that, about a modern version. The person who told him that is not a member of our church.)

3) To state the obvious, people who speak Spanish, Japanese, Gujerati, Chinese, Farsi, or Tagalog don't use the KJV. They can't, because it isn't in their language at all. And, having had a little bit of instruction in Spanish, I can personally testify that the most common Spanish Bible is not the KJV translated word-for-word into Spanish. Spanish has a different word order, conjugates verbs differently, and, I'm sure, has other important differences from English that would make a word-for-word translation impossible. No doubt there are as many differences, or more, between English and the other languages given, as between English and Spanish. Does that mean that these people aren't really using a Bible? Of course not. Wycliffe, one of the most important Bible-translation organizations, gives, here, a brief statement on why translation is necessary, and information on over 2,000 languages that need to have the Bible in the "language of their heart."

Note that the Bible was not originally written in King James English. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and some other languages, and has had to be translated, even into English.

4) The KJV, as the name suggests, was originally a state-sponsored translation. It is possible that King James was specially called of God to give impetus to this translation, but he also had some non-religious, even political motives. (See here for more on that point.)

5) The KJV was not accepted immediately by the church of that time. See here. (Same link as in previous paragraph.)

6) Were people who read the Bible, in English and other languages, before 1611, not really reading the Bible, because the KJV hadn't been produced yet? This, of course, would have included the people who were the translators for the KJV! (See link in previous paragraph for information on other English translations, some in existence, and used, before the KJV's time.)

7) Why must God be confined and restrained to one version of the Bible, and that in English, and outmoded English at that? To claim that He is so confined, that that's the only way He can speak, is to put a man-made work, however wonderful, above the work of God.

I am linking to two on-line articles on this matter. There are many more, some, of course, advocating a King James Only approach. Much as I admire and appreciate my Christian brothers and sisters who believe this, I am persuaded that they are wrong, and have not linked to any such statements. This is an article which calls the King James Only movement a heresy, and explains why it is. This is an article which argues that the advocates of using only the King James are not basing their argument on the Bible, or, as it is put, sola scriptura. I find their arguments persuasive, although I don't expect that many, or any, King James Only advocates would be won by reading them.

* * * * * * *

For more on methods of translating, see this Wikipedia article. The American Bible Society has discussions of how the Bible is translated, the history of the different versions, and how to choose a version for your own use, all starting here.

Thanks for reading. Read the Bible, whatever version (or versions) that best allow God to speak to your heart.

* * * * *

Updated, May 9, 2009

I have been reading the 2000 edition of Halley's Bible Handbook, and discovered that the version of the King James which is currently used was actually a revision produced in 1769. The Wikipedia paragraph on that gives an example of the changes made between 1611 and 1769. The claim is often made, for example here, that the KJV used is the 1611 version. That is not so.

I have discovered, thanks to the same source, that there are two other differences between the King James and most other versions. One of them is that the KJV used formal equivalence, more or less word-for-word, translation, and that most (not all) modern versions of the Bible use dynamic equivalence, or thought-for-thought translation. See here for discussion. The second difference is that, in the words of Halley's Bible Handbook, The KJV is based on what Halley's Bible Handbook calls the Majority Text (Greek source), while most other Bibles are based on what Halley's calls the Critical Text. Halley's says that the former was derived by comparing many Greek texts, and choosing the variant item that occurred in the majority of these, where there were differences between them. The latter was derived by attempting to reconstruct the relationships between texts, and, thus, to derive a most-likely original text. I am not an expert in this area, but I believe that this article describes the critical text, and this one the majority text, although different names are used.

The New King James version is said to have used the same methodology as the KJV, but to use modern English.

So what about these differences? These differences between the KJV, and, say, the NIV, are real, indeed. They may be part or all of the original reason why some groups took the KJV as the accepted version of the Bible. It seems clear, however, that the principal reason for this acceptance, now, is something else, namely a refusal to accept change. If that were not so, it would seem that the NKJV would have won acceptance by the groups that were accepting the KJV. It has won only limited acceptance by such groups, if any.

I don't believe that there are any major or important doctrinal differences between the KJV and the NIV and similar translations. I do believe that it is important that a reader be able to understand what she is reading, as fully as possible, and that, for almost all readers, the KJV is not the best version.

* * * *  I made some minor editorial changes on April 4, 2011, and again on June 20, 2012, and, on that date, added the quotation from Ken Schenck. * * * *

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More on torture, II

This is not my favorite subject, but I feel that it should be aired. The Obama administration, under pressure under the Freedom of Information Act, released memos from the previous administration, describing what procedures that government operatives could use, in examining prisoners.

If you want to read those memos, here they are.

The Washington Post has an article on these memos, and what they authorized, with reactions from both critics and supporters.

CNN reports that a former CIA Chief has said that these memos should not have been released, but that South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who served in the military justice system, says that the techniques they describe should never have been allowed in the first place.

I saw G. Gordon Liddy, in a discussion on CNN. Liddy said that waterboarding (see in-depth Wikipedia article) wasn't torture, because his son had been waterboarded as part of his Navy training, and he hadn't broken under such torture. Well, there was one crucial difference. Young Liddy knew that he was being trained, and that those training him would not kill him. Enemy prisoners don't know any such thing.

The US Senate Armed Services Committee, which, of course, has members of both parties, agreed unanimously that the US had, indeed, carried out torture, and that such techniques do not serve a useful purpose.

It is also possible that we turned over some prisoners to other countries, where legal restrictions are even less than ours have been. I'm not sure of that.

A person under torture is likely to admit to anything, true or false, that will end the torture, so testimony obtained under torture is unreliable. Torturing others is an invitation to other countries to torture US citizens, and a recruiting tool for the enemies of our country. Let's stop it altogether.

Here is a post on Christianity and torture.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

On April 20, 2009, at 10:54 EST, I discovered an article in the Christian Science Monitor, which reports that waterboarding was used many times on two prisoners. This indicates, perhaps, that it isn't so likely to be torture, or, maybe, on the contrary, that the CIA overstepped its own guidelines, given in the memos above. It also indicates that the technique must not have been very effective.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Remembering what God has done!

Psalm 77:11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. (ESV)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I recently read Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The book, published in 1988 (Riverdale, NY: Baen) is part of the Vorkosigan saga. Miles Vorkosigan, the main character in that series, does not appear until about two centuries after the events in this book.

I last posted on this saga here. The saga is space opera, an often superficial type of fiction, but Bujold works in important ethical and moral issues. At least one character in the saga is a Christian.

In Falling Free (Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1988), Bujold explains the origin of the quaddies, intelligent, capable humans with four arms, two of them replacing their legs, and some less obvious differences from normal humans, deliberately bred by GalacTech, so as to work in low or zero gravity. The plan is to use them as temporary labor, with GalacTech getting the pay for their work. (There are a few quaddie characters in subsequent books.) Leo Graf, an engineer, is sent to the Habitat, where they live, and discovers that they are not paid in any way (although they do have a place to stay, and food), that they are taught a distorted view of history, and that they are considered the property of the company that developed them, at least by the company. They are also told who to breed with, as parts of a breeding program, and who to breed with may be different for each child. Their babies may be taken from them, to be raised by normal human cartakers. All this is in the interest of quickly establishing a large breeding population.

There are characters in the book who believe that the production of the quaddies in the first place is a moral monstrosity. Graf, and some others, believe that their subsequent treatment is the moral monstrosity.

There is a sudden development -- scientists from Beta, a scientifically advanced civilization, have produced a new gravity-making device, which makes the quaddies obsolete. GalacTech decides to move the quaddies to a gravity world, and let them fend for themselves, or just kill them all.

Van Atta stopped abruptly, and backed up two screens on his vid. What had that said again?
Item: Post-fetal experimental tissue cultures. Quantity: 1000. Disposition: cremation by IGS Standard Biolab Rules. (293) Thus, some faceless person in GalacTech's General Accounting & Inventory Control has declared the quaddies, who are sentient, intelligent, moral agents, and biologically human, no more than "tissue cultures."

Graf decides to lead a quaddie escape to an asteroid belt. He has a little help from a man who has been doctor to the quaddies for many years, and a jump pilot helps them escape, because they are giving him the jump ship that they have taken. But the initiative is Graf's:

"This isn't crime. This is -- war, or something. Crime is turning your back and walking away."
"Not by any legal code I know of."
"All right then; sin."
"Oh, brother." Ti rolled his eyes. "Now it comes out. You're on a mission from God, right? Let me off at the next stop, please."
God's not here. Somebody's got to fill in. (161.) Leo thinks the last line, and he has, indeed, filled in for God, righting a monstrous wrong. Ti is going to be the pilot. Graf, like some other Bujold characters, is acting for a deity, doing God's work. He doesn't realize it, though.

The quaddies, since they have been oppressed, feel morally superior. This is a mistake, as one of them finds out. Silver felt that she had to use a weapon on an uncooperative jump pilot, or the quaddie escape wouldn't succeed. (She didn't kill him.) Her thoughts:
Was this the pleasure in power Van Atta felt, when everyone gave way before him? It was obvious what firing the weapon had done to the defiant pilot; what had it done to her? . . . So. Quaddies were no different than downsiders after all. Any evil they could do, quaddies could do too. If they chose. (199)

Bujold writes good books, well-written, and exciting, and she puts in moral and ethical, even sometimes religious questions.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Alone by himself

Luke 9:18a Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. (ESV)

I need to be careful not to read too much into this seeming oxymoron. Although some other versions of the Bible agree with this rendition, others say something like "the disciples came to him," or imply that they were praying, too. But I remember that they went to sleep when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I don't recall any time (except this one) when Jesus and the disciples prayed together. It was always Jesus alone.

Let's assume that the passage means what it seems to say. It might have, I guess. How many times would Jesus have prayed, and wanted me to do so, too, when I was busy doing my own thing?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Politics and Christianity

Cody Thomas recently posted this question:

Is it the responsibility of the Church to transform governments to follow our values (i.e. school prayer, abortion, the definition of marriage)? Or is it our responsibility to introduce people to Jesus who is the only one who can transform hearts?

I'm pretty sure that Cody has an answer in mind, and that it's the latter, but I decided that my response was worth a post of my own. So here's my response:

I think syndicated columnist (and conservative, and Christian) Cal Thomas [No relation to Cody, as far as I know.] put it well, in his column, “Religious Right, RIP,” which may be found here. He said that trying to influence culture through politics has been a failure for 30 years or more, and that what Christians ought to be doing is “introduce people to Jesus who is the only one who can transform hearts,” as you put it. He put it very much like that.

I also think that conservative Christians have been much too much entwined with Republican politics. Besides making it more difficult to reach those who are Democrats with the gospel of Christ, history tells us, over and over, that when the church is too close to the state, the church is the partner that loses its true identity in the partnership. This is not to say that Christians can’t vote Republican, of course, but that they should do so (or vote Democratic) carefully, prayerfully, and without expecting too much.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunspots 207

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

NPR reports that there are two kinds of fat. Obese people have very little of one kind, brown fat, the "good kind," which can burn off energy, and help us keep warm.

Wired reports that the Library of Congress has come to YouTube, with some really old, and pioneering videos, including the first such ever made.

(or Art, in this case) Catez considers some issues raised by Slumdog Millionaire.

Philip Yancey has a splendid essay in First Things, on what art can and can't do, and other questions, such as the influences that led to his conversion.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The List, by Robert Whitlow

I haven't read much faith fiction, and I guess I'm prejudiced against it. My idea of faith fiction is that a wholesome, beautiful Christian girl falls in love with a non-believer, and is tempted to marry him. She doesn't, until he becomes a believer. Then they get married, and live happily ever after. Sometimes, it's the man who is a Christian, and the plot goes in reverse. Why don't these people just fall in love with people who are already Christians? I guess I don't really get it all. Sorry.

I did recently read Robert Whitlow's The List (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000). The book won a Christy award, so I guess it qualifies as faith fiction. In this case, it's the man who gets converted. The book is set in the Carolinas, with a little excursion to Michigan, probably at the end of the twentieth century.

Two points I'd like to make. I'm not giving away the plot. Suffice it to say that the book is a real page-turner.

The first point is that the book presents spiritual warfare, and evil spirits, as if they are real. The book made me wonder as to how much that goes on in my life, and those with whom I'm connected, could be improved if I treated more situations as being related to the work of demons.

The second, and it's minor, is that there is a lot of eating, and all of it seems to be high-calorie, cholesterol and/or sugar-loaded, with little attention to vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other dietary good deeds. So-called healthy eating is, in fact, mocked, by some of the characters.

Well, now I've read a work of faith fiction, and, I think, I'm a little better off for having done so.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The importance of the resurrection

A Sunday School class, some time ago, dealt with the resurrection of Christ. Why is that event so important? The Bible answers that, in these passages, and others:

Acts 2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (The resurrection was important enough that Peter mentioned it in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. It was also important enough that Peter had courage to give the sermon.)

Acts 17:18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Apparently the philosophers on Mars Hill misunderstood Paul. He mentioned the resurrection so much that they thought it was another god.)

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (The resurrection, said Peter, is our only real hope.)

All scripture above is from the English Standard Version. I added the emphases.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

And Can it be, That I Should Gain

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain-
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

'Tis mystery all: th'Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace-
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray-
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

-Charles Wesley, Public Domain,1738. The Cyberhymnal page for this hymn, with audio, is here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nailed to the Cross

There was One Who was willing to die in my stead,
That a soul so unworthy might live;
And the path to the cross He was willing to tread,
All the sins of my life to forgive.

Refrain: They are nailed to the cross,
They are nailed to the cross,
O how much He was willing to bear!
With what anguish and loss Jesus went to the cross!
But He carried my sins with Him there.

He is tender and loving and patient with me,
While He cleanses my heart of the dross;
But “there’s no condemnation”—I know I am free,
For my sins are all nailed to the cross.


I will cling to my Savior and never depart—
I will joyfully journey each day,
With a song on my lips and a song in my heart,
That my sins have been taken away.


-"Nailed to the Cross," Public Domain. Words by Carrie E. Breck, 1899. Nethymnal entry for this song, including audio, is here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Where did the Israelites get their leaven?

Exodus 13:6-7 describes the rules on the use of leaven (yeast) by the Israelites, after they left Egypt. The Baking section of the Wikipedia article on yeast says that yeast was used to cause bread to rise in ancient Egypt.

Here's Exodus 13:6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. (ESV) See also about chametz. The NIV says ". . . within your borders." The NASB agrees with the NIV, using "borders." The King James uses "quarters," which seems to put a different meaning on it, but the three modern translations I consulted indicate that the KJV is misleading on that point.

I ask the obvious question. Where did the Israelites get new leaven cultures after the yearly Passover celebration, when they were supposed to dispose of all the leaven they had?

I don't know, and I haven't been able to find anything resembling an answer. Perhaps you have one.

* * * * *

April 22, 2009.
gluadys (see comment below) has provided a probable answer, namely that there is some yeast found in the grain, and, therefore, in the flour made from it. The Wikipedia article on "pre-ferment," on this date, says that sourdough starter relies on such wild yeasts (and bacteria). Thanks, gluadys!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sunspots 206

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

(or something) The Japanese really get into their cherry blossom (sakura) season. So do people in the Washington, DC area.


(or something) Bonnie checks out maple sugar production.

The Discovery Channel has an interactive web site showing how volcanoes work.

The New York Times blog site has an essay comparing brains and computers. Brains come out quite well in comparison, thank you very much.

Christianity Today on the current popularity of study bibles.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The weirdness of physics, part 2

In the first part of this brief series, I posted about relativity and quantum mechanics.

In the second part, I wish to set forth my understanding of what current physicists think about the very substances we are made of.

When I went to school, we were taught that that there were three common sub-atomic particles, namely the electron, the proton, and the neutron. There was mention of some others, such as positrons -- positively charged electrons, or, perhaps, electrons moving backward through space-time. We understood that positrons were uncommon, and that is still true. Positrons are essential for the existence of antimatter -- matter that is, as it were, the exact opposite of regular matter. Antimatter is so much the opposite, that, if it comes in contact with normal matter, the two annihilate each other, in a grand explosion of energy. We don't know why matter predominates in our universe, rather than antimatter. Positrons really do exist. They are used in Positron Emission Tomography, an important detection procedure in medicine and biological experimentation.

Physicists wanted to know if electrons, neutrons, and protons were made of anything even more fundamental. The answer is that electrons are not, as far as we know -- they are fundamental particles, not made of anything else. But protons and neutrons are made of more fundamental particles, called quarks. When I took physics in college, quarks were not even mentioned. By the time I began teaching, they were postulated, but without any experimental evidence. Postulating their existence brought some order, some explanation, to why things are the way they are. By the 1970s, experimental evidence for quarks was forthcoming. There are, it develops, six different types of quarks, although only two of them go to make up neutrons and protons, each of which is made up of three quarks. So, we think quarks are fundamental particles, whereas neutrons and protons are not. Some physicists have called the multiplicity of sub-atomic particles a "zoo," meaning that there are a lot of them, they are diverse, and implying that there are really more than there should be -- there shouldn't be so many "fundamental" particles. Surely there is some even more fundamental type, and not so many of these?

Well, in answer to the last question, perhaps the weirdest proposal of all -- string theory. As it began, string theory proposed that the particles mentioned above, and all the others, were made of a single entity, a string, which vibrated in up to as many as 14 dimensions, the 4 of space-time, and 10 more. If that isn't weird, I don't know what is. The theory, according to the Wikipedia article on it (see link in the first sentence of this paragraph), has moved somewhat beyond the description I just gave it. But it remains, so far, a theory which hasn't been fully vindicated*. There doesn't seem to be any experimental evidence for string theory, so far. Perhaps there never will be.

The Psalmist, in Psalm 139:14, said "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." (ESV) I don't suppose that the Psalmist had any clue about the existence and description of the cell nucleus, or the atomic nucleus, but, nonetheless, he was right. We, and all matter, are fearfully and wonderfully made, whether quarks and electrons are really fundamental particles or not, and whether or not multi-dimensional strings really exist.

Thanks for reading.

*April 22, 2009. Thanks to a commenter who did read (see below) I changed this sentence, which, wrongly, had said "It remains just a theory." That was a poor choice of words.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The weirdness of physics, part 1

A recent book review in the New York Times, of The Age of Entanglement*, (Knopf, 2009) by Louisa Gilder, reminded me yet again of the seeming weirdness of what physics tells us about how God made things the way they are.
*This link is to the first chapter of the book.

What do I mean? Or what did God do?

Well, for starters, there was Isaac Newton's discovery: The moon falls continuously, but keeps changing the direction of its fall, so that it continues its orbit around the earth. Or, to put it another way, gravity is an attractive force between any two objects that have mass. What's weird about that? Well, how can something keep falling, but never hit the earth? And how can there be an attractive force between two objects, when they aren't attached to each other in any way? As the Wikipedia, March 28, 2009, puts it, "Newton's postulate of an invisible force able to act over vast distances led to him being criticised for introducing occult agencies" into science. In other words, his proposal was weird. But it can be demonstrated experimentally.

And then came Einstein. He did away with Newton's force at a distance, replacing it with curved space-time. Space and time make up a four-dimensional whole, and the presence of a mass causes warps in this structure, which, in turn, make objects appear to be falling, often falling toward each other. Weirder. But it can be demonstrated experimentally. One of the side products of Einstein's thought, for good and bad, is nuclear energy, as found in nuclear power plants and weapons.

Einstein also initiated quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics, among its other weird explanations for how nature works, tells us that an object has both wave-like and particle-like properties at the same time. Electrons can "tunnel" through barriers by just appearing on the other side of the barrier, at random, without ever having existed in any part of the barrier. An electron can travel through a tiny slit and appear at more than one place on the other side. Weirder still. These ideas can be demonstrated experimentally. They are also of great practical importance. The computer you are reading this on would not be possible without some applications of these ideas.

There are some other ideas in atomic physics that strain credulity, but are not directly attributable to Einstein. One of these is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This principle tells us that it is impossible to measure both the position and momentum of a sub-atomic particle accurately. Measuring one of them very closely causes uncertainty in the other property. This means that, to humans, at least, some things are unknowable in principle.

Einstein, though he started quantum mechanics, was not comfortable with all of the implications. In particular, he was uncomfortable about the notion of entanglement. (Note the book title in the first sentence.) Entanglement suggests that two particles, that are produced by the same event, remain somehow linked, no matter how far apart they travel. Weirder still! This idea, like the others, has been tested experimentally, and found, so far, to be correct.

Isn't God wonderful! How much else don't we know about the way things are? How little do we understand that we think we do? Only He knows.

Thanks for reading. God willing, There is a second part to this post.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Serious fasting

Deuteronomy 9:17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. (ESV) (This is Moses, speaking to the Israelites, shortly before he died.)

This was serious fasting, and, I would think, in part miraculous. I don't believe that anyone could survive for forty days and nights without any water, without God's help. Moses was serious about his cause -- protecting the sinful Israelites from God's just wrath. And, for the time being, anyway, it worked. Perhaps I need to fast more. If I did, with right motives, surely God would help me to fast, too. For forty days and nights? I'm not sure I should do that. Maybe so.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks

I recently read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks (New York: Knopf, 2007) The book is filled with fascinating true tales about some of the patients Sacks has dealt with over the years of his career. He also mentions some historical cases, and cases worked with by other medical personnel.

Sacks gives example after example, showing that music is an important part of human behavior, that changes to the brain may release or inhibit musical skills or love for music, and that musical ability, in some forms of brain deterioration, lasts after many other skills are no longer present.

Sacks, a physician, obviously loves classical music. That shouldn't make the book any less fascinating to readers.

I previously posted on a particular aspect of the book, namely the question of religious experiences and the brain.

I'm glad I read it.

Here's a quotation:
One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music -- nor, indeed, to be particularly "musical" -- to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed. Its very ubiquity may cause it to be trivialized in daily life; we switch on a radio, switch it off, hum a tune, tap our feet, find the words of an old song going through our minds, and think nothing of it. But to those who are born in dementia, the situation is different. Music is no luxury to them, but a necessity, and can have power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Knopf, 2007, p. 347.

Friday, April 03, 2009

It must have been their attitude

There are lots of interesting stories in the Book of Numbers.

In at least two of them, God shows his displeasure with a Bible character for doing what God has either commanded, or specifically allowed them to do.

In Numbers 20, Moses struck a rock with his rod, at God's command. Water came out, and the Israelites needed it. But God was not pleased with Moses. Apparently, Moses was too concerned about himself in this instance, and not about the God who made this miracle possible. As a result, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

In Numbers 22, Balaam, a non-Israeli prophet, who apparently worshiped God, was asked to curse the Israelites. He didn't, but Balak, who wanted very much to destroy them, asked him to try again, from a different location. God told Balaam, in a dream, that he could go. But on the way, God's angel stopped the prophet. Balaam was told to continue, but to be sure to say only what God told him to. Why did God stop Balaam? We can't be sure, but it seems most likely that Balaam was going with the wrong attitude, probably having decided to take Balak's treasure, and say what Balak wanted him to.

Not only obeying, but having the right attitude, is important.

I hope I obey, with the right attitude. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The importance of early experience

It seems certain, likewise, that in the first two years of life, even though one retains no explicit memories . . . deep emotional memories or associations are nevertheless being made in the limbic system and other regions of the brain where emotions are represented -- and these emotional memories can determine one's behavior for a lifetime. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Knopf, 2007, p. 203.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sunspots 205

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

Wired reports on an asteroid that was tracked on a collision course with earth, from the neighborhood of Saturn.

Wired also reports on evidence, including a photo, that our ancient ancestors may have cared for a handicapped child for a long time.

Frank DeFord, of NPR, rejoices that four highly paid sports bad guys were cut from their teams, in spite of their talent.

(or something) e! science reports that graduate school students have not had sufficient education as to what constitutes plagiarism. I suspect that the problem is much more fundamental than that.

Image source (public domain)