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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sunspots 390

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

Science: An astronomical object, 20 million light-years in length -- that's really long -- has been discovered, according to Wired.

Scientists in Italy have been convicted of not giving sufficient warning about an earthquake, according to The Daily Beast.

Dinosaurs probably had feathers, and the feathers may have been colored, perhaps used in courtship displays, according to reports by National Public Radio and the Scientific American. See here and here.

Philosophy: Do plants have rights? Some think that they do. (Some don't!) NPR reports.

Computing: You may think you own books, and other media, that you obtain from Apple, Amazon, and other commercial sources. Not so. Furthermore, Wired reports that all the content you have paid to use may be removed. Whoops.!

Christianity: Project Gutenberg has recently released the public domain Rand-McNally Bible Atlas by Hurlbut, in several versions. There is an abundance of maps and charts. I took the HTML version and went to the large version of a couple dozen maps or so, and saved them for later use. I also took the Windows Snipping tool (any screen capture tool should work) and saved some of the charts, some of which were on subjects I had never thought of, such as how much land each tribe got, under Joshua. I also hope to use the Kindle version. There are more versions.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Isn't God a great artist?

I don't think it's original with me, but I sometimes place, in the description of a photo I post, such as those on Flickr, the question, "Isn't God a great artist?" (This is, I believe, the latest of these.)

God as artist

What do I mean by that? What should I mean? I wish to muse about these questions. First, some scripture:

Genesis 2:19 Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature became its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field; but for man there was not found a helper comparable to him. 21 Yahweh God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. As the man slept, he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Yahweh God made a woman from the rib which had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of Man.” (all Bible quotations from World English Bible, public domain)

Isaiah 64:8 But now, Yahweh, you are our Father.
We are the clay, and you our potter.
We all are the work of your hand.

Leaving aside questions about how literally we are supposed to take these passages, the language indicates clearly that God can be described as an Artist, a Craftsman who takes existing ordinary material and does something wonderful with it.

Is God an artist? Of course. Orthodox Christian belief includes this:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,of all that is, seen and unseen. (Taken from a version of the Nicene Creed, 1975)

If God is Almighty, He clearly can be an Artist. If He is "maker of heaven and earth," then that required Him to be an artist, in the sense that He took, not "existing ordinary material," but nothing, and made a lot of something, wonderful something, from it. See the graphic at the top of this page for more about this question. Not only did God make things, but He sustains the universe -- see Colossians 1:16-17, and Hebrews 1:3 for part of the evidence for that.

Christians also usually believe that God is Omnipotent and Omniscient. Such a powerful Creator should, then, be able to design every leaf on every tree on earth, and every water ripple and dewdrop on earth, and every human face, individually, and to the finest detail. I suppose that human faces are altered by human activity, such as disease, emotions, bad nutrition, exposure to the sun, accidents, and, of course, makeup. But I believe that God could have designed each face, exercising complete control over its appearance. I'm not sure that God did, for reasons I hope to explain below. There are those who believe that not only could God have designed each face, but that He did, and that He is also in control of how each face changes as it matures and is exposed to the environment, including emotions and human activity.

Free will and randomness

We come, thus, to the question of free will, at least for humans. I'm not suggesting that leaves, water ripples and dewdrops have a will at all, free or not. But humans do, and I'm certainly not alone in believing so. If they do, part of what a human face looks like is because of choices that human has made, or that others have made affecting that person.

How about leaves and ripples? Although God created the universe, and sustains it now, it is possible that God's artistry is not so much expressed in His work in each leaf, ripple, or face, but in the creation of the laws that determine how things develop. For example, God could have created the universe in such a way that the Big Bang produced the elements with small nuclei, and in such a way that supernovae produce the elements with heavier nuclei. He could also have created the universe in such a way that Carbon atoms bind rather easily with Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulfur and Phosphorus so as to assemble the complex organic molecules that make life possible. Creation of a universe with laws and properties resulting in the way things are now would have been as great, or even greater, artistry than assembling each leaf, atom by atom.

God could also have built some randomness (or maybe a lot of it) into the universe. I have posted previously on this idea, asking "Is there such a thing as chance?" and on "God and Chance," here and yet again, and also on the idea of randomness at the subatomic level. Henry Neufeld, theologian, has also written about this subject. C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, had one of his best characters, Puddleglum, in The Silver Chair, say that "there are no accidents."

The fact is that we have no way of determining whether God controls all events in the universe, or whether he lets some of them be determined by the properties He has built in to the universe, or by those properties, plus chance. So God could have specially designed each and every leaf, and its changing fall colors, or God could have built laws and principles and properties into the universe which lead to the changing fall colors of each leaf, or God could also let random events, at the subatomic level, or higher, determine the appearance of such a leaf, over time. But, in all of these cases, God either controls or allows. If random processes produce a beautiful leaf, God be praised! If intricate control does, God be praised! God is a great artist.

An illustration of what Puddleglum said: While thinking about this subject, and preparing to write about it, I came upon a discussion of the artistry of Linnéa Spransy, who, she says, attempts to express "the tension between freedom and constraint" in her paintings. Spransy is a Christian. The post says this:

Like many working scientists, she is seeking a way of understanding how the creator engages with His creation, and a better grasp on how we creatures should make our way in response. On one hand, her attentiveness to the basic orderliness of the material creation has a corollary in the familiar disciplines of faith, including reading the scriptures, prayer, and responding with mercy to ruptures in human lives and communities. But on the other hand, her embrace of surprise and chaos is, as she says, an “invitation to the otherness of God,”. . .

You may wish to see my recent post on the use of the words, beauty and beautiful, in the Bible.

Thanks for reading, whether by chance or design.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scripture that indicates that humans can choose salvation

This is a thorny topic, and one that I'm not expecting to settle. There are intelligent, Bible-believing people who disagree with the title of this post. See the Wikipedia articles on Free Will, Free will in theology, and Predestination for good treatment of this subject, including views opposed to mine. Now to what the title says, below. Some of these verses don't say anything directly about free choice, but these were chosen because they indicate that anyone may accept Christ's sacrifice for sin, thus implying that they may choose it:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (All scripture quotations from the World English Bible, which is public domain.)

Acts 2:20 The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon into blood,
before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.
21 It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
(quoting Joel 2)

Romans 5:17 For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. 13 For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (quoting Joel 2)

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6a who gave himself as a ransom for all; 

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

1 John 2:2 And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.

Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” He who hears, let him say, “Come!” He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Thanks for reading, whether you did it by a free choice, or not!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prayer and God's Work, part 2, by E. M. Bounds

The work of God in the world is the implantation, the growth and the perfection of holiness in His people. Keep this ever in mind. But we might ask just now, Is this work advancing in the Church? Are men and women being made holy? Is the present-day Church engaged in the business of making holy men and women? This is not a vain and speculative question. It is practical, pertinent and all important.
The present-day Church has vast machinery. Her activities are great, and her material prosperity is unparalleled. The name of religion is widely-spread and well-known. Much money comes into the Lord’s treasury and is paid out. But here is the question: Does the work of holiness keep pace with all this? Is the burden of the prayers of Church people to be made holy? Are our preachers really holy men? Or to go back a little further, are they hungering and thirsting after righteousness, desiring the sincere milk of the Word that they may grow thereby? Are they really seeking to be holy men? Of course men of intelligence are greatly needed in the pulpit, but prior to that, and primary to it, is the fact that we need holy men to stand before dying men and proclaim the salvation of God to them.
Ministers, like laymen, and no more so than laymen, must be holy men in life, in conversation and in temper. They must be examples to the flock of God in all things. By their lives they are to preach as well as to speak. Men in the pulpit are needed who are spotless in life, circumspect in behaviour, “without rebuke and blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom they are to shine in the world.” Are our preachers of this type of men? We are simply asking the question. Let the reader make up his own judgment. Is the work of holiness making progress among our preachers?
Again let us ask: Are our leading laymen examples of holiness? Are they seeking holiness of heart and life? Are they praying men, ever praying that God would fashion them according to His pattern of holiness? Are their business ways without stain of sin, and their gains free from the taint of wrong-doing? Have they the foundation of solid honesty, and does uprightness bring them into elevation and influence? Does business integrity and probity run parallel with religious activity, and with churchly observance?

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beauty in the Bible

The word, "beauty" occurs in the Bible a number of times. The Hebrew word,  תִּפְאָרָה, which is rendered as tiph'arah in English, occurs over 40 times in the Old Testament. It is translated variously, depending on the context and the translation. According to the Blueletter Bible's page on this word, it is translated as glory, beauty, beautiful, honor, fair, glorious, bravery, comely, excellent, and perhaps other words. I will quote several occurrences of the word, using the World English Bible, which is in the public domain, below. I have also included an occurrence of the word "lovely," which has a related meaning, because the verse is important. (See here for a graphic presentation of that verse.)

Exodus 28:2 You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. . . . 40 “You shall make coats for Aaron’s sons, and you shall make sashes for them and you shall make headbands for them, for glory and for beauty.

Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after,
that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life,
to see Yahweh’s beauty,
and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but Yahweh made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him.
Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Isaiah 33:15 He who walks righteously,
and speaks blamelessly;
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
who gestures with his hands, refusing to take a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of blood,
and shuts his eyes from looking at evil—
16 he will dwell on high.
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks.
His bread will be supplied.
His waters will be sure.
17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty.
They will see a distant land.

Isaiah 53:2b He has no good looks or majesty.
When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised,
and rejected by men;
a man of suffering,
and acquainted with disease.
He was despised as one from whom men hide their face;
and we didn’t respect him.
4 Surely he has borne our sickness,
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed. 

Ezekiel 16:11 I decked you with ornaments, and I put bracelets on your hands, and a chain on your neck. 12 I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your clothing was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered work; you ate fine flour, and honey, and oil; and you were exceeding beautiful, and you prospered to royal estate. 14 Your renown went out among the nations for your beauty; for it was perfect, through my majesty which I had put on you, says the Lord Yahweh. 15 But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your prostitution on everyone who passed by; his it was. 16 You took of your garments, and made for yourselves high places decked with various colors, and played the prostitute on them. This shall not come, neither shall it be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and played the prostitute with them; 18 and you took your embroidered garments, and covered them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 My bread also which I gave you, fine flour, and oil, and honey, with which I fed you, you even set it before them for a pleasant aroma; and so it was, says the Lord Yahweh. [God, prophesying against Israel, through Ezekiel]

Ezekiel 27:1 Yahweh’s word came again to me, saying, 2 You, son of man, take up a lamentation over Tyre; 3 and tell Tyre, you who dwell at the entry of the sea, who are the merchant of the peoples to many islands, thus says the Lord Yahweh: You, Tyre, have said, I am perfect in beauty. 4 Your borders are in the heart of the seas; your builders have perfected your beauty.
10 Persia and Lud and Put were in your army, your men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in you; they showed your beauty. 11 The men of Arvad with your army were on your walls all around, and valorous men were in your towers; they hanged their shields on your walls all around; they have perfected your beauty.

Ezekiel 28:1 Yahweh’s word came again to me, saying, 2 Son of man, tell the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, I am a god, I sit in the seat of God, in the middle of the seas; yet you are man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God—
6 therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because you have set your heart as the heart of God, 7 therefore, behold, I will bring strangers on you, the terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom, and they shall defile your brightness.
11 Moreover Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, 12 Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and tell him, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: You seal up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness: I have cast you to the ground; I have laid you before kings, that they may see you.

Zechariah 9:16 Yahweh their God will save them in that day as the flock of his people;
for they are like the jewels of a crown,
lifted on high over his land.
17a For how great is his goodness,
and how great is his beauty!

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

There are also a number of uses of the word, "beautiful" in the Bible. Genesis 12 refers to Sarai (later called Sarah), Abraham's wife, as beautiful. 1 Samuel 25:3 says that the woman, Abigail, was beautiful. Deuteronomy 12:11 speaks of the possibility of capturing a beautiful woman in war.  David, as a youth, was called beautiful in 1 Samuel 25:3. So was Moses, as a baby, in Acts 7:20 and Hebrews 11:23. Several women, including Bathsheba, David's daughter Tamar, and his granddaughter Tamar, Abishag, who took care of David in his last days, Esther, Job's daughters, the woman in Song of Solomon are called beautiful. Other entities are called beautiful, in both Testaments. Joshua 7:21 speaks of Achan, who took a beautiful cloak from Jericho, which he should not have done. Isaiah 52:7 says that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful, and this is quoted in Romans 10:15. Ezekiel 16, 23 and 31 speak of beautiful things being taken away from people because of their misbehavior. Matthew 26:10 and Mark 14:6 quote Jesus, as saying that the woman who anointed him had done a beautiful thing. Acts 3 says that one of the gates of the Temple was named Beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11a says "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Thanks for reading!

*  *  *  *  * 

Added October 30, 2012.

Note the number of women, some of them mature, designated as beautiful in the above list, compared to only two men, one a baby, and one a youth. I suppose this reflects the culture of Bible times. The same would be true of my own culture -- few men would be called beautiful, whereas many women are. Is this because of the way we perceive each other, in other words, is this cultural? Is it biological, somehow built in? I don't know. It is also possible that God, Himself, sees women as more beautiful than men.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Warning passages in Hebrews: Table

Warning Passages in Hebrews
(All Scripture quoted from the World English Bible, public domain.)
Persons warned
Punishment predicted
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we ought to pay greater attention to the things that were heard, lest perhaps we drift away. 3a how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation [?]
Not specific
Hebrews 3:12 Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God
“Brothers” (and sisters)
Not specific
Hebrews 4:11 Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.
Not entering “rest”
Hebrews 6:4 For concerning those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify the Son of God for themselves again, and put him to open shame.
Enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted God’s word, and powers of the age to come
Won’t be able to repent
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, 27a but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, 29 How much worse punishment do you think he will be judged worthy of who . . . has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
“We,” if we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth; and have been sanctified
No more sacrifice for sins, but judgment and punishment
Hebrews 12:14 Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, 15a looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God;. . . like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for a change of mind though he sought it diligently with tears.
“Any man (or woman) who falls short of the grace of God”
Falling short of the grace of God, can’t repent.

The above chart is an attempt to show the "warning passages" from Hebrews in a single table.
Who was Hebrews written to? (In other words, who are “we” and “us”?) The NIV Study Bible indicates that it was written primarily to Jewish Christians. So do these verses from the book: (World English Bible, public domain)
Hebrews 1:1 God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds.
2:3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation—which at the first having been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard; 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?

You may want to see this post, on the characteristics that Christians should have, according to the Bible.

The warning passages in Hebrews aren't the whole story. There are warning passages elsewhere in the Bible. There are also indications that God is able to keep Christians from falling, as in 7:25 Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, seeing that he lives forever to make intercession for them.

Some people believe that the warning passages in the Bible indicate that a person who is saved can become lost, and the warning passages in Hebrews are evidence for that. They believe that, although God is able to keep us from falling, we can still choose to disobey and fall away. The warnings in Hebrews 6 and 10 seem to be speaking to mature believers, sanctified believers.

Those who don't believe that a believer can become lost argue that the warning passages were not really written to Christians, but to some who associated with Christians, perhaps thought they were Christians, but really were not. Here's a scholarly example of such an argument.

I am not going to settle the question of whether believers can fall away or not. (There's a Wikipedia article on the Perseverance of the Saints, which covers the subject pretty well.) Many people, smarter than I, have been unable to settle the question over several centuries of Christian thought. But there is a much more important question, namely, "am I really committed to following Christ now, do I have a relationship with Him, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, am I doing my best to keep from sinning?"

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Genetic engineering may be used to change DNA in a human egg

National Public Radio reports that some scientists are considering changing some of the DNA in a human egg, so that the resulting offspring would not have an inherited disease. Up until this point, genetic engineering has been used only to change the DNA of a child, so that the results of genes in that child that cause disease can be mitigated. (See here for the Wikipedia article on genetic engineering.)

As the article points out, there are a number of ethical concerns, such as whether it is acceptable to use human eggs for this purpose, whether it's acceptable to modify an egg in such a way, whether there is potential harm to any offspring born, as a result of such a procedure, whether it's acceptable to treat women in this way, and whether we have any business tinkering with reproduction in this way. Up till now, genetic engineering in humans has not been used to change the type of fertilized egg produced, which, of course, could lead to a change in the offspring produced, and to that change being perpetuated in the population as the offspring had descendants.

On the other hand, there is certainly potential for alleviating harm, and lots of it. If, for example, sickle cell anemia, or Lou Gehrig's disease, could be stamped out by genetically engineering eggs, should we do it?

Good question. The answer depends a lot on the answers to the questions about ethical concerns. It also depends on motive -- why would we do this? To make money? To win Nobel Prizes? There are questions of justice that the report doesn't mention, either. Assuming that we decide to do this, what conditions, in what populations, do we consider treating in this way? Which ones don't we treat, or don't we treat right away? How do we make these choices? God help us, either way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunspots 389

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

Science: is a blog of cool videos, related to science, that, as the title indicates, the kids (and probably you) should see.

Todd's blog reports that changing a protein slightly doesn't necessarily mean that it won't function -- in other words, all mutations are not bad. Furthermore, there is evidence, in the experiments he reports on, that a protein can take on a new function. (Note -- Todd is a Young-Earth Creationist.)

Politics:  Wired has a page that lets you check on who is contributing to political candidates. (Some contributions are anonymous.) I discovered that my Congressperson's largest named contributor was something called the American Crystal Sugar Company Political Action Committee.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has removed Mormons (Latter-Day Saints) from their list of cults, apparently for political purposes.

Christianity: Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength asks why Christ gave the Great Commission, and how it should be treated.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mole Day today!

I just found out that today is Mole Day, which, according to the Wikipedia, is "celebrated among chemists on October 23, between 6:02 AM and 6:02 PM,[1][2][3] making the date 6:02 10/23 in the American style of writing dates. The time and date are derived from Avogadro's number, which is approximately 6.02×1023, defining the number of particles (atoms or molecules) in one mole of substance . . ."

In other words, strictly a holiday for nerds, and has nothing to do with the mammal that lives mostly underground, including under the surface of our lawn, at times, except that it's OK to use mole, in any sense, in puns.

Here's a web page on the history of National Mole Day.

There's a National Mole Day Foundation. You can join it, by paying moledues.

There's at least one page of Mole Day jokes. Sample: "molearchy - government in which moles are in complete control; under this government Mole Day is celebrated three times a year and chemistry is the only scientific subject taught in school"

Happy Mole Day!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Prayer and God's Work, part 1, by E. M. Bounds

God has a great work on hand in this world. This work is involved in the plan of salvation. It embraces redemption and providence. God is governing this world, with its intelligent beings, for His own glory and for their good. What, then, is God’s work in this world? Rather what is the end He seeks in His great work? It is nothing short of holiness of heart and life in the children of fallen Adam. Man is a fallen creature, born with an evil nature, with an evil bent, unholy propensities, sinful desires, wicked inclinations. Man is unholy by nature,
born so. “They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.”
God’s entire plan is to take hold of fallen man and to seek to change him and make him holy. God’s work is to make holy men out of unholy men. This is the very end of Christ coming into the world:
“For this purpose was the Son of God manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
God is holy in nature and in all His ways, and He wants to make man like Himself.
“As he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
This is being Christlike. This is following Jesus Christ. This is the aim of all Christian effort. This is the earnest, heartfelt desire of every truly regenerated soul. This is what is to be constantly and earnestly prayed for. It is that we may be made holy. Not that we must make ourselves holy, but we must be cleansed from all sin by the precious atoning blood of Christ, and be made holy by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit. Not that we are to do holy, but rather to be holy. Being must precede doing. First be, then do. First, obtain a holy heart, then live a holy life. And for this high and gracious end God has made the most ample provisions in the atoning work of our Lord and through the agency of the Holy Spirit. - From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Two Covenants, contrasted

Two Covenants
The graphic above is a link to the same picture, on my Flickr photostream. If you are interested, you may be able to see this picture at a larger size by following that link.

 The quotation in the lower right is:
I will put my laws into their mind,
I will also write them on their heart.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
(Hebrews 8:10b, quoting Jeremiah 31:33)
World English Bible, public domain)

As I understand it, the new Covenant, and the need for it, explained in great detail in Hebrews, does not do away with the Ten Commandments. (The new Covenant is also called the New Testament.) However, it makes it possible to please God, in a way that the old Covenant did not, because the new Covenant establishes a relationship with God that the old one did not, and also has a much more radical, and effective, solution to the sin problem, that the old Covenant did not.

I used a graphic representation of the Ten Commandments to represent the Law of the First, or Old, Covenant. Jesus, or other New Testament writers, affirmed, in some way, every one of the Ten Commandments, except, perhaps, for the fourth, to remember the Sabbath. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, in Mark 2:27. He also healed people, and picked grain to eat, on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-12) Paul said that there should be flexibility in observing special days (Romans 14:6). There is abundant evidence, from the New Testament, that Christians thought that it was important to worship together. Now, most Christian groups do that in celebration of Christ's Resurrection, on Sunday. (The Jewish Sabbath was from sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday.)

There were a lot of Ceremonial laws (some say about 600 or more) that the Jews believed that they should keep. They included things that seem strange to us (Exodus 23:19b says that a kid shouldn't be boiled in his goat mother's milk; Leviticus 19:19b says that clothing made of both linen and wool should not be used; there are instructions for dealing with mold (?) in cloth and houses in Leviticus 13). Then there were the dietary laws! (Most famously, Jews were not to eat pork, but there were quite a few other animals prohibited, too.) Peter saw a vision, in Acts 11, that was guidance from God that he could set those dietary restrictions aside, and, more important, that Gentiles could become Christians, without following the Jewish Ceremonial laws. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) relieved Gentile Christians of almost all of the Ceremonial Jewish Law. Paul, and the author of Hebrews, explained that the Law (First Covenant) was not able to reconcile people with God's desire to be free from sin. Belief in Christ's death and resurrection is able to do that.

I am not at all sure that the Hebrew symbols in the graphic of the Ten Commandments have any correspondence to the actual Hebrew of the Ten Commandments.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

John Wesley on elections

From The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M., Volume IV, 3rd edition, London: John Mason, 1829, entry from Thursday, October 6, 1774:

"I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them: 1, To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2, To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and, 3, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side."

(From the Google Books archive.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunspots 388

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

Humor:  An academic journal which rejects all material submitted to it for publication. (It ceased "publication" several months ago, but its web site is still available.)

(Humorous, or odd, to us, anyway.) Some people in Senegal take their sheep seriously. Very seriously. The Huffington Post reports on a televised sheep beauty contest.

Science: National Public Radio on apple trees in the US. They are dwarfs!

Computing: Microsoft offers a free (and, according to an expert who should know -- definitely not me -- safe) site that evaluates the strength of a password for you. All you have to do is to type it in. I discovered that one of my passwords, which I thought would be pretty difficult to crack, was weak. Whoops!

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An argument (theological, actually) against Intelligent Design

keiths has recently posted an article challenging Intelligent Design. In particular it challenges the idea that the similarities between organisms are not the result of evolution by natural selection, and common descent, but due to the use of a common design, or pattern, for several organisms, by a Designer.

keiths's challenge is basically this: Why should a Designer have been limited only to designs that mimic exactly the sorts of results we would expect if similarity were due to evolution from common ancestor(s) by natural selection? In other words, why should a Designer be a mimic of evolution, when there must have been many other ways to Design living things?

This is, at least in part, a theological argument, although keiths doesn't say so. (I have no knowledge of his personal beliefs, except that he is clearly not a fan of Intelligent Design or Young-Earth Creationism.) Why should God (assuming God to be the Designer, which most proponents of Intelligent Design do) have been constrained in this way, and, also, why should God have mimicked the results expected from common descent through natural selection? Why would God have done this, when doing so presented abundant evidence for descent from common ancestor(s) by natural selection, if such common descent didn't actually occur?

Good questions, I believe.

Thanks for reading. Read keiths's post, if you wish.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I recently read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is the publisher's web site for the book. Here's the Amazon page on the book, which includes an interview with the author. This was her first novel. It is well written, and shows extensive thought and research.

As usual, I try not to give away much of the plot. Trust me, there is one, although the book is more about relationships than plot surprises. It's really more about relationships, especially about relationships between foster children and those who interact with them, than about flowers.

The concept of Language of Flowers, or floriography, refers to the use of flowers as signals, whether they are displayed or given as gifts. The Wikipedia has an article on the subject. The author has appended a long appendix at the end of the book on such usage. Samples: Wheat (Triticum) - Prosperity; Strawberry (Fragaria) - Perfection; Violet (Viola) - Modest Worth; Raspberry (Rubus) - Remorse. It would be possible to suppose that flowers really have some sort of magical powers, but, in an appendix, Diffenbaugh specifically denies that flowers have magical powers. She does say that researchers have found some effects, however: "A study from Rutgers University shows that flowers increase feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction, and Harvard researchers found that people feel less anxious and more compassionate in the presence of flowers." There are a lot of wedding flowers sold in the book.

The author, in her first novel, uses flashbacks extensively. It works.

Although there is a lot about reconciliation in the book, the characters seem to have no religious, or church experiences. In one place, the protagonist, Victoria Jones, says ". . . I didn't know how to pray."

The book was well worth reading. I expect Diffenbaugh will do more good work.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, part 14, by E. M. Bounds

Just as prayer is wide in its range, taking in everything, so trouble is infinitely varied in
its uses and designs. It takes trouble sometimes to arrest attention, to stop men in the busy
rush of life, and to awaken them to a sense of their helplessness and their need and sinfulness.
Not till King Manasseh was bound with thorns and carried away into a foreign land and
got into deep trouble, was he awakened and brought back to God. It was then he humbled
himself and began to call upon God.

The Prodigal Son was independent and self-sufficient when in prosperity, but when money and friends departed, and he began to be in want, then it was he “came to himself,” and decided to return to his father’s house, with prayer and confession on his lips. Many a man who has forgotten God has been arrested, caused to consider his ways, and brought to remember God and pray by trouble. Blessed is trouble when it accomplishes this in men! It is for this among other reasons that Job says:

“Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth. Therefore, despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty. For he maketh sore, and bindeth up; he woundeth, and his hands maketh whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.”

One thing more might be named. Trouble makes earth undesirable and causes heaven to loom up large in the horizon of hope. There is a world where trouble never comes. But the path of tribulation leads to that world. Those who are there went there through tribulation. What a world set before our longing eyes which appeals to our hopes, as sorrows like a cyclone sweep over us! Hear John, as he talks about it and those who are there:

“What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? . . . And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb . . . And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

Oh, children of God, ye who have suffered, who have been sorely tried, whose sad experiences have often brought broken spirits and bleeding hearts, cheer up! God is in all your troubles, and He will see that all shall “work together for good,” if you will but be patient, submissive and prayerful. From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The US Presidential campaigns on Global Climate Change

I have examined the "Issues" pages of the Obama and Romney campaign web sites, to see what they say about global climate change.

I found no evidence that Governor Romney's campaign site so much as mentions global climate change. The Issues page of that site does include a link to an Energy page, which is here. However, lest I mis-characterize Mr. Romney on the subject, I quote my own blog, from July 1 of this year: ". . . Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John Huntsman believe that the climate is changing globally, and that humans are influencing that." At that time, when the Republican candidates for President were interested in support from my state, South Carolina (There was a debate between them in South Carolina) the state's most widely circulated newspaper had an article which was my source. That article is no longer available, as far as I can determine. I don't know if Romney still holds to that view. He has changed his views on several issues, apparently. The other Republican candidates for President, at that time, did not agree with Romney and Huntsman, but Romney is the candidate.

President Obama's campaign site also has an Energy page, under Issues, which is here. The only mention of climate change is a graphic, which says "climate change is not a hoax."

In case you didn't know it, there are some people who believe that "Global warming is the liberal hoax that the world is becoming dangerously warmer . . ." 

Both major party candidates said more about global climate change, leading up to the 2008 election, than either of the candidates are saying this time.

The Green Party, as would be expected, has a lot more to say about the subject than the two major parties.

Thanks for reading.

*  *  *  *

Added on October 19, 2012: Shell, Chevron, and BP all state that there is such a thing as Global Climate Change, and that using fossil fuels contributes to this. So does Exxon Mobil.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Debt versus Deficit

This post is not meant to take sides, but to inform. There's plenty of blame to go around, of course. That blame includes you and me, when we expect government to do things that benefit us that it can't currently pay for, or when we wrongly evade paying taxes.

There are certainly complications, such as different ways of counting what is in the budget, and the following is simplified, but is as close to the facts as I can get.

A Deficit is created when more is spent, during a fiscal year, than comes in during that year. The US Government has often run a deficit. A deficit adds to the public debt. A deficit could also be a budget deficit, meaning that there is a plan to spend more money than projected income, during a future fiscal year.

The public debt is the total amount that we owe -- funds that that we have borrowed. The current debt is somewhere over 16 trillion dollars, according to this source, which claims to be produced by a conservative (whatever that means!). That figure "doesn’t include state and local debt, and it doesn’t include the so-called unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare."

So we owe, thus, at least $16,000,000,000,000, (sixteen trillion dollars) which is the sum of all the previous deficits, and the current one. The US Census Bureau says that there are about 314 million of us, which means that each of us has a share of the current debt of approximately $51,000. The US has had a federal debt, sometimes rather small, for most of our existence as a nation, except for around 1835.

Who do we owe this money to? If you listen to politicians, from both sides, you'd think we owed it all to the Chinese. Not so. According to this Wikipedia article on the United States public debt, we owe about 2.25 trillion to the Chinese and Japanese, combined. Of that, we owe a little more to the Chinese, but not much more than we owe Japanese entities. The majority of the debt is owed to people or institutions in the US. The total owed to foreign entities is about 5.3 trillion dollars.

Who spends the money? Congress must approve most expenditures. There are exceptions, but mostly, it's Congress. The Executive Branch, which the President is responsible for, then spends the money. A President is required to submit a budget to Congress, but Congress usually makes lots of changes. Presidents seldom get their own way in budgetary matters, at least not entirely. (Presidents can veto spending bills adopted by Congress.) Overspending, thus, must be agreed upon by Congress and the President.

How can we stop running deficits? We could cut spending, we could increase revenue, from taxes, fees, and other sources, or we could do both. Most experts seem to agree that we need to do both. Both Presidential candidates seem to agree. Governor Romney, for example, says that he wants to close some tax loopholes, which should increase revenue, and wants to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and, presumably, for other things, which would cut spending.

It is difficult for Congress and the President to cut spending, for several reasons. Cutting spending usually hurts someone, and groups whose special interests are threatened complain, usually loudly, to Congress. There are things that most of us agree that we need, such as air traffic controllers, federal courts, and at least some military. These take money. It is difficult to raise taxes, because nobody wants to pay more.

Not only the President and Congress, but external forces also cut revenue. The current recession, which, we hope, we are coming out of, is an example. It caused large decreases in government income -- as people lost their jobs, and as businesses had less income, they paid less in taxes. External forces, such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, also may lead to unforeseen increased spending.

Occasionally, Congress and the President are able to agree on plans to produce a budget surplus. That is, there is a plan to spend less than will be taken in, during a fiscal year. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often. Under President Clinton, there was a surplus of about 250 billion dollars in Fiscal 2000. Budget surpluses could be applied to the federal debt, but they could also be used to cut taxes, or to justify spending that wasn't originally planned.

What is the fiscal cliff? The Congress, with one house currently controlled by Democrats, and one by Republicans, hasn't agreed on very much lately. But they did agree, in the recent past, to pass legislation that would cut federal spending, including for the military, seriously, and would also allow tax rates to go up significantly, unless some solution for the federal deficit was agreed upon by Congress in a future session. That latter agreement has not occurred. Unless Congress agrees on some such plan, or repeals the legislation requiring them to, there will be serious consequences, such as job loss, perhaps downgrading of the credit rating of the US, insufficient national defense. That event, which may happen within the next few months, is known as the fiscal cliff.

Some final notes. 1) Although both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have indicated that they want to do something about the deficit, either of them would have to work with Congress in order to do that.
2) Both candidates usually speak of their plans, but their plans are over a longer period than their Presidency. Mr. Obama has, at most, about 4 years left, and Mr. Romney, at most, about 8. Their plans are usually for 10 or more years.
3) In my opinion, neither candidate, and most of Congress, has really explained all this to the U.S. citizenry. It's too easy to just let things go along, as we get deeper and deeper into debt.
4) Presidents cannot veto particular items in a bill. Presidents of both parties have requested a line item veto, but the Supreme Court has said that that would be unconstitutional.* Congress may, for example, combine expenses for 10 different things, nine of which the President agrees with, but one which the President considers to be fiscally irresponsible, into a single bill. But the entire bill must be signed, or vetoed.
5) There are looming problems with the infrastructure of the US, which are going to require lots of money to fix. My own state of South Carolina, depending on who is assessing, has some of the worst roads in the country. Many sewer and water systems, bridges, school buildings, harbors, dams, etc., are in serious need of repair, and most or all of the funds will have to come from the federal government, or state or local governments, or a combination thereof.
6) A significant portion of the federal budget must be spent on interest on the debt that we owe, each year, until the debt is paid.
7) I haven't touched on the financial pressure brought on by an aging population, or the rising healthcare expenses.

Thanks for reading!

*I originally said that Congress had not authorized the line item veto, but that is incorrect. I have corrected this on the original publication date.

*  *  *  *  *

On November 10, 2012, I'm linking to a previous post, "Taxes create jobs!" which discusses the relationship between jobs and taxes.

On November 12, 2012, I'm linking to a post by Ken Schenck, which argues that, although it is possible that government assistance to the poor may harm people, there is Biblical evidence that indicates that, at least some of the time, it's a good thing for governments to do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sunspots 387

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

Humor:  (dark humor) Pippa the Weathergirl on global warming.

Leonard Pitts was going to rant about something, but thought about it. Whoops!:
This was going to be a rant.
Then I thought about it, which was a mistake. As any experienced ranter can tell you, thinking about it has the unfortunate tendency of turning a good, clean rant into a muddy quagmire of fine points, conditional sentences, and digressions as delicately balanced as a Swiss watch.

Science: National Public Radio tells us that there are strange black spidery things that appear seasonally on Mars. We don't know what they are.

Politics:  National Public Radio reports on something you may have noticed by its absence: Neither Romney nor Obama are saying much about their religious faith. It's probably better that way. What do you get when you mix religion and politics? Politics.

This is not exactly politics, but here goes: There's a big fight about feral (wild) cats. Should they be caught and euthanized, caught and sterilized, or let be? Feral cats have contributed significantly to the endangerment of other kinds of animals.

Ken Schenck, Dean of the Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University (I am also a Wesleyan) on why pastors/churches should not endorse any particular political candidate.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I recently read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. (Here's his blog.)

It's published by Quirk Press, and that's appropriate. It's a quirky book. The book began as a few old photos, but was expanded into a novel. It includes photos, from the collection of Riggs, and collected by others. They are interesting in themselves. According to the Wikipedia article on the book, an editor suggested that Riggs not publish a book of old photos, which was his original intention, but write a novel using the photos. The photos are reproduced in the book, and there are credits at the end.

The plot is summarized in the Wikipedia article, and I'll muse briefly about a couple of things. First, the book was on best-seller lists for some time -- it was certainly popular. Second, it was marketed to children, and, except for being spooky (let's put it this way -- Tim Burton plans to make a movie about it) is OK for them to read, in my opinion. It may teach them something about World War II. Third, a sequel is clearly intended. The book ends at a place that tells us that. Fourth, there is a definite conflict between good and evil in the book.

Last, the peculiarities. The book supposes that there are children with unusual powers. In fact, there have always been such children. In some societies, they have been welcomed. In many others, persecuted. The protagonist, Jacob, comes to know a number of these children, at Miss Peregrine's Home, and they are able to do many things, usually one per child, such as create light, pick up heavy objects, defy gravity, foretell the future, see monsters, and the like. Miss Peregrine, herself, is able to create a time loop, so that it's always the same calendar date. But she and the children do recognize this, and do age, in a sense. Well, you'll have to read the book to see what I mean.

A good book. It wasn't written to any certain formula. I enjoyed it.

I read this book through a 21st century (OK, I could have done it in the 20th, I guess) technological advance -- I borrowed the electronic edition from a public library. Thank God for libraries!

Thanks for reading. Read Riggs, if this sort of thing interests you.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, Part 13, by E. M. Bounds

It takes faith of a high order and a Christian experience far above the average religion of this day, to count it joy when we are called to pass through tribulation. God’s highest aim in dealing with His people is in developing Christian character. He is after begetting in us those rich virtues which belong to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is seeking to make us like Himself. It is not so much work that He wants in us. It is not greatness. It is the presence in us of patience, meekness, submission to the Divine will, prayerfulness which brings everything to Him. He seeks to beget His own image in us. And trouble in some form tends to do this very thing, for this is the end and aim of trouble. This is its work. This is the task it is called to perform. It is not a chance incident in life, but has a design in view, just as it has an Allwise Designer back of it, who makes trouble His agent to bring forth the largest results.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us a perfect directory of trouble, comprehensive, clear and worth while to be studied. Here is “chastisement,” another word for trouble, coming from a Father’s hand, showing God is in all the sad and afflictive events of life. Here is its nature and its gracious design. It is not punishment in the accurate meaning of that word, but the means God employs to correct and discipline His children in dealing with them on earth. Then we have the fact of the evidence of being His people, namely, the presence of chastisement. The ultimate end is that we “may be partakers of his holiness,” which is but another way of saying that all this disciplinary process is to the end that God may make us like Himself. What an encouragement, too, that, chastisement is no evidence of anger or displeasure on God’s part, but is the strong proof of His love.
From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sunspots 386

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

Humor: (I know -- it's not funny at all) You probably don't wonder why women have so much more difficulty finding things that fit them than men do, but, if you do wonder, it's because women's sizes are anything but standard. (From the New York Times.)

Science: (not Science Fiction) Fox News reports that scientists are working on a real warp drive, which drive was popularized in the Star Trek TV series (all of them) and the Star Trek movies.

The cost of sequencing a person's genes is getting affordable, less than $5,000, and going down. National Public Radio reports that this has promise, and raises numerous ethical questions. Also practical ones -- will your doctor be able to interpret the results and explain them to you?

The Arts: The trailer for the soon-to-be-released Hobbit film.

Politics: National Public Radio has done a graphic analysis of candidate Romney's 47 percent who don't pay income taxes, showing why they don't.

(or Christianity) The Christian Post reports that an Egyptian man is to be put on trial for tearing out pages of the Bible. The blog that pointed me to this says that Christians should protest this arrest and trial. I agree. We should protest this.

Computing: (Or Education) National Public Radio reports on Coursera, which offers free on-line education, high quality education.

Christianity: "This God of rough edges will not be smoothed out, neither by the fundamentalists who think he is mainly interested in populating hell, nor the liberals who imagine hell is empty." Mark Galli, reviewing the movie, Hellbound?, for Christianity Today.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Data remains, but theories come and go: Luminiferous ether

Project Gutenberg, a wonderful organization, publishes a few public domain books, mostly old ones with an expired copyright, every day. I often check to see what's newly available. Today, the offerings included a title which intrigued me, namely The Ether of Space, by Sir Oliver Lodge. (London and New York: Harper, 1909)

I have copied the last sentence of the book, and the summary:

I regard the non-disturbance of the ether of space by moving matter as established.


The estimates of this book . . . are that the ether of space is a continuous, incompressible, stationary, fundamental substance or perfect fluid, with what is equivalent to an inertia-coefficient of 1012 grammes per c.c.; that matter is composed of modified and electrified specks, or minute structures of ether, which are amenable to mechanical as well as to electrical force and add to the optical or electric density of the medium; and that elastic-rigidity and all potential energy are due to excessively fine-grained etherial circulation, with an intrinsic kinetic energy of the order 1033 ergs per cubic centimetre.

You are probably wondering what on (or off) of earth the "ether of space" might be. The short answer is that there is no such thing.

Why, then, you may ask, was Sir Oliver Lodge, who must have been a man of some importance, since he had received a knighthood, writing about it? Why? Because he (and most of his contemporary physicists) had believed that, if light was a wave, something must be waving -- there had to be a medium to carry the light waves. They postulated the existence of a luminiferous aether, or luminiferous ether, as the material which constituted that medium. The proposal for such a substance, permeating space, goes back at least to Newton. ("luminiferous" means "light-bearing.")

By 1887, the Michelson-Morley experiment had sounded the death knell of the idea -- Michelson and Morley had found no evidence that light traveled faster in one direction than another, whereas, if it was traveling through ether, you would expect that it would travel faster if it was going in the same direction that the ether was. Lodge was well aware of the experiment. He wrote:

The experiment thus seems to prove that there is no motion through the ether at all, that there is no etherial drift past the earth, that the ether immediately in contact with the earth is stagnant—or that the earth to that extent carries all neighbouring ether with it.

 Why not just say that there is no evidence that ether exists, and that we might as well discard the idea? (Other physicists had begun to do so by 1909.) Because Lodge had a mistaken world-view. His data were good and useful. His theory was wrong, or at least unnecessary.

Science changes over time, usually in this manner. An experiment comes along that casts doubt on the prevailing theory, and a few brave souls suggest that the prevailing theory may be wrong. But most of the scientists in that field don't change. Eventually, they become irrelevant, or die, and the replacement theory is accepted. (For more on this, see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn.)

Einstein's view of light required no luminiferous ether, as Newton's had. Newton's data were good, and so were Lodge's. But their theories weren't able to explain everything relevant, and eventually, they were displaced. Einstein's may be, too. We'll see, eventually.

There are parallels in many areas, such as religion and politics, but I'll refrain from going further in those directions. Thanks for reading. If you could, you were using light.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Please prove you're not a robot

The above is a clearer than usual "Please prove you're not a robot" picture. For the very few who may read this, and don't know what this is about, Blogger users (I'm one) can elect to ask for verification before a reader's comment will be accepted. I don't do that, but the result is some spam comments in my e-mail on most days. I can understand those who do use this system.

Am I really a robot? Well, now, I don't think so, but that might be hard to prove, in this day and time. First, we have to agree on a test. The Turing test is a famous test, introduced by Alan Turing, which was designed to test to see if a computer could fake responses to questions and statements well enough to fool someone interacting with it, who couldn't see who, or what, was producing the responses.

ELIZA, a computer program, produced about 15 years after Turing's proposal, seemed, at least in some cases, to pass the test, posing as a therapist, or a good listener.

You can check out an implementation of ELIZA here.

Note that Blogger has chosen to test for visual recognition, in trying to screen out spam comments, rather than allowing typed entries. Does that mean that Blogger can't tell the difference? Perhaps.

Computers are getting more sophisticated. Will they ever be able to completely fool us, on the phone, e-mailing, on Facebook, as movie stars or elected officials? I don't know. We live in interesting times.

Thanks for reading. I'm not a robot. I hope you aren't.