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Monday, January 31, 2011

Young-earth creationist astronomy has a long way to go

Todd Wood is a young-earth creationist, and makes no bones about it. However, he is far from endorsing every argument for the truth of his position. Wood is a scientist, with impeccable credentials, and, in my opinion, his blog is required reading for anyone seriously interested in the problem of origins, and at least interested in supernatural explanations, whether such a reader is willing to accept them or not.

Wood is a biologist, not an astronomer, but he previously criticized two papers on astronomy, in Answers Research Journal, an on-line publication of Answers in Genesis, a young-earth creationist organization, saying, basically, that they didn't explain anything, just reported it. Wood has now written a comment on a new article in the same journal. The new article, which does not explain anything, either, does set forth a list of phenomena which are well explained by mainstream astronomy, and which must, if young-earth astronomy is to become credible, be equally well explained by astronomy with such presuppositions.

Wood commends the new article for its list. It also discusses something that we usually take for granted, that is, what an explanation is, and how to tell if an explanation is really explaining something.

I have my doubts about young-earth astronomy. But the author of the new article, James Upton, seems to have done a good job in setting forth a blueprint for where young-earth astronomy has to go if it is to ever become truly scientific.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Paul in Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1:15 For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which you have toward all the saints, 1:16 don’t cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; 1:18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 1:19 and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might 1:20 which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 1:21 far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. 1:22 He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, 1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (WEB)

Paul does not pray for the physical health of the church in Ephesus, for their financial situation, nor that they won't be persecuted, nor that they will be effective evangelists. He prays that they might have a fuller understanding of the work of Christ! How often do I pray for that, for someone else? How often does someone else pray that for me?

This is the fourth in a series of posts on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Thanks for reading. Pray effectively, for the right things.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy 3rd birthday, grandson #2!

Happy 3rd birthday! Grandson #2, getting a haircut

Our younger grandson began his independent life in a neonatal intensive care unit. If you wish, you can see a brief video of the occasion, here. (To my amazement, that video has been viewed well over 10,000 times.)

We thank God that he is a healthy youngster, now three years of age. He didn't stay in the NICU very long.

We love him! (Of course, we love his parents, and his older brother, too.)

Thank God for grandchildren!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

I recently read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written and illustrated by Grace Lin, a Chinese-American author and artist. (New York: Little, Brown, 2009) The book won a Newbery Honor medal, meaning that it was close to winning the Newbery award. (There's a video of Lin discussing the book with Al Roker, of NBC, and five young readers, here.)

The plot is simple enough, although I won't give it away. It has a moral, which is that we should be satisfied with the good things we have, rather than strive to obtain things that others have and we don't.

I can tell you the setting, which is once upon a time, in China, mostly rural China. There are some interesting characters, principally Minli, a young girl, her parents, peasants who have no other child, and a dragon (with no name but Dragon) who is unable to fly.

The main appeal of the book (aside from the illustrations, which are marvelous) is the way in which Lin has made the main narrative a way of having many short stories told by various characters, throughout the adventures of Minli. (These tales are mostly Chinese fairy tales.) The first such story begins on page 4, and lasts less than four pages, indicating the importance of the tales, and their brevity. There are 48 short chapters, and I guess that there is a tale within at least 12 of them, probably more. These tales are all interesting in themselves, and do not detract from the main narrative, but are all tied to it. Lin indicates that she researched Chinese lore. It is unclear as to how many of the tales she adapted from past Chinese literature, and how many she made up herself.

I'm glad I read this book. It was unlike anything else I have ever read, but a genuine pleasure to become acquainted with.

I have also read The Year of the Dog: A Novel, by Lin. It's a good book, partly autobiographical, designed for children to read, about the experiences of a Chinese-American girl who is one of only two in her grade in public schools. Lin uses stories, again, but stories of her mother and other relatives. She also illustrated the book, in the way you might expect a good artist from the elementary grades to draw.

Thanks for reading. Read Lin.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy birthday, Mozart!

Happy birthday, Mozart!

Here's a splendid performance of the "Gloria" from Mozart's "Coronation Mass."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sunspots 298

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

Humor: (or something) Home canning (that's putting food into glass jars for preservation) is making a comeback. People are even swapping what they can at meets for the purpose, says NPR.
Sports: (or something)  An Ohio State professor with too much time on his hands has constructed a Lego model of his school's football stadium, according to Wired (photo included).

Christianity: Weekend Fisher has some great advice on what journalism, guided by Christian principles, would be like.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sorry -- You have to enter strange letter sequences when commenting

I have had word verification (where a commenter has to enter a more or less random sequence of letters in order to comment) turned off for a month or more. I have decided that I need to turn it back on. Sorry about that, those of you who comment.

I hate to do anything to discourage comments, and word verification does that, but I also hate to deal with "nice site" and other apparently meaningless comments from anonymous users, or spam -- that is, advertisements for products or other web sites.

Please keep reading, and commenting.

Quantum entanglement -- sending information through time

I remember something about the discovery of lasers. The impression was that such devices were large, expensive, and confined to physics labs. Not only that, but they had to do with experimental manipulation of light. How could such a phenomenon be practical? How things have changed! This computer has a laser in its CD/DVD reader/writer, and laser use is very common in North America. There are almost certainly more functioning lasers in North America than there are people in the US, Mexico and Canada.

Perhaps the same development and harnessing of technology will take place concerning quantum entanglement. What is quantum entanglement? The simple explanation is that it means that two particles, separated by large distances, and not physically connected, can, nonetheless, be connected. (See my previous post on the strangeness of quantum physics, in other ways.) This is, I believe, a truthful explanation, as far as it goes, but it does not go very far in explaining what quantum entanglement is all about. I haven't found any simple explanations of quantum entanglement. There is a Wikipedia article on the subject, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article, too. Neither is exactly simple.

The applications of quantum entanglement seem to be, eventually, these: communication over long distances, more efficient storage of information. A recent article in Wired indicates that there may be another, even weirder application, namely communication with the past or the present. Not time travel. (The Wired article's explanation of quantum entanglement is intermediate between my sentence, in the previous paragraph, and the Wikipedia.)

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Job for his sons

This is part of a planned series on various prayers in the Bible. For the previous post, see here.

Job 1:4 His sons went and held a feast in the house of each one on his birthday; and they sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. 1:5 It was so, when the days of their feasting had run their course, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and renounced God in their hearts.” Job did so continually. (WEB)

I suppose that the burnt offerings were a type of prayer, or that they were accompanied by prayer. Job was concerned for his family. Could his prayer make it not necessary for the sons to ask forgiveness for themselves? I don't think so, but Job was well-intentioned, and his intercession probably prevented his sons from sinning, at least some of the time. Why didn't Job pray for his three daughters, too? I don't know. My guess is that he did, but it wasn't recorded here.

It's pretty basic, but bears repeating -- I need to pray for my family.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality & Religion

I recently read the book with the name given in the title. There is at least one review available. Purtill, the author, who has written a considerable body of fantastic literature himself (I've not read any of it) has a Wikipedia article, and a web page. (See here for the main Wikipedia article on Tolkien.)

J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality & Religion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) is a fine analysis of Tolkien's writing. The author makes extensive use of The Hobbit, the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Leaf by Niggle, "On Fairy-Stories" and Tolkien's letters. It was originally published in 1984, and the new release is said to be identical to the previous one, except for a Foreword. That being the case, it doesn't deal with the several volumes of Tolkien's work edited and published by Christopher Tolkien after his father's death. I don't take that as a major problem.

Purtill deals carefully with the topics of the title. He also deals with the question of whether or not Tolkien's work is Christian. On the one had, there is little or no worship in the books. On the other, Tolkien has re-told the creation story, which has put some Christians off. He concludes that the books are Christian, and spells out what that means.

The author writes as much as anyone I have seen on the difference between science fiction and fantasy, and what he says strikes me as correct. He also considers mortality, which Tolkien said was the theme of the books.

Perhaps the most valuable part of Purtill's book is his discussion of reactions to Tolkien by Ursula K. Le Guin, perhaps the most important writer of fantastic literature now alive, and by Tolkien's friend, C. S. Lewis. Lewis wrote fantastic literature himself, and wrote some books and essays on literary criticism. Le Guin has also written excellent works on critical analysis. She states that she is a Taoist, not a Christian. Purtill analyses her criticism of Tolkien, and also compares some of Le Guin's treatment of immortality with Tolkien's. He also compares the fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis, and discusses their assessment of each other's work.

A fine book! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sunspots 297

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

Science: A lot of gas giant planets have been discovered, because they are so large, but a planet about the size of earth has now been discovered, orbiting another star, according to an NPR report.

Wired reports that lemurs seem to have the beginnings of a culture.

Christianity: (perhaps) An organization offers free housecleaning for women getting chemotherapy for any type of cancer. 

Image source (public domain)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Evidence that a new function evolved from an old gene

Biologists have long supposed that new abilities of living things have come about when new proteins, produced by new genes, modified from pre-existing genes, make such abilities possible. The new genes are thought to come from accidental duplication of a DNA sequence, done so that it is passed on to the offspring. Such accidental events are known to have occurred, and thought to have occurred many many times. But documented examples of such a process in nature, leading to a new function, have been rare or non-existent.

A press release from the University of Illinois indicates that there is good evidence for a specific example. The example is that a gene which helps a fish to survive Antarctic temperatures appears to have evolved from a duplicated pre-existing gene coding for a protein named sialic acid synthase.

The press release was published because a research article, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details the research findings. Since the PNAS does not allow general access to its on-line publications without a price, I have not seen the original work. The PNAS has long been an important journal, and many significant findings have been first disseminated through it. Most likely, this one will join them. It sounds quite important.

Here and here are more comments on the original article.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

". . . that you may know him better": Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1

I am continuing a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

I have previously indicated, with documentation, that the prayers given, or mentioned, in the New Testament are almost all asking God to strengthen believers. There is almost no prayer for the sick, or for money, or for the salvation of non-believers. One example of such a prayer is given in Ephesians 1. (I am using the World English Bible, which is public domain.)

Ephesians 1:15b . . . I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which you have toward all the saints, 16 don’t cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might 20 which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.

Wow! Remarkable.

Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that he is praying for several things to happen in their lives. He wants them to know about their inheritance. He wants them to know about God's power, which is available to them. Resurrection power! But, it seems to me, the main thing Paul wants is for the Ephesians to have more knowledge of Christ.

The Blueletter Bible allows users to examine several versions of the Bible at once. I have done this, for Ephesians 1:17. Here is how various translators have rendered part of that verse:
KJV: may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him
NKJV: may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him
NLT: to give to you spiritual wisdom and understanding,so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.
ESV and RSV: may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
NASB: may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him
NIV: may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
(Other translations, similar to these, are given.)

I like the NIV phrase best: ". . . that you may know him better." What a hope, what a necessity for a powerful   Christian life!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sunspots 296

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

Humor: Katherine eats out, with her family, in a restaurant where you can't see anything.

Science: Carl Zimmer tells us that, under certain conditions, a body in a grave can turn into soap.

A study shows that students learn better if the handouts they are given are not in a plain font like this one, or this one, but in a "disfluent" font, like Comic Sans. Interesting, for sure.

Computing: David Pogue, of the New York Times, discusses how our obsession with replacing our electronic gadgets frequently impacts the environment, and what, if anything, to do about this. 

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Malware, viruses, trojan horses, etc.: what are they?

Here's an article, using the Wikipedia definitions, that indicates the differences between the various types of malware, which are trojan horses, viruses, adware, rootkits, worms and spyware.

Watch out for all of these.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Must a Christian hold to young-earth creationism? Albert Mohler vs. Karl Giberson

Some time in 2010, Albert Mohler, currently President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made a speech, in which he claimed that the only valid position on origins is Young-Earth Creationism. The BioLogos Forum, which disagrees, was specifically mentioned in Mohler's speech. BioLogos has posted a transcript of Mohler's speech, which, apparently, they made from the video version. BioLogos has also posted a response to Mohler, by Karl Giberson, who was particularly mentioned in Mohler's speech.

I have not checked the transcript of Mohler's speech for accuracy. I am assuming that it is accurate, or at least accurate enough to make Giberson's response pertinent.

To summarize Mohler's speech, he claims that interpreting the earth as only a few thousand years old is the only view compatible with the way God meant us to interpret the Bible. That's a serious claim, if true, and deserves careful and prayerful study. Mohler, of course, is hardly the first person to make that claim.

Giberson's response to Mohler has been posted in an interesting way. He poses three questions for Mohler, and you can see these questions, either as they are, or expanded and extended. Just click one of the three questions. (As far as I know, Mohler has not answered Giberson.)

What are Giberson's three questions?

The second one refers to a side issue, but an issue of fact. Mohler misconstrues the life of Charles Darwin, claiming "We need to be reminded that Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution." The history of Darwin, which has been thoroughly studied, does not show this at all. Darwin didn't develop the theory of evolution by natural selection until after the voyage of the Beagle was over. Mohler demonstrates his ignorance, or bias, on the subject of Darwin.

But this is a side issue, not closely related, or perhaps not related at all, to the issue of the interpretation of the Bible's account of origins.

The first question is directly related to the matter of interpretation. Mohler has claimed that evidence from nature cannot "trump" evidence from what he calls the natural reading of the Bible: "We need to recognize that disaster ensues when the book of nature or general revelation is used in some way to trump scripture and special revelation."

In response, Giberson points out examples where most Christians do not take the "natural reading of the Bible as correct." These include apparent Biblical support for slavery, and apparent Biblical support for a sun that moves around the earth. Giberson also relates some history, showing that important Christian people who took the Bible very seriously in times past did not agree with Mohler. Pete Enns, also of the BioLogos Forum, has also answered Mohler on this point.

The third question is on Mohler's belief that the universe, and the earth, seem much older than they are: "But I want to suggest to you that the most natural understanding from the scripture of how to answer that question comes to this: The universe looks old because the creator made it whole. When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man." Giberson agrees, up to a point, but by no means all the way. He writes: ". . . what about stars we observe exploding that are millions of light years away? If this argument is true those stars never existed. To arrange this feat, God would have had to create a burst of light around 10,000 light-years away that would look like an exploding star. This burst of light would just now be reaching us. What would be the point of this? God can, of course, do this but the burden of proof surely has to be borne by those making such peculiar claims."

I don't think Giberson states his argument clearly enough. Perhaps he should have said something like this: To create a universe with so many evidences, from astronomy, geology, genetics, and other fields, all agreeing that the universe and the earth are very old, when this is not true, would be possible for God. But it seems to make God into a deceiver, and also seems to violate what Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 say, namely that we can learn about God from studying nature. Mohler, on the other hand, claims that the apparent age of the earth does show the nature of God -- God hates sin.

There is more in these two sources than I have discussed here, including the question of Adam's historicity, and that of whether or not non-human organisms died before the Fall.

There are over 100 comments to Giberson's presentation. I confess that I haven't read them. No doubt they are interesting.

I have previously posted an analysis of the most common theories of origins, giving the strengths and weaknesses of each, and also, on this blog, a statement on the problems with Young-Earth Creationism.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication

ACTS  praying

You can see a larger version of this graphic by using it as a link.

All too many of our prayers are asking for something, and, further, asking for ourselves, or our immediate associates. Someone -- I'm not sure who -- suggested that we use ACTS as an acrostic for some of our prayers: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. It's a good idea. We don't adore, confess, and thank God nearly enough, or at least I don't.

Adoration: praising God for what and who He is. Here are some ideas on doing that.
Confession: stating our sins, and asking forgiveness.
Thanksgiving: thanking God for specific things He has done.
Supplication: asking for things we want God to do, for others (also known as intercession) or for us.

The poster above includes some biblical examples of these types of prayers. 

The last type of prayer is only intercession when it's for someone else.

The verses used (from the WEB, which is public domain) are as follows:
Acts 4:24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them;

I Kings 8:22 Solomon stood before the altar of Yahweh in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven; 23 and he said, “Yahweh, the God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above, or on earth beneath; who keep covenant and loving kindness with your servants, who walk before you with all their heart;

Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness. According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Matthew 11:25 At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants.

Daniel 2:23 I thank you and praise you, the God of my fathers, who has given me wisdom and might, and has now made known to me what we desired of you; for you have made known to us the king’s mind.”

Mark 14:36 He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Please remove this cup from me. However, not what I desire, but what you desire.”

Matthew 6:11 Give us today our daily bread.

Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is for Israel, that they may be saved. 10:2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Thanks for reading. I wish I practiced this more. This will serve as part of my series on prayers in the Bible. I expect to use some of these texts in separate posts later.

The first post in this series is here.

A Flickr contact of mine referred me to an article in the New York Times. ("The Right Way to Pray," Sept. 16,2009, by Zef Chafets, who quotes Rabbi Marc Gellman in the following excerpt)

". . . really, when you come right down to it, there are only four basic prayers. Gimme! Thanks! Oops! and Wow! . . . Wow! are prayers of praise and wonder at the creation. Oops! is asking for forgiveness. Gimme! is a request or a petition. Thanks! is expressing gratitude. That’s the entire Judeo-Christian doxology.. . ." These four types correspond to the four in the ACTS acronym.

Added February 3rd, 2014: In Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) by Philip Yancey, the author says that Rosalind Rinker used these four stages, or types of prayer:
1. Jesus is here (Matthew 18:19-20)
2. Help me, Lord (James 5:13-16)
3. Thank you, Lord (Philippians 4:4-7)
4. Help my brother (Mark 11:22-25) (Chapter 13, "Prayer Grammar")

On February 19, 2015, I added material to the opening section.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Redemption of Eustace: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film

I have managed to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader while it is still in theaters in our locality. I'm glad I did. There were a lot of differences with the book, but the critical point is given by my title, namely that Eustace, a thoroughly nasty boy, repents and is redeemed, in a way consistent with fantastic literature -- he becomes a dragon, then is "un-dragoned." The book and film also agree in having Aslan, the Lion, a Christ-figure, tell Lucy and Edmund that they must learn to know him by another name in their (our) world. I read a couple of reviews of the movie in the mainstream media, and neither of them were put off by these features.

So what about the differences with the book? As in the previous movie, Prince Caspian, there is a lot more graphic violence, and the score is loud. Apparently that's what sells, or what the movie company thinks will sell. There was some violence in the book, but there were also long periods of relative calm, which, among other things, allowed for character development.

Both the movie and the book describe how Lucy, Edmund and Eustace, their obnoxious cousin, are pulled into Narnia through a painting that comes to life, as it were. They tell that Caspian, King of Narnia, is on a voyage in the Dawn Treader, a small sailing ship, to try to find out what happened to seven of Caspian's father's noble friends. They are also exploring the sea to the east of Narnia, which is unknown territory. During this voyage, all of the five main characters, save Reepicheep, the talking mouse, are tempted in various ways. Eustace is transformed into a dragon, and while in that state, tries to be helpful to his shipmates. He also comes to admire and appreciate Reepicheep, which is a great change for Eustace. They both tell that the ship reaches an island where there is a table set with wondrous food, and which island is inhabited by human-appearing stars. (The father star does not appear in the movie.) They further tell that the Dawn Treader eventually comes as close as it can to the edge of the flat Narnian earth, which is near the way to Aslan's country, and that Reepicheep enters that country, Caspian begins the voyage back to Narnia, reluctantly, and Lucy, Edmund and Eustace go back to England, with Lucy and Edmund being told, by Aslan, that they will not be able to return to Narnia.

There are some other similarities between the book and the film, such as an adventure with water that changes anything put in it into gold, but many differences. One such difference is that, in the movie, Caspian must deliver the seven swords of the seven nobles to Aslan's table to defeat the center of evil influence in the islands and sea in this area. The most important difference is that, in the book, there is no such center of evil influence. Each person is, as James put it, drawn away by their own lusts. (There was some of that in the movie, such as Lucy's temptation to say a spell that would make her beautiful above all others, but not as much.)

A number of years ago, I posted a series on temptations in the Narnia books. The post on Dawn Treader is here, and, I believe, covers the various ways in which characters were tempted reasonably well. (One such is in my comment at the end of the post.)

Three final positives about this film. First, Georgie Henley was, again, a splendid Lucy. She showed adoration, character, bravery, envy, and other emotions very well indeed. Second, some of the effects in the movie were very good. The ship was well done. So was the dragon, and Reepicheep, the two-foot tall talking mouse. Third, original illustrations from the book, by Pauline Baynes, were used in the graphics shown during the final credits.

Here's the movie's home page. This is a review by Steven Graydanus, a Christian author, in the National Catholic Register. This is the Christianity Today review. Here's a review by Rebecca Luella Miller, a Christian who runs an blog which is essential reading for people interested in fantasy from a Christian world-view. All three reviews are insightful, and find the movie to be both good and bad, and "less Christian" than it might have been. This is the Wikipedia article on the book. This is the Wikipedia article on the film. Here's my post on the first film of the Narnia series, and here's my post on the second.

Thanks for reading. Read Lewis. See the movie.

Nine Free Programs that should be on Every Windows PC, from Gizmo's Freeware

Gizmo's Freeware has posted a .PDF document, "Nine Great Freeware Programs That Should be on Every PC." The document gives details on how each program works, what it does, and how to install. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sunspots 295

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

Science: National Public Radio talks to a 10-year-old girl who discovered a supernova.

Sports: Wired reports that there was a real Quidditch world championship this year. (And it's not the first one!)

The Arts: Pantone has announced the Color of the Year. (Mostly for fashionable clothing.)
Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"God exists" is a religious claim. So is "God doesn't exist."

Michael Ruse, one of the most important philosophers of science of our time, and a man who does not believe in God, has written an article, in which he asks:
If “God exists” is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is “God does not exist” not a religious claim?

The article is well worth reading, and examines some serious questions, most importantly the one raised by the quotation. Ruse has gotten a lot of flak for raising this question, such as in this post by Mark Perakh on the Panda's Thumb, in which the author wrote: I dare to claim that the sole value of philosophy of science is its entertaining ability. I doubt that all the multiple opuses debating various aspects of the philosophy of science have ever produced even a minute amount of anything that could be helpful for a scientist, be he/she physicist, biologist, geologist, you name it.

Other writers on the Panda's Thumb (which is not especially friendly to Christianity) did not agree with Perakh's assessment of the philosophy of science, and pointed to a rebuttal by John S. Wilkins, a philosopher of science. Wilkins does not say whether or not he believes in God.

That rebuttal points out three things:
First, statements like Perakh's claim are, themselves, philosophy, not science. (Perakh has no scientific proof of his statement.)
Second, philosophy of science has been practiced by some pretty influential scientists, Einstein, for one. (Wilkins doesn't say so, but one evidence for this is that the starting points of his special theory of relativity were not determined by experiment, but by Einstein's thought -- they were assumptions.)
Third, "If a scientist claims that science asserts the non-existence of an object that is, by definition, not investigable, like a deity outside time and space, then that is not science, no matter who makes the claim."

Wilkins mentions a post at Thinking Christian, which also refutes Perakh.

There are a number of thoughtful comments on the article by Wilkins, from several viewpoints.

Ruse wrote, in the next sentence after the one quoted above: And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught, why then should science which implies God does not exist be taught?

I agree with Ruse on this matter. No one should be allowed to say, in a public school science textbook, or in a public school science class in the US, either that science has proved the existence of God, or that science has proved the non-existence of God. Neither is true.

It is important to consider the word "Creationism." Ruse appears to be using it in the sense of "belief in a supernatural creator." If that is what the word means, then all Christians, as I see it, are creationists. However, the word is also used as short-hand for "Young-Earth Creationism." All Christians are not Young-Earth Creationists. See here for an analysis of strengths and weaknesses of different views on origins held by Christians.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Galadriel, Fëanor, and the Silmarils

Fëanor, Galadriel, and the Silmarils

The central story of Tolkien's sub-creation, at least until the time of the rings, is the story of the Silmarils.

The elves, who were immortal, barring accident or violence, first appeared in what would become Middle-Earth. The Valar found them, and persuaded some of them to come into the West, to the realm of the Valar. Those who did so were known as the Noldor, and were led by Finwë, Olwë and Elwë. Finwë was considered the first High King of the elves. Finwë had three sons, Fëanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Galadriel was the daughter of Finarfin, hence Fëanor's niece. (For more on Galadriel, here. See here for a pictorial family tree.)

Fëanor had a mind that was ever busy, ever creative. Beside the creation of the letters named after him, he made the Palantíri. His crowning achievement was the three Silmarils. These jewels captured the light of the two trees of Valinor, the main source of light in the world at that time. (The sun and moon had not yet appeared, but there were stars.) But Fëanor became so enamored of his own creation that it was easy for Morgoth, then still in the realm of the Valar, as one of them, to lead Fëanor astray through them. Morgoth also sowed seeds of jealousy between the sons of Finwë, and they became proud and haughty. (Not so haughty as Morgoth, who plotted to destroy the elves, and to do great evil to the Valar.)

Shippey believes that Fëanor's restless creativeness represents Tolkien's creativeness (pp. 239-240).

Tolkien wrote that Fëanor's character was deeply influenced by the death of his mother, Míriel. In the Blessed Realm, at least, the elves could lay down their lives for a while, then could take them up again. Míriel did not choose to return for a long time, even as elves count time, and eventually Fëanor's father was given permission to marry again. This embittered Fëanor, already a proud and haughty individual. Another reason for his bitterness, or at least for contention between Fëanor and other elves, was pronunciation. This may seem surprising, but shouldn't be. Tolkien, himself, was much concerned with language, and so was Fëanor. ("The Shibboleth of Fëanor," in The Peoples of Middle-Earth, Christopher Tolkien, editor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.)

Fëanor kept the Silmarils locked up, except when he wore them himself. Morgoth, with Ungoliant, the great spider spirit, came to the realm of the Valar by stealth, and destroyed the two trees. They also killed Finwë, and took the Silmarils back to Middle-Earth. However, before this murder was known, the Valar asked Fëanor for the use of the Silmarils, the only way to revive the two trees. Fëanor, who had been previously punished by the Valar for a prideful act, refused.

Fëanor was a master of words, and his tongue had great power over hearts when he would use it; and that night he made a speech before the Noldor which they ever remembered. (Silmarillion, 82.)

He urged the elves who followed Finwë, his father, the Noldor, to leave the realm of the Valar and return to Middle-Earth, because the Valar could not protect their own realm, and because they were trying to hold the elves from their destiny. Then Fëanor swore that he would contest anyone who took a Silmaril into their possession, regardless of the consequences, and his seven sons joined him in that oath. Galadriel, the granddaughter of Olwë, did not swear the terrible oath of the house of Fëanor, but she decided that she wanted to return to Middle-Earth and establish a realm of her own. She eventually established Lothlorien, with her consort, Celeborn.

Tolkien wrote:
So it came to pass that when the light of Valinor failed, for ever as the Noldor thought, [Galadriel] joined the rebellion against the Valar who commanded them to stay; and once she had set foot upon that road of exile, she would not relent . . . Her pride was unwilling to return, a defeated suppliant for pardon; but now she burned with desire to follow Fëanor with her anger to whatever lands he might come, and to thwart him in all ways that she could. Pride still moved her when, at the end of the Elder Days after the final overthrow of Morgoth, she refused the pardon of the Valar for all who had fought against him, and remained in Middle-earth. It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth of which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth forever. (The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 338. In Peoples, but not in all of his works, Tolkien put a symbol over the N at the beginning of the word, Noldor. I haven't found a way to place that symbol in this blog.)

(Galadriel's speech, rejecting the One Ring, is below.)

Fëanor and his followers needed ships to return to Middle-Earth. They came to the people of Olwë, who had made wonderful ships, "the fairest vessels that ever sailed the sea," (Silmarillion, 90.) and took them by force, killing many of Olwë's people. Fëanor had the ships burned. Galadriel fought against him, but sailed to Middle-Earth, as did Fëanor and many other elves, after the battle was over. Bob Downing suggests, in an on-line article that doesn't seem to be available anymore, entitled "Galadriel: Lady of Lóthlórien," that the reason Galadriel sailed may have been partly because she was disillusioned that the Valar were unable to protect the Two Trees.

Purtill writes (p. 158) that Tolkien:
". . . often gives us characters faced with basically the same problem and shows one handling the problem in the right way, the other in the wrong way . . . Insofar as it can be said that characters from two different stories (though with the same underlying mythology) are contrasted, I think that Galadriel is the intended contrast character to Fëanor; her rejection of the Ring contrasts with his refusal to give up the Silmarils."

The Noldor and the other peoples of Middle-Earth then endured long years of hostility from Morgoth and his followers. Many elves, including Fëanor and his seven sons, were killed. Eventually Beren, a human hero, and Luthien, daughter of Elwë, took a Silmaril from the iron crown of Morgoth. Idril Celebrindal, great-granddaughter of Finwë through his second son, Fingolfin, married Tuor, another human hero. Their son Eärendil, who married Elwing, granddaughter of Beren and Luthien, took a Silmaril to the realm of the Valar and asked for their help in overthrowing Morgoth, which was the eucatastrophe at the end of the First Age. Eärendil, who was the father of Elrond and Elros, and, hence, Aragorn's distant ancestor, was placed in the heavens with his ship, and the Silmaril became a star.

For more on Fëanor, see "It's All in the Family: The Elweans and Ingweans," by Michael Martinez. (Also published as Chapter 3 of Martinez' Understanding Middle Earth: Essays on Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Poughkeepsie, NY: ViviSphere, 2003, pp. 47-79.) Here's the Wikipedia article on Galadriel.

More on Galadriel
Gandalf and Galadriel both choose not to take the ring as their own. Galadriel tells Sam and Frodo that she has power to resist Sauron, near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, in spite of Sauron's desire to discover what is going on in Lothlorien. Richard Purtill, in his J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) says that, as Galadriel confides this to Sam and Frodo, she shows that she has won "the battle to know the mind of the Dark Lord without being bent to his evil (p. 114). This is a battle that Denethor, Steward of Gondor, and also Saruman, have lost. Then, Galadriel resists the temptation offered her by Frodo -- he offers her the One Ring. Here is Galadriel's speech to Frodo and Sam:

"And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!" . . . She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. . . . Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a simple elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
"I pass the test," she said. "I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel." Fellowship, p. 381.

This dialog is changed little, if at all, in the movie. Dickerson writes of this episode, in Following Gandalf, that "Galadriel summarizes the point . . . that moral victory is the most important victory; that it is better to suffer a military defeat and a loss of everything than to suffer a moral defeat; better to 'cast all away rather than to submit to Sauron.'" (p. 81)

In her "Mara and Galadriel: MacDonald’s and Tolkien’s Vehicles for Spiritual Truth," (Mara is a character in George MacDonald's Phantastes, a nineteenth-century work of fantasy which C. S. Lewis said influenced him. It is certainly still worth reading, and, I believe, still in print.) Betsy Matthews says:

. . . characters such as Mara and Galadriel hold such magnetism. Certainly, neither is the central character . . . but each . . . provides a very clear picture of God, a picture made clearer because they are female. Among the many characteristics these women share, they are beautiful, able to instill fear into others, know the suffering the future holds, and are compassionate. Mara and Galadriel are strikingly biblical in ways the traditional fairy tale "God-figures" (often the fairy godmothers) are not. This picture of God is not one merely of God the Father, but is a composite picture of the Trinity. [Note: as of January 2, 2018, I am unable to locate a current source for this quotation.]

One of the most remarkable facets of God portrayed through these characters is the clear picture of Jesus as the suffering servant and the suffering to which his followers are called. . . . These women suffer great sorrow and witness evil, yet remain pure and hopeful, thus pointing to the hope Jesus had on earth and God’s children have during their earthly sufferings as they anticipate their future glorification.

Tolkien wrote that Galadriel was not a stand-in for Mary:

I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching about Mary, but actually Galadriel was a penitent; in her youth a leader in the rebellion against the Valar (the angelic guardians). At the end of the First Age she proudly refused forgiveness or permission to return. She was pardoned because of her resistance to the final and overwhelming temptation to take the Ring for herself. (Letters, p. 407)

Stanford Caldecott disagrees with Tolkien, or my interpretation of Tolkien, on this matter. He thinks, and presents evidence that Galadriel, and, more so, Elbereth, are Mary-figures in Tolkien's work. He does not suppose that she started that way, during the long gestation of Tolkien's products, but that he gradually came to change her from a close follower of Fëanor to one in serious disagreement with him. (The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind of the Lord of the Rings. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005, p. 53-55.)

Galadriel played a central role in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, although a role mostly in the background, rather than on-stage. It was she who summoned the White Council, (over 400 years before Bilbo was born, according to the chronology in Return) with the idea of uniting the opposition to Sauron. She wanted Gandalf to be the leader of this Council. (Fellowship, p. 372) When Gandalf was overthrown by the Balrog (like him, a Maia, but one who had rejected good) the remaining Fellowship rested and were renewed in Lothlorien, which realm was an expression of Galadriel's power. Galadriel showed Frodo and Sam something of the importance of the choice they had made, to take the One Ring to the fire and destroy it. Galadriel warned Boromir of the spiritual peril that he was in. Galadriel won Gimli, the representative of the Dwarves, to friendship and appreciation for the elves, and it was during their time in Lothlorien that Gimli and Legolas, representative of the elves in the Fellowship, became such great friends. She gave gifts to the fellowship. Frodo's was a small vessel, or phial, containing the light of Eärendil's star. (Fellowship, p. 393)

Frodo used the star-glass when in the lair of Shelob, the great spider, and called upon Galadriel, probably as a war-cry of sorts. (Towers, pp. 329-330) Sam also used the star-glass (Frodo gave it to him while he was cutting spider-webs with his sword, with both hands.) When Sam thought Frodo was dead, and almost gave in to despair, he also called on Galadriel, and on Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, and used the light-emitting phial to defeat the spider. (Towers, pp. 337-339) As Dickerson points out, Galadriel clearly had faith in a higher power, and communicated that to the Fellowship during their stay in Lothlórien. (Following Gandalf, p. 198.) That glass, Galadriel's great gift to the ring-bearer, was taken on the ship that bore Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Bilbo, Frodo and others to the Blessed Realm, which was the last sight Sam had of Frodo. (Return, p. 310)

Galadriel gave other gifts in Lothlórien. One of these was to Gimli, the dwarf. Caldecott discusses that gift:

Her parting gift to Gimli is highly significant. He asks for a single hair from her head, which he intends to enshrine within imperishable crystal. In the elder days Fëanor had asked the same, and been refused three times, for her tresses were famed for seeming to contain the light of the Two Trees. . . . Now she gives Gimli three hairs, one for each of the ancient refusals, which were bound up with so much grief for the Elves. Galadriel's gift heals the long rift between her people and the Dwarves. It implies that she now repents of any part her pride may have played in the long tragedy. (The Power of the Ring, p. 54.)

When Gandalf fought the Balrog, during the journey of the Fellowship through Moria, He said that he "wandered far on roads that I will not tell." (Two Towers, p. 106) Mostly likely Tolkien meant that Gandalf somehow went back to the Blessed Realm, in the far West. He returned to the top of the mountain, with a body changed, and was carried, by an eagle, to Lothlórien, to meet with Galadriel. The eagle said that Galadriel had asked him to bring Gandalf to her. Gandalf told Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli that he found healing, and counsel, in meeting with Galadriel, and also counseled her. Perhaps Galadriel's husband, Celeborn, was also involved, but Galadriel had the pre-eminence in such matters. From then on, Gandalf had new power, which enabled him to deal with Saruman.

Galadriel is perhaps the most intriguing character in Tolkien's writing, and I agree with Matthews that she is not the typical fairy godmother. She may provide a clearer picture of God than, say, Elrond. However, I'm not sure that Matthews has read, or understood, as much Tolkien as she might have. As the previous section indicates, Galadriel was not all, or always, goodness and light, and she made at least one choice against the good, and for pride. But, then, Mary, Christ's earthly mother, was born to a sinful race, and, according to most Protestants, was a sinner herself, like the rest of us, although redeemed. Perhaps Matthews is right about Galadriel. As Matthews says, she does exhibit hope, in spite of whatever her past may have been, and gives hope to the Fellowship as they part from the realm she shares with Celeborn. Surely Frodo and Sam would have failed to achieve their quest without the light she gave them, without its message of hope.

Tolkien wrote of Galadriel, after describing her desire to rule without oversight:

Yet deeper still there dwelt in her the noble and generous spirit . . . of the Vanyar, and a reverence for the Valar that she could not forget. From her earliest years she had a marvellous gift of insight into the minds of others, but judged them with mercy and understanding, and she withheld her good will from none save only Fëanor. In him she perceived a darkness that she hated and feared, though she did not perceive that the shadow of the same evil had fallen upon the minds of all the Noldor, and upon her own. (Peoples of Middle-earth, pp. 337-8)

Perhaps the best summary, for Galadriel and for us, is that we began as proud rebels, and end as penitents, rejecting, at the last, the worship of ourselves for the worship of the One. What a character, and what a sub-creation!

Today is Tolkien's birthday. He was born in 1892. Thanks for reading. (Revised slightly, April 2, 2011, and again on October 14, 2013, and January 2, 2018)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

prayers in the Bible: Abraham's servant

I am hoping that this will be the first of a series of posts on some of the prayers in the Bible. I am quoting from the World English Bible in these posts, because it is in the public domain.

Genesis 24:10 The servant took ten camels, of his master’s camels, and departed, having a variety of good things of his master’s with him. He arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water. 12 He said, “Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water. The daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let it happen, that the young lady to whom I will say, ‘Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink,’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

This servant, who is not named, but may have been Eliezer (See Genesis 15:2) probably had heard Abraham praying. Perhaps he had participated in household prayers with Abraham and other servants. God answered his prayer immediately, as Rebekah came to the well, and acted as the servant had prayed. The fulfillment is a miracle. Why should a young woman strain herself to water the camels (That must have been a lot of water!) of a man she did not know? And, of course, there was the greater miracle -- she agreed, readily, to leave her family, her friends, her familiar surroundings, and probably her religion, to travel across the desert to marry a man she had never seen. God answered that prayer mightily.

Was Isaac praying for a wife, back at home? Was Abraham praying for a successful mission for his servant? Had Rebekah been praying for a husband? We don't know.

Years ago, I sometimes prayed that the God, who found a wife for Isaac, would provide me with one. He has, and I am grateful.

Thanks for reading.