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Monday, May 31, 2010

Wired columnist says that Facebook's privacy changes were deliberate

A recent Wired article says that Facebook is causing controversy over privacy settings, etc., on a regular basis, on purpose, and explains.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

gods are commanded to worship God

Psalm 97:7 is a remarkable verse: All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods! (ESV)

I checked, using the Blueletter Bible's "Available Translations and Versions" for that verse, and the English translations are unanimous -- they all include a command to "gods" to worship God. Remarkable? What does that mean?

I'm not sure. But why should I understand the entire Bible?

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Artificial Intelligence and the Soul

An article by Russell Bjork, in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, is now available freely on-line. Bjork's title is "Artificial Intelligence and the Soul," and the article has some interesting things to say, backed up with appropriate references.

The author deals with the definition of artificial intelligence, which is a rather nebulous concept.

Bjork says that Genesis 2:7 is not necessarily speaking of separate creations of a human body and a human soul, and, in fact, is most likely not doing so. He gives good Biblical evidence for this.

He then deals with three questions.

First, ". . . there would not seem to be—in principle—a theological reason why personhood could not emerge . . . from the operation of a sufficiently complex technological artifact." (p. 98 -- there are 8 pages in the article, but I am giving the page from the original journal.)

Bjork claims that, should androids or robots with artificial intelligence (whatever that is) roughly equal to that of humans come to exist, this would not challenge any important Biblical doctrine.

And, in summary, he states: "There is no inherent theological conflict between a biblical view of personhood and work in artificial intelligence, nor would successes in this field undermine human value or the doctrine of the image of God." (p. 101) He does not believe that production of an artifact with near-human intelligence is likely in the near future, and is not sure that such a man-made thing will ever exist. But he is not sure that it can't, either.

So far, theoretical, but important questions. Read Bjork for more information on these matters.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sunspots 262

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

Science:National Public Radio reports on the recent attempt to produce an artificial "cell" with DNA prepared and provided by the experiments. It's not really artificial life, says the report, but it makes some long-standing ethical questions more immediately important.

Wired reports that a Chicago judge, who was sent hundreds of e-mails by supporters of a public figure, in an attempt to influence the judge, could not hold that public figure in contempt of court. Don't start e-mailing judges, though . . .

The Evangelical Environmental Network has a comprehensive statement on what the Bible says about creation care. The statement is almost entirely quotations from the Bible, a lot of them.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

One way to drive potential converts away

"The evangelical posture toward modern science has missional consequences."

Indeed it does, and they are mostly negative. The attitude of many evangelicals toward science is causing many people who need Christ and salvation to shut off what evangelicals say. If, for example, we say that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, because the Bible tells us so, why should a reasonably well-educated person who hasn't been brought up as an evangelical take seriously anything else we say that the Bible says, including what we say it says about Christ?

The statement quoted above is from a relatively brief post on the BioLogos Forum, and is by Ken Wilson. It is the first of three parts. The post must have struck a nerve -- so far, it has 160 comments, with, no doubt, more coming.

Thanks for reading. Read Wilson's article.

Monday, May 24, 2010

DNA comparisons are consistent with common ancestry for apes and humans

A recent post from the Biologos Foundation discusses the genetic similarities between humans and other animals, in particular the great apes. (The article does not distinguish between common chimpanzees and bonobos.)

The study involves pseudogenes having to do with the sense of smell. (Never mind what pseudogenes are, if you don't know, or don't want to know. For the purposes of the study, they are just pieces of DNA.) The results discussed are completely consistent with humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans having had a common ancestor; with humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas having had a common ancestor not shared with orangutans; and with humans and chimpanzees having had a common ancestor not shared with gorillas or orangutans. The authors recognize that many Christians are disturbed by the idea that humans and chimpanzees are biologically related, and many of these believe that the Bible teaches that this is not true. But the authors say, in part: "To be blunt, if this pattern is not to be accepted, why did God put it in place for us to discover?" That's an interesting question.

I make no claim to having a satisfactory answer to the dilemma posed by the seeming contradiction between God's work, as revealed by scientific findings, and a common interpretation of the first two chapter so of Genesis. However, I will say that Billy Graham, for one, is on record as saying that it is possible that Genesis means that God took a non-human animal and gave it the image of God.

Thanks for reading. The article should be understandable by any reasonably literate person. There are a number of interesting comments on the article.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Glory be to God for dappled things, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Biologos Foundation has posted a brief discussion of a poem, "Pied Beauty," by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which includes the words of the poem, and a reading of it, to a background of appropriate images. The poem, itself, is brief -- two stanzas. Hopkins was a noted poet, and a Catholic priest.

Enjoy, if you care to explore this for yourself.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sunspots 261

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

Science:Entanglement (the notion that two originally closely connected particles can somehow remain connected when separated across long distances) is one of the many weird aspects of quantum mechanics. Wired reports that some scientists believe that this property may allow migrating birds to see magnetic fields.

Wired also reports that scientists who have studied fights between ravens say that the birds can act as if they are consoling the losers.

(or Education) A New York Times book review (you may need to obtain a free password to read this periodical) says that Diane Ravitch, once Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, and a strong advocate of school choice and of standardized testing as a measuring instrument, has written a book in which she now says that neither school choice nor standardized tests have done much, if any, good.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is the controversy over creation?

Weekend Fisher writes a good blog. If nothing else, she's ambitious! She has begun a series on controversies in the church. The first one of what must be going to be a long series is over origins.

No one can cover every aspect of this in a blog post. Weekend Fisher hasn't quite. I see two weaknesses. One is that she has made views on origins a dichotomy -- theistic evolution or young-earth creationism. There are more views than that, and, of course, there are differences within these camps. The other weakness is that she didn't define evolution. But those weaknesses are more than balanced by the strength: she has done an excellent job in indicating the differences between two sides on these matters: how are they different?

I suggest that Weekend Fisher's blog, Heart, Mind, and Soul, deserves a much wider readership than is indicated by the comments. (So do a lot of others, including this one, but that's another story!)

Thanks for reading. Read Weekend Fisher.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Poking fun at atheists

He Lives publishes a splendid blog.

In a recent post, the author pokes fun at on-line atheists. On-line atheists poke fun at Christians, of course. He Lives is referring, for example, to this post by (He Lives says -- I don't follow that blog) an atheist advocate. He might also be referring to Richard Dawkins, except that Dawkins doesn't have much of an on-line presence. By fun, I mean that He Lives points out logical inconsistencies, and clear bias.

For an example of what He Lives is pointing out, he says that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, is lampooned by atheists as being an ignoramus, or some such. But these same atheists sometimes propose that Ham's interpretation of Genesis One must be taken seriously, as representative of exactly what all Christians believe. Why, if Ham is so dumb?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Female headship in the family: Biblical examples

The first word in the description of this blog, "Sun and Shield," is musings. As I understand and use that word, it means that I put down my thoughts, often tentative or not well informed or thought through, about some subject that interests me. I do this mostly for the most faithful reader of this blog, namely me. What does Martin LaBar think about X, Y, or Z?

Related Matters
In this post, I shall muse about the topic suggested by the title. I have already mused about the related topic of women in ministry (or not) here and here. I don't have all the answers, but I believe that there is scriptural support for the place of God-called women in ministry. My church, The Wesleyan Church, believes that, although there are many more males than females in ministry within that body. It isn't the only one. Here is a defense by a writer from the Church of the Nazarene. An organization named Christians for Biblical Equity has a number of articles on this subject. Recently, the body that directs my denomination between its General Conferences decided that our first female General Superintendent (there are two others, both male) should be the head of the denomination, at least until the next General Conference. My local church has a female assistant pastor, who occasionally preaches, and carries out other ministerial duties. She was ordained by the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church a few years ago. See the links suggested in this paragraph for more information on the related topic.

I confess to so much ignorance on the topic of this post that I didn't know what the complementarian and egalitarian views were, in spite of the fact that the very titles suggest the meanings. I think that I do now. The complementarian view holds that women and men are to have different, but complementary, roles in the family and elsewhere. The link just before this is to the Wikipedia article on the subject. There is also a Wikipedia article on the egalitarian view. A quick Google search also turned up some pertinent material. Here is an article supporting male headship. The author distinguishes between male headship and male domination, claiming that there is a difference. Here is a defense of the complementarian view, and here is another. Here is a discussion of male headship, which article examines the Biblical use of the term, and finds that, Biblically, "Head is never given the meaning of authority, boss or leader. It describes the servant function of provider of life, growth and development. This function is not one of top-down oversight but of bottom-up support and nurture."

Biblical Examples
It has recently occurred to me that there are some examples of female spiritual leadership in families in the Bible. One such is the wife of Manoah, who was Samson's mother. Another is Hannah, who seems to have taken the lead, rather than her husband doing so, in praying and acting in the matter of having a child, in 1 Samuel 1. Another is Abigail, who, in 1 Samuel 25, acted without her first husband's knowledge, and was apparently blessed and scripturally commended for doing so. (She later married David.) In Exodus 4, Zipporah, Moses' wife, took action in relation to the circumcision of their sons,when Moses hadn't, and, in doing so, apparently kept God from killing Moses. In Exodus 2, it was the mother of Moses who was responsible for his escape from the command of Pharaoh that all male Hebrew babies should be killed.

Note that I am not including all of the women of faith from the Bible in this brief discussion. Rahab and Naomi may not have taken spiritual leadership while they had a husband. Deborah acted in leadership of Israel. We don't know whether she also acted as spiritual leader in her home. A church was begun in Lydia's home. She may not have had a husband. Dorcas may not have, either. There are other examples, in both the Old and New Testaments, of godly female leaders. Some of them may have been the spiritual leader of their husband. We don't know. 2 Timothy 1:5 says that Timothy's mother and grandmother were the spiritual leaders in Timothy's family. His father is mentioned in Acts 16:3. It is possible that that father died early in Timothy's life. Priscilla and Aquila seem to have been equals in ministry. I submit that most likely at least some of the women in this paragraph were spiritual leaders in their home, and had a husband at the time.

My conclusion is that wives and mothers, at least some of the time, took spiritual leadership in Biblical homes, and, therefore, God may expect many wives and mothers to do this now, in the twenty-first century.

Thanks for reading.

 *  *  *  *  *

October 11, 2010: I decided that I should change the title of this post, to make it match the content better.

February 19, 2011: I added the last sentence in the first paragraph under the "Biblical Examples" heading.

June 27, 2011: It occurs to me that the Virtuous Woman/Excellent Wife, idealized in Proverbs 31, is described as making business decisions on her own, and, also, as having a husband at the time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Big Government -- is it bad for us?

The answer to the title question is, of course, yes and no. It depends on what the big government does, and on who is talking.

A recent article, posted in Politics Daily, asks "What's Wrong With Big Government?" and makes some valid and thought-provoking points. For one thing, only government agencies could have caught the New York City bomber (whose bomb didn't go off, thank God!). For another, only big government seems capable of even coming close to slowing down the excesses of Wall Street. And, as the author says, Big Oil fought successfully to keep government regulations and oversight that it didn't want, and we are now seeing the result of government not being big enough in the Gulf of Mexico. Says the author: "How else can we protect our communal resources from corporate error and overreach? Have Tea Partiers rent boats and go out to rigs and inspect the facilities on their own?"

Government has its place. It's not perfect, by any means, but it has its place.

I have previously posted on what the New Testament says about government and taxes. The post is mostly quotations from the Bible.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sunspots 260

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

(or something) CNN reports that about 300 chefs in Lebanon constructed the largest plate of hummus in history -- more than 11 tons of it.

Wired reports on the ingredients in a particular brand of diaper cream.

Wired reports that a Penn State University graduate student has figured out how to make the home football crowd sound louder, thus hampering the opponents.

Wired reports on a new doctor-rating web service. As they say, why should it be easier to find a review of a camera than a cardiologist?

A Wired commentator is really angry (with some reason) at how Facebook deals with privacy issues. And did you know that Facebook may censor some Facebook messages (apparently those that include links to a competitor)?

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The tallest buildings in every country in the world

Wired reports that someone with a lot of time to burn has mapped the tallest building in every country in the world.

Interesting, but I'm not going to explore it further, as far as I know.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Probable effects of the Gulf oil spill

Wired has a good article on the likely effects of the gulf oil spill. There will be some, and long-lasting ones, too, on wildlife, and probably on humans. Too bad.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mrs. Manoah, Samson's mother

See Judges 13.

Samson's mother is seldom mentioned as one of the heroines of the Bible, but she was one. Her name is not even given. But the angel appeared to her twice, and not to her husband, Manoah. (She told Manoah, who came to see, when the angel appeared the second time.) When the angel appeared again, he told Manoah the same thing he had told Mrs. Manoah previously, which was how to raise Samson as a Nazirite. Apparently Manoah didn't believe her when she told him what the angel said the first time. This is not too surprising, because Manoah's lack of faith kicked in even though he saw the angel himself the second time. He thought they would die, because they had seen such a sight, but Mrs. Manoah said that they wouldn't, because the angel had accepted a sacrifice, and, of course, she was right. So Mrs. Manoah believed, and Manoah was more or less along for the ride.

I suppose marriages are often like that -- one person believes, and one is a little hesitant. Perhaps the two swap roles, depending on the situation. But it's good that someone believes!

Thanks for reading. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

As I have often said before, Ursula K. Le Guin may be the best writer of fantastic fiction, in English, during the last half of the twentieth century, and the first part of the twenty-first. She is now eighty years old, and her first book was published in 1966. Lavinia, her latest fiction work, was published in 2008. (The book does not have a full Wikipedia article, but here is a substantive review of the work.) Although the book is sometimes classified as fantasy, it seems to me to belong in the category of historical fiction, being set in Italy in a time shortly before the founding of Rome. The fantastic part is that the poet, Vergil (who is not named in the book) who wrote The Aeneid, appears in visions to Lavinia. They discuss various aspects of her life, or that of Aeneas, who becomes her husband for a few years.

Lavinia is based on Vergil's Aeneid. There is a character in that work, named Lavinia, but she is not fleshed out well, according to Le Guin, and the review. Le Guin, as she has done in some other works, has emphasized a female character, and made her seem to be real, as much as fiction can.

Another emphasis in the book is the matter of war. Le Guin shows the futility, the waste, the pride of war, without despising those who participate.

Here are two of my favorite quotations from the book:

Not even a poet can speak the whole truth. Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008) p. 10.

". . . How much is it right for me to tell you? Do you want to know your future, Lavinia?"
"No," I said at once. Then I sought in my own mind for my duty, or my will, and finally said, "I want to know what's right to do, but I don't want to know what's to come of it." Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008) p. 41

Thanks for reading. Read Le Guin.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sunspots 259

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

Science:Wired reports on how climate change is affecting, or will affect the wine industry.

Pea aphids have appropriated a gene for color pigment from a fungus, and it is now part of the aphid's genome, according to NPR.

Wired reports on a gene that makes it possible for a flatworm to grow a new head.

Politics: (or Christianity)
CNN points out that Justice Stevens, who is about to retire, is the only Protestant member of the US Supreme Court. (There are two Jews, and six Catholics.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Not quite a century

Brothers, Mother and cake

My mother, Helen LaBar, would have been 100 years old today. She didn't quite make that milestone. Above is a photo of her sons (I am on the left, and I am the oldest) taken with her 95th birthday cake. At that time, she was living at home, with a little assistance.

All of us are products of our ancestors, one way or another. Sometimes, as in the neat freak who grew up in a messy house, we act opposite to our ancestors. I owe much of my love for music to my parents, my love of fantastic literature mostly to my father, my love of teaching mostly to my mother, and I won't bore you with any other characteristics, some of which may be all too apparent from reading this blog.

I posted Mom's obituary earlier, but I thought that another tribute would be in order.

Thanks for reading. The photo is a link to the on-line original. No password is needed to see it, or my 1400+ other Flickr photos, most of which are not of people.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Parasitic wasps create zombie cockroaches

That title could serve as the name of a musical group, I guess.

However, it refers to another article by Carl Zimmer, a fine science writer. (Unfortunately, this particular article has a few typos, but it's worth reading, anyway.)

Zimmer reports on research into the life of a cockroach, and a small wasp, which parasitizes the cockroach. The wasp stings the cockroach in such a way that the wasp can guide the roach into the wasp's burrow, where it spends the next few days of its short life serving as a meal for a developing wasp, while still living.

Recent research has indicated the particular part of the cockroach's brain that is stung, and has begun to discover why being stung in that area makes the roach docile, but there's a long way to go before full understanding comes, if it ever does.

An interesting article.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Must we, can we, forgive someone who has not asked for it?

Can we truly forgive someone who hasn't asked for forgiveness? If so, must we do this?

My immediate reaction is that, since I have been forgiven so much, I should forgive anyone who needs it, or thinks that they need it, from me. But I don't know any scripture that bears on the question directly. So, good scholar that I am, I did a Google search for "Forgive someone who hasn't asked for forgiveness," as a search, not a search for that phrase.

The first two returns (which actually returned something, without duplication) were these:

Counseling Solutions did not answer, but referred to a previous post by him or herself, that does answer the question. That post agrees with me, but adds scripture references that are pertinent. I won't give the entire post, but will say that one Bible passage cited is 2 Timothy 2:24-26, which seems to indicate that being able to repent is a gift from God. I think that is true, and, as Counseling Solutions says, we should be deeply grateful for this gift. This implies that some people, for some reason, have not been given this gift, or perhaps not been given it about a particular situation.

Jon, of Stuff Christians Like, says that being told that you are forgiven when you didn't ask for it, and didn't know that you had done anything that should have been forgiven, is an unsettling experience for Christians. I can see that that might be true. For example, if someone came to me and said "you've had a bad attitude toward me for the last few weeks, but I forgive you," when I have been praying for the person, and am not aware that I have had any ill feelings toward her, it would be difficult to know what to say or how to react. I hadn't considered that possibility. We should be careful not to go around laying guilt trips on people. However, my original question was about cases where someone has done something knowingly and intentionally, but not asked for forgiveness, and this type of case doesn't relate to that.

The title question can be a serious question. I hope the answers above are serious. I don't have a definitive answer but would say that we should have the attitude that we forgive the person, even if they haven't asked for it, and should be glad that we are sensitive enough to God's direction to feel the need to repent, every now and then.

There's a related situation. What if someone does us wrong, and dies in the act, or shortly thereafter, so that there is no opportunity for that individual to ask for our forgiveness. It seems to me that we should tell God that we forgive the person, even if we can't do it directly to him or her.

Thanks for reading.