I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunspots 468

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

Christianity: We are less religious than we used to be, and National Public Radio reports on a study that says that the Internet is partly to blame.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware recommends SeriesGuide, an Android app that gives information about upcoming TV shows, and more.

USA Today reports that cheerful posts on Facebook affect others positively, and the effect is unexpectedly large.

Are you storing your files in the cloud? Be careful out there, says NPR.

Wired on how the stock market is rigged in favor of traders with lots of resources, and access to superfast information feeds, and on what one man is doing about this.

Health: Studying the genetics of the whooping cough (pertussis) germ has led to an understanding of how it became a dangerous disease, according to a report by National Public Radio.

Humor: (or something -- this is real) Wired reports on 21st century California gold miners, who are doing things the old-fashioned way.

Science: Wired reports on the Absurd Creature of the Week, in this case an axolotl, which can re-grow limbs, and never outgrows its larval gills. We may learn how we can regenerate lost body parts by studying these animals.

New Scientist reports that pregnant mice with damaged hearts (artificially damaged) may be helped to recover with the help of fetal-derived stem cells. Interesting.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Natural selection is a fact

Today's Greenville News, in an article on page 7a, has published a report from the Associated Press. That report says that South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair "says natural selection should not be taught as fact." Mr. Fair has made more news on this sort of topic recently, as he at first opposed the adoption of a South Carolina State Fossil, because of his belief in a six-day creation a few thousand years ago. He withdrew his opposition, because the proposer was an eight-year-old girl.

Mr. Fair is entitled to his beliefs, and they are, perhaps, more nuanced than suggested by the nine words quoted in the report, but this post takes them at face value, and refutes them.

Natural selection is a fact! Why is that so?

First, artificial selection works. Humans have selected breeds of dogs for various traits, and done similar selection with other animals. Plants, grown as crops or ornamentals, have also responded to the selective work of humans.

It is true that keeping track of butterfat production by cows, and deciding which bull to use in fathering the next generation, based on the production record of his daughters, is not exactly natural selection. But much selection of animals and plants, over the millennia of domestication, was simply looking at various characteristics, and deciding which seed to plant, or which animal to use in breeding. It was very low-tech, presumably operating without even written breeding or production records, and, we have reason to believe, worked very much like natural selection has.

Second, natural selection works in humans. No doubt Mr. Fair believes that all humans descended from an ancestral couple. If that was the case, how can we explain the differences between various groups of humans? Some of the differences may be due to chance,  but some of them, probably most of them, are due to natural selection. The Wikipedia article on "Human skin color" begins with these two sentences: "Human skin color ranges in variety from the darkest brown to the lightest pinkish-white hues. Human skin pigmentation is the result of natural selection." The article refers to solid scientific evidence for that second statement.

Third, and less obvious, but more compelling, natural selection works in the ordinary reproduction of organisms, including humans. Not in selecting for new forms, but in selecting so that current well-adapted forms persist. You may have seen an albino animal in the wild. I have. They are rare, but they do exist. Why are they so rare? Because Darwin's common-sense description of natural selection does, indeed, make sense. Organisms that have a tendency to have offspring that differ much from the norm are less likely to have their genes passed on to succeeding generations. A rabbit, in the wild, that can produce an albino offspring, is a rabbit that is less likely to produce surviving offspring than a similar rabbit that cannot produce such offspring.

God may, indeed, have created the first humans from scratch, or created the "kinds" of living things in separate special creative acts. But, even if both of those are true, He built natural selection into the system, just like He built gravity into the system, and natural selection, like gravity, influences the way things are, and serves to maintain God's good creation.

Mr. Fair should have read this post by a committed Young-earth creationist with solid scientific credentials, who says that evolution (by which he means natural selection) is not up for scientific dispute.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 32

[Concluding a discussion on end times prophecy]

Some people think that the time, times, and a half in Daniel 12:7 means one year, plus two years, plus a half a year, making three and a half years, which would be forty-two months. But, as Ken Schenck, Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, has written, the idea of a seven year tribulation rests on very slim foundations:

Revelation speaks of “the great tribulation,” but it doesn’t assign any number of years to it. A figure of 3 1/2 years appears several places in the middle of Revelation, but they all, in my opinion, refer to the same symbolic period . . .

So to get to 7 years, dispensationalists (shorthand here for the Darby-Lindsey-LaHaye end times scheme) have to add two of these 3 1/2’s together. The “mid-trib” rapture option comes straight from this section too, since the persecution of the church (the woman) is then understood to be for half of the seven year period.

But these are all the same, most likely symbolic 3 1/2 year period of persecution. Taking it as a calendar period goes against the nature of apocalyptic imagery, which if anything, is not meant to be taken literally any more than the idea that the beast will really have ten horns and seven heads.

Schenck points out that the places where three and a half years is referred to are in Revelation 11:2-3, 12:6, 12:14, and 13:5. Revelation 12:14 uses times, time and half a time, not forty-two months or three and a half years. Revelation 11:3 uses 1260 days, which is the number of days in forty-two months of thirty days.

Although the word “seven” occurs in Revelation over fifty times, the phrase “seven years” does not occur there even once.

Christians do not agree on what the Bible says about end times, and no wonder! The writing is prophetic or apocalyptic, or both, and difficult to understand. Dispensationalism, a view common among conservative Christians, has shaky scriptural support.

Matthew 24:44 Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come.

The above is an excerpt from my recently self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will begin a new topic. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Bible and protecting the environment

Two Days late for Earth Day - Environmental stewardship This blog didn't have any Earth Day post this year. Sorry. The above graphic is an attempt to make up for that failure. But, just as Christ is risen every day of the year, the earth should be cared for every day of the year.

For an essay on what the Bible says about caring for the environment, and it says a lot, see here.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sunspots 467

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

Christianity: A blog post on why it matters that women discovered the empty tomb.
Gizmo's Freeware reports on Browser Extensions (to Firefox and Chrome) that check for the Heartbleed problem.

Humor: (or something) Wired reports on a couple who are using a 3-D printer to make candy, wedding cakes, and the like.
From The Onion: wasting money on an app, and the results.

Science: Wired reports on a scientist who has studied psychopaths for 20 years. They're different . . .

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter graphic

He is risen Death Sin broken
This graphic tries to show that the resurrection of Christ conquered death, for all who believe. Thanks for looking! He is risen!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Resurrection: What it did and does

1 Corinthians 15 bullets

The graphic above is an attempt to illustrate, as a bullet chart, part of what Paul said about the importance of the resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15.

For more on what the New Testament says about the resurrection, see here. For what N. T. Wright said about the believability of the resurrection, see here.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sunspots 466

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

Health: From the Guardian, an article about how homeopathy, and various other non-traditional medications, may not work, but they give patients the feeling that someone is paying attention, and cares, which they may not get from the regular medical community.

Science: From Science, a report on how an amoeba, or ameba, can live inside you and eat your cells.

From US News and other outlets, a report on how women who "lacked or had an underdeveloped vagina and uterus" were treated with a lab-grown replacement, cultured from their own tissue, and the resulting replacement vaginas worked normally. Amazing.

Yes, your eyes (and brain) do influence how much you eat, and National Public Radio reports on some experimental evidence for that.

Wired sets forth the case for the earth revolving around the sun, rather than the reverse. (Lest you think than no one acts like the earth is the center of the universe, how long has it been since you said that the sun "rises?" (or "sets?") That's language suggesting that the sun travels around the earth.

Sports: Sports Illustrated notes that Breanna Stewart, perhaps the best player in women's college basketball, signed her letter of intent to play at Connecticut (who just finished an undefeated season, including the national title) on the hood of her car in a parking lot. She's not one for fanfare, for sure.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

N. T. Wright -- Can a Scientist Believe the Resurrection?

N. T. Wright, Bible scholar and communicator of the Gospel, presented a lecture on May 15, 2007, entitled "Can a Scientist Believe the Resurrection?" I recommend it.

The lecture has several important features.

First, Wright points out that he is by no means a scientist.

Second, Wright sets forth the beliefs common to Jews, in the time of Christ, about death and resurrection.

Then, he points out several important features of early Christian belief that are radically different from current Jewish belief.

He examines the resurrection stories from the Gospels, and indicates why there are differences between them. He also says, correctly, that there is not very much about Jesus' birth in the New Testament, but that the New Testament is full of the Resurrection. (See here.)

He points out that the only sensible explanation for the behavior of the early Christians was that they believed that Christ had been raised from the dead, and was the first example of a resurrection which is to come, in the future, for believers.

Finally, Wright says that what happened to Thomas was a Gospel of Faith, to Paul a Gospel of Hope, and to Peter, a Gospel of love. It takes agape love to believe and act on the Resurrection.

Thanks for reading. Read Wright!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Some blog posts on chance versus God's omnipotence

Are there things that an omnipotent God leaves to chance? Or is every change in every particle in the universe ordered and directed by God? Clearly, the answer has to be that we do not know, but it's an interesting question. Here are some blog posts by other people on this subject:

Henry Neufeld believes that perhaps God used pure chance to get to where the universe is now, and he includes humans, and their intelligence. He isn't even sure that God directed things at the sub-atomic level. Interesting. I'll have to think about that one.

Here's one from a Christian involved in forecasting the weather, who says that it makes sense to pray for particular kinds of weather (and other things) in spite of God's omnipotence. Weather, of course, is notoriously unpredictable.

Thanks for reading. For more on what I think about these matters, click on the "randomness" or "chance" in the tags at the end of this post. Let's put it this way -- I haven't solved the problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 31

[Continuing a discussion of End Times prophecy.]

In his reference to Daniel in verse 14, Jesus was probably referring to one or all of these three sections of that book:

Daniel 9:27 He shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the middle of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the offering to cease; and on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate; and even to the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out on the desolate.

Some people get the idea of a seven-year tribulation, with a rapture at the halfway point, from this verse. (They take a week, seven days, as standing for a seven year period.) If that idea is correct, it would seem to be a second meaning, with the first one being the destruction of the temple, referred to by Christ (see above). It would also mean that a day is a symbol for a year. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Daniel 11:16 But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and no one shall stand before him; and he shall stand in the glorious land, and in his hand shall be destruction. 17 He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and with him equitable conditions; and he shall perform them: and he shall give him the daughter of women, to corrupt her; but she shall not stand, neither be for him. 18 After this shall he turn his face to the islands, and shall take many: but a prince shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; yes, moreover, he shall cause his reproach to turn on him. 19 Then he shall turn his face toward the fortresses of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found. 20 Then shall stand up in his place one who shall cause a tax collector to pass through the kingdom to maintain its glory; but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle. 21 In his place shall stand up a contemptible person, to whom they had not given the honor of the kingdom: but he shall come in time of security, and shall obtain the kingdom by flatteries. 22 The overwhelming forces shall be overwhelmed from before him, and shall be broken; yes, also the prince of the covenant. 23 After the treaty made with him he shall work deceitfully; for he shall come up, and shall become strong, with a small people. 24 In time of security shall he come even on the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them prey, and plunder, and substance: yes, he shall devise his devices against the strongholds, even for a time. 25 He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall war in battle with an exceeding great and mighty army; but he shall not stand; for they shall devise devices against him. 26 Yes, they who eat of his dainties shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow; and many shall fall down slain. 27 As for both these kings, their hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table: but it shall not prosper; for yet the end shall be at the time appointed. 28 Then he will return into his land with great substance; and his heart will be against the holy covenant; and he will take action, and return to his own land. 29 At the time appointed he shall return, and come into the south; but it shall not be in the latter time as it was in the former. 30 For ships of Kittim shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and shall return, and have indignation against the holy covenant, and shall take action: he shall even return, and have regard to those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 Forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. 32 Such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and take action. 33 Those who are wise among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, many days. 34 Now when they shall fall, they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall join themselves to them with flatteries. 35 Some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine them, and to purify, and to make them white, even to the time of the end; because it is yet for the time appointed. 36 The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done. 37 Neither shall he regard the gods of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 But in his place shall he honor the god of fortresses; and a god whom his fathers didn’t know shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. 39 He shall deal with the strongest fortresses by the help of a foreign god: whoever acknowledges him he will increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for a price. 40 At the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. 41 He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. 42 He shall stretch out his hand also on the countries; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. 44 But news out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many. 45 He shall plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and no one shall help him.

This may be about the end times, but that’s not the mostly likely meaning, since Jesus seems to have referred to this passage in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century A. D. The original meaning of Daniel was also probably as a prophecy of the destruction of the temple before the time of Christ. (See the Wikipedia article on Antiochus Epiphanes.) It is possible that God intended these prophecies to be about both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times. The prophecies about Christ’s early life, discussed above, all seem to have had at least two meanings.

There’s also this passage:
Daniel 12:7 I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by him who lives forever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when they have finished breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. 8 I heard, but I didn’t understand: then I said, my lord, what shall be the issue of these things? 9 He said, Go your way, Daniel; for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time that the continual burnt offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. 12 Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred thirty-five days. 13 But go you your way until the end; for you shall rest, and shall stand in your lot, at the end of the days.

These writings of Daniel, and the statements by Jesus in Matthew, are apocalyptic. Perhaps they are prophetic, also. We should always be careful in interpreting these kinds of Biblical literature.

The above is an excerpt from my recently self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.