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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sunspots 294

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

Science: CNN, and others, report that the genomes of  chocolate and strawberries have been sequenced.

Christianity:  Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength has reflections on Christmas past.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, December 27, 2010


I recently saw the Disney cartoon feature, Tangled, which is loosely based on the story of Rapunzel. Here's the Wikipedia article on the movie. Here's the Christianity Today review. I liked it, as did my wife, oldest daughter and her husband and children, who are six and two years old. It appeals to all ages, although some children might be frightened by some parts (our older grandson didn't want to watch some scenes).

I shall try not to give away much of the plot, but will say a couple of things.

First, Rapunzel asks an important question, namely, what if the dream I've had for 18 years comes true and doesn't satisfy? Yes. Nothing really satisfies but a relationship with Christ as savior and Lord.

Second, there was sacrifice, or sacrifice offered, by the two main characters. Rapunzel offered to re-submit to the tyranny of the witch who had captured her, if she could just save Eugene's life. Eugene, on the other hand, refused to let her do it, going so far as to cut off Rapunzel's magical hair so that she could not save him. Commendable. Of course, they all (or nearly all) lived happily ever after in the end.

Thanks for reading. See Tangled.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christ didn't come as a baby (again!)

Christ didn't come as a baby. He came as an embryo, or fetus, didn't He? I posted on that several years ago, and have received a number of interesting comments.

Here's that post.

Thanks for reading! God's best to you, whoever you are.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wayfarer, by R. J. Anderson

I recently posted on Knife (also known as Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter) by R. J. Anderson. Anderson, herself, was kind enough to comment on that post. To summarize, Knife is a short fantasy novel, designed for, and marketed to, "Young Adult" readers, about a small group of faeries, and their interactions with a human living in a house close to the oak tree that the faeries inhabit. The location seems to be rural England, and the time seems to be approximately the present. The book is well written, and the properties of the faeries, and their characters, are well done. The book has a Christian world view, although it is not obtrusive at all. It was published by a secular publisher, HarperCollins, in 2010, under its HarperTeen label.

Wayfarer follows Knife, with the same characters and location. It can be read by itself, but a reader would be better informed by reading Knife first. I won't give away any more of the plot than I need to, but I do wish to muse about a few aspects of the book. The title describes the mission of Linden, a young faery, who is ordered to travel out in the world, to try to find other groups of faeries.

Let me mention a few aspects of the book, all related to its Christian world view.

First, The Christian world-view is more obvious than in the first one. A human teenager is one of the main characters. He is the child of missionary parents (as is Anderson). But Timothy is not sure that he wants to believe as his parents do. Timothy, and Linden are befriended by a couple who have prayed for, and supported, Timothy's parents. They demonstrate intelligent, genuine, quiet Christian love in a way that cannot be dismissed.

There is more explicit prayer to the Gardener, the faery's name for God.

Timothy uses Bible verses to communicate with Linden.

Second, there is an explicit statement of how the relationship between humans and faeries is supposed to be: ". . . the Great Gardener created us to help humans." (p. 293)

Third, it is clear that not all Christians in the book act as they should. Timothy begins the book staying in a boarding school, which is supposed to be Christian. But the other boys seem to have their minds on worldly things. That is one of the reasons Timothy doubts his faith. But there are others. He has seen unspecified conflicts between Christianity and science. One thing I appreciated about Anderson's book is that a minor character, the husband of the couple who helped Timothy and Linden, says that some Christians act out of ignorance, especially in the realm of science and the Bible. He was a college science professor himself, before retirement. The exact nature of the conflict is not spelled out. Anderson, whatever her own beliefs, does not say that one has to believe in a young earth in order to be a faithful Christian. That's good, because there are many faithful Christians who don't so believe.

The book is not exactly a Christian book -- it's more a good novel with a Christian world view, and worth reading. Anderson's third book, Arrow, is to be published next month.

Thanks for reading this.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sunspots 293

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

Science:  Wired reports that active volcanoes have been found on Titan, the largest moom of Saturn. (Animated illustration included.)

Politics: On the history of US taxes, under Presidents Kennedy (when taxes for the rich were REALLY high) and Reagan, from NPR. (The entire broadcast segment includes a statement from Reagan's budget director that the Bush tax cuts will not produce jobs, but that part is not in the textual transcript.)

More from NPR, on how the military won't support a promising type of therapy for brain-damaged troops. Sigh.

The Arts: The Dawn Treader isn't particularly sailing toward the East in the film. It should be.
Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lessons from the Wise Men

1) God can give us guidance, if we seek it. He guided the wise men through a celestial object of some sort, through a dream, and through the advice of Old Testament scholars.

2) God can work through people we don't expect Him to use -- the wise men don't seem to have been Jews.

3) Christ is worth sacrificing possessions for.

4) Christ is worth going out of our way for.

5) Christ is worth worshiping.

6) We have to be careful of adding to what the Bible says: There is no Biblical evidence that there were three wise men, their names are not given, and, even though Matthew says that they came from the East, tradition says that one was from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe. Probably not. The Bible doesn't give a number, or names. (See Wikipedia article on the wise men.)

7) There is no Biblical evidence that the Magi and the shepherds saw each other, and it seems likely that they didn't.

8) Although prophecy is difficult to understand, even in hindsight, it does get fulfilled. See Micah 5, where the prophecy quoted to the wise men, about the location of the birth of the Messiah, comes from. The chapter included prophecy against the Assyrians, and about the restoration of Israel. (For more on the difficulty of understanding prophecy, see point 3 of this post. In spite of that difficulty, the scholars Herod consulted were able to find the meaning in the prophecy in Micah -- Christ would be born in Bethlehem.)

9) Christ's birth in Bethlehem, to an earthly father who was descended from David, is also a fulfillment of prophecy (2 Samuel 7:12, for one place). Fulfillment of prophecy is one of the evidences for the authenticity of the Bible.

10) Not everyone who says they are following Christ really is. Herod, of course, didn't want to worship Him at all. See Matthew 2:16-18.

Thanks for reading, and a blessed Christmas to you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, by R. J. Anderson

I recently read Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (UK title: Knife) by R. J. Anderson. (Anderson, if it matters, is a woman, mother of young sons.) I shall refer to the book as Knife, since that's the title that the author seems to prefer, and the word is also the name of the protagonist. There is no Wikipedia article on Anderson, or the book. Here is a review. Anderson has answered some questions about the book, and the series of three that it begins, in her blog.

I discovered the book through a post by Anderson in the Speculative Faith blog. Anderson tells more about herself, and her writing, in that post.

Now to my post: the book is well written, and seems to have been written from a Christian world-view, but that world-view is not at all intrusive. The library where I got the book has it classified as for older children.

I'll start with the setting. Bryony is a faery, apparently in the UK. She is looking out a window in the tree she lives in, and sees a young human boy, climbing the tree. He sees her, too.

The small group of faeries, all female, live in a centuries-old hollow oak. She is the youngest of the group. They have lost most of their magic, and they are afraid to go outside the oak's bark. They don't seem to do anything for each other out of generosity, or love, just as a re-payment for some work done for them, or for other favors. Hunters and gatherers have to go out, to collect food and other raw materials. Bryony becomes a Hunter, by edict of the Queen. Her weapons are primitive, and not always effective, mostly because the faeries have no supply of steel. There is a human house, not too far, or too close, to the oak. Bryony goes there, and is able to enter the house, and to take a small knife-blade from a woodcarving set. She asks the Queen to name her Knife.

I will not give away the plot any further, except to say that Knife eventually learns much of what has made her group of faeries so small, unable to reproduce except by leaving an egg behind when they die, and so fearful.

Christian world-view? The faeries have a deity, The Gardener, and breathe prayers to him (?) when in great need. In spite of what I said about their seeming selfishness, above, there is a lot of unselfish sacrifice in the book, and by more than one faery. And the book ends with acknowledgments, and finally, this quotation:
Alike pervaded by His eye,
All parts of His dominion lie;
This world of ours, and worlds unseen,
And thin the boundary between.

She attributes that stanza to Josiah Conder. It is  from Conder's hymn, "The Lord Is King," which is public domain. Indeed, He is.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sunspots 292

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

Science:  Thinking about your ancestry enhances intellectual performance. Interesting.

Politics: National Public Radio on the history of the income tax. Among other items: President Reagan favored increases in taxes, at times.

Religion: A post on interpretations of the nakedness (or not) of Adam and Eve, throughout history.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Legalism": Christian attitudes toward reading fiction

E. Stephen Burnett deals with important issues related to Christianity and fantastic literature. Now that another Harry Potter movie is out, he has written about what he calls "fiction legalists." Here's his first part, here's the second, and here's the third, and last.

Burnett is reacting, in part, to statements like this one, on a website for homeschoolers, which seems to argue that there is no such thing as good fiction, especially for children. There have been other voices, from Christians, condemning the Harry Potter books and movies, which, although not perfect, can be an influence for good, even for Christianity.

I have posted previously on faith fiction, and tried to answer the question "What must be Christian about a Christian novel?" In particular, I have mused on that question, in relation to the Harry Potter books.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Six years on Flickr

Still on hiatus: Six years on Flickr
The graphic above was posted on December 10th, on Flickr, the photography site/social network. I have been a member for six years, and being one has taught me a lot (not enough) about photography. (So have good suggestions from my wife.) I have posted over 1500 photos, mostly of nature subjects, and they have been viewed over 1,500,000 times so far.

The graphic is a link to a Flickr graphic, which can serve, if anyone is interested, as an entry to our Flickr photos, some taken by my wife. No password is needed. I have not been active recently, due to an illness in the family.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Reality beyond reality

He woke in a dream of the wood, he thought dazedly, raising his head. No true oak grew that shade of gold, though that gold was what the eye looked for in the golden oak. No true grass felt so silken, no true shadow hid a swath of such dark velvet across it. No true leaves burned that tender and fiery green in the morning light. Patricia A. McKillip, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, p. 135. New York: Ace, 1996.

Those three days were the happiest he had ever known. For he understood everything he did himself, and all that everything was doing round about him. He saw what the rushes were, and why the blossom came out at the side, and why it was russet-coloured, and why the pitch was white, and the skin green. And he said to himself, "If I were a rush now, that's just how I should make a point of growing." And he knew how the heather felt with its cold roots, and its head of purple bells; and the wise-looking cottongrass, which the old woman called her sheep, and the white beard of which she spun into thread. And he knew what she spun it for: namely, to weave it into lovely white cloth of which to make nightgowns for all the good people that were like to die; for one with one of these nightgowns upon him never died, but was laid in a beautiful white bed, and the door was closed upon him, and no noise came near him, and he lay there, dreaming lovely cool dreams, till the world had turned round, and was ready for him to get up again and do something. George MacDonald "The Carasoyn," Chapter VII, "The Moss Vineyard," (one version is known as "The Fairy Fleet") public domain.

Many works of fantastic literature suppose that there is a reality beyond, or behind, or underlying, what we usually perceive. The heroine has to go back in time, or the wizard has to go into a trance, or on a long journey, or see the world in ways others cannot see, or enter into some alternate spiritual state, in order to be restored, or to find help or answers. Being too concerned about alternate realities may be dangerous, of course, especially if it draws us away from what we should be doing and thinking about in this real world. But there is an alternate reality -- see 2 Kings 6:8-23, and
1 Corinthians 2:6 We speak wisdom, however, among those who are full grown; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this world has known. For had they known it, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written,
“Things which an eye didn’t see, and an ear didn’t hear,
    which didn’t enter into the heart of man,
these God has prepared for those who love him.” (WEB)

As far as I know, McKillip is not a Christian. George MacDonald was. Both of them did a good job in describing an alternate reality in terms that we, from this one, can understand.

Thanks for reading. I guess this post is in the real world.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sunspots 291

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

Science:  Wired reports that there may be a large, dark, planet out beyond Pluto.

Wired also reports that mathematical simulation has shown how caves can get so large, so quickly.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware has an article on the best free computer games.

Christianity: Katherine has posted a compilation of some of the Biblical references to ice, snow and frost.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Prophecy about Babylon

I don't usually post about prophecy, mostly because I don't think it's very straightforward. I base this on prophecy in the Old Testament, which, apparently has been fulfilled. Often, such prophecy must have been very difficult, or impossible, to understand for those who heard it. (See point 3 of this post for more on this point.)

But my daily Bible reading for October 26th included the following verse, which seems straightforward enough:
Jeremiah 50:39 “Therefore wild beasts shall dwell with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall dwell in her. She shall never again have people, nor be inhabited for all generations. (ESV. The quotation continues into the next verses.)

The WEB renders that verse thus: Therefore the wild animals of the desert with the wolves shall dwell there, and the ostriches shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited forever; neither shall it be lived in from generation to generation. Verse 35, and the whole chapter, indicates that this is talking about Babylon.

Saddam Hussein tried to bring Babylon back to life. (See Wikipedia article, which, among other things, indicates the man's megalomania.) The article agrees with the prophecy, in that there is no indication that Babylon has been inhabited, for many centuries. The article does say that there are international efforts to restore Babylon, and that it is now opened for tourism.

Perhaps, then, Hussein was overthrown partly because of his desire to bring Babylon back to the glory it had many centuries ago.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Michael Behe, a leader of Intelligent Design, believes in an old earth

An author from the Biologos foundation continues an examination of the most recent book by Michael Behe, who also wrote Darwin's Black Box, which gave scientific credibility to the Intelligent Design movement, and was designated book of the year by Christianity Today, about 15 years ago. (I once used Black Box as the text in a senior seminar.)

Most or all of the statements in that early book, suggesting that natural selection couldn't have worked to bring about some cellular mechanism, have now been discredited scientifically. In other words, credible mechanisms for development of these features by natural selection over time have been found.

In this part of the review, the author, Darrell Falk, points out that Behe, unlike some of the other important figures in ID, continues to believe in development of new species, and larger groups of organisms, through common descent, and an old earth. He just believes that occasional Divine intervention was necessary to bring about cellular mechanisms now in existence.

I personally don't believe that it is possible to scientifically prove (or disprove) such Divine intervention. I'm not alone.
For a post by me, showing that ID and Young-Earth Creationism are mostly not the same thing, see here.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

You don't have to enter weird letter sequences to comment

Thanks to a tip from Keetha Broyles, who gets far more comments than I, and therefore should know about spam comments, I have turned off the spam-blocking feature that required my few commenters (thanks!) to enter strange sequences of letters. I don't like doing that on other people's blogs, although I understand the reasons for it very well, and I didn't like imposing that on people who wanted to comment. Well, now, no more trying to figure out exactly what those letters are, and typing them in, on this blog.

Why is that? Because, as Keetha points out, Blogger/Blogspot has a spam blocking feature of its own, which blocks nearly all spam automatically.

Anyone using Blogger/Blogspot for their own blog, who wants to learn more, should go to their Dashboard, and click on the link describing the feature.

I am sorry to report that, in fooling around with this new feature, I managed to permanently delete a dozen or so comments, at least half of which were my own. Oh, well. Lesson learned.

Thanks for reading, and commenting.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sunspots 290

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

Science:  National Public Radio's Robert Krulwich reports that humans can't walk in a straight line without some visual goal to aim for, and discusses why this is so.

NPR also has a report on why the personalities of siblings are so different.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware on how to cancel a print job that is hung in your computer.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"May this house be filled with praise"

Blessed God, we bow in worship
May this house be filled with praise,
As we turn our eyes on Jesus
Dwell upon His earthly days.
With His blood He paid the ransom,
Broke our fetters, set us free,
Blessed Saviour, Thy salvation
Saves for all eternity*.

Voices then we all lift heavenward
To the Lord of all Supreme
And like one of old in Scripture
In the temple in a dream.
Cherubim are there before Him,
Seraphim surround and sing,
O this wonder of all wonders
Jesus now is Lord and King.

This poem was written as a hymn. It may be sung to Galilee, or other tunes. “Jesus Calls Us” is a hymn sung to that tune. Words by Franklin Hunter, 2002, but, according to this source, “released into the public domain.”

*I suggest changing these two lines to:
Blessed Saviour, we should praise You,
Praise for all eternity.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunspots 289

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

Science: Wired reports on new analyses of bird song. Birds are said to be be able to improvise parts of their songs.

Nature reports that scientists were able to keep 38 anti-Hydrogen atoms in existence for a short time, which is a remarkable achievement.

Damage to a certain part of the brain can cause people to tell bad jokes, that is, jokes that aren't very funny.

Sports: The University of Connecticut Lady Huskies basketball team may break the UCLA men's team's record, under John Wooden, for consecutive wins during this year, but they almost had their streak ended.

Sports Illustrated on Tim Duncan's legacy (he's still playing, by the way).

The Arts: A church worship leader has decided that the worship team should not just be about the sound, but the visual helps to worship.

Christianity: A writer thinks that the Harry Potter franchise helps combine the best in current culture with Christian living. See here for more by me on the Harry Potter books.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A desire to be thankful - George MacDonald

I think my thought, and fancy I think thee.—
Lord, wake me up; rend swift my coffin-planks;
I pray thee, let me live—alive and free.
My soul will break forth in melodious thanks,
Aware at last what thou wouldst have it be,
When thy life shall be light in me, and when
My life to thine is answer and amen.

-A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, by George MacDonald. Public Domain. Entry for November 22nd.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christian Responses to Hitler: Obeying Civil Authority

I am not an expert on history. But I am a Sunday School teacher. This week's Sunday School lesson, in our church, includes Paul's statements, to the Romans, about what sort of attitude they should have towards government. I quote Romans 13:1-7, from the WEB, which is public domain:
13:1 Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, 4 for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. 5 Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. 7 Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.

My wife, who is in my class, asked me how this related to Hitler. That's a good question. This is my attempt to answer that. The quotation above seems to be saying that Hitler, for one, was ordained by God, and shouldn't have been resisted, at least not by Christians in Germany. In the first place, this principle, namely to submit to authority, was not absolute, even for Paul. In Acts 16, Paul refused to leave prison until the rulers had come personally to apologize to him. (They had arrested him in violation of his rights as a Roman citizen.) With this act, he resisted the order to have him released quietly. Why did Paul say this? We don't know. It is possible that he was acting in his own behalf, and wanted to get back at the authorities because they had violated his rights. It is also possible that he wanted to show, for the sake of the new Christians (the jailer and his household had been converted and baptized) that Christianity was respectable, or that Christ was above earthly authority. We don't know.

In Acts 23, Paul reprimanded the high priest:
23:1 Paul, looking steadfastly at the council, said, “Brothers, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day.” 2 The high priest, Ananias, commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to judge me according to the law, and command me to be struck contrary to the law?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Do you malign God’s high priest?” 5 Paul said, “I didn’t know, brothers, that he was high priest. For it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” [The Old Testament reference is to Exodus 22:28]
The NIV Study Bible has a text note on verse 5, suggesting that it is possible that Paul's eyesight was poor, and he couldn't tell that it was the high priest, or that someone else was presiding, sitting in the place of the high priest, or that Paul was being sarcastic, or that he refused to recognized the high priest's authority. It seems to me that there is another possibility, and one that also could have occurred in Acts 16. That is that Paul might have sinned -- he wasn't supposed to react to the authorities as he did. In that case, he would have had to confess and repent of his actions. The Bible doesn't indicate the reasons for Paul's actions in either case.

So what was going on here? Does the New Testament contradict itself? I don't think so.

First, I believe that there is a Biblical principle, which is that we should respect and obey those in authority. But that principle is not as important as other moral principles in the Bible, for example the Ten Commandments. Nor is it above the two great commandments from the Old Testament, which Jesus re-affirmed in the New Testament, in Mark 12:28-34, and Matthew 22:34-40. Nor is it above the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 7:12)

Second, God's authority is over any human authority. If a human authority commands me to do something I shouldn't, for example to commit murder, or to deny Christ as Lord, I should refuse. As Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)

These two points are different aspects of the same thing.

However, we usually aren't asked, by human authorities, to do something that violates a higher Biblical principle, or that puts human authority above God's. We should prayerfully consider, before refusing to obey a human authority. We should be careful that we aren't wanting to disobey because it would be to our own selfish advantage to do so (for example by cheating on our taxes). We should also be careful that we don't assume, for no good reason, that a political position we don't like is opposed to God's desires.

Third, violent resistance seems to be always, or nearly always, contrary to God's plan for Christians.

So what about Hitler? The rule of Hitler, and the Nazis, seems to have produced situations where Christians had legitimate reasons for refusing to obey civil authority.

Although there is disagreement about Hitler's religious views, mostly because Hitler made statements that seem to be contradictory, it seems likely that Hitler, and the Nazis, wanted to destroy Christianity entirely. Holocaust deniers to the contrary, Hitler and the Nazis did try, and nearly succeeded, in eliminating all the Jews from Germany, and other countries that they conquered. There were Christians, and others, who resisted this. Corrie ten Boom, with other members of her family, deceived the Germans who occupied the Netherlands, in various ways, such as by obtaining ration cards by fraudulent means. They did not carry out violent protest. In this way, they, and other citizens of the Netherlands, were able to get many Jews out of the country. Anne Frank and her family were also kept hidden, and helped, by non-Jewish citizens of the Netherlands, which was against the edicts of the occupying Nazis. Oskar Schindler, and many other people, also helped the Jews, in defiance of Nazi demands. As far as I know, Schindler was not a Christian.

Not all Christians, or those who claimed to be Christians, were opposed to the Nazis. There was a group, known as German Christians, who supported Hitler. This source claims that one reason for this support was that these Christians were opposed to homosexual practices, and to communism, and the Nazis, were, too. Homosexuals and communists (and other groups) were persecuted, and executed, by the Nazis.

There was also a Confessing Church, which was primarily opposed to the theological claims of Nazism, rather than to the Holocaust. The theological claims should have been opposed. Here is one such outrageous claim: "Dr. Zoellner ... has tried to tell me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the Son of God. That makes me laugh ... Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle's Creed .... [but] is represented by the Party .... the German people are now called ... by the Führer to a real Christianity .... The Führer is the herald of a new revelation." (See here. Zoellner was a leader of the Confessing Church.) Karl Barth was also one of its leaders. (Here is an article on Barth's thought, during the early days of the Nazi regime.)

Another leader of the Confessing Church was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is the author of several works, translated into English, including The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, both of them probably among the dozen or so most influential works on Christianity written during the previous century. Bonhoeffer came to believe that active resistance against Hitler was called for. He joined a group that planned to assassinate Hitler. This group did not succeed, and Bonhoeffer was executed, before he reached his 40th birthday. Bonhoeffer realized that he was acting in a way that seemed contrary to his faith, but said that he felt he had to act as he did, and trust God's grace for forgiveness. (See the Wikipedia article on Bonhoeffer for more.)

The Nazi treatment of the Confessing Church, and the error of the German Christians, are instructive. One lesson is that the Church should always keep the State at arms length. In the U.S., there is a danger that conservative churches will become arms of the Republicans, or the Tea Party, and that liberal churches may become arms of the Democrats. Both of these tendencies must and should be opposed. The state, or a political movement, may seem to have goals compatible with a church, but becoming too close together seems to always mean that the church, not the state, compromises its core principles and beliefs. No political party, and few, if any, political movements, have been fully compatible with Christianity.

More on Politics. Ken Schenck, Religion professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, has posted a compilation of Bible verses about social justice.

I have previously mused on the source of political authority in the U. S.

I have posted on what the New Testament says about what Christian attitudes toward government should be.

Summary: We should honor the state, and civil authority, except in extreme circumstances. But we must always put God's moral demands first. For example, we should obey traffic laws, except in emergencies. Poor planning, such as not starting out early enough, does not constitute an emergency.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Video recommendation -- little girl telling the story of Jonah

A seven minute video of a little girl, telling the story of Jonah, which she has pretty much nailed, is available here. Someone taught her well, and she does a great job.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sunspots 288

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

Science: NPR reports that becoming obese may actually change the instructions passed on to your offspring, so that they, too, are more likely to be obese.

NPR also reports on the difference between how cats drink, and how dogs drink (with slow motion videos).

Politics: Ken Schenck has written an analysis of the morality of various economic systems. Surprise! None of them is perfect. 

Computing: Wired says that Facebook has Google running scared. This article also lets you see some aspects of your Google account -- you probably have one -- that you didn't know about.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Religion has no evidence; science does" - Karl Giberson on Jerry Coyne

Karl Giberson, militant Christian, and scientist, writing for the Biologos Forum, has completed (I think) a series on the militant atheism of Jerry Coyne, also a scientist. In this post, he considers the claim that religion uses faith, without evidence, and that science uses evidence, and not faith.

Thanks for reading. Read Giberson.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A report on the Geocentrism Conference

I previously noted here that there was to be a Catholic Conference on Geocentrism, which latter is the idea that the planets rotate around the earth, not the sun. (And probably more non-standard ideas, depending on which flavor of geocentrist you are.)

Todd Wood attended that conference, and has been reporting on his impressions over the past few days. (See here for final report, with links to the previous ones.) As I (and he) expected, he was not convinced, but he did give the conference, and its speakers, a respectful hearing. Most modern scientists would never have attended, let alone been respectful. Based on Wood's report, some of the supposed scientists who are geocentrists don't seem to know what science is all about.

Even though we say that the sun rises in the East, it doesn't. The earth rotates, so that the sun appears to rise. Let's not forget that. There is abundant evidence for it. There is no compelling reason to believe that the Bible is trying to teach anything contrary. It does, as we still do, use language that seems to be geocentric.

Thanks for reading. Read Wood's blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has won more Hugo and Nebula awards (counting each award, of both types, once) for her novels than any other author. I have read and enjoyed her work for years, and I'm not the only one. Somehow, although I have posted on her seven times before now, I haven't produced a major post on any of her novels. I'm ashamed of myself. In this post, I intend to begin to make up for that lack.

Willis has written four novels about a professor, who is in charge of time travel for historical purposes, that is, to check facts about the past, and to learn something about what life then was really like. Actually, the novels are more about the students (apparently graduate students) who do most of the time traveling, than they are about Mr. Dunworthy, the director of the group. They are set in England, in both the past and the near future, where the time travel supposedly starts. The first such novel is Doomsday Book. This novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It is about Kivrin Engle, who went into the 14th century.

The Wikipedia article on the book gives a good summary of the plot, and other features. I wish to muse on three areas.

First, Willis can detail you almost to death, so if you aren't up to reading details of, for example, what the time travelers were thinking, you probably won't like Willis. But the details are a way of establishing character, setting, and plot. What do I mean, detail? One example, in Doomsday Book, is that Finch, Dunworthy's administrative assistant, has great difficulty getting some supplies, when Oxford University is quarantined because of an epidemic. In particular, he can't find lavatory paper (toilet paper, to North Americans). Over and over, he tries to get some, and can't.

Another detail is that there is an American handbell choir stranded in Oxford, where Dunworthy's group works. The handbell choir keeps coming back into the story, in various ways, and for various reasons. Many authors would not have included them at all.

Another such detail is bureaucracy. Willis's characters seem to be constantly beset by bureaucratic idiocy, described in maddening detail.

Second, Willis can present some fully dimensional characters. Kivrin, Dunworthy, and some of the "contemps" (people visited in the past) are such. The two, detail and character, work together. The troubles of Dunworthy, Kivrin, and others are presented over and over again. Not all of Willis's characters are likable. Some can be downright mean and nasty. But they are well drawn.

Third, one of Willis's characters, in this book, is good. He is unselfishly good. He is the local priest, in the 14th century. He works tirelessly to help the sick and the suffering. He thinks the best of others -- he saw Kivrin come into his time, and is convinced that she is an angel, sent from God to help them fight the Black Death. He is illiterate, and doesn't have the clothes and grooming that some people want in their priest, but he is a servant of God for them. I have prepared a graphic, illustrating a quotation from the book:

Roche praying by Connie Willis

(The graphic serves as a link to the original, on my Flickr photostream, where you can see it at larger size, if you wish.)

Father Roche is not the only really good person in the book. I would say that Dunworthy, who tirelessly fights the university bureaucracy to get Kivrin back to her own time, and Dr. Mary Ahrens, who tirelessly fights to help the sick during the epidemic, also are. So is Kivrin, herself, who comes to identify with, and love unselfishly, the people she meets in a small village in the 14th century.

Thanks for reading. Read Willis.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


metamorphosis: Romans 12:2 illustrated
(The graphic is a link to the original, in my Flickr photostream. Larger sizes should be available there.)

The word here translated as "transformed" is, as you can see, closely related to the processes named metamorphosis. Actually, insects have two kinds of metamorphosis. Grasshoppers, and many others, just get larger and more mature, occasionally shedding their old skin/exoskeleton, after they hatch out of the egg. This is known as incomplete metamorphosis. Butterflies, and many others, have four distinct stages, namely the egg, the caterpillar or grub, the pupa or chrysalis, and the adult. This complete metamorphosis seems to be closer to what Paul is telling us to do. The caterpillar and the butterfly are not very obviously connected to each other, based on their appearance and behavior. But they are connected. The adult comes from the caterpillar, through the pupa. But the adult is a more graceful, freer, more beautiful creature, and it also can reproduce, unlike the caterpillar. I suppose that, if you asked a caterpillar if it wanted to become a pupa, and just sit there silent, without eating, for days, weeks, or months, it would refuse. Yet, I suppose that if you could ask a butterfly if it wanted to go back to being a caterpillar, it would quickly refuse. Similarly, God wants us to be transformed into beings that try do do His will, not ours. It's not very appealing. We want to direct our own lives. But it's best for us, ultimately -- and I'm speaking about here on earth, not some heavenly pie in the sky -- it's more freeing to do what God wants, by choice, than to do what our unredeemed selves want to do.

The word here translated as "transformed" is also used in Matthew's and Mark's accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus, early in His ministry, witnessed by Peter, James and John. The only other use of the word in the Bible is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit." (WEB)

Note that God's desire for our butterfly selves is that we be transformed into creatures that reflect God's glory. Note also that the tense is present -- God wants this, and it is possible, in this life.

Make it so! Thanks for reading, and looking.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bible interpretation - the fundamentals

The Bible is a complex book. Some parts of it are difficult to understand. (Mark Twain is supposed to have remarked that it wasn't the parts he didn't understand that bothered him, but the parts that he did. Perhaps he was referring to some of the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, where he put forward a radical morality.)

I'm not an expert on Biblical interpretation. But I think there are some principles that we should follow in interpreting the Bible. Here they are:
1) Don't take something literally it if wasn't meant to be. If a phrase is poetry, or irony, or a figure of speech, then it may not have been meant to be taken literally. For example, Psalm 46:2 speaks of not being afraid even though the mountains be moved into the sea. The whole Psalm is poetry, and this phrase seems to have been a figure of speech. See Psalm 114, for another example.

2) Don't use a single verse, phrase, or sentence without considering the context, and what the rest of the Bible says on that subject. For example, in Romans 11:26, Paul says that all Israel will be saved. Does that mean that all Israelis will go to heaven? Almost certainly not. In chapter 10 of the same book, Paul says that his desire is that the Jews be saved. He also calls them a disobedient people. And, more importantly, Paul's message in the entire book, indeed in all his letters, is that salvation comes by faith in Christ as savior, not by birth.

This principle should be applied to many passages in the Old Testament. The Jews were under a different regime than Christians. The Jews were often commanded to destroy other nations. Christians aren't. In fact, based on the New Testament, God seems to deal much less with nations than in the Old, rather now dealing with us as individuals. Various Old Testament laws, for example dietary laws, do not apply to Christians, unless they have individual convictions about these matters. The New Testament makes that clear. (Some moral laws, first introduced in the Old Testament, do apply to Christians, but that's another topic.)

3) Be careful in interpreting prophecy. The New Testament points out some examples of fulfilled prophecy about Jesus. Those, it seems, we can understand. The Old Testament has some examples of the same sort of thing. But be careful about prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. Very careful.

One of the most quoted prophecies about Jesus is in Isaiah 7:14, where it says that Jesus will be born to a virgin. Notice that I linked to the entire chapter. The reason is that I want you to look at the context. That prophecy, which the New Testament tells us is about Jesus, must not have seemed to be about that at all, to those who first heard it, and perhaps even to Isaiah, who spoke it. It's in the middle of a prophecy to King Ahaz about two enemy nations. Not only that, but it seems to be saying that the boy born to a virgin will, at first, not know the difference between good and evil. How could Ahaz, or even Isaiah, have understood that part of this prophecy would be fulfilled after Ahaz was long dead? And that the fulfillment would be in a Messiah Redeemer? There are many other examples. Revelation, and the other prophecies about Christ's return, may be as obscure as Isaiah 7, at least until their fulfillment. How can we be sure that we really understand what they mean, as, for example, the Left Behind franchise seems to claim? (For a critique of the dispensational interpretation found in those books -- and in many other places -- by a New Testament scholar, see here.) 

4) Don't ignore or reject scripture that you don't like. In fact, I suppose that sections of the Bible that are clear, for example about gossip being a sin, and that we don't like (if we like to gossip) are the ones we should pay the most attention to!

I should carefully consider that some one else's interpretation, be that someone an individual or a denomination with doctrines somewhat different than mine, might be correct. I should consider that God may be trying to discipline or instruct me, through scripture that I don't particularly like.

Thanks for reading! Read the Bible. Carefully and prayerfully.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sunspots 287

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

Science: Science News reports that scientists have discovered some unique proteins in the immune systems of people who have been infected with the HIV virus for years, but not developed the disease. They don't yet know the mechanism of this immunity.

A blog entitled The New Creationism has posted "The top five challenges for creationist geology."

A Canadian team of scientists have apparently transformed adult skin cells into blood cells. This has tremendous potential in medicine, and by-passes any objections against using embryonic cells in research.

Politics: I didn't know the official name of the state commonly referred to as Rhode Island until the recent election, when voters rejected an attempt to change the name.

Christianity: Ken Schenck wonders, among other things, why US churches (many of them) have national flags prominently displayed.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Solzhenitsyn on the heart

Solzhenitsyn on the heart

(The photo is a link to my Flickr original photo, which has a larger size. No password is needed to see it.)

Wikipedia's article on Solzhenitsyn is here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Affirmation in church: also needed

I started a series on affirmation some time ago. The first two posts are here and here. In them, I argued that affirmation is important, and that a failure to affirm anything is one of the things that makes current culture, especially popular media, sick and wrong. (Many things should not be affirmed, of course!)

I believe that conservative Christian churches, of the kind that I am a member of, often fail similarly. We are known for what we are against, not what we are for. And, I'm afraid, the reputation is often deserved.

Yes, we should be against some things. I recently heard a good sermon, one that my church, and I, probably needed. The speaker indicated that there are guidelines in the Bible about what we should not do. He referred to the Ten Commandments. Of the Ten, it is true that only one (Honor your parents) is mostly or entirely positive. The rest are mostly or entirely stated as "You shall not." Another guideline he mentioned is that we should not take up practices that enslave us. We also should not do things that do not edify ourselves, or other Christians. All that is true. But it's not the whole story, and perhaps these same truths need to also be presented in a different way.

Actually, Jesus, Himself, presented them in a different way. He said that the Old Testament could be summed up in two commandments. (See Matthew 22:34-39) Those two commandments are positive. They are not commands to stay away from doing certain things, but commands to do something -- to love God, and our neighbors. The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 is also a command to do, and is, in fact, a restatement of the second of the two commandments in Matthew 22.

We need to practice integrity. We need to be virtuous. We need to be holy. We need to be like Christ. Those are all things we can do, with God's help. If doing them is our goal, and the center of our discourse, rather than our goals and discourse being about avoiding certain things, we will be more attractive, and do more good for the Kingdom.

Winning quarterbacks try to not be intercepted or sacked. But that's not all there is to winning. The most reliable way to not be sacked or intercepted is to stay on the bench. Winning means being committed to a cause and a goal. Doing something.

Christianity should be a commitment, and a commitment to do something. We applaud (or should) commitments to a marriage, to raising a family, to caring for those less fortunate than we, to various causes, such as political parties or saving the environment, rigorous training to achieve some goal, such as making a team, getting into medical school, becoming a classroom teacher. We should also applaud a commitment to following Christ. And we should commit to that ourselves. Christianity shouldn't be about putting anyone down. It should be about being lifted up.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Reporting vote counts and God's perspective on time

Even in the 21st century, news stories about elections often say something like "Jones was ahead in the early returns, but, by the time all the precincts had reported, Smith won."

(I'm ignoring absentee ballots, and the like, in this discussion, just as news reports like the above often do.)

That's the way it looked to those who summarized the voting, or who reported the summaries. But, if, as usually happens, the polls closed at the same time in all the precincts, the winner had already been determined. If we assume an entity with a limited omniscience, enough to know how everyone voted, to that entity, the election result is known as soon as the polls are all closed. But election commissions and reporters don't have omniscience, of any kind (although reporters sometimes act as if they did!). To them, the winner is determined only after counting and adding up a significant fraction of the amount, which takes some time.

God is, we are told, outside of time. He is omniscient. He knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Just as that knowledge does not prevent a voter, me, say, from exercising free will in my choices on the ballot, perhaps even finally making up my mind when I'm in the actual process of voting, God's knowledge of what I will do does not mean that I don't have real choices in deciding what I will do.

That's my view of God's foreknowledge, which is related to, but not the same as predestination. (Not everyone shares my view.) I chose to write this post on November 3rd. I chose to have it posted on the 4th. But God knew, on the 2nd, even the 2nd of October, or the 2nd of November, 1876, that I would do this.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sunspots 286

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

Science: Wired reports on a telescope that lets us listen to stars. (Sounds included in report.)

Wired also reports on how breasts are being re-constructed with the patient's own fat cells, and why this procedure may pioneer new methods in reconstructive surgery of all types.

Computing: Wired has published a guide to the various ways of connecting a computer and a TV wirelessly.

Christianity: Why Weekend Fisher made paper snowflakes out of orange paper.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, November 01, 2010

A series I didn't finish reading

A number of years ago, I began reading what was supposed to be a great series, the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels by George R. R. Martin. The books are Sword and Sorcery fiction. (For more on the plots, characters, and setting, see the first link, which is to the Wikipedia article on the series, which article has links to pages on the individual books. The first book was published in 1996. I probably obtained a paperback copy in 1997 or 1998.)

I read the first two books in the series, and some shorter fiction related to these books. The volumes were well crafted, including the characters, the setting, and the plot. But I decided that I should stop reading them. Too many characters were evil, in too many ways. Too much evil, such as cruelty to slaves, and in war, seemed to be just accepted, with no revulsion towards it. There were some characters who were loyal and hard-working, and who treated others fairly, but they often seemed to be killed by other characters, without such good qualities. So I quit reading. The series didn't seem to affirm much. (I have recently posted on the topic of affirmation, here and here.)

When I began this brief series on affirming, my experience with Mr. Martin's books came to mind. I checked on what the series had become. I was surprised to discover that, although the first four books have sold well -- very well for fantastic literature -- and subsequent volumes have been eagerly anticipated, there has been a hiatus of about five years since the fourth novel was published. Martin and the publisher do not have a release date for the fifth work. The Amazon web site gives the publication date as December 25, 2012, which sounds like an estimate, not a firm date. Or perhaps it's just wishful thinking. Few or no books come out on Christmas day.

See here for a Martin fan's perspective on the hiatus in Martin's series. Here's the Wikipedia page on the fifth volume.

Perhaps it would be best if the series (which is projected to go to seven volumes) is never finished.

Thanks for reading. Read something that affirms some sort of excellence!

*   *   *   *

June 10, 2011. The series is the basis for a TV series on HBO, and the books are again on some best-seller lists. A publication date, next month, has been set for the fifth book, so presumably, this time it's a real date.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to deal with temptation

How to deal with temptation? Here are a few thoughts on that subject.

What is temptation? I checked a few definitions, and didn't find them very helpful. (They were circular - temptation is being tempted.) So, I stipulate that temptation is a process or event that attracts you toward sin. I further stipulate that a sin is a deliberate disobedience of God.

So, how should we deal with temptation?
1) Avoid it. Stay away from situations, people, or things that you know are likely to cause you to be tempted. This requires that you can envision a temptation coming, and avoid it. There are temptations that you can't foresee, and temptations that you can't avoid. An example of a situation you couldn't avoid would be if you were in jail, or a hospital room, and the source of temptation was within the jail cell, or the room. It is often difficult to avoid temptations coming from within your family, on the job, or in a school class, or in your neighborhood.

2) Remember that God has promised deliverance: "No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13, WEB)

This requires, of course, that you want to be delivered.

3) Remember that temptation is not sin, and don't be defeated spiritually by temptation. James 1:12 says "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him." (WEB) James indicates that enduring temptation, far from being a sign of God's punishment, may be a source of blessing. He also says, in the same chapter, "1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."

4) Do good things. If you are likely to be tempted because you don't have anything positive to do, find something good, or at least not bad, to do, housework, for example.

5) Trust in Christ. Hebrews 2:18 says "For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted."

6) And, of course, prayer should be part of each step listed! 

Thanks for reading. Avoid temptation!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Affirmation can be misdirected

In a previous post, I argued that modern society does not affirm people and things as much as it should. I also quoted from the Bible, two verses which indicated that we should affirm -- praise, try to imitate, think about -- what is good.

But there's another side to this. Affirmation can be misdirected.

One type of misdirected affirmation was (and probably still is) a movement to try to increase the self-esteem of elementary school students. (Surely you have been in towns where half the automobile bumpers seem to proclaim some child or other as an honor student?) As the Wikipedia article that the previous link points to indicates, there is no solid evidence that acting so as to increase a child's self-esteem makes for better academic achievement.

It is a terrible mistake to act and speak so as to attack a person's self-esteem, particularly that of a child. But it is also a terrible mistake to lead a child to believe that he or she is a budding genius, athlete, or artist of some sort, when they are not, and show no evidence of ability and ambition toward such a goal. Telling a child who can't read at their grade level, and who does not seem to have any desire to, that she is going to become a lawyer or a doctor is a mistake. Telling a college Junior who barely gets Cs that he should expect to become a dentist is an error.

What should be put up for admiration and esteem is excellence. If the child shows evidence of working hard toward some sort of excellence, then that, too, should be affirmed, but misbehavior and laziness should not.

The same thing is true of adults. In Matthew 22:34-39, Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, tells us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We should have proper self-esteem -- a realistic view of our failings, and also of our likeness to Christ, which latter should be affirmed. Not publicly, not boastfully, but recognized and encouraged. Our goal should be to have an ambition to become more like Christ. All Christians have such ability. Would that I acted on it more.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thanks to my wife

My wife and I have been married for a good many years -- long enough that both our children are employed at least a full day's travel from our home, and we have two grandchildren. Today is our anniversary.

I am thankful to her for her love, her patience, and her godliness.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Affirmation is important!

Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. (WEB)

I found this verse in my daily Bible reading, a few days ago. I think it relates to current popular culture, which often seems to find nothing pure, nothing good, nothing worth emulating.

The biggest problem with many current TV programs, movies, books, radio, and much popular music, is not fornication and adultery, or violence, or misuse of God's name (all of which occur, unfortunately). It is that they don't affirm anything.

For example, I sometimes watch "The Daily Show" and/or "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. (The early evening re-runs are before my bedtime!) These programs are funny. They feature good writing, and skilled actors, plus various celebrities, mostly politicians, who are often not so skilled. But there's a big problem. They make fun of things, often things that should have fun poked at them. But they don't generally affirm anything, or anybody. They just tear down.

Another example is the comic strips. Doonesbury and Dilbert are among the most popular of these. Doonesbury often makes fun of current events, up to and including the President. (It has not made much fun of the President now that the office is held by Mr. Obama, much less than it did when George W. Bush was President.) Dilbert makes fun of the pointy-haired boss. Again, they are well written efforts, and usually really funny. But they only tear down. They don't affirm anything.

Many movies -- not all -- and much "reality" TV -- I make no claim to be expert on either of these categories -- seem to be based on watching someone make a fool of him or herself. Reality TV does sometimes reward genuine talent, or achievement, I guess, but not often.

And then there are the TV political ads . . .

There's something wrong with a society where no one is honored, nothing is respected, where virtue is considered to be fake, or unimportant, or both. Either there's something wrong with the institutions that are being mocked, instead of honored, or there's something wrong with the mockers, or both.

The Bible also says: Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, WEB)

I don't mean to say that some things, maybe even some people, should not be opposed. The Apostle Paul, who wrote both of the scripture sections, was opposed to gossip, for example. But that's not our problem. We oppose too much, and don't affirm enough.

God help us concentrate on the good, the pure, the noble, and to be good, pure and noble.

In a subsequent post, I muse on misplaced affirmation.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sunspots 285

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

Science: (or something) NPR reports that drug companies have often used doctors who have done unethical things, or administered treatments outside of accepted medical norms, as their spokespersons.
Computing: Information Week has an article on fixing laptop (and other portable computer types) over-heating.

Christianity: Todd Wood (See here for his blog) has begun contributing to something called the Center for Faith and Science International. His first contribution is a summary of the beliefs of what he calls Young-Age Creationism. (I usually use Young-Earth Creationism, and I think most others in the field do, but never mind.) It's a short, well-written summary.

Anne attempts to consider all sides of the issue of homosexual behavior. (She recognizes that not everyone thinks that more than one side -- the one they are on -- should be considered.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Super-nerds and Halloween

Forget whether celebrating Halloween is giving credence to various kinds of superstition, or not. Forget whether kiddies should be encouraged to take in massive amounts of sugar. Forget the expense of finding the perfect adult costume.

So what to think about then? Think how Halloween can be used to illustrate cutting-edge technology. And how super-nerds may spend as much as a month fixing up their own Halloween devices. Some of that preparation may be cutting edge. Read about it, or listen to it, in a report on National Public Radio.

Disclaimer -- I may hand out some candy to kiddies. I'll dress up as a retired college professor. That's about as far as I go.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

Wired reports that the recent leak of documents related to the war in Iraq shows that the Iraqi capacity to use weapons of mass destruction was probably somewhere between "none" and the massive threat that the Bush administration claimed. There were, apparently, stocks of chemical weapons.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

James 1:5-6 poster: doubt and instability

James 1:5,6 - like a wave

An attempt to illustrate James 1:5-6. That was an actual wave, but not a very large one.

If you want to see a larger size, the photo is a link to my Flickr stream, which has larger sizes available.

Friday, October 22, 2010

William Dembski, Young-Earth Creationist?

The Panda's Thumb Blog is no friend to the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, but it seems to usually get its facts right, quoting original sources, with links, wherever possible. On October 20, 2010, it reported that William Dembski, one of the most important figures in ID, now says that he is a Young-Earth Creationist. This seems to be a recent development. The same post quotes Dembski as believing that the scientific evidence ruled out YEC, as recently as 2009. I have posted on the difference between ID and YEC, and also quoted Dembski as not being a YEC.

The article indicates that it is possible that Dembski changed his mind on the subject to retain his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It doesn't strongly put that forth, and offers no evidence for that possibility.

There doesn't have to be any shame in changing one's mind. I've done it myself, on origins, and a lot of other things. It is possible that Dembski has changed his simply because he now believes that the Biblical evidence for YEC is overwhelming. He evidently believes that Biblical evidence is more important than scientific evidence. My own belief, and that of many others, is that God reveals Himself to us both through nature and through the Bible (and in other ways, especially through Jesus Christ) and that, if we understood both correctly, there would be no conflict between them. I further believe that the scientific evidence for an old earth, and an old universe, is overwhelming, and that the Bible can be interpreted as not being opposed to that idea without doing violence to the Scripture. I may be wrong.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip

Grof hit in the eye

(The graphic above serves as a live link to the original, at a larger size, in my Flickr photostream. No password is necessary to view a larger size there. The words in Grof's brain are a listing of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, with their associated colors.)

I have suddenly realized that I have never blogged about one of my all-time favorite books, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip. This is a gap that I wish to fill as soon as I possibly can. (I have blogged about several of her other works. If interested, click on the Patricia A. McKillip tag at the end of this post. Perhaps the most important of these posts is an analysis of Christian themes in a trilogy by McKillip.) I am not alone in thinking that this is a good book. It won the first World Fantasy Award ever given.

I will not try to set forth a summary of the book. The Wikipedia article on it does a good job of that. I will discuss one aspect of the book, which, I have argued elsewhere, is a frequent theme in McKillip's novels. That aspect is the rejection of vengeance. Several of McKillip's characters, although grievously wronged, decide not to take vengeance on those who have harmed them.

The quotation from the book, in the graphic, is found in two places, in both cases spoken by Cyrin, the magic boar. In the first instance, it is spoken to Coren, who is in the process of falling in love with Sybel, the sorceress (and she with him). Coren is full of desire for revenge for a brother who has fallen in battle to the enemy of his family. In the second place, it is spoken to Sybel, herself. She was captured, and her mind examined deeply, by a magician in the pay of King Drede, who is also Coren's family's chief opponent. Sybel comes to see that, in her desire for vengeance, she has been using Coren, her husband, and his family, and that if she continues to be driven by that desire, she will lose everything that is important to her. She withdraws from pursuing vengeance. The statement made by Cyrin is on pages 106 and 249 of the 2006 edition of the book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Bible has something to say about this matter:
Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat.
    If he is thirsty, give him water to drink:
22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head,
    and Yahweh will reward you.

and, quoting and expanding on this:

Romans 12:19 Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
    If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
    for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Both quotations from the World English Bible.)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunspots 284

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

Science: Wired reports that bonobo females are better with tools than males are. (The same is true of chimpanzees, which are similar to bonobos.)

Earthlink News has a story from the Associated Press, which reports that a doctor is being seriously criticized, and in legal troubles, because he attempted to implant too many early embryos into a woman who eventually gave birth to octuplets.

From something called Guiding Tech: security tips for your laptop.

CNN reports that Apple has patented technology that, it claims, could be used to stop "sexting."

Jamie has some outside the box thoughts on the Bible verses we are most likely to know and love.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marriage ceremonies not religious in Bible times: musings

In a recent post, I concluded that marriage ceremonies, in Bible times, were not religious in nature, but were civil, social, and secular. (I also indicated that God is interested, deeply interested, in marriage!)

So what? What might happen if we went back to the way they did things in the Bible? Should we? Let me muse about this matter.

1) One disturbing trend is the number of young people who are living together, having children, but not marrying. I believe that one reason for an increase in such couples is economic. Weddings cost too much. They don't have to, of course, but they often do. So the couple decides to live together without marriage. Years ago, in the church I attend, a couple got married after the morning service. The pastor just said, to the congregation, something like, "You are dismissed. However, if you wish, you can stay for the wedding of X and Y, who will be undergoing their marriage ceremony right after the service." Most of us stayed. Some people were there for the ceremony, who wouldn't have been there otherwise. The pastor performed a simple marriage ceremony, and that was it. No big reception. No invitations. No florist. No photographer. The couple are now grandparents, and are still married. I don't know if they are part of a church now. The last I knew, they were. (My wife and I eloped, also getting married without any of the expensive trappings.)

(However, it seems that marriage ceremonies in Israel were also expensive, or at least often were, perhaps lasting several days, and requiring an abundance of food, and other preparations. See here for an article on marriage ceremonies in Bible times.)

I suggest that church wedding ceremonies should be short and simple. That way, people who want to marry and live together could do so, with the blessing of a church, without burdensome expense for the parents and themselves. Anyone who wants to could have a big party, with catered food, flowers, music, and photographer, but let that be separate from the church ceremony.

2) Consider how little time is spent on the religious part of getting married, compared to all the rest of it, in a "church wedding." The actual ceremony, conducted by a minister, is often considerably shorter than the time the guests have to wait for the family photographs to be taken. Throw in the showers, the rehearsal party, the reception, and other events, and the formal wedding ceremony, itself, becomes insignificant -- a minor appendage on a big event.

3) Churches, or pastors, or parents, often seem to hope that, if an unchurched couple is married in church, they will decide to become part of that church body. Perhaps that happens once in a while. I don't think it happens very often. In some respects, having an explicitly Christian ceremony for non-Christians seems like hypocrisy. On balance, wouldn't it better for churches and pastors to not encourage non-churched couples to get married in church, but rather to discourage it?

C. S. Lewis (who had never been married at the time) said this:
If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

and this:
A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not. both quotes from "Christian Marriage," pp. 96-103, in Mere Christianity. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Orig. published by Macmillan, apparently in 1952) Quotes are from p. 98

Thanks for reading.