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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sunspots 329

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

Science: According to an article in Discovery, a parasite which lives in cats, in one stage of its life cycle, and in other animals, like rats, in the other, affects the brains of affected rats, so that they are less frightened, even -- you are reading this correctly -- attracted to cats! (This means that the parasites are more likely to continue their life cycle.)

The New York Times reports on a study of sharing behavior in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees, given the opportunity, are likely to help other chimps.

Politics:  (or Science) National Public Radio reports that supposedly silly scientific research, often cited by politicians, as an example of government waste, is usually not silly at all. I'm not suggesting that all taxes are good, but see my post, "Taxes create jobs!," which is related to this issue.

Sports: I am sorry to have read, in Sports Illustrated, that Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in major college basketball, has been diagnosed with the beginnings of dementia. SI has a tribute, which says, correctly, that Summitt made us take women's sports seriously.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, August 29, 2011

I'm glad I'm not an aphid

aphids on rose bush SOOC

In some ways, aphids have it made. They just sit there and suck plant juices until they die. They don't move much, although some of them have wings, and fly, and they usually seem to live in a place that has abundant food available. They have endosymbiotic bacteria in their guts, which make the essential amino acids that are in scant supply in the juice flowing in the plant's vessels. (Which is mostly water and carbohydrates.)

But, on the other hand, they are exposed to predators, with their main defense seeming to be their ability to produce little aphids, so many that they can't all be eaten. They don't live a long time. They don't see much, except whatever plant stem they are on, and a little of their surroundings. Presumably, they don't have any education, any arts, any sports, any politics, any religion. Many of them don't even have any sex life -- they produce new aphids mostly by parthenogenesis, that is, having little ones without a sexual process. (Sexual processes generally reshuffle the genetic material. They may accomplish other things, too!) Some aphid species produce up to 40 generations, all female, and all genetically identical to a first ancestor, in a single summer. (There is usually a sexual phase just before anticipated cold weather, which, instead of giving "birth" to little aphids, mates, and the females lay eggs.)

These insects are amazingly successful, if being numerous, and having lots of offspring, is success. But I'd rather be a human, a fallen human, with more of the image of God in me than aphids, and with a path to redemption.

Thanks for reading. To see more photos of aphids, giving birth, being eaten, and in other activities, see here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: group fast for Esther

Esther 4:15 Then Esther asked them to answer Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day. I and my maidens will also fast the same way. Then I will go in to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him. (World English Bible, public domain.)

Actually, the Bible doesn't say "prayer" in this case, but I believe that it is implied. Note that Esther also fasted. It's interesting that her maidens did, too, as they probably weren't Jewish.

Thanks for reading. This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Three different ways of reading the Bible

Ken Schenck has posted on three different ways of reading the Bible. As always, what he says is worth reading.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is Evolution a fact, or a theory?

Well, it's both. (And, of course, we have to be careful what we mean by "evolution."

Read this explanation of the question of the title. (Not by me.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sunspots 328

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: Wired reports on a study that indicates that marijuana use does not make people stupider.

National Public Radio reports on a study that suggests that being a musician means that you have have better hearing -- you are better able to follow conversations, and lose your hearing more slowly as you age. The study didn't seem to take the extremely loud music produced by some popular musicians into account.

The Arts: (sort of) Wired reports that an artist has produced a (sort of) animated tattoo. Video is included.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Antonin Scalia on gun rights

I recently read an article on gun rights in The Atlantic, issue of September 2011, which quoted the following statement, from a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States:
2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose:  For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. - Justice Antonin Scalia, Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, June 26, 2008. Here is the Court's ruling, written by Scalia, which includes this quotation. The ruling declared a gun law in the District of Columbia to be unconstitutional.

The article in The Atlantic points out that Justice Scalia is not exactly the strict constructionist/originalist that he sometimes sounds like, and is often portrayed to be:
"This paragraph from the pen of Justice Scalia, the foremost proponent of constitutional originalism, was astounding. True, the Founders imposed gun control, but they had no laws resembling Scalia’s list of Second Amendment exceptions. They had no laws banning guns in sensitive places, or laws prohibiting the mentally ill from possessing guns, or laws requiring commercial gun dealers to be licensed. Such restrictions are products of the 20th century. Justice Scalia, in other words, embraced a living Constitution."

Interesting, at least to me. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis One: God establishes functions in Genesis one

I have previously posted on John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, indicating that Walton believes that the creation story of Genesis One is not the story of how God made things, but of how God organized things already present. Walton says that we impose our own cultural bias (create = make something) on the Scripture. I summarize some of Walton's evidence for that in the previous posts.

Walton claims that the so-called creation of light, on the first day of Genesis One, was actually an act by God to create time -- to make periods of light and dark exist on a regular basis. That is, to organize time into day and night. One the second day, says Walton, God organized the material of the earth so that there was a place for humans (and other organisms) to live on dry land, and also made weather possible. The act of the second day was not, he says, to create some kind of dome over the earth. He writes "That we do not retain the cosmic geography of the ancient world that featured a solid barrier holding back waters does not change the fact that our understanding of the Creator includes his role in setting up and maintaining a weather system. The material terms used in day two reflect accommodation to the way the ancient audience thought about the world." (pp.57-58)

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Manasseh repents

2 Chronicles 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign; and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh, after the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; and he reared up altars for the Baals, and made Asheroth, and worshiped all the army of the sky, and served them. 4 He built altars in the house of Yahweh, of which Yahweh said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” 5 He built altars for all the army of the sky in the two courts of the house of Yahweh. 6 He also made his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom; and he practiced sorcery, and used enchantments, and practiced sorcery, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards: he worked much evil in the sight of Yahweh, to provoke him to anger. 7 He set the engraved image of the idol, which he had made, in God’s house, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name forever: 8 neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from off the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them, even all the law and the statutes and the ordinances given by Moses.” 9 Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the children of Israel did. 10 Yahweh spoke to Manasseh, and to his people; but they gave no heed. 11 Therefore Yahweh brought on them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 12 When he was in distress, he begged Yahweh his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him; and he was entreated by him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God. 14 Now after this he built an outer wall to the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance at the fish gate; and he encircled Ophel with it, and raised it up to a very great height: and he put valiant captains in all the fortified cities of Judah. 15 He took away the foreign gods, and the idol out of the house of Yahweh, and all the altars that he had built in the mountain of the house of Yahweh, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. 16 He built up the altar of Yahweh, and offered thereon sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and commanded Judah to serve Yahweh, the God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people sacrificed still in the high places, but only to Yahweh their God. 18 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, behold, they are written among the acts of the kings of Israel. 19 His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sin and his trespass, and the places in which he built high places, and set up the Asherim and the engraved images, before he humbled himself: behold, they are written in the history of Hozai. 20 So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house: and Amon his son reigned in his place. (World English Bible, public domain)

We are not told the words of Manasseh's prayer, but the substance is clear enough: "I'm sorry!" One of the four types of prayer (in one way of classifying them) is Confession. Clearly, Manasseh confessed. So must we. And God graciously answered Manasseh's prayer. Only God could have restored a captive to the kingship.

This is one of a series of posts on prayers in the Bible. The previous post in the series is here. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Galileo on the relationship between science and scripture

I recently came upon a translation of the "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615," by Galileo Galilei.

It is interesting that Galileo wrote this important statement of his beliefs to a woman. The Duchess must have been an important intellectual and political figure.

Galileo was apparently defending himself to the Duchess. What was he accused of? Of ignoring what the Bible had to say about the relationship of the earth to the rest of the heavenly bodies. What was his defense?

Here is part of what he had to say:
. . . I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify.

. . . I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense ­experiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word[,] the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense­ experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible.

Good advice! And, I believe, what should have been an adequate defense. Thanks for reading. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

We are what we read

Rebecca Luella Miller, of Speculative Faith, reports that there is some empirical evidence that what we read affects our personality. This is hardly a surprise, is it?

Consider this case. It is anecdotal, not experimental, but anyway:
"What made the change in Lewis? In a word, fantasy. It is no stretch to say that Lewis's faith journey began as a result of reading stories that were dripping with Christian truth -- awakening within him a desire for something he didn't possess." Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, Finding God in the Land of Narnia (Tyndale House: 2005) The quotation is from p. xi. The stories referred to are those of George MacDonald.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis One: Making things or ordering things?

I recently posted on John H. Walton's book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. I wrote "He claims that the creation account in Genesis 1 was not understood, by contemporary listeners or readers, as being about making things, but that it was about arranging things so that various entities had a function within a created world." Let's  consider some of Walton's evidence for that claim.

Walton appears to be an expert in documents from the ancient Middle East, based not on this book, but on his other scholarly publication. I have seen him referred to in that way, even in the writing of an organization that does not accept most of the claims in this book. He uses that expertise to analyze a number of creation myths, more or less contemporary with Genesis, and from the same general area. He does not accept these as divinely inspired, nor does he claim that the early part of Genesis is similarly in accuracy to these accounts. Walton simply wants to show the way that the people of this part of the ancient world, including the Hebrews, thought about things. He presents his analysis, bolstered by quotations from several ancient texts, and, as he says, ". . . analysts of the ancient Near Eastern creation literature often observe that nothing material is actually made in these accounts." (35) and "They thought of existence as defined by having a function in an ordered system." (p. 36) The activity of the supernatural beings, in these accounts, is to take unorganized material, already present, and to organize it. As I indicated in the previous post, Walton is not saying that God didn't make things, nor that the Hebrews didn't believe that He did, just that Genesis 1 is not about that. We, he says, read Genesis 1 through our own cultural biases. It was written from the viewpoint, and to be understood, by the people of the time when it was written.

He goes on to say that bārā, the Hebrew word translated as "create," in Genesis 1, is used in a number of places in the Old Testament. Walton presents a table of these uses, on page 42, giving the object of the verb  bārā in each case, and, he claims, ". . . no clear example occurs that demands a material perspective for the verb, although many are ambiguous." (43) I am not competent to evaluate that claim, but, based on the rest of the book, it makes sense. Creation, in Genesis 1, is about organizing things, giving them a function.

I hope to post more on this book later. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sunspots 327

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: Chinese researchers attempting to return pandas to the wild wear panda suits (with photos).

Politics:  The Huffington Post has a horrifying reminder of some of the atrocities, in particular, sterilization without consent, that were committed, in the US, in the name of eugenics.

Sports: Dan Uggla's hitting streak ended, after over a month. Sports Illustrated has a reflection on why, or whether, hitting streaks matter. (The reflection covers other milestones, such as a 3,000th hit.)

Christianity: You probably hadn't thought about God's hospitality -- I hadn't. But Anne/Weekend Fisher has.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jehoshaphat sends the choir in front of the army

2 Chronicles 20:1 It happened after this, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them some of the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. 2 Then some came who told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea from Syria. Behold, they are in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Jehoshaphat was alarmed, and set himself to seek to Yahweh. He proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 Judah gathered themselves together, to seek help from Yahweh. They came out of all the cities of Judah to seek Yahweh. 5 Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of Yahweh, before the new court; 6 and he said, “Yahweh, the God of our fathers, aren’t you God in heaven? Aren’t you ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in your hand, so that no one is able to withstand you. 7 Didn’t you, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it to the seed of Abraham your friend forever? 8 They lived in it, and have built you a sanctuary in it for your name, saying, 9 ‘If evil comes on us—the sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this house, and before you, (for your name is in this house), and cry to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 Now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned aside from them, and didn’t destroy them; 11 behold, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no might against this great company that comes against us; neither know we what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
13 All Judah stood before Yahweh, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 Then the Spirit of Yahweh came on Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite, of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly; 15 and he said, “Listen, all Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you king Jehoshaphat. Thus says Yahweh to you, ‘Don’t be afraid, neither be dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they are coming up by the ascent of Ziz. You shall find them at the end of the valley, before the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight this battle. Set yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid, nor be dismayed. Go out against them tomorrow, for Yahweh is with you.’”
18 Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground; and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before Yahweh, worshiping Yahweh. 19 The Levites, of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites, stood up to praise Yahweh, the God of Israel, with an exceeding loud voice. 20 They rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in Yahweh your God, so you shall be established! Believe his prophets, so you shall prosper.”
21 When he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who should sing to Yahweh, and give praise in holy array, as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks to Yahweh; for his loving kindness endures forever. 22 When they began to sing and to praise, Yahweh set ambushers against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were struck. 23 For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, utterly to kill and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, everyone helped to destroy another. 24 When Judah came to the place overlooking the wilderness, they looked at the multitude; and behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and there were none who escaped. 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their plunder, they found among them in abundance both riches and dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in taking the plunder, it was so much. 26 On the fourth day they assembled themselves in the valley of Beracah; for there they blessed Yahweh: therefore the name of that place was called The valley of Beracah to this day. 27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in their forefront, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for Yahweh had made them to rejoice over their enemies. 28 They came to Jerusalem with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets to the house of Yahweh. 29 The fear of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries, when they heard that Yahweh fought against the enemies of Israel. (World English Bible, public domain)

I don't need to say much about this remarkable story, other than to reiterate part of the title of this post -- Jehoshaphat sent the choir out in front of the army, to point out that King Jehoshaphat was guided by God, speaking through a specific Levite, and that he also took counsel with the people, a wise move, and finally, that the congregation wisely praised God for the result of this battle.

This is one of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"The Help": racism in the 60s

My wife and I went to see the movie, The Help, currently in theaters. We liked it. Here is the film's official web site. Here's the Christianity Today review. Here's the Wikipedia article on the book that the film is based on.

I won't give away much of the plot, but I will say a few things.

The title comes from the subject, namely the state of black women in the Deep South in the 60s, where becoming a household servant was the only way most of them could earn a living.

The younger generation should see this movie. Things have changed, not as much as they should have, perhaps, but they have changed. When the mostly white, and mostly politically conservative people of one of the Congressional Districts of South Carolina elected a black man to represent them, voting for him over a son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, and over a son of a recently deceased popular governor, things have changed. The Help will remind, or show, viewers some of the way we once were. It may also remind, or show us that a lot of people smoked in all sorts of places a half-century ago.

There are no major male characters in the movie. (There were some men, though.) The stars were Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, assisted by quite a few others, including Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mary Steenburgen and Jessica Chastain. The story is one that should interest men -- the movie isn't particularly for women, it's just about them.

The Christianity Today review emphasizes the faith of the character played by Viola Davis, and contrasts it with the hypocrisy of Bryce Dallas Howard's character. I didn't see as much of either of those as I expected to see, based on the review. Courage, not Faith, seemed to be the primary subject matter. However, there is a church service, and real, vital Christianity is not minimized.

There's too much of the s___ word, and some other spoken vulgarities, in the movie for my taste. Some of it was required, I think.

My recollection is that there was more physical violence against blacks than the movie shows. It does show a little, and there is news about the assassination of Medgar Evers. My wife pointed out that one form of white violence, namely raping or coerced seduction of black women, was not shown at all. Essie Washington-Williams, daughter of the above-mentioned Senator Strom Thurmond (who sired her long before he entered the Senate) is perhaps the most famous example of such violence, but there was more, not always resulting in a child.

The writing and publication of the book, and the making of the film, are interesting stories in themselves. See here for one article on these matters. The book, by a woman, is a first novel, rejected dozens of times, but later becoming a best-seller, and the film's director  is a male childhood friend of the author, who had never directed a film.

The film was made in Mississippi (the story takes place in Jackson, MS.) As Emma Stone said, ". . . in 110-degree heat and 100 percent humidity — but it sure had to be done in Mississippi."

Thanks for reading. See The Help.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton: introduction

I have recently read The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. I hope to post on the book several times over the next few weeks. (Walton has a Wikipedia page, but the information on it is minimal. It does say that Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.

So what does the book have to say? In summary, Walton makes a bold claim. He claims that the creation account in Genesis 1 was not understood, by contemporary listeners or readers, as being about making things, but that it was about arranging things so that various entities had a function within a created world. How is that possible? After all, the words used speak of creation, and doesn't creation mean making things? Walton says that that's what it means to us, in the 21st century, but it's not what it meant to the ancient world. (He says clearly that God can, and did, make things, in the way that we mean it.)

How is this possible? See here for a Biblical example of how our understanding is not the same as that of people in Biblical times.

Walton is an expert in creation myths from Near East cultures. That doesn't mean that he believes Genesis 1 is a myth. But he uses his knowledge to shed light on the way people thought at about the time Genesis was written. I hope to set forth what Walton thinks they thought -- what he thinks Genesis 1 and 2 meant to the people who first heard and read them.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cross-cultural miscommunication: A Biblical example

How long was Jesus in the grave? The common answer is "three days," or perhaps "three days and nights." But that answer is wrong. How can that be? First, why do people say this? Here are two good reasons for that:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Mark 9:31 For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, “The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again.” (both quotes are from the World English Bible, public domain, and give the words of Jesus.)

So, Jesus, Himself, said that he would be in the grave for three days. What's wrong with that?

Here's what's wrong with that. Jesus was almost certainly crucified on Friday. One evidence for that is that Christians commemorate the event on Good Friday. Another evidence is that Joseph of Arimathea is described as having buried Jesus just before the Sabbath began. The Sabbath began at sundown on Friday. Jesus arose some time before the women, and some of the male disciples, arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning. The evidence is parallel -- Easter is celebrated on Sunday, and the women are described as arriving on the morning following the Sabbath, that is, on Sunday morning.

So how is this possible? Is the Bible in error on this point? (Surely, if the Bible were a fabrication, this seeming contradiction would have been fixed!) The explanation is this. Apparently, people in the time of the New Testament spoke of numbering days differently than we do. Part of Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday -- three days. And it seems that they even called these periods "day and night." We, now, would say that Jesus was in the tomb for less than two days. It's a cultural difference in thinking and expressing. (The experts who wrote the notes in the New International Version of the Bible give this explanation, by the way.)

We do some strange things with days, too. For example, we say we have worked five days, when we have only worked 8 hours a day -- 40 hours, which is less than the length two 24-hour days. Sometimes we confuse each other when telling about some planned event, because one person says it will happen in 6 days, meaning on the day one week from today, and another interprets that as being on the day before one week has elapsed.

The Bible was written in such a way as to communicate to people contemporary to its writing. Sometimes we forget that, realizing that we live in a different culture, that thinks about things differently, and uses words differently. It communicates to us, too, but we need to be careful, and, if possible, consider possible cultural differences between Bible times and ours.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunspots 326

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

Science: NPR reports that the food preferences of babies are strongly influenced by what their mothers ate while they were pregnant.

The Arts: From Wired: the earth, seen (and heard) as a watermelon. You have to see it to understand.

Computing: How secure is your password? Check it out.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What good is accumulating knowledge?

I recently got a message from someone I don't know, who has been reading this blog. The reader had some questions, which were related to dementia, in someone dear to that reader. Here is one of them: "If our knowledge is in the end destroyed with our minds, then is it useful to accumulate it?"

This is my attempt at an answer:

Almost the same argument could be made for other human activities, such as, say, eating and having children. Nothing that most people do will survive much beyond their death, including the knowledge they have picked up. (A few will pass on some poem, or painting, or music, or some idea -- the latter often without anyone knowing where it came from.) Our children, or some succeeding generation, will eventually forget us, except for genealogy addicts, and even they won't really know much about us. But, in spite of that seeming futility, I believe that God has created us in His image, and part of that image causes us to want to learn, to discover.

Why did God do that? I can only guess. There is some potential for some of the knowledge that we have picked up over our life to be passed on to others, as in a book written, a new way of preparing food, an invention, or some other intellectual product. We may also make a living, using our knowledge. We may help to protect our children from danger, or make other people's lives better, because of the knowledge we have acquired. We also ought to glorify God through our knowledge. In my own poor way, that's what I'm trying to do with this blog.

I think we should have purposes for our lives, and collecting and dispensing knowledge can be a worthy goal, even if we know that that won't make a lasting difference.

C. S. Lewis preached a sermon, "Learning in War-time," in 1939, as the second World War was beginning in Europe. (The essay is published in The Weight of Glory.) In that sermon, Lewis said that each Christian "must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything."

He also said that "An appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty, as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so."

So, if Lewis was right, and I believe he was, accumulating knowledge, in an unselfish, humble way, is part of what God made us, and wants us, to do, even though most of what we learn won't survive us, and a lot of it won't even last as long as we do, especially if we suffer from dementia.

I thank that reader, and hope that this further response is helpful.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jesus told us to pray for workers

Matthew 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.” (World English Bible, public domain)

These are the words of Jesus. Make it so, Lord!

This is one in a series of posts on prayers in the Bible. See here for the previous post. Thanks for praying.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sunspots 325

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

Humor: (or The Economy) The tooth fairy isn't as generous as he/she/it used to be, according to a survey from CNN.

Science: NPR reports on the amazing powers of healing of dolphins (who can recover from shark bites almost miraculously).

NPR also reports that a mountain lion, killed by a car in Connecticut, had traveled there from South Dakota.

Computing: (or something) NPR reports on the sad state of patents in the software industry, which sad state is stifling innovation and rewarding greed.

Aviary has a free on-line group of utilities that lets you, among other things, edit photos.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How to read the Bible

How to Read the Bible
1) Reading the Bible, like any other habit, takes effort over a period of time. And, unlike most habits, there’s an Enemy who is fighting you. Keep at it. If you stop, start over.
2) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t promise to read the Bible through in a year before you have trained yourself to read, and really process a few verses, or even only one, every day. Some fine Christians seldom or never read the Bible straight through.
3) Use a modern version. You can buy some from Wal-Mart or a religious bookstore. The American Bible Society offers editions of the NLT, the ESV, the CEV and the NIV for less than $10. Wal-Mart on-line has good prices for a couple of versions, including the New King James, and The Message is available from Amazon or other vendors. No version is perfect, but all of these, and others, can help you. There are some free modern versions for Kindles and other e-readers, but they don’t have all the helps of an electronic version that you would buy.
Be careful in choosing. Remember that some Bibles are sold with a particular doctrinal agenda, (Offered by TV speakers, some of whom are heretical, or who push a view of prophecy that many Christians doubt.) or to appeal to a particular group (teenaged girls, etc.).
The King James Bible has helped many people, including me, but some of its wording is hard to understand, some of it is incomprehensible to most people, and there are new findings. (See here for more information.)
4) Use a plan. The devotional book accompanying the Sunday School quarterly that my church uses seems to have a good reading plan. There are many others. Search on-line for “Daily Bible Reading” and pick a plan, or use something recommended by someone else. I use the ESV One Year Bible, which I get from the web each day, but it’s not for everybody. Some people’s plan is to study what is of particular interest to them each day. No plan is perfect. Any plan needs God's help.
5) Pray before reading. Ask God to help you get something out of the Bible that will help you, and remember that you may need a different kind of help than you want. You may need information, inspiration, a challenge, or something else.
6) Take notes. Write in your Bible, or in a notebook, or a computer file, or something.
7) A more expensive Bible may be worth it. But be careful. Get some advice. Find out if you like the translation, and if people you trust seem to be using it and are getting good from it. Check out the print size, how easy it is to turn the pages, the weight, and the helps included before buying. Helps may include red letters, references to similar passages, or to where a name or word is used elsewhere, maps, and notes on difficult or important passages, or even articles or charts on them. (The notes and articles in some Bibles are questionable.)
8) Remember that all of the Bible was not meant to be taken literally. This applies especially to poetry and prophecy. Also, the Bible was written so that people from a culture different from ours would understand it. Jesus is referred to as being in the grave for three days, when he died on Friday afternoon, and rose by Sunday morning. We wouldn't put it that way. Genesis does not include modern science. The amazing thing is that the Bible speaks to us today, and it spoke to its first readers and listeners!
9) If you read carefully and prayerfully, you will get new insight when you go back to a passage after a few months or years. Keep reading!